Interviewing some politicians can be injurious to health at times. Over the years, I have had the good fortune of interviewing almost all the country’s top netas. Each one poses a different challenge, but few can be as difficult as Mamata Banerjee. At a personal level, Didi has been good to me: she has cooked a Bengali meal for me, makes it a point to call up during Pujo, and even sent me a tin of rosogullas once for my birthday!
Professionally too, she has been kind, giving me newsy interviews and sharing information. And yet, interviewing her is never easy. She doesn’t look you in the eye, she will get easily distracted, will speak a strange mix of Hindi and English, and most worryingly, she is capable of taking the stereotypical notion of the volatile Bengali woman to another level. Three years ago, when she was made the CNN IBN politician of the year, she almost walked out of the programme because she had spotted Anna Hazare in the audience (the same Anna with whom she almost tied up earlier this year). In 2012, when we did a programme around her first anniversary in power, she literally stomped off after being asked a question by a student on the Park Street rape. And two days ago on Headlines Today, she threw off her mike and threatened to leave an interview when I asked her on the Saradha scam. Fortunately, I was able to persuade her to return and complete the interview. But only after my heart rate had quickened yet again.
So which Mamata should I believe to be the ‘real’ person? The ruthless politician who could fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, or the warm, generous woman who can sing, paint and even crack a joke? I guess, like many others, Mamatadi does live a schizophrenic existence and the camera, in a sense, has been able to capture the shifting moods. As for us hapless journalists, it’s just another day in the office.