Tamil Nadu

Father, mother, boss: Vivek Jayaraman, a son to three women

Vivek Jayaraman. File photo

Vivek Jayaraman. File photo  

From flying kites with police protection in Poes Garden to delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut; now in the eye of the IT raids storm, Ilavarasi’s son Vivek Jayaraman tells The Hindu that he is not averse to entering politics

There was consternation at the Jaya TV office on November 6. The editor had issued instructions to the team to “go big” on the meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) President M. Karunanidhi.

For the first time in 16 years, Jaya TV, named after the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, beamed the face of her arch political rival, Karunanidhi and his son, M.K. Stalin, working president of the party in an uncritical manner.

More to follow

Many in the channel figured this was a one-off decision. But on November 8 again, the Statewide ‘Black Day’ protests by the DMK marking one year of demonetisation were beamed live. Since then M.K. Stalin’s statements have gained prominence in the channel that has largely been seen as a party mouthpiece of the now splintered All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

There was more to come with an interview of Deputy General Secretary of the DMK, Duraimurugan given a half hour slot on the channel on Nov 19.

Jaya TV employees have given up trying to decode these decisions, once considered blasphemous. “Enna nadakkuthunnu theriyala (don’t know what is happening),” said one senior journalist at the channel. “Solraanga, naanga seyyarom (we are following orders).”

The young man behind these decisions is 29-year-old Vivek Jayaraman, son of Ilavarasi and late Jayaraman, sister-in-law and brother of V.K. Sasikala, close aide and confidante of the late Chief Minister, currently in prison in Bengaluru.

The ‘boy’ in the Garden

Vivek was an infant living with his mother in Mannargudi, barely a year-and-a-half old, when his father was electrocuted during construction work at Jayalalithaa’s Jeedimetla grape garden in Hyderabad. This was in 1990.

His elder sisters, Shakeela and Krishnapriya, were already in school at Mannargudi, so the decision was taken not to disturb their studies. The fatherless infant and the widow of Jayaraman, Ilavarasi, were brought to Poes Garden and began to live in one of the most secretive powerhouses of Tamil Nadu.

“Amma [Jayalalithaa] took me in,” said Vivek to The Hindu in an exclusive interview. “I have grown up in (Poes) Garden as my home.”

Vivek recalls a childhood of indulgence and fear at the same time. Brought up by three strong women — his own mother Ilavarasi, his paternal aunt Sasikala (Chinnathai) and the formidable Jayalalithaa (Periyathai) — the youngster was referred to as ‘boy’, a nickname given by the late Chief Minister.

“I used to be very fond of flying kites from the terrace,” recalls Vivek. “I was not allowed to do it, though. But I would sneak up and do it all the same. When Chinnatthai found out, she would yell ‘Boy!’ and I would come running down. She had a stick, like a walking stick of sorts. She would tap it on the floor. That sound would send the shivers through me,” he said.

Vivek says that Sasikala never did hit him but would use the stick at objects around him, frightening the young boy. “Periyatthai (Jayalalithaa) would shout out – “Sasi, adikkaathey” (Sasi, don’t hit him). Out of fear I would begin to cry. The one thing Periyatthai hated was my crying. She would say sternly – “Boy, stop crying” – and the tears would instantly dry up. Even when my mother went to jail and I was emotional and felt like crying, I can still hear that ganeer (resounding) voice inside my head, telling me not to cry. The tears never come,” he says.

Vivek speaks of the three women having played differing roles in his upbringing. His own mother Ilavarasi he terms “innocent, a typical housewife”. She is, in his eyes, the mother figure.

Jayalalithaa, he says, was a father figure for him — indulgent, tolerant of his mischief and protective. “On my birthday, maybe when I was 9 or 10 years old, Periyatthai got me a gift. It was a baanaa kaathaadi (large kite). I was absolutely excited. And then I was allowed finally, to fly the kite. The only condition was that four policemen would stand on the terrace to ensure I did not fall off and another helper was sent up to help me lift that huge kite,” he recalls with a laugh.

Vivek recalls Jayalalithaa using her thumb to remove the flesh from a cooked piece of drumstick, a favourite of Vivek’s, and feeding it to him affectionately.

As for Sasikala, she was the “Boss”.

