Today is the second death anniversary of Suchitra Sen, the enigmatic diva of Bengali cinema. We republish here the tribute (published here on January 17, 2014) written by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Ms Mamata Banerjee, who had come to know the actor very well.
It came one fine
evening, a phone call from Moon Moon. She was calling from Belle Vue
Nursing Home: “Please speak,” I said. I was in for a pleasant surprise. From the
other end came a voice, slightly heavy, but still dripping with the
same sweetness. It was none other than Suchitra Sen herself! She just said,
“Please come, I want to see you.” I immediately asked, “When? Today, or
tomorrow?” The answer came, “Immediately. I am well today. I may not be
That day, January 5, I had come back home and was
writing for my next book. I did not have any work left. Immediately I called
up my nephew Abhishek, and we were on our way.
Inside me was a strange excitement. I had not met her earlier.
What I knew about her was, like the rest of us, from what I had seen on
the silver screen. Like countless other Bengalis, I was a helpless but
willing prisoner to the fervent emotions evoked by the evergreen
Uttam-Suchitra screen couple. I was now going to meet that Suchitra –
our world-conquering goddess!
I had come to know just a couple of
days earlier that she was in Belle Vue, undergoing treatment under Dr
Subrata Moitra’s supervision. It was earlier that day only that I had
gone to the nursing home to enquire about her. But respecting the fact
of her long self-imposed exile, I did not try to meet her. Instead, I
spoke to Moon Moon and her daughters, Raima and Riya, Dr Subrata Moitra,
Dr Samarjit Naskar, and the CEO of Belle Vue, Pradip Tandon. My only
prayer was that she should get well soon. This time round, the call to
meet her came from the dream-weaver herself.
At the nursing home,
Moon Moon, Raima and Dr Moitra took me to her cabin. I felt like she
was waiting for me only. It is difficult to express in words that
feeling on first meeting her. As soon as I entered her cabin, she called
me to her side. Taking my hands in hers, gently stroking my head, she
said, “Stay well.” I also comforted her, stroking her hands. I spoke to
her for a long time, for a part of which we were all to ourselves.
Before leaving, she said, “Do come back again.” I left her in a cheerful
WB CM paying her last tributes to Suchitra Sen
January 16, I had visited her every day, except one day when I was not
in the city; even on Thursday evening I had gone to meet her. But on
Friday morning, it was her lifeless body that I stood in front of,
paying my last respects. She was a most dear departed.
I even spent two to three hours beside her. The second day when I went
to see her, I heard from the doctors that her breathing had become strained. However, the doctors themselves told me that as soon as I went to her, the oxygen level in her
blood had shot up and she had started to breathe normally. And this
happened every time: as soon as I went near her, her breathing wouldstabilise . Moon Moon used to say, this is ‘Mamata-magic’! But I do not
want to go into all that. A bigger gain for me was the day she asked me,
“Who are you to me?” A few news outlets translated the meaning of this
query in a crude mocking manner, to indicate that so sick was she that
she could not even recognise the chief minister. I only laughed to
myself. I did not feel like explaining anything to anybody. But today I
can say that that was not what she had meant. The question came to her
lips from the deepest recesses of the love and the care she had for me. I
had answered, “I am one of your family, someone very close.” She had
smiled, a glow of peace spreading across her face.
day, whenever I went to meet her, even if she was too weak to speak,
she would signal for me to come over to her. She would just hold on to
my hands. Ask me to have some tea or coffee. All over
her hands, holes had been pierced by doctors to insert tubes to supply life-saving medicines; many of those places had developed black marks. I used
to caress those places, and she loved that. They pained her a lot. I
had asked the nurses to massage ointments over those places. But she
never really complained much about her condition. Yet, I have seen from
close quarters how hard her daughters and granddaughters, and of course
her doctors, tried to make her return home fully cured.
Suchitra Sen as Paro in Devdas
other day only we were discussing that, since she herself was unwilling to
stay in hospital for long, it is better to care for her at home. All
adequate arrangements could be made at her home too.
There was talk also of her being treated to khichuri
. She loved khichuri
and I told her that one of these days I would cook it for her and we would then all enjoy it at her place. Alas, none of it was meant to be.
was something else she loved, which I came to know. The Geeta Dutt
song, ‘Ei sundar swarnali shondhay, e ki bandhane jorale go bondhu’,
which she had lip-synched to in the film Hospital
, was a
favourite of hers. I had told her that after she got well and returned
home, I would go and sing it to her. That was also not to be.
