A section of the little Netajis on the dais at the Netaji Bhavan programme during which the chief minister spoke. Pictures by Sanjoy Ghosh
|Guided by the chief minister, the little Netajis make their way into the shamiana before the programme began
Calcutta, Jan. 23: Twenty-odd little Netajis have managed to do something few grown-ups have ever done — and got away with it without tasting the fate that may or may not befall a hapless Prime Minister some day.
Clad in the olive green uniform immortalised by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, a group of children acted like children and started fidgeting, forcing Mamata Banerjee to stop mid-way through her speech.
“Ei babu, tomra eirokom koro na, (Babies, please don’t do this),” Mamata pleaded with the young guns sitting on the dais at Netaji Bhavan, where the state government and the Netaji Research Bureau joined hands to organise an event to commemorate the 117th birthday of the stalwart.
Some of the children —part of an army of pint-sized Netajis numbering 117 (yes, because of the 117th birthday) — were nudging and shoving each other during Mamata’s speech. The speech lasted only around 15 minutes — a thoughtful act of mercy in a country where children are made to wait endlessly for VIPs to arrive and then sit through incomprehensible sermons.
“Shanto hoye boshoÖ Ami ekktu katha bole nei, (Please sit calmlyÖ. Let me talk for a while),” Mamata requested the restless kids.
The children, aged between 8 and 12, are unlikely to have been exposed to weighty adult affairs like “how to make the Prime Minister listen” and other such pursuits that have been keeping Bengal preoccupied of late.
The blissful kids appeared unaware that two days ago, Mamata had uttered a home-made solution to many juvenile transgressions: “Maarbo giye (should I resort to beating)?” Mamata was on Monday referring to her multiple attempts in vain to convince the Prime Minister of the need to restore fertiliser and fuel subsidies.
Or, perhaps, the children were too aware of the clarification the chief minister had issued yesterday: “Ami to maarte parina. Maarar katha bolini (I cannot resort to beating. I didn’t talk about beating).”
Some of the children continued to fidget or nudge one another. Mamata, who was continuing her speech, realised that the kids were not listening.
“Aapnara du-minute wait korben? Aami khude Netaji-der namai, (Will you please wait for two minutes? The junior Netajis will now get off),” Mamata said, pausing to make time and room for the kids to get off the dais.
“Babu, tomra ei dik diye neme jao, (Babies, get off the stage from this side),” she added gently, before returning to her speech.
Today’s “junior Netaji” army was marshalled by members of Shakti Sangha, a Sarat Bose Road club whose main patrons are CMC chairman Sachidananda Banerjee and Trinamul MP Subrata Bakshi.
The members of the club — along with Trinamul members from ward no. 72 — had collected the kids from Beltala Girls Higher Secondary School, South Calcutta National School and Dakshin Calcutta Sevashram, an orphanage.
“We had brought out a Prabhat Feri (morning procession) with them in the front as the chief minister wanted junior Netajis. She also took part in the procession and came marching along with them to the venue,” said one of the members of the club.
The chief minister was initially upset with the jostling and chaos at the programme venue — a temporary shamiana was erected inside Netaji Bhavan on Elgin Road which Mamata thought was not adequate for the crowd — but the kids brought a smile to her face.
She kept interacting with the children even after the programme was over. “Jao, ebar bari jaoÖ Bari giye saradin Jai Hind bolbe, (Now go homeÖ Chant Jai Hind through the day),” she told the kids, some of whom kept saying “Aami Netaji”.
The kids nodded in agreement before bidding goodbye to the chief minister.
The children may have carried home the patriotic mantra but a group of grown-ups was wrestling with a bigger takeaway.
Some officials of the information and cultural affairs department spotted a trend: if there were 117 junior Netajis today, there 150 junior Swamijis on the 150th birth anniversary celebration of Swami Vivekananda at Salt Lake Stadium earlier this month.
Which means, come May, someone will have to find 152 junior Tagores. The bard’s 152nd birth anniversary falls that month.