For Chinnapillai, leader of Kalanjiyam — a women’s self-help group (SHG) of the Madurai-based Dhan Foundation — what happened on January 4, 2001, in New Delhi is still the stuff of dreams.
She had gone to the national capital at the invitation of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, draped in her best cotton sari and wearing her worn-out rubber slippers, to receive the Stree Shakti Puraskar from the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Her name was called out.
After presenting her the award, the Prime Minister looked into her eyes and then the unthinkable happened. He quickly bent to touch her feet. She tried to hold his hands, but he completed his obeisance. She reciprocated the gesture.
Ms. Chinnapillai melted in the applause that filled Vigyan Bhavan. Her eyes welled up with tears. Later, in his speech, Mr. Vajpayee said that he saw ‘shakti’ in Ms. Chinnapillai’s face.
She is shocked that the man who touched her feet as Prime Minister has died. She made a vain attempt six months ago to meet him on a visit to New Delhi. “I would have gone to New Delhi to pay my respects to the departed leader, but I am not well now,” she said.
Ms. Chinnapillai, a resident of Mathur village in Madurai district, owes her global fame to Mr. Vajpayee. And the moment which makes her shudder, remains frozen in her memory.