A to Z of English - Language and glib in politics

GEORGE Orwell once wrote that the purpose of political language is "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind".

Even if you disagree, political lingo cannot easily be called beautiful. It tends to be ugly and functional at best, and outright unintelligible at worst.

One who is gifted with the language of the world and endowed with the glib will shine in politics. It is not strange that small snippets in the form of mottos, chants, slogans, and even individual words make up a huge part of modern political campaigning. In politics, words matter, spoken or otherwise.

You cannot get across all your ideas and beliefs at once, but you can create something that represents them, and then work around them. The single reference Amma or Mother brought on revolutionary representation in politics in Tamil Nadu, India when political icon Jayalalitha donned it for her radical mileage decades ago.

The unfortunate and shameful event of Jayalalitha being (almost) disrobed at Tamil Nadu Assembly in 1989 saw her meteoric rise. She was just 40 then and decided that she needed a conversion that would remove the gender identity for her to function with authority and command respect from the male-infested political scene.

Thereafter began her crusade, one that gained her the fame as Amma that saw her accepted with no barriers of any kind. News of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha's demise recently hit us like a tidal wave and despite all the warning signs that came weeks ahead, we knew things were not looking positive for her health-wise and yet the news broke many hearts while shocking many more.

While her death is still shrouded in secrecy with conspiracy theories of all kinds being spread online, the fact remains that she is no more.

For those of us who admired her for her guts and courage, breaking the myth that male domination was universal, the loss is immeasurable. She stood up to be seen and heard among the patriarchal herd of politicians with her self-effacing, yet uncompromising ways, reminding us that the unequal social relations between man and woman is just matter of human conception.

Jayalalitha entered the cinema fraternity as a lead actress in the mid 60s and in many of her box office hits she starred opposite none other than MGR himself, the man who conquered and ruled the cinema scene then.

The ingredients to her success, as I see them, are her intellectual capacity, astuteness from experience and exposure, savviness that came from keen observations and her strategic and calculated moves.

Above these stands Jayalalitha's powerful grasp of languages including English in which she orated her political whims and personal goals with confidence. She could be regarded as another orator-in-chief at the peak of her political career.

Her early education in a convent definitely laid her foundation to her excellent grasp of English and she had the prowess very few had. I have seen her interviews in which she took the interviewer to task with her not-so-witty, capricious responses.

Two important interviews stand testimony to Jayalalitha's strong sense of pride as an individual as well as a well-groomed politician. The interview with Simi Garewal, a former actress, in 1999 gave away some insights into Jayalalitha's softer side, which many did not know existed.

Some aspects of her life were fascinating to know, is also indicative of how little we know. That she's a good singer. That she had crush on Shammi Kapoor, but they never met. That she loved Hindi movie songs.

In sharp contrast, in the interview with BBC World's Hardtalk in 2004 she took on the onslaught, that came in the form of pointed allegations, obscured in calmness that one would hardly sense the misgivings.

In that interview in 2004, which was a turbulent period of her political life, she quashed all allegations made against her with a charge instead that the media had always demonised her.

Her deftly crafted responses were spontaneous and might have worked awkwardly against the interviewer when her powerful words came out in a flurry of blows.

Her assertion that she was a, "perfectly rational, sensible, sober and a very responsible leader," closed the interview with her unreservedly apologising for even granting the interview, leaving the man at the other end red-faced, probably with a jolt.

She was neither rude nor disrespectful and her command of English elevated her immensely as a polished, learned, intelligent and shrewd politician. Her grace was amazing and obvious despite the spikes in her words. Very rarely do we find this combination in a politician and despite her demise she still lives heavily and heartily in all who admired her.

Jayalalitha's reference and reverence as Amma stood the test of time and she is more present now in her absence with her charisma and enigma unbroken.

The writer believes that the Malaysian education system will reach greater heights with a strong antidote to revolutionise just about everything. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com