| AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee places a wreath on the body of Bapi Sen at Lalbazar on Monday, while finance minister Asim Dasgupta awaits his turn. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
In life, Bapi Sen could be seen in the Chowringhee-Park Street-Theatre Road zone, hauling up helmet-less scooterists and lending a helping hand to accident victims.
In death, Bapi’s colleagues and other Calcuttans queued up on his last journey, skirting the stretch he strode admirably, to pay their last respects to a sergeant who died while fulfilling his duty even when he was off it. Flowers paved the path of the people’s hero, as he was driven down the route he would cover on his Calcutta Police bike almost every day.
The tragic journey began from a hospital and ended at a crematorium, touching a morgue and a mourning neighbourhood in Parnasree, that had virtually shut down following news that its favourite son was no more.
The last lap of honour began at around 10.30 am from Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI). Among those accompanying the wreath-bedecked hearse were two of his ‘friends’ who had watched, from the safety of a car, Bapi being beaten senseless on the tram tracks of Nirmal Chandra Street after he had tried to stop five drunk constables from teasing a young woman on New Year’s eve.
By the time the cortege reached Kantapukur morgue around 11 am, the crowd there had swelled to at least a hundred.
The second leg traversed the distance between the morgue and Lalbazar, where Bapi had started his career as an officer in the control room 12 years ago, and where chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would pay his last respects to one of his bravest boys.
The chief minister came around 4 pm, laid a wreath, asked Bapi’s brothers (Anup and Joydeb) to keep in touch with the police commissioner for “any help, any time”, before allowing the cortege to roll on.
At Parnasree, raw emotion ruled over restraint. As the wailing sirens heralding the 13-car convoy rang clear, neighbours and friends, waiting since seven in the morning, swamped the streets and crowded the balconies and nearby terraces.
Bapi had helped transform the mud-and-thatch structure of the Parnasree Government Quarters Recreation Club into a concrete affair. The red-and-white club insignia fluttered at half-mast, below a black flag, as neighbours waited on the ground where they had seen the tall, strapping youth excel at ‘para’ sports. More than 3,000 people were there through the day, the closer ones “guarding” the modest — and, on Monday, the disconsolate — flat numbered 27/164 in the Parnasree Govt Quarters.
Bapi finally left his neighbourhood after a nearly two-hour stopover, as his neighbours, friends and family were reluctant to let their hero go. When the cortege made its way for Keoratala, accompanied by Bapi’s parents, he left behind a neighbourhood bereaved.
In life, Bapi Sen was a bravery award-winner. In death, Bapi’s colleagues lamented that his last heroics would never win him any official recognition, for he was “off-duty” when he stepped up to save a damsel in distress late on December 31. But as another man in uniform put it: “There can be no greater award for Bapi than this final salute from a city that must never forget this braveheart.”