MG Ramachandran (MGR) was a modern-day Karna. They say the fire in his hearth was never allowed to die out; some 50-60 people would be fed at his home, at each meal, every day.
"Have you eaten?" was one of his signature greetings, one which he used unfailingly, not just with visitors but even with his driver and staff.
It, perhaps, had to do with the abject poverty and hardship he had to endure in his young years.
MGR reached hero status at the age of 30, after 14 films. He came to have a shamanic influence over his fans thanks to the roles he essayed.
A self-taught genius, his yardstick for governance was whether a public scheme would ultimately benefit the poor. Which is how the nutritious noon meal scheme came to be in the avant garde of Tamil Nadu's welfare trajectory.
In March 1981, he severed ties with his only sibling, a brother, and his family, fearing their interference in government.
|After Anna's death in 1969, MGR tipped the balance in Kalaignar M Karunanidhi's favour in the race for succession. Photo: Vikatan|
In June 1987, he publicly directed civil servants not to oblige his wife for the same reason.
His was a chequered public and political career. At the 1967 DMK election conference, party founder Anna (CN Annadurai) famously rejected then matinee star MGR's offer of financial assistance.
Instead, Anna asked that he "show his face", as each appearance "would get 30,000 votes".
Indeed, MGR's face helped bring down the mighty Congress and propel the DMK to power in what was still Madras state in 1967.
After Anna's death in 1969, MGR tipped the balance in Kalaignar M Karunanidhi's favour in the race for succession. Kalaignar then became chief minister and party leader.
In 1972, MGR left the the DMK, after accusing the party leadership of not looking after the interests of the people. He spurned the entreaties of the likes of Devaraj Urs to join the Congress, for he never wished to be a vassal of Delhi.
|In 1982, MGR took Jayalalithaa, the heroine he had been paired with the most, into the party.|
His own party, the AIADMK, was catapulted to power in 1977 and MGR became chief minister not once but thrice.
He never lost an Assembly election and, more significantly, never felt the need to buy votes. He never depended on caste, religion or language to get him votes either.
His political appeal transcended such electoral considerations. And although he ran a personalised style of governance, he permitted a degree of inner party democracy.
His ministers did not have to prostrate or genuflect before him and he surrounded himself with some of the best available talent instead of political midgets or minions.
He also adopted a cooperative attitude towards the mighty Centre, but he was not a pushover. As he memorably said in 1971 while still in the DMK: "Tamil Nadu will meet the army itself."
This was when there were rumours that Delhi was trying to topple the DMK administration.
Despite the Ray Commission, other probes and scandals, no one could point fingers at him. Till the end, he was considered selfless.
|A self-taught genius, his yardstick for governance was whether a public scheme would ultimately benefit the poor. Photo: Twitter|
In his centennial year, the party that was built with his charisma and the sacrifice of his fans and cadre has been dealt a serious blow with the demise of his equally charismatic successor, his protégé the late J Jayalalithaa.
In 1982, MGR took Jayalalithaa, the heroine he had been paired with the most, into the party. In her words, "he wanted someone whom he could trust one hundred per cent".
MGR's epiphany over Jayalalithaa would come quickly when she tried to upstage him after he took ill.
However, he condoned her transgressions and despite their equivocal relationship, the cadre accepted her as his heir.
|He and his disciple had many things in common. The most important was that they had no successors and therefore no self-interest.|
In 1991, when she became chief minister she turned into a pharaoh. Despite MGR being a "great influence" on her and she emulating his welfare politics, she let go of the major opportunity to transform Tamil Nadu otherwise.
Instead of bringing in investments and industries, she sadly became the subject of investigations and court battles.
MGR was a grossly underestimated politician. He and his disciple had many things in common. The most important was that they had no successors and therefore no self-interest.
Ironically, the leader who might be able to continue both his father's legacy as well as MGR's - with 40 years of political work and a pragmatic approach to Dravidian ideals behind him - could be MK Stalin.
For did he not say on May 10, 2016 (much in the MGR tradition) that "neither will my son, nor will my son-in-law, join politics. For that matter, I can assure you that no one from my family will be joining politics".