Quarter to four: Nafisa Ali ties the red lace of her black Adidas sneakers, ready to leave for a quick spot of campaigning.
4 pm: Nafisa is waiting, wrapped in an elegant off-white tant sari with green kalka border and matching blouse. The Congress workers are nowhere to be seen.
Minutes later, impatient with waiting in her sister’s Dover Road home in the sultry afternoon, she has a brainwave.
“Let’s go to campaign in a shopping mall,” she says. And off she goes, party colleague Chandrima Bhattacharya, daughter Tickles and a friend in tow, to Forum, a shopping mall in an upmarket south Calcutta locality.
Breathless with excitement, Nafisa whispers: “It’s (an) AC campaign.”
“I haven’t come to buy anything… just to look around,” she says. The salespeople aren’t complaining.
As the Congress candidate from Calcutta South waves to the shoppers and flashes her smile, one salesperson behind a counter pipes up: “While you do that, ma’am, let’s look at you.”
Someone ribs her: “But you aren’t quite campaigning.”
“Oh, that’s because I want people to feel my aura… I want them to see me… ’coz I know I have that aura,” Nafisa, a former beauty queen and swimming champ, says with a giggle.
None of this distracts her as she saunters into Satya Paul, then Woodland, surveys the saris, kurtas and shoes, and asks Tickles if she wants something.
Nafisa herself wants a crystal flower — but not a lotus, please, she tells the attendant. The lotus is the symbol of the BJP, the ally of her poll rival Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress.
“Mamata has disappointed the voters of Bengal in joining hands with the BJP-led NDA government. I believe the votes that go to her will come back to us... And as for the CPM, the people of Bengal know they got nothing out of over two decades of Left Front rule…” she says.
The comment comes over a cup of steaming coffee at Barista, as a journalist from Kerala hangs on to Nafisa’s every word while she is “discussing politics” with her friend.
Then, it’s back home for a cup of tea and a meeting with Congress workers at Hastings, a locality in her constituency. They rue their inability to match the Left and Trinamul, poster for poster. “Arrey man se sajao na (Decorate it with your mind),” Nafisa tells them with a smile.
Nomination day, morning: Nafisa looks all Bengali in a red-bordered white sari; a dash of kajal in the eye, sindoor in the parting of the hair that is tied up in a bun.
“I wore it (sindoor) today because it goes with Bengali sentiment,” she says. She normally doesn’t.
The head covered by the anchal, Nafisa looks the perfect netri and plays one as she waves to the crowd and addresses it from an open jeep under the blazing sun.
White kurta-pajama-clad Congress workers mill around, party flags in hand, ready for a tour of south Calcutta.
After a while, Nafisa recedes into the comfort of the air-conditioned Scorpio, her family sitting inside. The tour is cut short; it’s not clear why.
“It’s so hot, I need a bath,” a drenched Nafisa says. “We will go around at 4 pm,” she assures party workers.
“Aapke gaal to bilkul apple ki tarah ho gayee hai (Your cheeks have turned as red as an apple),” one of them jokes as they agree to come back later.
With a giggle, Nafisa is off for a quick bath.
Evening: Nafisa is at Metro shopping plaza, another upmarket hotspot in south Calcutta. This time she is with her husband and son, who have come down for the filing of nominations.
Tracing her roots, she says: “I am only familiar with Bharatbarsha, written by my grandfather S. Wajed Ali, read out to me by my teacher in school… but the roots and family ties are very strong.”
Generations of Bengalis cut their teeth in regional literature with the literary piece by Wajed Ali, one of the popular litterateurs of Bengal.
The promised rally was called off “because the Congress people were late”. But then the shoppers are smiling and waving to her.