The test of devotion doesn't apply to the people on dias where the air-conditioning is on full blast

At Jayalalithaas rallies devotion beats the heat and the heat takes livesPTI
news Tamil Nadu 2016 Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 19:26

At 60, Vasuki’s tolerance for the heat seems superhuman as she saunters about handing caps and water packets. The sun is unforgiving at 42 degrees in Magudanchavadi in Salem. “But Amma is kind. We will come out to see her in the heat anytime,” she says, beads of sweat dotting her forehead as she pulls her pallu over her face. She suddenly lets out a yelp as soon as she spots a swooning woman in the distance. 

“The other day, I brought my son to the RK Nagar rally. He couldn’t take the heat and I wanted to take him out. The police didn’t allow us. Once you’re in here, you can’t go out.” And it’s no easy wait. People across districts are herded into the rally over four hours earlier. As I’m listening to this, the heat is doing a number on me. And not just me, many set into a delirium and need intervention. Around us, filled water packets lay discarded and volunteers look indifferent. “The police are too busy looking for ones sneaking into the rally. Ask them for water and they won’t help,” Vasanthi says. Noticing my disorientation, another woman from the crowd jumps in to offer a jug of lime juice. She breaks into an emotional tirade - “It’s free, drink the whole jug, I just don’t want another person to faint or die.”

After almost three hours of waiting, and probably more for thousands others, Amma has arrived at 4pm. Her chopper descends and the deafening music that seems to aggravate the heat, commences. “I think somewhere, this is a test for us,” Jayasri says. “Amma wants to see how much devotion we have for her and we can come all the way in the heat just to see her.”

I tell her the test doesn’t seem to apply to the MLAs on the dias with air conditioners blasting at a temperature that many of us could only fantasise about then. But Jayasri is an optimist, having devised at her Dharampuri rally a way to counter the heat: “Think about cold things.”

Amma has taken an hour to appear on stage since her arrival, and we get tired thinking about the Arctic. The tiny pouches littered across the sand become our refuge, and a fight breaks out between two women for a bottle of water.

For the lakhs of people at the rally, there are just two ambulances. Vasuki reminisces the moment she saw a person faint from a heatstroke. “She was young, probably married. They were waiting to wheel her out of the rally for so long. I like Amma, but sometimes, for the people who can’t take it, this feels like a trap.” 

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