Kolkata, Dec 6: Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela breathed his last thousands of miles away in South Africa, but in Kolkata, as people mourned, they also recalled Friday the man who visited here 23 years ago.
In October 1990, Mandela, released from prison after 27 years, made his first-ever visit to India, a country which supported his struggle with passion. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life thronged Eden Gardens, where he was given a public reception.
Mandela was received by then West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu at the airport of the city then called Calcutta. Thousands lined the streets leading to the airport as Mandela arrived, and the Eden Gardens was bedecked with arches and floral arrangements.
His visit to India and the city was part of his endeavour to garner international support for his anti-apartheid movement.
Packed beyond capacity, the Eden Gardens reverberated with the song “My Buyaa Africa” (I love my Africa), as people did the Mexican wave to show their solidarity with Mandela.
As the chants of “My Buyaa Africa” grew louder, Mandela also reportedly shook a leg while Basu watched happily.
Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) Nepaldev Bhattacharya, who was in-charge of the performances at the arena, said the Mexican wave caught the fancy of Mandela who was overwhelmed by the love and affection showered by the people.
“He was very impressed with the Mexican wave. Though it is usually done in football matches, we decided to do it for him,” Bhattacharya told IANS.
Talking about the civic reception accorded to Mandela, which was organised the city Municipal Corporation as well the then Left Front government, CPI-M Rajya Sabha member and then Mayor Prashanta Chatterjee said Mandela was overwhelmed by the reception.
“We could see how Mandela was enjoying it when the crowd was singing the song. Later, during a dinner at Raj Bhavan hosted by the governor, Mandela said he was moved by the love and affection showered on him,” Chatterjee said.
Marxist leader Rabin Deb, who was in the thick of things that day, said: “He was overwhelmed with the reception. He was very affectionate and asked about the programmes we had conducted over the years during his confinement.”
“Before the oath-taking ceremony as the President of South Africa in 1994, he recalled that his Kolkata visit was one of the most memorable events, besides his release from prison,” Deb said.
People in Kolkata took to social networking sites Friday to pay tributes to the man, and reminisced over the visit: “remember the day #nelsonmandela came to Calcutta (October 90) There was live coverage of the event,” tweeted Sonia Sarkar.
“My Buyaa Africa… 23 years back… RIP Nelson Mandela,” tweeted Shibashish Sarkar.