Disciplinarian

“She was the disciplinarian, a tough mentor for me. She is very affectionate towards me but she was also the one who would scold me and pull me up when I did something wrong. She would whack me on my bottom sometimes. It was tough love,” he says. “I don’t know whether it was planned that way or they were just being like that —good cop and bad cop routine.”

Their equation to date, he says, remains the same. “She puts across things very bluntly to me. In 2015 she asked me to take over Jazz Cinemas and then later, Jaya TV. I would go to her with all sorts of ideas. She would never agree with me. She would always put me down and I get frustrated. I would come back after reworking the ideas and I would get the same treatment again!” Imagine — it is like catching a fish — you put a hook in the fish’s mouth when you catch it. Then you remove it and throw it back and catch the same fish through the same hook again! It is something like that. Even when my staff praises me to her, there is no appreciation, only deprecation,” he laughs. “She is extremely loving, but cares only about the end, not about the means, in a sense.”

When he was around 10, Vivek was told that he was to be taken to the Black Thunder amusement park in Coimbatore. After a few hours of fun, however, he was whisked away to the Chinmaya International Residential School in Siruvani.

Hostel life was a far cry far from the comforts of the secluded Poes Garden and the relative ease of Don Bosco School in Egmore.

“It was a shock for me. I thought Poes Garden was the world. The real world hit me hard. It took me time to adjust and I would cry a lot, wanting to go back home. I asked my mother many times why I had been sent away. She would only say – “Nee inga iruntha kettu kuttichuvaru aagiruppey” (You would have been spoilt and become good for nothing if you stayed here). I would get angry with her. Then once when I went for a month’s break to Garden, I asked Periyatthai boldly why I had been sent away. She said the same thing as my mother. “You are a small 10-year-old boy, cycling around the verandah and I have watched as 40-50 year old party men bow down to you with folded hands,” she told me.

Periyatthai explained to me that this was not good for me and that I have to learn to stand on my own feet in the real world. “We were not spoon-fed. We will all not be around all the time to support you,” she told me. “You have to see the world.”

The decision to send Vivek away to hostel though, was Sasikala’s. When the ‘Boy’ cried, the mother and the Jayalalithaa tended to melt. But Sasikala would remain firm. Vivek did not study Tamil in school either. “In hostel I forgot that I was from a political family. I wanted to be a professional.”

Professional Life

After schooling, it was time for a BBA degree at Sydney’s Macquarie University. “When I landed there, I was thrilled. Chinnatthai had handed over 5000 Australian dollars (AUD) to me when I left, for expenses. I blew it up within 3 days, having fun with friends. I called up Chinnatthai and said I needed more money. She never asked me how I spent it or anything. She said okay and hung up. But the money never came. I began to get desperate and called my elder sister who lived in Singapore. Her husband came and handed over another AUD 5000 to me and told me gently not to expect any more money from the family. That’s when I realised I had to fend for myself,” he says.

He started working at night at Woolworths, a well-known chain of stores, loading and unloading goods. Night shifts were sought after by Asians since it meant a little more money. Having scheduled all his classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, Vivek then took up a job as a pizza delivery boy with Pizza Hut during the day.

“I moved out of the on-campus accommodation to a house shared by five students. I was the only Hindu there; the other four were Muslims from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. I learnt about Muslim culture through the kindness of my roommates. Just because I would not eat beef, all four would never cook beef in the house. They would go out and eat it. Just for my sake. This was also the time I learnt to keep accounts of my expenses,” he says.

After the BBA degree, he enrolled for an MBA at Symbiosis, Pune. Following an internship with Samsung India, Vivek was hired in campus recruitments by tobacco major ITC. The first six months went by in training at Kolkata, the norm for all freshers.

“My day would begin at 6 a.m. when I would have to cycle along with a salesman to all the paan shops and tea shops to hand over cigarette packets. We would do 15 such ‘beats’ in a day. By 6 p.m. we had to do the whole round of paan shops and tea shops to collect the cash and then prepare an account sheet for our supervisors,” he says.

 

After completing his training, Vivek was posted to the company’s food division in Bengaluru. He asked for a transfer to Chennai, to be closer home. Chinnatthai though forbade him from staying at Poes Garden. “She told me that it is not advisable to keep coming and going from Garden and that I needed to remain anonymous so I could stand on my own feet. She told me to stay with my second sister in Chennai. On weekends I would visit Garden where my mother was staying.”

