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Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

Grief rocked the capital of Tamil Nadu after the death of the state’s long-time chief minister.

By Samuel Theodre for
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

Chennai residents pass a poster of Jayalalithaa, chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Jayalalithaa passed away on Monday, sparking mourning across the state.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

A Jayalalithaa follower wiping tears near the hospital, where she was being treated at the time, after hearing that she continued to be in critical condition.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

Cadres from Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK party anxiously waited for news outside the hospital, unmindful of the chill.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

Media personnel set up on vantage points at the hospital entrance.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

This portrait of Jayalalithaa, with her mentor M. G. Ramachandran in the background, was drawn on a wall to wish her on her birthday in February. After her passing, it was turned into an homage banner with coconut and bananas – usually offered to deities.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

The counter of a shut tea stall was converted into a homage as well, with Jayalalithaa’s photo and lit candles.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

A stand for auto-rickshaws with a painted board on the wall to list the registration number and subscription details had no entries. The only message was a hastily scribbled “tearful homage to our goddess.”

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

A lone man reading the paper on a roadside platform, outside a closed shop pasted with Jayalalithaa’s obituary poster.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

With all eateries closed, the heavily subsidised government-run “Amma Canteens,” initiated by Jayalalithaa, came as a boon for bachelors and stranded souls.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

Jayalalithaa’s followers peek over barricades, waiting for the hearse and a last glimpse of their leader.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

Milling crowds and police personnel near the MGR memorial ground – off-limits to private media – where Jayalalithaa was to be interred.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

People thronged the memorial ground the morning after the funeral.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

The morning after the funeral, elected MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) and party workers had their heads tonsured near the burial ground, as is the Hindu custom when an immediate family member passes away.

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

A party worker, who has tonsured his head after losing “Amma,” wails near the memorial,. Another worker, clad in a dhoti with the party’s color, is coming to comfort him

Credit: Samuel Theodre
Farewell Amma: Chennai Mourns Jayalalithaa

Police personnel guard the interment spot as it continues to draw visitors.

Credit: Samuel Theodre

With an overcast sky and the sun going down in Chennai, it appeared as if people were preparing themselves for an impending doom. The announcement that the ailing chief minister of Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalithaa – popularly known as amma or mother – was in critical condition was received with trepidation. Provision stores and vegetable shops had milling crowds. Supplies just flew off the shelves. Petrol stations had winding queues. People hurried as if they would be spared any bad news if they were ensconced in the safety of their homes.

The reverse played out outside the hospital where Jayalalithaa was being treated. In a somber mood, men waited outside with hope, oblivious to the chill in the December air. As the hospital remained a bastion of secrecy for all the 75 days that the chief minister was there, Jayalalithaa’s followers waited apprehensively for any news of revival. A heavy posse of police personnel guarded the entry points of all roads leading to the hospital. Harried shop-keepers could not turn away their customers and hence pulled their shutters halfway down, fearing a backlash, as had happened at the demise of Jayalalithaa’s mentor and chief minister M. G. Ramachandran. Hotels closed their gates while super markets and cinema halls downed their shutters.

While life appeared to have come to a standstill in Chennai, it did move, in slow motion though. When the hospital announced that their doctors were doing their best, a hush fell over the crowd. With stoic silence, they waited for “the announcement.” When it did come after midnight, the followers were too numb to react. Fearing a rampage, police personnel manned all strategic and sensitive points throughout the night. But much to the relief of everyone, the supporters and party cadres took it with a quiet resolve.

The somber mood spilled over to the next day too. With offices and educational and commercial establishments closed, the absence of the city’s teeming millions was conspicuous. The city mourned in silence.