Chennai : Tears welled up the eyes of Chinnapillai, an elderly woman in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district on Thursday evening as news of the death of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came in.

Chinnapillai had shot to national limelight on a bright January day in 2001 when Vajpayee, then Prime Minister, bowed and touched her feet much to the shock and awe of the audience at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi and dozens of camera men and videographers capturing the moment. Vajpayee was much elder to Chinnapillai, who was only in her fifties then.

The woman from rural Madurai had gone to Vigyan Bhavan to receive the Stree Shakti Puraskar from the Prime Minister for her remarkable work in forming women’s self help groups in Madurai and establishing a micro credit movement with members pooling in just Rs 20 per head. Her initiative as part of the programme ‘Kalanjiam’ started by an NGO Dhan Foundation had spread beyond Tamil Nadu.

While presenting the award Vajpayee bowed and touching her feet in reverence of her service. “I was embarrassed because he appeared like God to me,” Chinnapillai had said then. Not just that, he said “I see ‘shakti’ in Chinnapillai”.

On Thursday evening, as dozens of journalists gathered around her, she turned emotional saying her effort to meet him one last time six months ago during a visit to Delhi had failed. “I am not well now, otherwise I would have gone to Delhi now to pay my last respects to him,” she said with tears welling up her eyes.

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