Blogdosts.... go for it! Vote now : On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Didi's sex appeal?
Opinions in Kolkata are mixed. As for me, anybody who could scream , " Oye, you BBC! Chupp karo!" to a particularly annoying BBC reporter, gets my vote.
This appeared on the front page of The Telegraph today, and I have received some hilarious reactions....bhalo bhalo ones, as well!
De’s Date with Didi – Mamata Mania at its giddiest!
Things are about to change in India’s “worst governed state,” going by the hysterical crowds greeting Didi as she races from one rally to the other on the last and final day of campaigning in Kolkata. It looks like a done deal. Fans shout out ,“Congratulations, Didi!” and pelt her with marigold petals as the Scorpio we are in zips past hundreds of people lining the route on a particularly muggy weekday afternoon. “My voice is choked,” Mamata says somewhat grumpily. But she is obviously very pleased by the turn out at Jadavpur, her bete- noire’s constituency. Her candidate, Manish Gupta is beaming as she briskly clambers on to the shaky dais and begins her speech. Speech done, she clambers off and we get back into her campaign car. Mamata is clearly on a roll and in control, seated on the front seat next to the driver, waving to school kids on cycles while pointing out, “The chief minister was here on Sunday… he stayed for five minutes… no crowd… so he left.Today is a working day and yet so many people have come . Elite people. Society ladies. Intellectuals.Writers. Film makers.Artists. A to Z, they are all with me. The C.M. is going to lose by 30,000 votes…. his party will win no more than 10 out of 54 seats in North Bengal.” She pops a couple of Cadbury’s ‘Shots’ into her mouth. “Have a lozenge,” she offers generously before pumping up the volume of the car stereo. She turns to businessman Shivaji Panja who was earlier introduced as , “Didi’s Man Friday… no… Man Tuesday, Man Monday, Man Everyday…” She instructs him to translate the words of the song for which she has written the lyrics. Shivaji assumes an appropriate expression and does Didi’s bidding : “ Return my sindhoor to me…..” wails the singer, as Shivaji soldiers on with the translation. Mamata was inspired to pen the song after a particularly brutal murder that widowed a young woman, he explains. Everybody in the crowded vehicle knows the context.The mood is somber as Didi says, “Over 75,000 people have been murdered by the CPM…. this is the Second Freedom Movement. Our fight…. West Bengal’s struggle… is even greater than Mandela’s fight in South Africa.We have independence but we are totally oppressed. It is nothing but state-sponsored terrorism. Atrocities are committed everyday.” Didi has got her choked voice back after a shot of a magic cough syrup and some more chocolate ‘Shots’. Her minders say admiringly, “She hardly eats anything … she has not eaten the whole day.Just some tea and a few biscuits.” I discover to my delight we have something major in common - Didi is a night bird, who surfaces at noon. I wish I could, too. Surface at noon. She sleeps around 3 a.m. but is working hard on changing her obstinate bio rhythms. The only calls she takes before 9 a.m. are the P.M.’s or Sonia Gandhi’s. But as she prepares for her new role as C.M. Didi is training her body clock to eat dinner by 7 p.m. and wake up earlier. Does she cook? She squeals with delight and says she loves to! What does she like eating? Alloo chaap, Pyajju, Murri, teliya bhaaja. When does she get the time? “ I do many things,” she boasts like a school girl. “I knit. I play the Casio, I sing, I paint, I write poetry. Creativity is my third eye… that is how I relax.” She does have a delightfully dulcet voice. Does she think women in politics are somehow judged differently? Mamata answers boredly, “I am not interested in all that. I don’t think of myself as a man or woman. I am a human being.” Her indifferent response reminds me of a rather startling question a senior journalist had posed to me earlier : “Do you find Mamata sexy?” Ummm, depends, I’d dodged, countering that with, “ Do Bengali men find her sexy?” It was his turn to dodge. A younger journo had admitted regretfully, “ The problem in Bengal is that we want our leaders to be beyond such things – we prefer them sexless.” Oh dear. What a pity.I’d also been told Didi hated rich people. Did she? “ There is no difference between rich people and poor people. They are all people”, she snaps, adding, “I am not bothered by such things.” How will she attract those fat cats to invest in her State after the several debacles that have seen funds steadily flowing out ? More so after Pranab Mukherjee’s telling comment about the ‘lamentable financial health” of West Bengal? “ They will all come,” she states confidently “ They will invest money… and also enjoy their money…. shareholders will be happy.” Didi mops her face with an embroidered white stole that is draped over her off-white , green- bordered tangail saree ( neatly ironed, with a fall attached at the hem). Her feet are shod in her trademark blue Hawaiian flip flops. U.P.’s chief minister Mayawati has her purses and Didi, West Bengal’s chief minister- in- waiting , her flip flops. For all her projected indifference to matters of personal vanity, she is clearly particular about her appearance and image. At 53, her jet black hair tied into a nape bun, appears to be professionally dyed. She’s wearing gold studs in her ear lobes, an HMT watch on her wrist and a ring with a shining red stone on one of her fingers. She works out on her treadmill every day. And eats frugally. She is pretty techno savvy and owns several gizmos such as an iPad, an iPod, a Blackberry. There are several fan pages on Facebook, but she has yet to join the Twitterati. I cheekily ask her about marriage.She dismisses the question saying, “ I didn’t get the time…I didn’t think of a personal life. My life was for the people who needed help.” So much for the rumors that she had in fact, opted for a brief marriage years ago before opting out. I ask her about the ten rupees she takes daily from her mother.Pocket money? “No. Blessings…” she says shortly, before waving to the fawning minions. Is it true even the mosquitoes in Bengal are too lazy to bite anyone? I tease. Didi snorts, “Bengali people are not idle people .We are not lethargic. The Bengali brain is very good. But for so many years the CPM denied a good education to people – one generation with no English, no computers. I have promised 10 lakh jobs in 2 years. Read my manifesto… it is all there.” This is the cue for Shivaji to hand me a glossy book with a kiddish illustration of two colourful flowers on the cover. The men in the car tell me proudly it has been designed by Didi. She explains, “ These are grass flowers… we work at the grass roots level.” The men nod and say, “ Didi is an artist. She loves doodling. She has designed everything…. written all the slogans… she comes up with the ad campaign personally.” Figures.
