With Mamata herself presiding over the celebration, city takes holiday from work to celebrate, forget the daily routine
It was 11 am. A crowded bus travelling to Dalhousie from Garia in South Kolkata stopped at the Hazra Road crossing. The ticket collector told all passengers interested in seeing Shah Rukh Khan to disembark. The bus, which normally arrives at its final stop with full capacity emptied in a matter of minutes.
The scene played out on a sweltering Tuesday. The mercury touched 36 degrees Celsius, but Kolkata answered chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s call to celebrate the Knight Riders (KKR) victory with exuberance like no other in the five-year history of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Symptomatic of a city known for its bandhs, Kolkata abandoned work today as well, in favour of a glimpse of the KKR as the team got on to an open blue-painted motorcade, with ‘Korechi, Lorechi, Jitechi’ emblazoned on its side.
Consider the case of Arijit, a middle-aged Airtel employee who took the day off and came to Eden Gardens with his wife and daughter to catch a glimpse of SRK’s famous dance moves, but was finding it difficult to enter the stadium because of the crowd. “She [his daughter] is a big SRK fan. I have taken the day off, so I can accompany my family and be a part of the victory celebrations here,” he told Business Standard.
The last time Kolkata came out on the street in this manner was a year before, when Mamata Banerjee stormed Writers’ Building on the back of an astounding electoral victory. In the year that has followed, Banerjee-led Bengal has found little reason to celebrate as controversy has dogged her office and investors have stayed away. The KKR win, however, gave Banerjee a reason to ensure Kolkata got its cheers. The felicitation programme was planned and implemented on a day’s notice. Most of the preparations were handled by the chief minister’s office.
From Hazra Road, the team arrived at Writers’ where on a raised platform outside the building, surrounded by crowds, SRK raised the IPL trophy with Banerjee. KKR captain Gautam Gambhir stood on the side.
From there, the entire procession made its way to Eden Gardens, where the crowds far exceeded the 65,000-capacity, mostly because on Banerjee’ instructions, the gates of the stadium were thrown open to all and sundry - no passes required. A rough estimate suggests over 70,000 were inside at the time of the ceremony and another 30,000 were stranded outside.
In the felicitation ceremony which lasted for over an hour, Mamata Banerjee gifted the Knights and SRK, 10g gold chains, uttaryas (ceremonial robes) and a box of Nakur Chandra sandesh each.
However, the star attraction in the ceremony had nothing to do with the cricket or cricketers, as SRK, and Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla danced to Bengali and Bollywood numbers, accompanied by Bangla actors Jeet and Dev. Mamata Banerjee, dressed in white and purple, played mistress of ceremonies. She alternated between thanking and felicitating KKR, controlling the crowd, and berating camera persons for obstructing the victory lap. A bashful Banerjee did, however, decline, SRK’s pleas to dance with him. “I will sing. And you promise me that if you win next year, you will dance for hours,” she said.
On social networking sites, however, the carnival-like situation in Kolkata was treated as another gimmick, in a city where growth has stopped and people have no work. “The political gimmick at Eden Gardens for the Kolkata victory only proves Kolkata is a retirement paradise,” tweeted Alok Ray; “One lakh people celebrate on a weekday?”
The celebrations ended, however, in a lathicharge as police tried to manage the pandemonium that broke out after the event.