Calcutta, Oct. 5: Not many can throw Mamata Banerjee off guard. Jai Narayan Patel, who retired as chief justice of Calcutta High Court 24 hours ago, accomplished that today.
"We have the Chief Justice of India (Altamas Kabir) from Bengal. Our President (Pranab Mukherjee) is also from Bengal. I only expect that we have the Prime Minister from Bengal now,'' Patel told a rare farewell organised by the state government at the Town Hall in Calcutta this evening.
Patel did not name anyone but the claps and cheers from the audience, mostly high court advocates, suggested few needed a clue to the riddle.
On the dais, a smile crossed the chief minister's face but was there also a trace of embarrassment?
"What could have Didi done? When such a comment came from the Chief Justice who retired just a day ago, she could only have smiled. Actually, she was a bit embarrassed and didn't know how to react to this sudden remark,'' said a cabinet minister present at the farewell.
Minutes earlier, Mamata had passed on a knife to Patel to cut a birthday cake the government had arranged.
When Mamata's turn to speak came, she said: "I can only request you, Sir, please come back to Bengal. We will be happy to see you in a better position. Please return and give us ideas and advice. We want you to maintain friendly relations with us."
Patel had said he would leave Bengal shortly for his home state Maharashtra and resume legal practice.
Some Trinamul leaders wondered whether Mamata has plans for Patel in the precincts of Raj Bhavan. "But there is no vacancy there till 2014 when the incumbent term ends. So, let's not hazard a guess,'' said a Trinamul MP.
No government in Bengal has organised a farewell for a high court chief justice in recent memory. One of the reasons was a feeling that the executive and the judiciary should limit contact outside the realm of law because cases involving the government of the day come up before courts regularly.
Mamata today stressed her personal rapport with the retired chief justice. In the process, she has solved the hospitality dilemma that may confront families if the chief minister makes a social visit.
Here's a checklist based on Mamata's revelations today:
You can offer tea;
If you must, you can also offer a vegetable cutlet or a singara or a kochuri;
If it is a Friday (the Santoshi Ma day that Mamata observes), muri (puffed rice) can be served.
The disclosures came when Mamata described how "thoughtful and caring'' Patel had been whenever she visited him at his place.
"I have been to the chief justice's place thrice… probably on my way back home. He always used to tell me to eat something. He was so thoughtful, so caring,'' she said. "He could have offered me tea only. But he always insisted on me having a vegetable cutlet or a singara or kochuri. If I dropped by on the Santoshi Ma day that I observe once a week, he would ask me to have muri,'' she said.