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Daughter bids goodbye with grace

For nearly four hours that the family spent at Keoratala crematorium since Suchitra Sen’s body was brought in a coffin around 1.10pm, daughter Moon Moon scarcely betrayed the grief welling inside when she performed the rituals.

She greeted visitors with a grace that would have done her mother proud.

Moon Moon was quiet throughout, exchanging just a few words with husband Bharat Dev Varma and daughters Raima and Riya.

Draped in a white sari, she looked composed throughout until a hand went up to wipe a lone streak of tears towards the end.

Around 1.30pm

When she reached the crematorium gates, one of the most crowded pockets of Chetla stood in silence. The iron barricades were removed. Senior police officers ran to “cover” the cars.

Moon Moon stepped out of a white SUV with her daughters and walked slowly down the concrete pathway leading to a flight of steps where the coffin was kept on a table covered with a white cloth.

“There will be a gun salute now,” muttered chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who arrived a while later.

A Calcutta armed police team in red headgear and white gloves stood up, their weapons ready.

Suddenly, Moon Moon started towards the coffin. Alone. She bent down, two hands touching the brown wood of her mother’s coffin. Seconds seemed liked minutes before she stepped aside for the salute.

The family closed in and Mamata stood alongside, head covered with her sari. Police chief Surajit Kar Purkayastha was at a distance. Brand Tollywood was further away and so was a clutch of ministers.

With the crack of the rifles, the men in uniform raised their hands in salute.

The family priest had taken his position by then. The walkie-talkies crackled at the gates. Outsiders not allowed.

The place was teeming with people hoping for one final glimpse of the elusive diva who stayed away from her fans for over three decades. The crowd stayed put until evening.

Around 2.10pm

The family priest began chanting and signalled Moon Moon to pick up a clutch of burning sticks and light the pyre of mango logs, 30kg of sandalwood and ghee. She nodded and did what she was told.

Moon Moon looked relaxed in a chair on the green patch inside the crematorium. She was holding the hands of a young girl, probably a family friend, and watching the flames with a serene look on her face. As if she knew that is what her mother would have wanted of her.

“The open cremation was a family decision. But the whole process was closely guarded,” said Shrikant Mohta from Team Tolly.

Around 5.10pm

A young crematorium employee asked for Moon Moon, sitting besides her husband near the pyre. “Aapnakey ebar kaaj kortey hobey (you have perform some rituals now),” he said.

She got up from the chair, her daughters followed.

Moon Moon held a water hose to extinguish the flames and invited Mamata to lend a hand too. The chief minister did her bit and moved aside, letting the family take charge.

Flakes of ash flew up as Suchitra’s family took turns to pour water from a pot. Moon Moon went first and just as she was about to finish, tears rolled down. But she was quick to brush them off and step aside for Raima.

“Do you have coins?” Riya asked her father. Moon Moon pulled out her bag and took out a handful of coins. The young man helping the family with the water ritual was handed those coins.

Last rites over, Moon Moon walked up to the chief minister and hugged her. Mamata, by then, had made arrangements for the family to carry Suchitra’s remains for a ritual at Judges’ Ghat.

Riya, in a white sari and red shawl, carried her grandmother’s remains in a clay pot. Moon Moon followed, clutching what had to be immersed in the river. Raima walked behind her mother.

Moon Moon halted for a few moments at a raised platform leading to the stairs at the ghat. She then folded her hands at the crowd gathered near the railings of the ghat.

Her husband and Raima and Riya held her from two sides and helped her climb up the stairs to the car parked on the road.

The family, led by a police pilot car, went straight to their Ballygunge Circular Road house where Riya handed over a brass pot containing her grandmother’s ashes to a family help. The container was then covered in a white cloth and in accordance with ritual tied to a tree next to the house.

Pictures by Bhubaneswarananda Halder, Amit Datta, Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya and Bishwarup Dutta