Keeping pace with the Chief Minister

When a request for an interview turned into a tiring walk Not many journalists, I’m sure, have nearly collapsed next to heads of government while speaking to them. I am embarrassed to say that I am among the few or perhaps the only one one to have such a story to narrate. One day, I walked into West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s large, semi-circular room. Ms. Banerjee was in a great mood that day. She was asking the journalists gathered in her room about their families while ordering cups of tea for them. Then she looked at me. “I know you,” she said. I reminded her of the time and place where we had last met and then added in the same breath: “Could I request you for an interview?” She looked up. “Like to walk?” An unexpected question. “ Hatun, shorir thik thakbe ( Walk and you will feel better),” she said when I didn’t reply immediately. So I trailed behind her, out of her room and then beyond the patio to the circular walkway surrounding the late 19th century Assembly building. Little did I know that the circumference of the circular walkway is little over a kilometre, and that Ms. Banerjee takes dozens of rounds every evening, surrounded by journalists and senior bureaucrats. Clad in her trademark white saree with a green border and slippers, Ms. Banerjee began to walk briskly. So did the fit policemen alongside some sluggish seniors. One of them walking next to me grumbled: “ Ei roj ek jontrona (Oh, this daily pain!)” The Chief Minister’s cameraperson, who is a photojournalist and a friend, Ashoke Majumdar, asked me if I could keep up. Hopefully, I said. The first lap was comfortable. Midway through the second, I felt my sore muscles. Then came the third lap titled ‘pain’. The bureaucrat next to me smiled. Towards the end of the fifth lap, I was ready to collapse. “You alright?” an official asked. “Wait here for Didi. Tell her that you can’t carry on,” Majumadar said.

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