First, they were blocked and bullied for trying to “barge” into Writers’ Buildings. Then, browbeaten and bewildered, they were administered the Buddha balm. And a Tuesday that had begun on a nightmarish note for the parents of Shabana Parveen did bring them some solace.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had earlier made it clear that he should not be expected to pay a visit to the Howrah home of Ashraf Khan and Naseema after they had lost their six-month-old daughter on October 13 to the twin troubles of rally-triggered traffic jams and medical negligence.
On Tuesday, after finally consenting to meet the two, who had been harried for hours at his doorstep, the chief minister expressed his sympathy and concern, pledged Rs 20,000 for Naseema’s medicines and nutrition, and offered to help Ashraf find a regular means of livelihood.
“Everyone has been pulling us in different directions for their own interests. Only bada sardar (Bhattacharjee) asked us how we were, how our health was. He said ‘I can understand your pain’,” an overwhelmed Ashraf told Metro in his Belilious Lane house late on Tuesday.
But the day had threatened to be quite a disaster. When Ashraf and Naseema left their home in the morning for a visit to Writers’, arranged by the All India Minority Forum, they had no idea what awaited them. Idris Ali, president of the forum and their prime escort, had no prior appointment with Bhattacharjee.
“We cannot allow you to meet the chief minister,” an officer at the gate told them. Ali, after all, only had an appointment with minister Nandagopal Bhattacharya. Stopped by the securitymen and hounded by members of the forum and a horde of mediapersons, ailing Naseema nearly fainted. Ashraf held on to his wife, calming her down and helping her stay on her feet.
After a long wait, Ali was summoned by police and asked to take the couple up to the chief minister’s room. Finally, only Naseema and Ashraf were allowed inside Bhattacharjee’s chamber, which enraged Ali, who alleged he had been stopped so that “the chief minister can influence them”.
The chief minister, who leaves Writers’ around 1.30 pm every afternoon, spoke to Shabana’s parents for around 15 minutes and left at 1.45 pm. On his way out, he asked an official to offer the couple some food.
But Ali was not ready to swallow the slight. Claiming Naseema and Ashraf had been confined under instructions, he threatened to break down the door to the chief minister’s chamber. The couple finally emerged around 2.30 pm and were herded into a car.
Back home, Ashraf and Naseema managed a wan smile: “Bada sardar said he was aware of everything and told us to approach him if we had any problems…”