Calcutta, Sept. 13: When Pranab Mukherjee steps out of the plane tomorrow and touches the soil of Bengal for the first time as President, he has three options.
nThe President can look out of the plane and declare as Napaloni (or rather Mussolini) did in the Charlie Chaplin classic The Great Dictator: “I never get out without a red carpet.”
nOr the President can echo what Agamemnon told his vengeful wife who offered him a red path, reserved for the gods, to walk upon: “I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendours without fear thrown in my path.”
nOr the President can just hope that Kalyani University takes over the airport tomorrow and changes the colour of the red carpet.
The university did so today and saved governor M.K. Narayanan from calamity at the convocation, laying out a green carpet because Trinamul student leaders insisted that a red carpet reminded them of the misdeeds of the CPM.
Since the university’s history department is expected to do its job well, the Trinamul students must have heard the ring of history — as well as irony.
Eager to please Chairman Mao at the height of the dreaded Cultural Revolution, some bright sparks in the communist party had changed the traffic signal system. Under the new regimen, “red” light signalled vehicles to move onward (the logic: how can a colour as revolutionary as red be associated with something as reactionary as immobility?) and “green” halted traffic. Once the Mao effect waned, the old system was resurrected.
Cut to 2012 and Kalyani. With a revolution under way in Bengal against the culture of the communists, the students were just chipping in with their bit.
“Why should we allow the university to honour the governor with a red-carpet welcome when it is a colour that is associated with the Left?” asked Tanmoy Acharya, the secretary of the Trinamul Chhatra Parishad unit at the university.
“We told the authorities that they could use a carpet of any colour other than red,” Acharya added, which gave Kalyani a choice more magnanimous than Henry Ford’s offer of a car in any colour as long as it is black.
Many events now choose green for the carpet because of its association with clean environment, although Shrek 2 opted for the colour for its premiere in homage to the ogre’s hue.
But in Kalyani, green got picked by default.
The university had kept a red carpet ready last evening near the spot where the governor’s car was to stop — around 100 metres from the venue of the convocation. But the Trinamul students met the officials and persuaded them to tell the decorator to change the colour.
“When the university told us to replace the red carpet, we supplied them with a green carpet because that was the only other colour we had in our store,” an employee of the decorator said today.
Stars in Bengal need not yet shop for gowns matching the green carpet: the film festival here does not offer a carpet welcome.
Industrialists may need to change the colour of their ties, if not suits. Industries minister Partha Chatterjee acknowledged that traditionally a red carpet is used but added that he personally preferred a “green-carpet” welcome.
“The British preferred red and it has been used traditionally. That does not mean that the carpet has to be red. Personally, I prefer green. I am asking investors to come to Bengal where we will roll out the green carpet for them. It is the colour of youth and creativity,” Chatterjee said.
The industries minister added: “We have not issued any diktat on what colour of carpet is to be used. There is a streak of adventurism among students. They have seen what Red terror is.”
Post-script: Till this evening, Calcutta airport had not received instructions to change the colour of the carpet meant for President Mukherjee’s welcome ceremony. “The red carpet, the same that was used to welcome Hillary Clinton recently, is being kept ready. We have received no instructions to the contrary,” an airport official said.