I’d been forewarned about the oppressive heat, but then, Dakshina Kannada has oppressed me enough to be comfortable in a Conjeevaram (uh.. no… I might have a numb skull, but I haven’t quite lost it… just wanted the effect. I guess comfortable in cottons might be more accurate, but it doesn’t have the same ring as ‘comfy in a Conjie’) that I can grin at midday while others sigh and mop their sodden brows for the hundredth time that day at eight in the morning.
One thing struck me looking at the posters of film stars campaigning – Tamil Nadu politics is so taken over by people from the film industry that they consider it their dharma (or like they say in Tamil, Thozhil Dharmam) to make things as entertaining and TV-friendly as possible. Remember Karunanidhi’s midnight arrest that was shown on Sun TV again and again, and even replicated in that popular-as-hell megaserial Chiththi? It only helps that Kalanidhi Maran owns Sun TV, Karunanidhi is a celebrated scriptwriter, and Jayalalithaa used to be a popular lead actress. And Radaan (the producers of Chitthi) is owned by Radhika, whose father Radha Ravi is well known for his attempt to shoot MGR (another actor-politician, Jayalalithaa’s mentor and more), and her current husband Sarathkumar got chucked out of Jaya Amma’s AIADMK. The MGR-Karunanidhi relationship has been immortalized by Mani Ratnam in Iruvar, right from their beginnings in Tamil films (MGR was an actor, and Karunanidhi a scriptwriter), a young Jaya (played by -wait for it- Ash) included. But I digress.
I don’t think any other place has benefited from Adobe Photoshop (or maybe GIMP, even) as Madurai. Atleast not any other place I’ve seen. Elections are on in Karnataka, and not one poster is visible to the untrained eye, and you know your candidate only because he came to your doorstep last election and begged for votes. Elections in Tamil Nadu are ages away, and heck, you have miles and miles of posters with the grinning faces of Karunanidhi, his bloated son Azhagiri, and their formidable foe Vijaykanth greeting you as you enter the city, as you traverse through its various bylanes, as you go out of the city to the tourist attractions in the neighbouring districts.
And what posters! Not ordinary ones with just the candidate in a reverential pose and stubs of the party leaders looking on, no. You have collages of images of the candidate in the mandatory reverential pose, images of him (I did not see even a single poster canvassing for a woman candidate) and his wife (wives, rather… remember this is the land of Lord Muruga, and his two wives Valli and Devayani… this example being cited as both inspiration and justification for bigamy, by people no less than M. Karunanidhi and Ramadoss), his kids in various cute poses (the current favorite seems to be of a kid posing with a mobile), myriad shots of the candidate with different party leaders, performing charitable acts…
Aside: I wonder if Karunanidhi’s kids from his two wives fought for legitimacy à la Karthik and Prabhu in Mani Ratnam’s Agni Natchathiram. I don’t know what to call this, but it was Agni Natchathiram – the hottest part of the year – when I went to Madurai, and I blame the heat for this digression.
I didn’t quite get the wives bit… one look at the posters would convince anybody it wasn’t for the oomph factor.
And this confuses the unsuspecting, untrained, Tamil-illiterate visitor into taking any collage’d poster to be political propaganda. For there are other things that avail the services of Photoshop. Like posters inviting people to the wedding of Letchimipiriya and Thirunaavukkarasu. Or posters from a bunch of friends congratulating their pal Joseph Arumugam on marrying Margaret Anidha.
Oh, and the spellings. I came across this ‘lontry shap’. Hotals serving Itly and Baroda. And people here can’t be accused of being too regional – there was a street called ‘Bagavathsing Street’…. ahh, that’s worse than Ajay Devgan and both the Deol brothers put together.
Local branding gets a new high… no Spencer’s? You have Splencers. Coming home to Geeaarams. And I remained ignorant of this brand until now… Aircel.
And here is a place seemingly untouched by the Raj. Hardly any buildings built in the colonial style.
Stepping into the rural outskirts, you find various temples of Aiyanars – village deities. For the first time I saw priests without sacred threads, and sickles and scimitars in a temple left behind by devotees like how we might normally find threads tied around branches of a tree. The level of non-Sanskritization can be gauged in the big Siva temples in the area. And that is no barrier to devotion or number of the devout thronging the place. You see 2000-year-old temples as alive as they would have been when they were new. Age-old rituals are preserved. Fluorescent lamps and fans might have been added to the Meenakshi temple, but that only serves to complement it, not seem like anachronisms.
And this is the gazillionth time I’m regretting leaving my camera behind for some obscure reason I can’t even recollect. For, apart from the various sights and sounds, I also had a billion chances to capture racket-tailed drongoes – the species that, at Surathkal, can detect my camera from a mile away and fly away just as my finger touches the button. And endless parrots and sparrows – yes, real sparrows – apart from kingfishers and so many other birds I hadn’t seen before.
At neighboring Sivaganga, you trek along a narrow path to visit the temple of Sandanakaruppan, Siva’s bodyguard. On the way, you are amazed to see this awesome school with large classrooms, all facilities in place, right in the middle of nowhere. And, you are told, children do attend classes regularly.
Hmm… along with that and the recent ads with Madhavan, Vijay, Surya and Jyothika exhorting children to attend school, it’s great to see private enterprises, if not the government, egging people on to development. And TN is quite good in having urban centers in all parts of the state, not just around the capital. Quite a contrast to Karnataka where apart from a few places, IT hasn’t quite touched most of the state, and nor has urbanization. So you have a choked-beyond-capacity Bangalore, and other places are battling local unemployment and witness large-scale migration of youth.
Everyone criticizes SM Krishna for not focussing on farmers, and focussing on IT alone, but I suppose he deserves more criticism for his shortsighted development plans which make him look more like a mayor than a CM. Yes, he did bring in IT et al, but it shouldn’t have been like this! The whole state should have benefited from the IT -for want of a better word- revolution, and IT shouldn’t have been projected as a separate, urbane entity that was the bane of rural folk. We never heard this strain before much, thanks to SMK and his right-hand man Jayakar Jerome giving away BDA sites to journalists.
Anyway… the verdict is out. One thing that turns me off is the voter turn-out, especially in Bangalore. 44%! That, in spite of all the Lead India ads exhorting people to get off their seats and spare a few minutes to vote. *Sigh* maybe we need to take a page out of Madurai’s book and get liberal with Photoshop. Maybe political parties should have poster design contests. Maybe we should have more stars in politics. I don’t know what it is in TN that makes people so interested in governance that is missing in Karnataka.
And then on a Monday morning I come back to the cool climes of Bangalore, realizing with a shock that I’ve missed my friend’s sister’s wedding and clean forgotten all about it the whole weekend…. *sigh*.. I had no time to rue about that, as I proceeded to haggle with the auto drivers and convincing them of my being Bangalorean and hence ineligible for their sky-high rates.
Update: I wrote this a while ago… and now I discover the charger I use on my camera’s cells in missing. *Sigh*, May is fading out, and the rains are stripping the Gulmohurs of their flowers… why why why did I put off taking pictures of Bangalore in full bloom?