Jab tak Suraj-Chand rahega : Indira Gandhi ka naam rahega – Chawm Ganguly.

Indira GandhiIt was certainly South Calcutta’s biggest portrait of the Late Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi on Sarat Bose Road, just off the crossing of Sarat Bose and Puddapukur Roads. And, from the day it was painted way back in 1984 (or was it 1985?) she had stared defiantly in all her regal, benevolent splendor, her benign smile somehow coexisting with the sternness that only she could carry.

I remember, I was still in school, the ruling CPI (M) was a monolith that was virtually impossible to dislodge and somehow the portrait had become a rallying point, a catharsis even, to many of us who were opposed to the communist rule. The painter who had originally been assigned to do the job had executed it brilliantly and in the decades that followed, finding one to just brush up the chipped paint and put gloss on the weather beaten face had become a task in itself.

Bus conductors would herd their passengers yelling “Indira Gandhi”, as would weary travelers en route to their destinations, as it had become, over the years, one of the land marks of the city. Local ruffians would play carrom next to it in the evenings, jilted lovers would settle their scores, Congress supporters congregate for political purposes and the CPI (M) processions instinctively rise the pitch of their slogans, as if, urged by some sub-conscious politburo’s diktat. Crude bombs of warning would be hurled at it when things went out of control, only for the protagonists to grow out of their fiercely politicized youth to become friends of middle aged compromise under her sometimes un-approving, sometimes glaring, and at times uninterested eyes.

After the tragic death of her son, the Late Rajiv Gandhi, a martyr’s memorial was erected overnight by the boys of the locality which later sported a marble plaque in honour of the supreme sacrifice of the late leaders for the Nation, but could never match the picture in its sheer scale or impact. It was somehow, a living, larger than life testimonial of the much abused adage “India is Indira and Indira is India” – as on August 15th and January 26th, our Nationalistic fervors were stoked by the unfurling of the Tricolor, which we believed had the sanction of officialdom, blessed by her presence. On November 19th and October 31st, a huge marigold garland used to adorn her neck, though the martyr’s memorial somehow never received the attention of the kind of enthusiasm it was built with. It remained there, like a footnote to the momentous lives, cobwebbed and dirt laden like the millions of such memorials in every part of the country, built by a generation who had nonchalantly moved on with life and unclaimed as their own by the ones that have followed.

It was well within the stipulated 100 yards from the polling booth in Puddapukur Institution, but somehow, even during abrasively contested elections no political party demanded the customary coat of white paint, nor did over-zealous Election Commission observers. And even the policemen on duty did nothing to deface its sanctity. Somehow, in death, she was much larger than everything that she was in life and even her staunchest critics viewed her with a kind of reverence that every Nation reserves for its leaders.

Then something happened for which at least, I was not prepared. The Congress disintegrated with the TMC usurping the popular mandate. Those who had stood firm, even on the face of the CPI(M) fusillade crossed over to fill the ranks of what we thought was the upstart. Even those who had originally stayed back, slowly switched sides and the TMC became the true bearer of the tri-colour for all “practical” purposes. When the long struggle ended and the bugle of victory over the communists was finally sounded, my heart exalted – even as I stood alone, hoist in our own petard, relishing a momentous win that was at best a Pyrrhic one, for Congress supporters like me.

The final blow came a week back. First polythene sheets covered the entire ground floor of the building that had housed the Portrait for almost three decades now. Then a swank departmental store unveiled itself, replete with show windows and a cornucopia of digital goods inside. Gone were our heartfelt tribute to the Nehru-Gandhi family, obliterated forever in a perverse show of power, bankrolled by Corporate coffers that are allegedly bottomless. Erased forever – unsung, unloved and unprotected, a far cry from the vehemence with which Election Commission workers have been “engaged” for taking down political posters.

Those whose very political existence once depended on her name were not bothered, they have found a “Sister” to replace their “Mother” of yore and it is still “all in the family”. And skeptics say that the family does not have the wherewithal to be milked the way it used to. Besides, as one (then Congress, now TMC) leader pointed out “why bother about the Prime Ministers past, when today you can contribute to the making of a brand new one”?  But history? Will history treat us,  who forget our past so conveniently, with the kindness we think we deserve?

“History is just a story written by the victors” said the leader. “You should switch sides when there is still time, or else, history will not even remember you, forget about treatment.”

Perhaps they are right. Perhaps those who write the history of today in the morrow will not even bother to remember the likes of me. But will I give up the bitterness I hold in my heart and trade my love for a better tomorrow? I guess not, for if I do, I won’t be able to look her or myself in the eyes. They may do away with the wall that held her portrait, but no one can wash her picture away from my heart, or for that matter, the years that have shaped me into what I am today. Warts, appeasement, pseudo-secularism: et al.

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