Whatever may be his popularity among the party people, not even one person in the town liked Venkatesa Perumal. Before he joined the party, his family could not even afford to rebuild the mud wall of their hut that had fallen during the rains. He did not own lands even the size of a dhoti. His father, Pavadairayan, and mother, Chellammal, would be going up and down street after street, right from the morning, hoping that someone would give them work. When he was not working, Venkatesa Perumal would be playing cards in front of the Chelliamman temple all the time.

But once he became the party branch secretary, he started going everywhere for the party and also began to wear an ironed white dhoti and white shirt. It was after these changes that the townspeople began to dislike him. First, he bought a cycle, then a TVS 50, then a Hero Honda, and now he had even bought a Tata Sumo. He had built a two-storeyed house too. Even those people who had five or ten acres in the town did not wear ironed white shirts or dhoti. But Venkatesa Perumal wore only a laundered dhoti and shirt when he went about the town. People seethed with envy when they saw this, as though slaked lime had been rubbed into their eyes.

Sometimes, people who belonged to the opposite party or even people with no party affiliations teased him when he went to the tea stall or the Chelliamman temple to play cards.

“Your thalaivi, your leader, she treats everyone in her party worse than a dog. How can you be in that party?”

Though he knew they were deliberately needling him, he answered patiently. “Even if she treated them like that, she gives them posts like MLA, MP and minister.”

“So, to get a post, you will even lick another’s boots if asked to, is it?”

He ignored this barb and just said, “Are you deliberately provoking a fight? All parties are the same in Tamil Nadu.”

When the opposite party’s people said, “But this is seen more in your party”, he snubbed them and said, “In our party, the same person will not hold the post for 20–30 years like other parties. Our leader will make an ordinary man a minister and she will bring him down in one day from being a minister to an ordinary man. In my party, anyone can become a minister. Do you know it was our leader who destroyed dynasty rule?”

“All that you say is true. No minister in your party sleeps a wink at night because he is worried that he may lose his job at any time. He feels as if burning coal is heaped on his head.”

The response came like a slap from Venkatesa Perumal.

“They behave themselves only because they are kept under tight control. Otherwise, each minister would have plotted and sliced their district, and sold them off long ago.”

“So, you may also become a minister one day?” They tried to taunt him.

“If it is written on my head that I should become a minister, who can change that?” The taunt was met with a snub.

“You put up posters and cut-outs depicting her as Kanchi Kamakshi, Madurai Meenakshi, Samayapuram Mariamman, Velankanni Matha and even Mother Tamil, thamizhthai. Isn’t it too much? Even you, do you think it is proper?”

“Will all those goddesses give you MP and MLA posts? Our leader gave us those posts, so we put up posters. What’s your problem?” The man who asked would be silenced by this reply.

Even if any ordinary person criticised his party, the Tamizhaga Uzhaippalar Munnetra Kazhagam (TUMK), or the leader of that party, he would tear them apart. He would never let down his party or their leader.

If he eulogised his party and their leader once, he would trash the opposite parties a hundred times more. And that too, criticising the main opposite party, the Ulaga Thamizhar Munnetra Kazhagam (UTMK) gave him special pleasure.

“It is the same people who demand that Rs 3 crores be deposited for an MLA seat and Rs 10 crores for an MP seat, who lecture about democracy. But our party is not like that. Whether it is an MP candidate or an MLA candidate, no one has to spend a single paisa. Everything will be taken care of by the party. What more does a party man need? Do you know there is no party like ours in the whole of India?” He would list the achievements of TUMK.

“Our leader, our thalaivi, is unmatched in beauty, intelligence, taking quick decisions and tossing the party- men around. You can’t point to anyone like her in India. A person may be a big shot in the party but she can topple him down. No one dares to question her . . . not even to stand next to her and speak. Do you know? My leader is a one-woman army.” Venkatesa Perumal would rattle on as if it were one of the wonders of the world.

“You speak so much. Tell us why you alone are branch secretary, union as well as district representative, holding all three positions yourself?”

“Tell me who has worked for the party like me in this town? Do you know, I am the only person who is true and loyal to the party? Let them also work like me. The fellows sleep at home, are unwilling to go to a meeting and are afraid it may cost a hundred rupees. What chance do they have of getting any post? If they sit stuck at home because their wives won’t let them go to party meetings, will posts walk to them on their own?” He would throw a challenge.

But he wasn’t in this attacking mode all the time. When he was in a good mood and had no urgent work to be done, he spoke about the party and its problems as well.

“Being a party member is like climbing a steep mountain. The panchayat secretary will be one kind of person, the district secretary another. To adjust to everyone is like drinking salty water or tending to an elephant and a horse at the same time. Our party is worse than others. The other party people will cite rules and defy not only the panchayat secretary or the district secretary but even the leader. Not in our party. Here, we are not even allowed to stand upright. Whatever we do, we must be flat on the floor. Join our palms together and bend. We cannot even breathe loudly. If anyone steps out of line, overnight the man will lose his post. The real truth about a party or a post is that one stands on top of the other’s head and proclaims that he is the best.”

If anyone started a conversation with him, that was all. He would not end it in a hurry.

Excerpted with permission from ‘3’ in Vazhga Vazhga and Other Stories, Imayam, translated from the Tamil by Prabha Sridevan, Penguin India.