Hundreds stood outside Peace Haven on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, where Jyoti Basu’s body has been kept, throughout Monday. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
A single-storey south Calcutta building with a crumbling colonnade that most passers-by would usually ignore has suddenly become one of the city’s most-visited spots.
“A large part of our political history, and who and what we are as a people, lies in that building across the road,” 42-year-old Jaffar Khan, who runs a tea stall on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, told Metro on Monday.
He was referring to Peace Haven, one of only two private mortuaries in the city and Jyoti Basu’s resting place until his final journey to the anatomy department of SSKM Hospital.
Set up in 1967, Peace Haven has sheltered some of the biggest names in Bengal’s political history, including Hiren Mukherjee, Prasanta Sur, Ruby Noor, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Anil Biswas.
But mortuary manager Henry Bahadur, who has been with Peace Haven for over two decades, thinks it will from now on be known as “Jyotibabu’s haven”.
When Bahadur received a call from Park Street police station on Sunday afternoon asking for “space for the late Jyoti Basu”, the first thing that came to his mind was “freezer number two”.
“Freezer number two was the one that was allotted to Jyotibabu’s protégé, the late Subhas Chakraborty, six months ago. I think it’s destiny more than coincidence that this was the only one out of the three we have that was vacant on Sunday,” said Bahadur, who felt “honoured” to handle Basu’s body.
Since 3.50pm on Sunday, when Basu’s body arrived from Indira Bhavan, hundreds have stood outside Peace Haven staring at the building, as if waiting for someone to emerge.
“What brings me here? Jyotibabu, of course,” said 54-year-old government employee Samir Mukherjee, panning the red flags and banners on the trees and the iron barricades.
Mukherjee, who came to Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road all the way from Serampore, said Peace Haven was symbolic of “the realisation that death is the great leveller”.
Trinamul Congress leader Farid Khan, a resident of the area, said he had seen many leaders being brought to Peace Haven but “Jyoti Basu is obviously special”.
“I was there when Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Ruby Noor were brought here. But I have to say that Jyotibabu being kept here for two days is what people will remember Peace Haven for,” he added.
Peace Haven used to be home to several generations of an Anglo-Indian family until it was converted into a mortuary in the late Sixties.
David Godhunk, an employee of Peace Haven, said the standard practice at the mortuary was to inject a dose of formalin to preserve a body for around a week. “The injection costs Rs 900 and the fee for the freezer is Rs 600 a night,” he added.
Basu will, however, be a “honoured guest” only for two nights. The Marxist leader’s final long march begins from Peace Haven at 7.30 on Tuesday morning.