New Delhi: A miniature version of a book on Constitution kept in one corner of a study-table drawer along with a magnifying glass, scribbled handwritten notes from former PM Indira Gandhi, a collection of over 8,000 books, and truckloads of documents — these are among part of former President Pranab Mukherjee’s “treasure trove”.
Many more such memorabilia left behind by Mukherjee, which he had collected during his over four-decade political career, are now being discovered by his daughter Sharmistha as she finishes the mammoth task of packing up her father’s belongings from his official 10 Rajaji Marg bungalow.
Sharmistha, who lives in Greater Kailash, has temporarily moved into her father’s bungalow to wind up the task of packing up Mukherjee’s belongings from the house as she wants to vacate the bungalow by November.
“It’s a treasure trove. Everyday, while clearing the cupboards, drawers and almirahs, I come across handwritten notes, some of which date back to 30 years ago, mementos, paper cuttings, etc. that my father had preserved over the years,” Sharmistha told ThePrint.
Among the handwritten notes is a one-liner that Indira Gandhi had scribbled to Mukherjee, when he was the finance minister in her cabinet in the early 1980s — “Finance minister needs relaxation.”
The note, Sharmistha said, was accompanied by a magnet toy that Gandhi gave Mukherjee.
“It shows the kind of rapport that Mrs Gandhi had with my father. Not everything was about politics,” she added.
Mukherjee was one of India’s youngest finance ministers when he was appointed to the post in 1982 at the age of 47.
Sharmistha recently posted on Twitter about another handwritten note exchanged between her father and Gandhi dating back to June 1984.
While browsing through Babas’ old papers, found this note- an interesting exchange between him & Smt. Indira Gandhi ji about (Alvin?) Tofflers’ book. There are many such hand-scribbled notes which are invaluable. pic.twitter.com/kbqdRlQRTq
— Sharmistha Mukherjee (@Sharmistha_GK) October 5, 2020
Mukherjee had scribbled on a page: “PM may like to glance through pages 170-172 of this book. She may find it interesting. I have just gone through this book.” To this, Gandhi had replied in the same note: “Thank you. I have read Toffler’s other two books.”
The note, however, does not mention the name of the book.
Sharmistha told ThePrint she can only guess that her father and Gandhi were talking about American writer Alvin Toffler.
The former President had also kept another note that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had sent to his wife Suvra when she was ill.
“It’s just a one line note saying ‘get well soon’,” Sharmistha said, adding: “My father had a habit of keeping everything.”
Job request, election results analysis
It’s not only personal memorabilia that Mukherjee has preserved over the years. From one of the cupboards, Mukherjee’s daughter also found an analysis of election results of panchayat elections in Tamil Nadu held in the 1980s.
Mukherjee was quite popular for his encyclopedic memory, narrating events that have happened aeons ago.
Sharmistha also found some random items. She recalled that from one of the drawers she found a 30-year-old request letter for a job. “The letter has faded and it is not possible to decipher the name and address,” she said.
There are a lot of other memorabilia like the best parliamentarian award that Mukherjee got and several other awards conferred upon him.
He was also very fond of referring to the Constitution.
“There are at least 100 copies of the Constitution strewn all over the house, in all shapes and sizes — from coffee table books to miniature pocket versions,” Sharmistha said.
In 2014, when the NDA government was formed, he presented a copy of the Constitution to all the parliamentarians.
Over 8,000 books, many signed by authors
There are over 8,000 books that Mukherjee had collected over the years. Many were gifts from authors and in different languages. People knew his love for books, so they often gifted him one, said his daughter.
Mukherjee’s collection of books included a biography on former Bangladeshi President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which was gifted by his daughter and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Noted economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen gifted Mukherjee a signed copy of his book The Argumentative Indian, from where he quoted extensively in his speeches in recent years, according to people who have worked with him.
The former President also quoted from books on Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in his speeches. One book that was always found in Mukherjee’s briefcase was India Wins Freedom written by Maulana Azad.
Sharmistha said that she is planning to donate some of the books to libraries and institutions.
The former President was also famous for maintaining diaries, where he chronicled important and interesting events from his over four-decade political journey. Some of the entries in the diaries are part of the three memoirs that he had penned, Sharmistha said.
She also said Mukherjee gave the diaries to her, but she has not been able to read them as yet.
“There are a lot of memories involved. In the present circumstances that I am in, it is very very difficult for me to read. I will read it when things settle down a bit and I am emotionally more calm,” said.
Sharmistha, however, does not rule out writing a book on her father. “I plan to. That is one of the ways to keep his legacy alive.”
One will have to wait until the book is out to know the secrets that one of the most consummate politicians of our times was privy to.
Mukherjee was writing his fourth book when he died. The book chronicled his journey to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. It is expected to be released on his birth anniversary later this year.
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