| Mamata. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, May 30: There was Monet, there was Matisse. And there is Mamata.
She may not — yet — possess their painting skills but she shares at least one thing with these masters: the first letter of her name.
At least a hundred sketch pens, felt-markers and highlighters of different shades are strewn on her table in her small room at 30B Harish Chatterjee Street and in the drawers of her large desk in the new Trinamul Congress office at Topsia, on Calcutta’s eastern outskirts.
On one side of the table are piled up drawing papers of different hues.
Colourful ever — to put it mildly — as a politician, Mamata Banerjee has now surrounded herself with colour, sketching and drawing with a passion that she brings into everything.
“In my childhood I used to watch my mother and other relatives drawing alpana (floor decorations done with rice powder and chalk) during Lakshmi or Saraswati puja. Later, I developed this habit of doodling.”
She is mostly doing figures of Hindu deities Ganesh, Kali and Durga, but also floral designs.
If Maqbool Fida Husain’s obsession is his Gajagamini, Madhuri Dixit, Ganesh the elephant god seems to be holding Mamata’s artistic self in thrall. Also the creator of her party’s grass-and-flower symbol, she calls her works “very personal”.
Several of them — at least over a dozen figures of Ganesh — have been drawn on three/two-foot light green and yellow paper. The strokes are bold. The colours are mostly bright, like dark blue, green and black.
What started her on painting' She has authored at least a dozen books of poetry and prose. Painting is a more recent preoccupation, the creative surge coming about a week ago.
The coincidence with the crisis over the Cabinet expansion when she refused to join the ministry last Saturday is just that: a coincidence.
“You know I play my Casio synthesiser as a hobby. It is now out of order and so, maybe, the urge for drawing,” she said.
It appears Mamata’s political guru, Subrata Mukherjee — Calcutta’s mayor — was the person who lit the spark. He saw her scribble figures with a pen while talking to party supporters.
“I told her to take up drawing properly. I had seen Indira Gandhi scribble and doodle while talking to party colleagues. But I had not seen her draw or sketch complete figures like Mamata,” he said.
Mukherjee inspired her to go about her hobby in a more organised manner.
“I never did it very consciously until Subratada told me to take up drawing seriously and properly. Then I purchased paper and drawing books,” Mamata told The Telegraph.
Her close aides like Jyotipriya Mullick and Subrata Bakshi — both MLAs — the party’s youth wing chief Sanjoy Bakshi and her Man Friday Manick Majumdar have gifted her packs and packs of sketch pens and felt-markers.
Over the past couple of days there has been a scramble among her supporters to take home a copy of Ganesh, some of them framed by her associates.
“Last Tuesday a supporter from Sonarpur took away a framed Ganesh. Sanjoy (Bakshi) also took one home. Sonali (Guha, an MLA and close to Mamata) has taken one for framing. But, mind you, because I am drawing and sketching furiously now does not mean I am doing it out of any compulsion. Actually, I always need to be occupied,” she said.
Last Wednesday evening, while sketching a Ganesh in the party office, she suddenly stopped drawing, looked at the paper from a distance and began to rummage in her drawer and her bag. “Where is sky blue' I badly need one.”
She opened the drawer and took out a pack of bold-tip coloured felt pens, gifted by Bakshi. “This pack does not have a sky blue, either. OK, I will leave it at that. Let me not clutter it with too much colour,” she told herself.
Politicians with an artistic bent of mind are not rare. Atal Bihari Vajpayee writes poems and often wistfully talks about his unfulfilled ambition of becoming a poet. From poetry to painting is but a natural progression, given Bengal’s tradition. Tagore started painting at a late age.
And, after all, Mamata confesses to an inclination to “look for beauty in small things”. “When I send greeting cards I write messages in a decorative handwriting. Even earlier when I had sent greeting cards to Sonia Gandhi I wrote all messages myself and decorated the card.”
She admits having the skills to do a few other things, too. “I can bind books, make footmats and bags. Don’t forget I did a six-month course in work education after my B.Ed,” she said.
Does she plan to hold an exhibition' No, says Mamata. But don’t be disappointed. Mayor Mukherjee has in mind a publication of some of her best drawings.