Mamata is clearly on a terrific high. It has nothing to do with the cough syrup. She has sensed imminent victory and the gloves are off. A somewhat risky strategy, say observers, especially since she is taking on the BJP. “What if the scenario does not pan out the way she thinks? What if Rahul Gandhi doesn’t deliver in 2014? What if the BJP comes into power? She has not factored that in. She gains nothing by attacking them.” Mamata is in no mood to listen to such carping. “The minorities are with me. My job is to create employment for all. I am with everybody. Muslims, Christians, everybody. I keep rozas. I have read the Koran. I go to Church. It is the so-called Leftists who have tried to influence people in the wrong way. And now the BJP is trying it. There is nothing wrong with Marx and Lenin. But let us not forget Vivekananda and Tagore. Our culture, our traditions, our pride.”
Mamata’s much discussed modest personal space is interesting. Her office and home are located one lane away from the historic Kali Ghat temple. The place is an absolute dump. A shabby garage with abandoned taxis stands in front of the lowly structure she occupies ( air conditioning is reserved for her brother’s bedroom) , but it’s easy to conclude an important person lives there going by the number of police vans and men in uniforms lounging around the place. “I get no protection from the State, but I belong to Z-plus category,’’ she says. Not only is the lady fearless, she appears pretty reckless, too. Silly about security. As we clamber into the car and clamber out at rallies, she doesn’t bother about her own safety even as crowds push past those tough looking guys in safari suits who are trying in vain to keep them at bay. People grab her, touch her, push her and ignore all attempts to stop them. A foolish young mother attempts to shove her infant into the car through a narrow gap in the window. She wants Mamata to bless the baby. Nobody discourages her. From Didi to Devi – it’s happening. “Is there anything at all that you are afraid of?’’ I ask the woman who has 46 stitches on her skull, and several fractures. “No… nothing!” she answers firmly. “Cockroaches? Lizards? Snakes?” She shakes her head. I think she is beginning to regret this interview and thinks I’m pretty crazy. She has just finished delivering a thundering speech to a rapt, besotted crowd of over four thousand people. There are several pit stops en route to Howrah.And she doesn’t want to waste her choked voice on dumb questions. Like what she thinks of Anil Basu and his crass comments . She says disdainfully, “These are small, petty matters. They (CPM) know only one thing – how to abuse and accuse.” So, we get serious. How will she combat Congress goons after she comes into power? The ones who will attempt to muscle in , Mumbai-style, and strike deals with local builders – that’s the feeling on the street. Mamata declares, “ We will not allow land grabbing by any political party – not even the Congress.We want proper development. People are tired of atrocities committed by the CPM. They want development and education.” As a quick after thought, she adds, “Nobody cares about the Nano going from here.Everybody will invest… people used to be scared earlier.Not anymore. People are coming out after Singur… speaking up.” What had stopped them earlier? “People had no confidence… they could not protest. Administrators were functioning like party members… not allowing people to vote.Even journalists were scared. Because the police worked for the party in power.” I make no reference to talk of mass scale corruption at the panchayat level that she apparently turns a blind eye to. Her admirers point out Mamata doesn’t possess a magic wand. But people’s expectations are pretty high after all her tall promises of creating so many jobs. Will she deliver? Can she? How? Didi states very emphatically, “ There will be no interference from anyone. Not even family members. I trust everybody. I listen to everybody and then make my own decisions.” Is this kind of tough talk really going to sound like music to her new BFFs in Delhi ? What about her equation with Sonia. What did she think of her? Didi paused and answered carefully, “ I maintain good relations with Sonia.” Then she said something rapidly to her minders in Bengali and they reminded her that I do understand the language! So she adds, “ They ( the Gandhis) are very sensitive people. I don’t want to say anything more.” And yes, Manmohan Singh need not worry about his job. Nor should anybody else. To the question, “Do you see yourself as the Prime Minister someday?” Mamata giggles , “I am just a social worker. I want to help people. Many other big, big people are there – let them do that job. I want to remain a commoner. An LIP, not VIP.” Errr… I didn’t get that. “Less Important Person!” she chortles. ” Her minders join in the laughter. No comments on Binayak Sen , either. “ Meet me after the elections and we’ll talk freely then,’’ says the future chief minister of West Bengal before jumping out of the car and greeting her delirious subjects.
And oh…. did I find her sexy? Well, sexier than Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, for sure!