It is all memory now.
For the last few days, her health had not
been particularly stable. Not only the doctors, even we could gauge
that. No stone was left unturned. Towards the end, she had almost
stopped speaking. I tried my best to cheer her up, speak about things
she loved, like having khichuri
. But in a corner of my mind, dark clouds had started gathering.
Thursday, as I was on my way from Nabanna to Belle Vue, I came to know
that her condition had deteriorated considerably. The doctors were in
despair. Still, when I reached the nursing home, I tried my best to
cheer everyone up, to give hope.
Then I entered the Mahanayika
cabin. She tried to open her eyes, she held my hand. A drop of tear
trickled down her face. Dr Moitra said, “During your treatment, we have
given you a lot of pain. I am asking for forgiveness. Please forgive
me.” I think Suchitra Sen herself wanted to be relieved from the pain.
She wanted to go with dignity. That is why, towards the end,
she used to be irritated when needles had to be pierced to draw blood
for testing; she tried to refuse when doctors wanted to put her on
non-invasive ventilation. She had told everyone clearly that she would
not let herself be put on ventilation. She knew her time had come.
knew it too. She was about to leave us all. So I took up with the
administration and doctors to keep everything in order in case she
passed away. Everything should be done as per the wishes of her family.
She had kept herself in self-exile; she did not want her face to be seen
by the public. So we had ensured that it would be kept that way even on her
Scene from the ever-popular song 'Ei Path Jodi Na Shesh Hoy' from Saptapadi
Suchitra Sen just a romantic heroine? After seeing her up close for the
last few days, I have come to know a different Suchitra. Suchitra the
romantic heroine would always remain a fond memory for many of us. That
tilt of her head, that lovelorn look, that dulcet voice would continues to hold us,
and generations to come, in thrall. But inside that romantic Suchitra
was another Suchitra – one that was radiant, rebellious, standing up
fearlessly against wrongs. This side of her came to the fore in the film, Devi Choudhurani
in which she looked like she was not really acting, but living the
part. Actually it is this mental toughness which enabled her to act so
effortlessly in all her films. Take the Hindi film, Aandhi
, for example.
There too the powerful character of Indira Gandhi that she portrayed
was a reflection of her true self. Some people have been asking
me, “As someone who has fought relentlessly against wrongs, did
Suchitra Sen have a special regard for you?” I am not supposed to know
the answer to this question. The one who knew the answer is no longer
among us. But this I can say. Before asking for me that day on phone,
she must have had some idea of my work. After all, I have received her
heartfelt blessings these last few days, which I will carry along my entire life.
It is this mental toughness again which helped her face death
fearlessly, to know when her time had come, to not unnecessarily prolong
her life beyond the natural limit.
The other side of her which I
want to speak about is her sincerest belief in the goodness of
religion. We all know that she had taken diksha
at Ramkrishna Math a long time back. But the amount of time she spent alone in her prayers in her thakur ghar
is something to marvel at; this was a huge transformation, considering that she
was the reigning diva of commercial Bengali cinema at one time, the
heart of any party, as her contemporaries say. Even during these
trying times in the last few days, flowers and charanamrito
would be sent regularly to her from Ramkrishna Math. The maharajas
from the Math visited her when she was nearing her end.
despite the calmness which came as a result of her immersion in
religious activities, she was moody. If she was happy, she could make
everyone laugh. If not, her face made it clear. I have seen this myself.
However, her regard for people was never affected. Even two days
before her death, in that extreme state of health, she did not forget to
greet me with a proper namaskar
. And she was so prim and proper that, even when sick in hospital, she ensured that her lip cream was applied regularly.
As Aart Devi in Aandhi
inevitable question would come up now: What did she look like now? Her
more-than-three-decade-long self-exile had ensured that in people’s
minds was still alive that youthful look. Let me be frank about it. This
question had arisen in me too when I was going to meet her. So what did
I see? People would be surprised to learn that she was the same, as when she had left
the world of films. By this I mean that other than some inevitable
signs of age, there was nothing to suggest that she was not the same.
She had not broken down in any way. After all she always held her head
up high, and such people can never really break down. This thought
hovered in my head as I stood before her dead body. A calm and beautiful
face, as if sleeping peacefully.
Till the end, the way she
always held on to herself, her decisions, her self-beliefs, has made her
immortal. And we remain happy witnesses to her immortality.
Obituary written by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Ms Mamata Banerjee
Translated by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv