Mementos galore provided people a way to wear their love on their sleeves
The way to Kalaignar is not easy. A crowd throngs one side of barricades set up behind policemen standing behind another row of barricades behind yet another group, surrounding the gate to Rajaji Hall on Anna Salai.
Two men, wearing DMK’s black and red mufflers, are busy hatching a plan to evade the line. “Excuse me, where are these mufflers being sold?” I interrupt their brainstorming. One of the men chivalrously takes off his scarf and hands it to me, “Here you can have mine.” Howevere, I insist he take me to the shop, so he leads me a few hundred metres away from the burgeoning crowd to two men sitting on a mat on the road.
DMK merchandise is spread out in front of them: scarves, party flags, badges, masks of Karunanidhi, laminated posters of him and Stalin, keychains and pens.
Adbul Gaffoor, in his fifties, has been selling DMK merchandise outside the party office at Anna Arivalayam for the past 30 years. His philosophy: “Wherever Thalaivar goes, I follow.” In Kalaignar’s death, Abdul and brother Majid have followed him to Rajaji Hall. Surrounding them is a crowd of people impatiently waiting for their attention and thrusting notes in their faces — everyone wants to wear their love on their sleeve.
As the merchandise and money change hands, Abdul explains that very few of these products are made in Chennai. “The posters come from Sivakasi and Madurai; they are sold at Broadway,” he says. The pens have Kalaignar’s picture attached to the clips. “These are from Kolkata,” he says, “Only the small badges are made here.”
The first time he met Kalaignar was 30 years ago, but it is fresh in his memory. “It was his birthday, he had come out of the office to meet his supporters. I didn’t speak to him, a small man like me couldn’t have spoken to a leader like him. Just seeing him with my own eyes was more than enough,” he says.
Like Abdul, for many in the crowd, their presence at Rajaji Hall is about declaring loyalty to the five-time Chief Minister, both in life and death. Eleven-year old Saranya proudly wears the red cap of the rising sun, that she got from Ennore. She calls Karunanidhi her ‘thatha’. Her actual grandfather, himself a staunch follower of Karunanidhi, accompanies her. “I have even recited poems for him,” he says, “My son, who is a DMK member now, met him when he was five. I want my granddaughter also to meet him at least once, even though he has passed away.”
Some of Karunanidhi’s followers have however, found one silver lining. R Anthony, selling DMK scarves and badges boasts, “Just this morning alone, I have earned thousands of rupees.” He is selling the badges for ₹ 10 and the scarves for ₹ 50. For Abdul too, sales have tripled. “I normally earn ₹300 a day, for the past two days I have been earning ₹1,000 minimum,” he says, adding, “This is the business that has helped me thrive. This is the reason why I could afford to pay for my son and daughter’s weddings.”
A bunch of supporters wearing Karunanidhi masks passes by, each wanting to embody their leader’s spirit. “We may have lost one leader, but the hope is that 10 more will rise,” they say.
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