When Nehru tied the tape

  • Shyamal Roy

    July 16, 2017 | 03:46 AM
VVIP, red tape, Jawaharlal Nehru, Eastern Railway

Representational image (Photo: Getty Images)

VVIPs like Presidents, Prime Ministers and important personalities or celebrities often cut a red tape with a silver scissor to inaugurate a factory or a project. On 14 November 1957, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came down to Howrah station to inaugurate the running of the first electric train on Eastern Railway.

Accompanied by West Bengal Governor Padmaja Naidu and Chief Minister Bidhan Chandra Roy he went by a special train to Sherophully railway station in Hooghly district to flag off the first Electric Mechanical Unit (EMU), or what we know today as electric trains. The special train also carried media persons from the city.

A huge crowd had gathered at the station and the surrounding area to witness the event. An EMU train smelling of fresh paint and decorated with flowers stood at a particular platform of the station. After addressing the gathering, the VVIPs moved to the platform for the function.

Nehru was to cut a red tape at one of the doors of the EMU through which the driver would enter. The PM would then flag off the train for its maiden run to Howrah for the public. There was almost a mad scramble among the crowd who came close to the VVIPs to get a better view.

The media, the photographers and reporters from the city as well as local correspondents - there was no electronic media then except for All India Radio - also rushed in. There was much pushing and jostling as the photographers tried to get the best angle and the police had a trying time to keep ordinary people at bay by forming a circle around the VVIPs.

But many did get in and photographers found it difficult to click their camera shutters in time. In those days, most used either box-cameras like the Rolleiflex or the German-made Isoly- 120 with a view-finder and slow shutter speed. Photographers had to depend on their wisdom to focus correctly on the subject by standing still. Even a tiny movement could spoil the shot.

Nehru picked up a silver scissor from a silver plate held by a beautifully dressed lady and cut the red tape amidst much clapping, blowing of conch-shells by girls in red-bordered saris and a thunderous roar from the assemblage. The photographers rapidly clicked shutters of their cameras after a fast rolling of the films for the next shot.

Just when Nehru and others where advancing towards the front of the EMU to flag off the train, one Tarak Da, as I knew him from my photojournalist father, shouted out to the Prime Minister: “Panditji, aur ek bar, hamara frame may aap nahi aya”.

In those times, there were few VVIPs and even fewer media persons. VVIPs like Nehru and B.C.Roy knew many of the journalists by name, and one of them was Tarak Das, known as Tarakda, of the Bengali newspaper Jugantar. “Kya Tarakda, do bara? Achcha, thik hai”, Nehru replied and walked back smiling to the spot with others following, tied the red tape himself and asked for the scissor once more.

This time he was careful and didn’t cut the tape hurriedly giving time to Tarak Da and, of course, other photographers to ensure that he was in their frame. After making sure photographers had got their shot, he laughed out aloud as did many others. Tarak Da was also happy. A PR friend recently told me that it was a lesson for PR persons. They always request VVIPs now to hold the scissor for a few seconds on the red tape to enable photographers to focus.