The governor of West Bengal has invited you to be his guest at the Raj Bhavan gardens but don’t be surprised if His Excellency’s sentries aren’t as gracious as the host.
Some of the guards might not even be aware that you are at the governor’s gate by invitation and begin to treat you as an intruder, just as they did to Metro on Monday.
“Na… na erokom kichu nei (No, there’s no such thing),” claimed one of the cops on duty at the north gate of Raj Bhavan on hearing that we were there to tour the Raj Bhavan gardens, just as the governor had “desired”.
So did we misinterpret the newspaper advertisement published on January 30 that stated thus: “The governor of West Bengal has desired that the gardens of Raj Bhavan, Kolkata be opened to public viewing till 14th February 2013. Those desirous of visiting the gardens… may report to the north gate of Raj Bhavan, Kolkata at 12.30 hours on any working day….”
By then, word had got around beyond the imposing gates that someone was there to “see Raj Bhavan” in response to a public invitation from the governor himself.
A cop who had just joined the group of confused faces staring at us turned to the duty officer for help. He was seated in his office at the far end of the gate.
“Yes, they are allowed to visit the garden,” proclaimed the duty officer.
Hurray! At last someone who knows we are invited!
The duty officer offered us a bench to sit. “Someone will take you inside. They will escort you through the gardens, you can’t go alone,” he said.
Around 12.40pm, the policeman assigned to us guided us to the office of the head gardener through paved walkways that offered fleeting glimpses of the palatial white structure.
At the head gardener’s office too, nobody seemed to know that the sprawling grounds had been opened to the public for a couple of weeks. “Who will take them for a round?” the cop asked a member of the gardening team.
No reply. One gardener walked away, another said there was nobody to man the office and a third said it was for the head gardener to decide who should show governor M.K. Narayanan’s guests around.
The head gardener, who seemed to have just taken a shower and was wiping himself dry a few steps away, asked one of his reluctant assistants to do the job. By his own admission, the man on whom the responsibility fell was the least knowledgeable about what grows in the gardens of Raj Bhavan!
“I won’t be able to tell you the names of many flowers,” the gardener said.
At least he was courteous. And like most Indian guides at touristy places, he could compensate for his self-confessed lack of knowledge about flowers with a fertile imagination.
He assigned unlikely and unpronounceable names to some beautiful flowers in bloom that weren’t labelled. Under the shade of a leafy roof were a series of tombs. “They are of dead pets,” he said. “This one is of Chiku, who was with governor Viren J. Shah.”
The inscription on the tomb gave away fact from fiction. Chiku had lived from 1993 to 2008, part of it as a Raj Bhavan pet. Ex-governor Shah left Raj Bhavan in 2004.
S.R. Upadhyay, special secretary to Governor Narayanan, confirmed that Chiku was Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s pet.
Several other tombstones caught the eye. One of them was for “Gita Mar Polo, the beloved son of Marco Polo and Gitana Polo”, who lived from December 14, 1958, till October 6, 1959. Another stone had the inscription “Little friend of All the World”.
Magnificently sculpted metal horses were lined up on a pathway. “They are from the British period and were dug out three years ago,” our gardener-turned-guide said.
But who had buried these horses? Who sculpted them? Nobody could tell.
If the Raj Bhavan staff were in holiday mode, blame the ad for it. It said the gardens would not be open on “Saturday, Sunday and notional holidays”.
It could be a typo with “notional” meant to be “national”. But it could also be “notional”. Who doesn’t know that in bandh-happy Bengal, almost every day is a notional holiday?
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