Wearing a ‘gamcha’, Pranab Mukherjee used to walk 2 km barefoot to school in monsoon: friend

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September 1, 2020 8:50 PM

Reminiscing his association with Mukherjee for nearly seven decades since they were admitted to a college in the district in 1952, the eminent academician rued that he could not fulfil his friend's wish to write a biography of him.

Former President Pranab Mukherjee

Pranab Mukherjee, who headed several key ministries before becoming the President, used to walk two kilometres barefoot while going to a village school in West Bengal’s Birbhum district wearing a ‘gamcha’ (traditional towel) during the monsoon in the 1940s, his friend Prof Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay said. Reminiscing his association with Mukherjee for nearly seven decades since they were admitted to a college in the district in 1952, the eminent academician rued that he could not fulfil his friend’s wish to write a biography of him.

The two friends had sometime back decided that Mukhopadhyay would to write a biography of the former President in English. “A few days before he fell ill, Pranab telephoned me and said it was getting late and told me that after the corona pandemic is over, he will come to Kolkata and give me three complete days to record his interview for the book, but that was not to be,” Mukhopadhyay told PTI.

The former head of the Department of Political Science at Presidency College here said that Mukherjee went to a free village school at Miriti for his primary education and then to Shibchandra Uchcha Vidyalaya (High School) at Kirnahar. “At that time, those who pursued high school education in the area were sent to Labhpur town, but since Pranab’s father Kamada Kinkar Mukhopadhyay was an idealist, he wanted him to pursue his schooling at the institution in nearby Kirnahar,” Mukhopadhyay said.

“Since village roads were generally muddy and waterlogged during the monsoon, he would have to wear a gamcha at times with his pants in his bag and walk barefoot two kilometres to school,” he said. On July 1, 1952, two half-pant clad boys Mukherjee and Mukhopadhyay – started attending classes at Suri Vidyasagar College and the seeds of a life-long friendship were planted there. After graduation, Mukherjee came to Kolkata and enrolled for Comparative Philology at Calcutta University, but he did not take a liking to the subject and switched to Political Science, Mukhopadhyay said.

After doing his master degree in Political Science, Mukherjee also did his Masters in History, before getting an LLB (Bachelor of Law) degree. Mukhopadhyay said that his friend used to work as a private tutor at that time as he had decided not to take money from his father while pursuing his master’s degree in Kolkata. While doing his Masters, Mukherjee married his student Suvra Ghosh in 1957.

“This was a revolutionary decision at that time on two counts. First, he married while he was still a student, and secondly, it was an inter-caste marriage. He came from a conservative Brahmin family,” the retired professor said.

Mukhrejee later joined active politics. As a young Rajya Sabha member in 1969, Mukherjee, who was an avid reader, caught the attention of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, when she found him reading in the Parliament library for hours every day. “One evening, when he was to speak in the Rajya Sabha for the first time, there was no quorum in the House. On learning of this, Gandhi came with her ministers to attend it and was pleased to find Mukherjee’s speech very informative and logical and later made him a deputy minister in the Industries ministry,” he said.

Mukherjee gradually rose to newer heights and headed several important ministries including finance, defence and external affairs before becoming the President in 2012, crowning a political career of over five decades.

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