Balaram Das at Writers’. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
Balaram Das held the key to the Bengal chief minister’s chamber until Friday.
He had worked behind the scenes to ensure that the doors to the room opened on time for the janitors and the mandatory security check every day since Mamata Banerjee stepped into Writers’ Buildings on May 20, 2011.
In the 30 years that he has spent opening and closing doors at Writers’, Monday was the first working day when Das did not need to open any room.
When the last piece of furniture from the chief minister’s room — her chair — was shifted to Nabanna across the Hooghly on Saturday, Das knew his routine had changed.
“I don’t know what I will do between 7.30am and noon,” said the 46-year-old man, who entered Writers’ in 1985, following the death of his father. He is the third generation in a family of Writers’ hands. His grandfather had worked under the British.
“I had to open the doors by 7.30am for the cleaners and I used to stand there until they were through. The police personnel would arrive around 9am for the security check. I could leave only after handing the room to the cops,” said Das, a PWD employee in charge of opening and closing Mamata’s chamber and other rooms in the chief minister’s office (CMO) at Writers’.
Das has been on the job for the past six years that include a few years of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s tenure. “I love and look after the room of the chief minister like the way I take care of Lord Jagannath,” said the man originally from Paradip in Odisha.
Since Mamata and the CMO staff have shifted to the 15-storey new secretariat in Howrah’s Mandirtala, Das doesn’t know what to do with the bunch of 21 keys he holds.
There are 60 such bunches — each containing a set of 20-25 keys — assigned to a group of PWD staff at Writers’. Each bunch has keys to the rooms of ministers, secretaries, senior officials and the clerical staff. About 30 employees attached to the office of the Writers’ caretaker were responsible for locking and opening the rooms.
After Writers’ was cleared out for renovation, the keepers of keys have little or no work — barring Das though. His other role of hoisting and taking down the Tricolour atop Writers’ would continue.
He has been doing this for the past decade: waking up at 5am, taking a quick bath, slipping into clean clothes and hoisting the flag at 5.45am sharp. Similarly, he lowers it from the mast at 5.45pm.
Das was chosen to buy the 9ftx6ft flag for Nabanna that Mamata hoisted on Saturday. “I got it from Khadi Niketan in Bhowanipore for Rs 1,300,” he said.