He strode the corridors of power in New Delhi like a colossus, but always craved a slice of his village.
Mirati, the sunswept village in West Bengal”s Birbhum district, some 200 km from state capital Kolkata, was in mourning on Monday following the death of its most famous son– Pranab Mukharjee–the 13th President of India.
From the dusty lanes of Mirati, life took the scholar politician to the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan through a warren of powerful offices he held, but the village stuck, the bond only grew stronger.
It will be for the first time in many years that his absence will be sorely felt at his ancestral village during Durga Puja festivities. Clad in dhoti with a stole thrown around his shoulders, Mukherjee would perform ”aarti” of the most revered deity in West Bengal.
He was there even last year, months before the deadly coronavirus spread its tentacles across West Bengal and the rest of India. Mukherjee, too, contracted the disease before undergoing a surgical procedure after which he slipped into a coma never to wake up again.
“For the people of this village, he was Pranab da, Pranab Kaku or jethu (uncle). A down to earth man, he never made us feel that he was a senior minister or the president. He loved children,” said Susmita, a resident who made a dash for Mukherjee”s ancestral home on hearing the news of his death.
Susmita, like almost every villager, was a regular at Mukherjee”s Durga Puja.
“Durga Puja at his residence was the biggest annual event of our village. All of us would have lunch or dinner at his house during the five days of the festival. He was our own. Durga Puja in Mirati will never be the same again,” Rabi Chattoraj, a close associate of the Mukherjee family told PTI.
He said Mukherjee would personally call from New Delhi to ask if everything was in place.
“Every year, two months before the puja, he used to call us and sought to know about every detail. During the five days of puja, he himself used to recite Chandi Path (hymns to Goddess Chandi), he said.
Eyes closed and prayers on their lips, the villagers of Mirati collected every single day over the the last fortnight so he could be in their midst once again this Durga Puja. But that was not to be.
Mukherjee died while in coma at the Army”s Research and Referral Hospital in the national capital on Monday.
“He was seriously ill but we thought with his indomitable spirit and by the grace of Ma Durga he will survive. We have been praying for his recovery but finally, he left us forever,” Chattoraj said.
Mukherjee, who did his schooling at Shibchandra High School in nearby Kirnahar, visited his alma mater thrice after becoming the president.
“in 2012 (the year he became the president), we had felicitated him. He again came in 2013 and 2014. Whenever he visited the school, he would come and talk with teachers and students. He was always affectionate, Nilkamal Banerjee, the headmaster of the school said.
Mukherjee”s son Abhijit, a former Congress MP, recently told a national newspaper that his father, before he was put on ventilator support, had asked him to bring some ”kathaal” (jackfruit) from Mirati.
Abhijit Mukhherjee went to Mirati from Kolkata, bought a 25 kg ripe jackfruit and boarded a train to New Delhi on August 3.
Pranab Mukherjee savoured the pulpy, juicy treat from Mirati and was very happy, Abhijit Mukherjee had told The Times of India.
Life”s journey took him out of home but could not take home out of him.