Behind every successful man there is a woman. President Pranab Mukherjee was lucky to have two.
Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was the pivotal force during his formative years in politics. And for nearly 60 years, Mukherjee’s silent source of strength was none other than his wife Suvra Mukherjee.
Before he moved into the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2012, Mukherjee spent several years at a bungalow on Talkatora Road. The accommodation was smaller than what he was entitled to as a Union minister.
Whenever reporters asked him why he hadn’t opted for bigger real estate, Mukherjee replied: “My wife doesn’t like shifting houses. She is happy here and so am I.”
The two were married on July 13, 1957 and had two sons and a daughter.
The senior statesman’s personal rapport with world leaders such as Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is well known. But his better half too was Hasina’s close friend.
So much so, during one of her trips to Delhi when the UPA was in power, the Bangladeshi premier drove to Mukherjee’s home only to meet Suvra as the latter was not in the best of health. Hasina will fly down to Delhi on Wednesday to pay the last respect to her friend.
Her movements had been restricted for some years because of her failing health. But sometimes at the 13 Talkatora Road residence, journalists had seen the doting wife walking into the room that served as Mukherjee’s office to remind him to have lunch.
And every time she walked in while he was invariably chatting with journalists, Mukherjee’s eyes sparkled.
Mukherjee had to make frequent travels outside Delhi, but he preferred not to spend even an extra day away from his home and his wife. In the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President always had Suvra sitting next to him while watching a Bengali movie.
While Mukherjee focused on his public life, it was Suvra who managed the household and raised the three children. An excellent singer, painter and writer she preferred to remain in the shadows of her high-profile husband. The mother’s cultural knack found reflection in her daughter Sharmistha.
On many occasions, Mukherjee regaled people with a tale of how Indira Gandhi had advised him against contesting the Lok Sabha polls in 1980. After the results came out and Mukherjee emerged a loser, an angry Gandhi called him to say: “Even Geeta (Suvra Mukherjee’s pet name) knew you would lose the polls.”
Mukherjee never betrayed his softer emotions in public. But in a rare interview in which he described his busy schedule and the late hours he kept, he had said, “Before I go off to sleep, I go to her and just touch her forehead while she would be fast asleep. This is probably my show of affection.”
President Pranab Mukherjee remains a powerful person. But he has lost the strongest hands he could hold for support.