Chennai never appeared so quiet as on Tuesday morning. The hustle-bustle at the airport was missing, the pre-paid taxi counters were empty and there were harldy any vehicles in the parking lot and the autorickshaw stands.
That the people of Chennai were crestfallen at the death of their beloved leader, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, was evident at the airport lounge itself. Gloom prevailed all over the place as airport workers worried about the state’s future and police personnel posted apparently for the security of the VIPs arriving in the city looked on.
“Amma is no more,” said 52-year old Rameshan, a taxi operator, who surfaced after I had waited for more than half an hour making enquiries about transport into the city. “It is a tough time for us. Nobody is in a mood to do any work today. Moreover, all the petrol bunks are closed in the city. And forget about ATM centres and banks,” he said.
Needless to say Rameshan was trying to cash in on the situation and demanded Rs 800 to take me to the hotel, which was hardly 12 km away. He refused to bargain. “Why do you bargain, sir, when the city is mourning,” he argued.
The roads all along the route from the airport to the hotel near Anna Salai, Chennai’s main thoroughfare, were deserted. And the otherwise busy commercial centres like Saidapet and Guindy were also quiet with shops, restaurants and business establishments closed. At several junctions, people were seen pitching tents, where huge portraits of Jayalalitha were put up and garlanded. “Yesterday, there was a frenzy atmosphere in this area. Now, it is all quiet,” said Rameshan.
The state government has declared a holiday on Tuesday for its offices and three days for educational institutions. The Tamil film industry announced cancellation of shootings scheduled for Tuesday. Theaters also cancelled shows.
It looked like all roads in Chennai were leading to Rajaji Hall, where Jayalalithaa’s body was kept to enable the people pay their tributes to her. And that gives the answer as to why the busy Chennai streets looked so deserted.
(The writer is Hindustan Times’ correspondent in Hyderabad.)