No one knew Vivek’s background. “It was very peaceful,” he says.

Until 2014.

When the trial court in Bengaluru ruled that Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran were guilty of corruption, they were sent to prison for 21 days. “I asked my manager for leave. He asked me why. I was forced to tell him that my mother was going to jail and that I had to go there. For the first time I saw fear in the eyes of my boss. Earlier he would treat me like just another employee, ask me to get him coffee and make me wait for hours for approvals. To be honest, I felt good. I got leave and stayed in Bengaluru until they came out of prison on bail,” he says.

On returning to work, Vivek was the star attraction. “Everyone respected me more than my own boss. The main boss who was the head of the division, had never interacted with any of us until then. He called me, gave me coffee and told me that my problem is his problem and that the company stood by me. I was floating for about 3 days. And then I was asked to step in to get some work done from the Tamil Nadu government. I took a step back.”

Vivek says that he resigned a few days later. “For two or three months after that, I kept trying for jobs. But by then everyone knew my face, they had seen me on TV. I did not want to work for smaller companies, having worked at ITC. I did not want to compromise on my paycheck. I did not know what to do. I lost my nerve,” he admits.

Chosen heir

In 2015, Sasikala asked Vivek to take care of the newly renamed Jazz Cinemas, previously called Hot Wheels Engineering. A firm with a dubious past, as reported in The Hindu on May 26, was to get a professional makeover. “I don’t know anything about Hot Wheels or what business they did earlier but the family did own theatres —Kaveri theatre in Trichy and Oscar theatre in Vellore, for example. There is a lady who takes care of all that. I do not know anything about that,” he says.

Vivek denies any wrongdoing or illegal financial transactions in Jazz Cinemas and Jaya TV. He also denied allegations of a forced sale of Luxe Cinemas by Sathyam group to Jazz in 2015. “The allegations are untrue. Sathyam wanted to sell their entire property to PVR. They were happy to sell it to me,” he said.

The recent I-T raids are the first such encountered by the young scion. “I have never faced I-T raids before. I never knew what kind of questions would be asked. I have answered all the questions asked of me. There are some pending queries about my wife’s wedding jewellery but my father in law has the necessary documents and I just have to submit them to the IT department, which I will soon do. In Jazz Cinemas, my room is sealed. My wife’s jewels have been confiscated by the department,” he says.

Asked whether there was a political motive behind the I-T raids, Vivek reiterated that he did not think so. “They (I-T officials) were very professional, they were just doing their jobs. If it is a normal I-T case, the result will be normal. How the case goes forward will show whether there is political motive or not,” he smiles.

Vivek Jayaraman is now readying for a new role. Will he enter active politics? “I have been given a job to do with Jazz and Jaya TV. Amma’s death has changed a lot of things. I was happy before. Now, I am not so happy. I cannot figure out whether people are being honest or not. A lot of people have changed towards me. But tomorrow if I am given a new role, a new responsibility, I will do it. It is my duty,” he says.

Vivek is worried about his Chinnatthai and his mother, both of whom are lodged in jail. “I see them once in 15 days. I am worried about their health. They are both deteriorating. They tell me they are fine but I can make out they are not. I am seeing my atthai (aunt) as an atthai for the first time, only now that she is in jail. They are going through a tough time,” he adds.

Does he find that being part of the Mannargudi family is now an albatross around his neck? “I may be different in approach from the rest of them, maybe due to my upbringing, but I am very much a part of the Mannargudi family and I love my family,” he says.

As uncertainty cripples the AIADMK, with the Edappadi Palaniswami, O. Panneerselvam and T.T.V. Dhinakaran camps fighting with all knives out, the future of Tamil Nadu politics hangs in the balance. And Vivek Jayaraman says he does not relish the situation.

He signs off with something akin to longing. “I think I have been protected all my life. I think I am the only fellow who has been protected in this family. Now things have changed.”

(Sandhya Ravishankar is an independent journalist based out of Chennai)

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 3:39:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/father-mother-boss-vivek-jayaraman-a-son-to-three-women/article20596955.ece

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