S. Manickam (48) has no qualms about being overdressed or receiving curious glances at Colombo’s Old Town Hall market at Pettah, where he works as a daily-wage labourer. Sporting a shiny shirt, trousers, a tie and sunglasses, he throws all the weight of his lean frame forward, forcing the push cart ahead. “I follow only my thalaivan’s (leader) philosophy,” he says.
Known popularly as the ‘MGR lookalike’ at the market, one of the busiest and oldest in Sri Lanka, Mr. Manickam stands out amidst the rows of shops, where noise, dust and chaos don’t seem out of place.
“We are called nattamais. Our work is to carry the load from the trucks to these shops and, at times, from the shops to other markets or stores,” he says.
A big wardrobe
“I spend all my earnings on new clothes. For the [Tamil] New Year in April, I’m getting a suit in golden yellow made for LKR19,500 (roughly ₹7,500),” says the self-proclaimed ardent fan of actor-politician M.G. Ramachandran. “When I was a young boy, my mother showed me his [MGR’s] picture and said ‘he is MGR mama. Not just for you, for the whole world. We must worship him.”
A few movies and years later, Mr. Manickam was convinced that she was right. “Wearing clothes like him is my daily tribute to him. Thalaivar said ‘piraridam kai katti velai seiyyade, tie katti velai sei’ (‘While working for someone, don’t fold your hands and be subservient. Wear a tie and take pride in your labour’). That is my motto.” Drawing out old newspaper cuttings from a bag, he points to a picture and says: “This was taken at an event held in Kandy to mark thalaivar’s centenary. Thalaivar was born in Kandy, here in Sri Lanka. I, too, was born in this country. I follow his policy and live happily,” he says.