Thursday, 8 December 2016

Books - the Secret of Amma's Energy


Alice in Wonderland? That's how we felt, my sisters and I, completely dwarfed by the floor-to-ceiling array of books, and a very tall step ladder with a perch on top, standing against one shelf-wall.

I heard my oldest sibling whisper to my Dad, "Are these real books?" I tugged at his sleeve: "Appa, please may I climb the ladder and sit on top?"

Jayalalithaa, then perhaps in her twenties, had ushered us into her brand new home at Poes Gardens, and she was showing us around.

My father, Tamil film actor Gemini Ganesan, had asked if he could show the place to his "girls", especially the library that she had apparently described to him with great passion. The books were indeed 'real' and she had an amazing collection of English classics - Shakespeare, Dickens, Kingsley, Hardy, Tennyson, Bronte, Wilde, and more.

The Dickens collection among a few others was leather-bound, embossed with gold letters.

Which is why I smiled, as I watched Jennifer Arul's interview with Jayalalithaa on NDTV - re-telecast after Amma's death - in which the former CM said, "My dream is to retire to my farm, surround myself with books and read them, listen to music, with my dogs, and perhaps do some agriculture. Far from the madding crowd."

It wasn't said for effect. She really meant it. And she had read Thomas Hardy.

Jayalalithaa was not always 'Amma'. She was called 'Ammu' (dearest one) at home, and her Mom sent her to the best schools available then, both in Bangalore (Bishop Cottton) and Madras, Presentation Convent, Church Park, where I was in junior school when Jayalalithaa was in her final year, matriculation.

Her long, straight hair, that she wore in a single loose plait, would gently swing like a pendulum well below her hips as she walked across the school grounds, the sun catching the largish golden hoops she wore in her ears. With her porcelain skin, impeccable manners and dignified gait, Jayalalithaa stole many a heart but the teachers in school loved her for something else - she was their star pupil.

"Do you think you are Jayalalithaa that you can read comics in my class under the desk and still stand first?" So saying, Miss Edwards, the geography teacher, snatched my comic and threw it aside. That was the kind of reputation Tamil Nadu's Amma had at school - a brilliant student who could walk away effortlessly with flying colours!

It's common knowledge now that Jayalalithaa never wanted to become an actress; she never wished to enter politics - yet she made a big name for herself in both.

She once mentioned that she was very keen to study English Literature. Others say she wanted to become a lawyer. Whatever might have been her choice of career, there can be no doubt that she would have stood head and shoulders above others, perhaps far exceeding her performances in both films and politics.
(The writer was in junior school in Presentation Convent, then Madras, when J Jayalalithaa was in final year)

Source: Times of India, 08 December 2016, Chennai Edition

The same columnist Ms Narayani Ganesh has also written an article on her dad - Actor Gemini Ganesan, in one of the past issues of the MCC magazine. You may find the same on our blog HERE

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