Far away in Kolkata, Mandela lives on

As the world mourns demise of Nelson Mandela, a retired police commissioner in Kolkata revives the memories of a day, which would have been like any other but for a gesture that the legendary anti-apartheid activist made.

Guruprasad Mukherjee, then a sub-inspector, led a team that was formed to escort Nelson Mandela's convoy during his visit to Kolkata in October 1990, eight months after his release from prison. Mandela was in Kolkata to receive a state government felicitation.

"Our team is very much pleased with your performance," Mandela had told Mukherje followed by a hug, on the day when he left Kolkata.

"I was left spell-bound. I had never anticipated that a leader of his stature would hug me for doing my official duty," Mukherjee, who has kept photographs of him with Mandela, told The Indian Express.

Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990 and reached Kolkata, along with wife Winnie, on October 18. The then Governor Nurul Hasan and Chief Minister Jyoti Basu had received him at the airport and a civic reception was accorded to him at the Eden Gardens.

The leader, who in his speech dwelt on his determination to fight apartheid, sang and danced making people sway his tunes. He stayed at Raj Bhavan and left the city next morning.

Manab Mukherjee, former Left Front minister, who went to South Africa as observer and later attended the swearing in ceremony of Mandela in 1994, recalls how the leader had cherished the memory of his Kolkata visit.

"After the ceremony, when asked about the memorable moments of his life, he referred to his visit to Kolkata and the day of his release from prison. As a Calcuttan I felt proud of my city,'' Mukherjee told The Indian Express.

Rabin Dev, CPM state secretariat member, who had been a youth leader at that timeand had accompanied the legendary leader during his visit to Kolkata, described the rupturous mood of the people that day.

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