Kabir Suman on Mission Jadavpur with a song on his lips (2009)
Here, the horizon is made of clusters of skyscrapers that dot the fringes of the E M Bypass. And as the afternoon sun jumps behind these tall denizens of Kolkata’s real estate pride, bringing an early sunset to those who live in their shadow, it tells the story of a place that’ll be the toughest challenge for the most-watched man in the Kolkata election ring. Last week, Kabir Suman travelled 8 km out of the city to Bhangar and villages like Bamunghata and Hatishala, but what awaited him was a vast disconnect thrust upon villagers in this leeward side of the city where the writ of poverty runs and empty fields seem to stretch into eternity. Even the cellphone, which only a few minutes ago showed a full network, frets and falters before going on roaming’, as if to make the alienation complete.
“Dada, you must wave to the crowd,” a Trinamool Congress leader advises Suman as the open-top campaign jeep bounces into Hatishala, slowing down to allow him to interact with enthusiastic locals gathered near a ground in front of a madarsa. The look of joy and disbelief on their faces slowly turns into one of hope and expectation as the singer-journalist (that’s how Suman describes himself) steps down and shakes hands. “Kabir Suman, baba bhalo theko (wish you well),” says an elderly lady. Another, who cannot stop smiling, raises her hand in silent blessing. Then, as the collective vroom of nearly 2,000 bikes, ridden by Trinamool supporters on campaign, signals it’s time to go, Suman instinctively climbs on the jeep, grabs the microphone from an aide, and sings “haal chhero na bondhu, barang kantha chharo jore.. dekha hobe tomai amai Jadavpurer more-e…” The mission statement, perhaps, of a man performing in real time after close to two decades of thought-provoking melody delivered from studio and stage.
The love of the people is humbling. They are the ones you must write about, not me,” Suman says as the jeep rolls into a narrow bylane that’ll take the campaign team to Bamunghata. For a man who’d announced his arrival on the political stage with “ora amake chene na (they don’t know me)” during an interview in his Baishnabghata bylane home a few days ago, throwing a challenge at opponents, critics and cynics, this was his very own discovery trip. “Aro onek ladai baaki (we still have a huge battle to fight),” he tells an untiring aide who has been speaking into the microphone for the last couple of hours, urging people to vote for Suman in the Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency on May 13.
The jeep is now trailing a bike brigade shouting anti-Left slogans on a narrow road, navigating a maze of twists and turns on both sides of which lies Bamunghata. “You know, this is a blind area,” a Trinamool leader travelling on the jeep says as it heads into the intestines of the village. “No Opposition candidate gets any votes from here.” There is the occasional raised hand, or a brief greeting from the porch, or a quick smile from inside a partly open window, but the reaction to Mamata Banerjee’s most trusted lieutenant is muted. “They are scared,” remarks Suman as he waves to group of children standing under a tree.
Land, as is evident from the vast tracts of green fields, is an issue here. And the Trinamool slogan of ma, mati, manush’ has more resonance. No surprises then that the creator of the eponymous Sumaner Gaan is introduced here as the seasoned journalist who embarked on the land crusade with Mamata in Singur and Nandigram, sang for Tapasi Malik to whip up cries for justice, and campaigned for a resurgent Bengal that thrives on self-sufficience. “The public mood is with us, dada,” another aide tells Suman and Bhangar MLA Arabul Lashkar, who is travelling in the jeep. “The tide has turned this time, you can see it in their faces,’ he adds.
It’s late afternoon in Kolkata but the long shadows of Rajarhat’s skyscrapers have already brought the first signs of evening here. And as the jeep rolls along a wooden bridge in its journey back to the city, Suman’s onyo gaaner bhore’ seems to be cast in a new light that of bringing the sun back to these dark fringes.
(With inputs from Devjyot Ghoshal and Arpit Basu)