Writer Somnath trawls memory lane

Speaker Somnath Chatterjee is looking for a name. The name for his proposed memoirs — his life and stint as a parliamentarian...

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Published: February 8, 2009 1:42 am

Speaker Somnath Chatterjee is looking for a name. The name for his proposed memoirs — his life and stint as a parliamentarian—is unlikely to be lifted from Albert Camus’ Outsider,or even Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for he sees himself as neither. It may be more along the lines of The Agony and the Ecstasy.

Conversational,expansive and in the mood to talk,despite being busy,and keen about wrapping up the memoirs and memory business before his term as Speaker expires in April,Chatterjee can still provide one of the finest defences for why his former party needs to industrialise rapidly in West Bengal,it’s another matter that TV cameras don’t come by to get his “byte.”

That explains why publishers,despite the downturn,have been rushing to get hold of the rights. Harper Collins has bagged it,signed and sealed the contract,so Penguin,say sources in the book business,has managed to push him on another book planned on West Bengal politics. That one can wait for a while. In his memoirs as a Parliamentarian,say people close to him,Dada will need to write that one chapter quite meticulously which charts the final days of his break from the party,the “will he-won’t-he-resign” phase,which traumatised him and his former party,both for different reasons.

Chatterjee still has portraits of Ho Chi Minh,Karl Marx and Comrade A K Gopalan in his residence—large prominent presences,and while talking of his accomplishments,he talks most warmly of his being able to institute the Hiren Mukherjee lectures (the inaugural of which was delivered by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen on August 11 last year). He clearly asserts he could have been expelled but no one dare take the Comrade out of him — three and a half decades as a parliamentarian in the Lok Sabha,a thundering and fiery speaker booming from the front row of the green velvet chairs,he was made to contest 11 straight elections from Bengal,winning all but one.

Chatterjee will discuss all in his book,he says—the privilege of being chosen to fight by the CPM,his dramatic enrolment as a party member many moons ago on the order of the doyen of Bengal Communists,Promod Dasgupta.

Chatterjee is reluctant to give away any more about the memoirs saying he would like to keep the interest alive by keeping some anecdotes,stories and “suspense-filled” times exclusively for it. His anxiety to wrap it up soon is because this is the last he sees of the “system” around him — of assistants and PAs who will help him complete the gigantic task. Chatterjee has his plans to ride into the sunset quite clearly mapped out — he wants to retire to Shantiniketan and catch up on his reading,writing and music there,things that he has never really found time for in his busy phase as lawyer or politician. “My wife worries if this is all a ruse to just nag her,as I have been so busy all my life,” he says.

He has been expelled from his former party and asserts he has no intentions of appealing or protesting the decision. But Chatterjee’s association with the CPM is not quite over,he adds wistfully. Partywallas,in Bengal particularly,continue to call him and state leaders have shared the party platform with him at functions.

For his part,despite having been expelled the morning after the trust vote was over in July,he still cannot complete a paragraph when he talks without pointedly and emphatically recalling Jyoti Basu’s contribution to making his what he is today.

The larger than life former Bengal CM’s photograph is unmissable in his study and it’s the most prominent picture of all; of a much-younger,cheerful Basu,probably reminding the Speaker himself of better days,younger times and when he could actually Speak for the party.

And was mandated to do so. The Speaker Speaks Out? A working title?

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