No, this is not one of those stories of how Pranab held my hand and said I was the most brilliant of God’s creations. In fact, I did not even get to meet him. But it is still an interesting story and so I am narrating it today. May his soul rest in peace.
In the years while I was growing up in Calcutta, Pranab was something of a lurking presence on the horizon. The Bongs on one hand were quite proud that one of their ilk had made it to Mrs Gandhi’s inner coterie. But they were also deeply distrustful of anyone in the Congress and what drove them mad was that Pranab was a known sympathiser of that arch capitalist Dhirubai Ambani. To the average Calcuttan, Dhirubai was the lowest of the low – he was expansionist, an avowed monopolist, knew his way through the system and worst of all, made profits, year after year. And so Pranabda was at most a lightweight in Bengal. In fact he was invariably elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat and places like that, as far removed from Bengal as possible.
Anyway, he had a stellar career, winding up in the highest office that India had to offer- all richly deserved. Somewhere along the way he appears to have given up the pipe he smoked earlier and made him a cartoonist’s delight. And it was as President of India that he was coming down to release a book I had written. The whole exercise of bringing out that work was a strange and rather amusing experience and so I will not dwell on it. Suffice it to say that the book took its time in seeing the light of day chiefly because a committee of 12 had to agree on every word. After my script was okayed, it was edited quite a bit by the 12 wise men and still managed to add on several pages, chiefly because the client wanted photos of the Board of Directors in several places, if possible on all pages. It was one of those books where you think of the fact that you have a home to run, kids to see through college and so allow the client to do what he or she wants.
I did not get to see the book till a couple of days before the launch and even then I felt it would be quite a task for a slim man like Pranabda to release it. The event itself happened at the University Centenary Auditorium and I was sent an invite and told in advance that there was no question of being introduced to the President or being called on stage. Nevertheless, I went. What with security being what it was, I parted company from my cell phone, car, driver and just about everything short of my clothes before entering the University campus. I managed to make my way in and was shown a seat.
The Univ Centenary Auditorium was always meant to be used for convocations and never musical performances. The seating is designed to fit in as many students as possible and so you find people gazing from all angles on to the stage. Behind the stage was an alcove of sorts where the singer P Unnikrishnan was singing. At least I assume he was, for the echo was dreadful. Down in the square pit before the stage were the Board of Directors all perspiring freely in their tight suits. Unni concluded and then a band struck up. Pranabda was in our midst.
A short statured man, he looked even more diminutive on the huge stage. One of the Directors made a long speech and then Pranabda came on to the lectern and made an even longer speech, in his characteristic Bengalo-English. It was all about the wanking industry.
It was then time for the book to be released. Two minions struggled on to stage bearing the overweight tome, made heavier by its packaging. They were probably so nervous that they literally dumped the book on to Pranabda and the poor man clearly never expected it to weigh so much. He staggered under the burden and propelled by it began to move hither and thither. Presidential protocol being such, nobody could go to help him. The ADC fortunately came to his rescue before Pranabda collapsed. I had almost stopped breathing imagining the headlines – President injured by heavy book. Hunt on for author.
Anyway, aided and abetted by the ADC he did manage to release the book and handover a copy to the MD of the institution. I fled before anything further happened. On reaching home I found a courier waiting with what looked like a crate of sorts- five copies of the book had been delivered to me. I struggled in lugging them to the first floor where they still repose in the southwest corner, which is where as per Vastu I am told, you need to keep the heaviest objects.