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The Other Mamata

What gutka and jokes were to Lalu Prasad (62), painting and singing are to Mamata Banerjee (54). Being railway minister is a demanding job, but does how you unwind shed any light on who you are?

delhi Updated: Jun 14, 2009 00:00 IST
Srinand Jha

What gutka and jokes were to Lalu Prasad (62), painting and singing are to Mamata Banerjee (54). Being railway minister is a demanding job, but does how you unwind shed any light on who you are?

Banerjee, known to be as austere in her lifestyle as profligate with her speeches, dabbles in paintings of nature. She tends to doodle a lot — especially during interminable speeches in Parliament (ones that she has to sit through, not give).

She also does water colours. Her paintings were exhibited (thanks to well wishers in Kolkata’s literary, artistic and influential set) at the Town Hall some years ago. With an astute blend of pragmatism and self-deprecation, the lady described herself as “a vagabond dabbling in colours”.

The painting comes in handy in the long, still hours of the night because Banerjee is a bit of an insomniac. So does the singing. At her modest home in a not particularly salubrious part of south Kolkata, she plays the synthesizer and sings Rabindranath Tagore songs late at night.

It’s not all vocal calisthenics for her. The treadmill has, for the past four years, become part of her daily schedule — ever since advised exercise by her doctor (as though she didn’t get enough in her punishing marches and sit-in demos in Bengal’s countryside).

She might still be wont to use a friend’s car rather than have her own and still always in her trademark cotton sari and rubber slippers, but Banerjee does love a dash of colour and has a sense of fun — as those who receive gifts from her during Durga Puja will say.

When she visited Delhi after the announcement of the Lok Sabha polls, she gave Congress president Sonia Gandhi a colourful sari, woven by traditional weavers in Bengal’s Hooghly district.

Banerjee could well be particularly fond of Hooghly. It is Singur — part of that district and the site of the Bengal CPM’s land acquisition for a Tata factory — that appeared to Banerjee as a political comeback gift, and helped her Trinamool Congress do better than it ever had in the polls.

srinandjha@hindustantimes.com