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The reluctant talker

Pictures of her practising on the sports field clicked by boys from the neighbouring school would sell for 50 paise per copy.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2006 00:27 IST

Pictures of her practising on the sports field clicked by boys from the neighbouring school would sell for 50 paise per copy. When she finally made it to the national dailies, she was disqualified because she was off the starting line before the race had actually begun. Theatre experiences meant being perched on Kapil Sibal’s knee while playing a mermaid in a college play or literally croaking the lines of Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. On the eve of the final show, she lost her voice which gallons of honey and lime juice did not help recover. Post-college, she went to London for a stint with Air-India.

Meet Brinda Karat, the CPI(M)’s fire-brand MP who till last year did not possess a passport: “I have not set foot on foreign soil since 1970. I had vowed

not to go.” It was perhaps one of those pledges she took as a Communist Party worker, but one she chooses not to speak about. Like many other things in her personal life. She does not tell you that her relationship and marriage to Prakash Karat was nurtured during the Emergency. A time when she was Rita — and not Brinda.

If Rita is unrecognisable today, Brinda was then alien for people in Delhi. The transformation took place on the train from Calcutta which she boarded as ‘Brinda’: “By the time she reached Delhi, she was Rita,” recalls an activist. “When I first met her, she insisted she was Rita and not Brinda, even though I was accompanied by a common friend from college. She repeatedly insisted that she was Rita, and not Brinda.”

It was much later that they found out that the change was necessitated by the Emergency: Rita was the underground name to conceal her real identity. Even after her return to the original Brinda identity, many textile workers only know her as Rita.

Her friend Subhashini Ali talks of how Brinda goes off her favourite foods. “One year she will go off meat and on another she will not touch rice or sweets. For someone who loves food, it’s tough.” The two friends have plans to board the Metro to ‘Purani Dilli’ and eat chaat one of these days.

Brinda desists from talking about her family. Both Prakash and she decided not to have children. But she is an indulgent grand-aunt who plays ‘Police Police’ with her sister’s grandchildren.

Even though Subhashini was convinced that Prakash and Brinda were made for each other, after their first meeting, Brinda had sniggered: “I did not think anything of him.” Months later, Brinda confessed that they were getting married: a simple ceremony where both pledged commitment to the party rather than to each other. When her niece stepped up to adorn her with the traditional vermillion, Brinda clearly disapproved of it. “I still recall the horror on her face,” says Indrani Majumdar, who was among the few present.

She also tells you that the only man Brinda is uncritical about is film star Shah Rukh Khan: “He above all,” concedes Brinda, while humming ‘Aankhon hi aankhon mein ishara ho gayaa….’