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Maharaja tomare selam, was the cry

Satyajit Ray’s favourite hero Soumitra Chatterjee recalls the final journey of the filmmaker and also the day the city bid a tearful farewell to Uttam Kumar. “The love and respect showered on the day of a funeral is not formed overnight.... It’s the culmination of a lifetime of adoration and affection,” said Chatterjee, as he led Metro down memory lane.

Satyajit Ray (April ’92)

His body was kept all day, till the evening, at Nandan. Thousands and thousands of people came to see him for the last time… many from faraway places on trains. At one point one of the queues stretched from Nandan to Park Street and beyond!

I had gone to Manikbabu’s house in the morning and then followed him to Nandan and stayed there all along. Once on the road, I remember Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee taking me inside his car and we following the vehicle carrying the body.

It’s quite remarkable that the Calcutta famous for its indisciplined behaviour had become so unified on that day. The special barricade created for the crowds to queue up was squashed but the people themselves formed two lines by holding hands. They then quietly followed the vehicle in a very orderly manner.

At the junction where the procession went past Elgin Road and entered Beninandan Street, a huge white wreath of flowers was brought down by a pulley and placed directly on the body. It was quite a remarkable sight and done in such a planned fashion.

Then when the vehicle reached the area near Purna cinema, I remember a few young men suddenly started shouting a slogan. Initially, I couldn’t make out what they were saying but then it was loud and clear: “Maharaja tomare selam!” This can only happen in Calcutta, in appreciation of a great artiste.

Uttam Kumar (July ’80)

I wasn’t on the road with the procession that day but I had gone to his house and also to the studio when the body was taken there. The funeral procession that day was different in nature. It was a bit unexpected because no one was aware of his heart ailment and no one imagined that their favourite star would be gone just like that in his 50s. So you could feel that sense of despair, that sense of anguish in the crowds that day.

And...

The largest funeral procession I have seen was that of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (in 1953) and that was quite incredible. I remember how a sea of people took over the roads and followed the body.

After S.P. Mukherjee, there has been no bigger leader of people than Jyoti Basu. I would put him on a higher pedestal than B.C. Roy purely in terms of leadership qualities. So the huge gathering today for Basu is understandable.

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