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Heard on mike: Mamata’s allergy

April 11: May 13 may or may not throw up a surprise but the Bengal election has already sprung one: the leader of the party symbolised by ghaash phool (grass and flower) is apparently allergic to flowers.

The well-kept secret got a public airing today when an aide appealed to Trinamul supporters over loudspeakers not to shower Mamata Banerjee with flowers, two of which adorn the party’s symbol.

“Didi is allergic to flowers. Please don’t throw flowers at her,” Probir Roy, Trinamul’s South Dinajpur district secretary, repeatedly announced from the dais 15 minutes before the chopper carrying Mamata landed on the ground at a place called Tapan.

A Trinamul leader in Calcutta said he was aware of the allergy all along. “This is not new. She is allergic to all kinds of flowers. That is why she doesn’t like being given heavy garlands. Bouquets, too, she passes on quickly,” he said.

Evidently, he is in a minority. For one, Roy, who made the announcement, was not privy to such intelligence. “I didn’t know about this. I announced what I was asked to,” Roy said later. The campaign managers in north Bengal appeared to have decided on making the unusual announcement after their experience on Sunday.

After Mamata arrived at Malda’s Habibpur for her first meeting on Sunday, supporters greeted her by showering flowers. “She asked those around her ‘Keno erokom korchhe (why are they doing this?)’,” said a senior party leader.

At other meetings, when women and girls came to greet Mamata with flowers, they were advised to throw the petals at her feet and not on her face.

Allergy was not the sole cause for concern. An injury to Mamata’s right eye dating back to 1994, when she was allegedly attacked by CPM goons near Calcutta’s Hazra, is also compelling the party to take no chances. “We are scared of any further injury to her eyes. So we ask the supporters not to hurl the flowers at her face,” said a Trinamul MP.

According to experts, the pollen grains in flowers cause allergy to some. “The manifestation of the allergy ranges from simple sneezing and skin rashes to breathlessness with severe wheezing,” said critical care expert Subrata Maitra.

Flower allergy can occur through touch and smell, said Sanjoy Ghosh, medical director, Institute of Allergic and Immunologic Skin Diseases. “Pollen grains get trapped in the skin’s pores and cause allergy,” said Ghosh.

Does that mean Mamata will have to confine her association with flowers to paintings? Prevention is the best way to avoid allergies but immuno-therapy also helps.

“A small amount of pollen in very dilute concentration can be administered over a period of time so that the body develops immunity,” said Ashok Sengupta, pulmonologist at Apollo Gleneagles Hospital, Calcutta.

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