Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee loves choru-meen. Loves what?
Choru-meen is Malayalam for bhaat-machh.
The Bengal chief minister may have differences with his Kerala comrade Prakash Karat, but he loves the state that gave the country its first communist chief minister.
“I love Kerala. I have been to Kerala several times. I love the food there. That is what I eat here as well, choru and meen, meaning bhaat and machh,” the chief minister said to a rousing round of applause at a gathering of Malayalees settled in Calcutta.
Among them was the mundu-clad Malayalee governor of Bengal, M.K. Narayanan, the unofficial host of the programme at Rabindra Sadan on Sunday.
“Today, I welcome you all to this function not as the governor of West Bengal but as a Malayalee because I am a Malayalee before being a governor,” a beaming Narayanan said at the opening of the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Calcutta Malayalee Samajam.
“When the organisers invited me to the programme, I told them I wanted to speak before the chief minister or any other dignitaries… since I wanted to welcome them,” he added.
After almost a year in Calcutta, the governor has realised that the people here and the people from where he comes share many similarities, besides their love of rice and fish of course. He listed communal amity, the ability to rise above castes, and the “love for culture”.
“Like Bengal, we have our roots in our culture. Malayalee music and dance forms are as popular as Bengali music. Just like Bengal, we also believe in universal brotherhood, unity and integrity. Like in Bengal, caste in our state is hardly a matter today,” Narayanan said.
“I am keeping out the political similarities but we are similar in many ways,” he added.
Narayanan could well have added the two communities’ shared love of being praised on their appreciation of the arts.
“The chief minister is a lover of arts and an artiste himself,” he said, adding: “As a humble Malayalee… I request the chief minister to sit through the cultural programme to follow and not leave after the inaugural programme.”
The chief minister obliged. Over the next hour, he nodded, tapped his feet and clapped to performances of Thiruvathira and Mohiniattam, which followed a Rabindrasangeet recital especially for him.
In between came tips from the governor, who appeared to be interpreting for the chief minister a dance drama showcasing the “artistic, literary, historical and cultural traditions of Kerala”.
The Left Front government’s relationship with the governor has been under strain of late with the Raj Bhavan resident frequently reminding the state administration about the “need to act” to stop political violence. But none of that showed on Sunday.
Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan and his home minister were supposed to attend the programme, but the duo stayed away in the wake of the Sabarimala tragedy.
Another famous Malayalee was in town on Sunday but not on the guest list. No one would confirm if Karat was left out because the chief minister would be there.
Many in the state CPM blame Karat for the Left’s slide in Bengal, citing his pullout from Manmohan Singh’s previous government as the root cause.
On Sunday, if the Malayalee hosts were welcoming, the Bengali guest seemed equally impressed. “Whenever we hear of Kerala, we think of the placid backwaters… coconut trees, temples, elephants,” chief minister Bhattacharjee said.
He then deviated from his prepared speech to add: “The biggest inspiration I draw from Kerala is in the progress the state has made in the field of education, especially education for women. The way they have developed their tourism is also an inspiration for us.”