Life in a Commune
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Red curtains strung across the window, a panel of photographs of Communist stalwarts, a copy of Ganashakti. Some habits die hard, more so for a dyed-in-the-red comrade. Samar Mukherjee has woken up to these familiar symbols almost every morning for the last 47 years of his life, ever since he moved to 9, Dilkusha Street. Now, at 100, the CPI(M) comrade is the sole occupant of the four rooms that houses the party's commune.
The Dilkusha commune has housed several Communist stalwarts, such as Muzaffar Ahmed (founder-member of the undivided CPI), Abdullah Rasool, Mahadeb Saha, Nirod Chakraborty and Rabin Sen. The building is the last of the CPI(M)'s communes, a tradition of communal living once patronised and encouraged by Left parties, but which, with changing times, now resembles a quaint idea, much like the memories Mukherjee has of his younger days.
"Jyoti Babu used to call me Samar Babu. I have had several unforgettable moments with him," says Mukherjee. He shuts his eyes, hoping those moments will come back to him, but the effort tires him. "I can't remember those instances. Why can't I remember them?" he says, his eyes moist. Keshab Pahari, a party whole-timer who has been appointed by the party to look after the comrade, tried to comfort him by showing us some of his photographs, taken during a visit to China as part of a CPI(M) delegation. Mukherjee's eyes light up again.
This room in 9, Dilkusha has seen Mukherjee at his political and intellectual best. As an MLA, an MP and then as head of the CPI(M)'s Control Commission, he has held long addas here with fellow comrades, ideas and thoughts bouncing off the four walls of the room as Mukherjee and his friends spoke out against corruption and nepotism in the party. The common kitchen in the commune would generate endless cups of chai for these addas. The meals were mostly vegetarian, with an occasional serving of fish. At other times, he and the other occupants of the commune—12 to 15 comrades, including members of the Central Committee and Politburo, says Pahari—would spend hours poring over books, documents and records in the small library in the building that is stocked with several rare books.