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DEAR FIGUREHEAD...

A coincidence ensured that Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who drew criticism from the Left government when he was governor of Bengal, was in Calcutta on a day the Mamata government showed the “yellow card” to his successor in Raj Bhavan. Gandhi delivered the Kamala Lecture at Calcutta University’s Alipore campus, which had nuggets on some of the letters he received in Raj Bhavan. Gandhi said the letters — “some touching, some funny, mostly very instructive”— “were a joy to receive”. Excerpts follow:

One letter said “You are doing boundlessly useless things like inaugurating some beauty parlours or Subidha Toilet Complex etc....Recently you have started renovating a library on your Raj Bhavan. Yah by this action some rats or mouses will be surely killed but no history of national importance will be created...” I wanted to tell the gentleman that I have inaugurated no parlour, nor been invited to do so. Alas, the writer had signed off with a fictitious name.

This one was written in Bengali.... Praying for my early quittance from the face of the earth it gave the most appropriate sender’s address: Nimtola Ghat Road. Having figured the implication of this I went on to see if the letter bore the sender’s name. It did. And I was surprised to see that it was a woman. But on reflection, I realised that it was not quite so. The signed name too was a work of creative genius, as creative as the address was and a masterfully delivered swipe at that. The anonymous writer wishing me to reach my Nimtola had signed off as ‘Kamana Biswas’. This was such an altogether brilliant pun that far from being upset by the letter’s macabre kamana or its biswas, I was left admiring the high standard of its black humour.

Another letter, written in English, started off with an unintended and concise lesson for the governor on the boundaries of a head of state’s authority.... It came around the time Raj Bhavan had decided to be part of and not an exception to the city’s power outages. It was a wholly appreciative letter but the form of address employed by the writer, chosen wholly out of genuine respect, reminded me, without intending to do so, of my constitutional limitations. It said: “I am honoured to be addressing the Figurehead of the State.”

It helped me to see that even a right step, such as a voluntary power cut, if taken unilaterally can seem self-righteous. But if taken after consultation, it is likely to be understood and even appreciated. It would have been better had I taken the then Minister in charge of Electricity into confidence before asking Raj Bhavan to turn the lights off....