The editorial on Jyoti Basu (Jan. 18) was excellent, moving, and edifying. I have an interesting anecdote to share with the readers. In 1977-80, I was doing my PhD in Sociology at Bangalore University, at the Jnana Bharati campus, which is some distance from the city. One afternoon there was news that Jyoti Basu would address the students. Like any ordinary mortal, he walked into the auditorium. He was accompanied by some people who were probably student leaders. His speech was organised by the Economics Department.
An academic (who later joined the BJP) and Jyoti Basu were on the dais. A student brought forth a garland. To my dismay, I found that instead of garlanding Basu the student garlanded the academic, and his flatterers applauded him. The academic was known for his eccentricities, and I thought this was of a piece with his reputation. A cool Basu then addressed the students, praised the academic, and left. A few of us accompanied him out of the auditorium. He asked someone where the canteen was, and, when told, went straight there. We went with him. After a glass of tea (and yes, he drank from the regular glass tumbler), which he personally collected from the counter, he left in an Ambassador car. I did not see any security, any VIP (including the VC) or even the academic to see him off. We felt bad about this, but admired Basu’s simplicity, and the ease with which he merged with the group (students, in this case).
A couple of years ago, when I met an old student who was part of the team that arranged Basu’s visit to the university, I tried to find out why the garland went round the academic’s neck instead of Basu’s, but got no answer. All that I gathered was that a few students had arranged the visit at their own expense and that the university had no role in it. It is possible that communists like Basu treated garlands as millstones round the neck, and so advised the student to hang it around the neck of his teacher, which (millstone) he deserved!