Kolkata: Did you know that Mamata Banerjee, the present Chief Minister of West Bengal, detested CPI (M) to such an extent that she never consumed laal cha (liquor tea)? Untold trivia about the much talked about Didi of Bengal was the crux of the third session of the recently concluded Women Writers’ Fest in Kolkata when Shutapa Paul, author of Didi, The Untold Mamata Banerjee and political journalist-cum- author Swati Sengupta engaged in a conversation.
Mamata is more relevant now
The young author, who hails from Kolkata, began by saying, “Being from Kolkata, Mamata was my obvious choice for my book. She has an aura, she is an achiever, and above all being a woman she has scaled stature in Indian politics, where she can actually call the shots. And politically speaking, she is very relevant now.”
She mentioned, “Think about it, Mamata hails from the stinky, dingy lanes of Kalighat and today she is the Chief Minister of Bengal. There was a time when she would be beaten, put behind bars but she would study in the lockup and then the next day appear for her exam. Her character has all the traits that are needed for a great read.” Shutapa quickly added, “Hence, I have treated my book, (Didi) like a novel, where Mamata is the protagonist and I narrate strengths, weakness and even her mistakes.”
Speaking about the craft of writing biographies, Shutapa, without mincing words said, “Writing a biography of a living person is not an easy task. Needless to say, that penning down an unauthorized biography becomes even more challenging. There is an unknown pressure from different quarters, making it difficult to gain access to information and trivia.”
On being prodded by Swati, she revealed, “Writing an unofficial biography had its own challenges. Mamata Banerjee was the last person that I interviewed for my book. It was a conscious choice. I was scared that if I approached her first then it could so happen that the other doors leading me to information about her would be closed. So, I took the more difficult route, met people, interviewed them and then when I had all the information I needed I approached my protagonist. She met me but declined from giving me an interview.”
When the young author was asked about the challenges, she said, “There were many. Mamata’s best friend had agreed for an interview, but she backed out in the eleventh hour. Then, I had to travel to Kolkata just to trace her school teacher, who is far too old. But then she gave me valuable insights such as despite my protagonist being an average school student, she had two character traits which have definitely brought her, this far – determination and honesty.”
Shutapa added, “Given the fact that she (Mamata) is a regional leader who could play the kingmaker in 2019 Lok Sabha election, has made wary of the book (Didi). Not many are keen on writing about this book. During my book’s launch in New Delhi, a prominent speaker excused himself, we also had problems in getting a venue for the book release.”
Revealing the untold
Some of the untold stories that the book highlights are her childhood days, what she was like in school and college and what she liked to do as a child and what perhaps brought her into politics. The book also highlights her political low and how she used it to make a political comeback.
“The year 2006 was the most difficult and crucial year for Mamata’s political career. Her party had almost been decimated. She was the sole representative of the Trinamool Congress in the Parliament. People had stopped calling Mamata and political pundits had almost written her off. Known for her perfect attendance, Mamata even missed a few sessions,” Shutapa revealed. However, she added that perhaps, this was the time that gave her the determination to make a comeback. “One my sources for the book revealed, that one day, Mamata after her shower sat in her Delhi apartment’s living room, curiously looking at the now-silent telephone. Perturbed by its silence she asked her PA, ‘Is the phone out of order?’ only to be informed that the phone was in order.” This the author felt was the nadir of her political career, following which she strategically used the Singur issue to make an astounding political comeback by completely wiping out the CPI(M).
Method to Madness
Revealing more about her protagonist, when asked if there was a method the infamous madness of Mamata, as popularized by the opposition, Shutapa said, “Yes. Of course, there is a method to her behaviour. Let me make it clear with this example of mine – in the mid-nineties when she was keen on becoming the Congress Pradesh Parishad’s chief she had to face a lot of resentment, at that point of time she didn’t even get support from Pranab Mukherjee.
Twenty years later when Mukherjee’s name was suggested for the president’s position, then Mamata went out of her way supporting APJ Kalam, for second term. She not just supported his candidature, but also took on to Facebook, created an account to make environment for Kalam. She did everything possible to make things a bit difficult for Mukherjee and then one day calls Mukherjee’s PA and saying that she would support dada. This proves that she had not forgotten the 1997 incident and made sure to make Mukherjee work hard to seek her support, so what might have seemed to be madness to many was a method to make her senior realize something that she hadn’t forgotten over the years.