Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Encountering Mamata

A community is imagined, they say, because you will never know most people making your community, meet them, or even hear of them. But in a city of 45 lakhs 80 thousand and 544 people, it would be impossible to be a Calcuttan and not have encountered Mamata Banerjee, in some form or the other. We have never met, but I have known her for long. Even as a school girl, with my total disregard for politics, she always cut a surprise figure on the periphery of my subconscious (that was well before I understood her brand of didigiri politics, of course). I first fell upon her on the pages of a well-known Calcutta weekly. I hardly remember what the write-up was all about. What did strike me and remained solidly implanted in my memory were those photographs of Banerjee—hair in a braid, singing to a harmonium like a good Bengali girl; or those leisure-hour verse compositions in English, scrawled in a childish hand. Some years later, one fine morning, all buses were taken off the main road in our locality. Reason? The chief minister goes to office down that street, hence off with clutter. But how does one reach college? As life turned tough all of a sudden, didi arrived. Blaring into a microphone, she invited all the women in the neighbourhood, "Join me. Let's form a human chain and obstruct all traffic in protest." That was my mother's first excited participation in any 'political' agitation. In two hours flat, life returned to normalcy again and buses started plying on Ballygunge Circular Road. Soon Banerjee emerged as the youngest Parliamentarian in the country by defeating veteran CPI-M leader, Somnath Chatterjee in the Jadavpur constituency. The Left may have been surprised by her windfall victory, but not my mother. "Some girl!" she said. As a indian, you get used to chancing upon wips and vips. Girls came rushing in one day. "Mamata is here," they hooted. "She has arrived with a bagful of rakhi and tying those on men." Does being a "didi" stand for some sort of a Bengali feminism to her? Certainly, her Anandabazar "brothers" helped spread the wonderful story of "Flower Power" (her Party symbol being two flowers on a stem). Our editor was more circumspect: "Don't laugh at her," she said. "She seems to be terrific at the job that we are supposed to do—touching people's hearts and telling their stories. That's Mamata's trump card and her meal ticket." I think, I understood what my editor meant years later. One summer evening, I stumbled upon a gathering at the Park Circus Maidan, a well-trenched "red" locality. A few political leaders protesting the Left Front proposal to do away with exams in school. I would have passed the crowd by, but Mamata Banejee's voice rang out with the kind of stabbing passion that opera lovers dream about: "Say, there's a question in an exam, 'What was Jyoti Basu's father's name? Nishikanto Basu, Shoshikanto Basu, or Shojonokanto Basu?' As far as we know, it's Nishikanto Basu. But if you put a tick mark on all three and pass the exam, would it mean Jyoti Basu had three fathers?" A moment that shivered the soul with its sound, if strange, logic. The crowd erupted into gasps, followed by clapping.
Expect the unexpected, that's my Mamata Banerjee. An incredible package between a laugh and a tear: she can touch your soul with a few words (or clichés), yet paralyse your city with her arbitrary demands and outstanding antics; she can exude raw energy in her furies and wiles, yet be intellectually bankrupt and emotionally muddled; she can be your oh-so-familiar next-door "didi", yet be the only "opposition" to put the fear of god in the Left bastion. It's a different brand of politics—intimate yet capricious—that has taken her, time and again, to the verge of great success only to toss her aside: she made far too many demands on Rajiv Gandhi; P.V. Narasimha Rao was more caustic, causing her to declare independence from the Congress. She chose the BJP, but the bond proved weak. She rediscovered the Congress. And with every passing alliance, she chucked a series of postings as a minister. In a political career spanning 40 years, she has been left holding a great big zero. In the present debacle over Bengal's industrial fate vs rights to land, one wonders what she's battling: the Tatas, people's rights, herself or a Nemesis?


  © Free Blogger Templates Blogger Theme by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP