THE first time I got a chance to be in close proximity to Jyoti babu was in 1973 a time when it was difficult to hold a Polit Bureau meeting openly. The meeting took place in absolute secrecy in Salt Lake in Kolkata in the house of my brother, the late Hare Krishna Ghosh. At that time Salt Lake was absolute wilderness. I was given charge of looking after the Polit Bureau members for the four days that they stayed in that house. My first impression of Jyoti babu was that of a calm and quiet presence in the room. Then four years later, of course, when the CPI(M)-led Left Front government came to power, I became his confidential assistant.
I remember the first few words he told me, This is a very difficult chair you are occupying. Many temptations will come your way; stay away from them. Remember it is mostly people in distress who will come to see me; be kind to them and always try to help them; and, most important, be honest with the people if you cannot help them tell them why and be gentle.
I felt scared when he told me this, but when he told me I should be free to seek his advice any time, I was reassured. Throughout my life with him, I followed his words to the letter.
His affection towards me was like a fathers. I remember soon after assuming power he had to go to Malda [in North Bengal] for some work. We reached the guest house in the morning, and breakfast had been prepared only for him. He was slightly miffed that I was overlooked, but he did not show it. Instead, he served me part of the food that was for him so we could eat together. As the years went by, he would never have his food without me. Where is Jay, he would ask if I were not around for some reason during meal time. He loved his food, particularly fish pabda and bhetki, ones that didnt have much bones.
I do not recall a single occasion when he was harsh with me. You remember his legendary punctuality. One afternoon in a circuit house in Bardhaman, he asked what time we should start for his programme, and I told him 4 p.m. So he instructed me to wake him up before that. Feeling very tired for some reason, I fell asleep. Suddenly, I was woken up by a knock on my door and a circuit house employee told me that the Chief Minister was waiting for me inside his car. I rushed down without even tying my shoelaces. He had got up himself and was ready by 4. I was too embarrassed to say anything, but all he did was enquire with a smile, Did you fall asleep, Jay?
My children had never seen my father. Right from their birth they have known Jyoti babu as their Dadu [grandfather]. Whenever he would go on leave, he would insist that my family accompany him. On one occasion, we had gone to the Jaldapara forest bungalow. The room I had selected for him was one in which he could see wild animals come and lick salt from the rock. He had gone ahead. By the time we reached, we got to know he had already changed his room and given his to my daughters. Dont do all this Jay, he gently chided me. The children should get the room from where they can see the animals. He used to dote on them.
After he stepped down from chief ministership and retired from active politics, I received many lucrative offers, but I could never even dream of even considering them. I feel my lifes purpose is fulfilled. I could serve him till his end. There is no greater honour in my life than his love and his faith in me.As told to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay