In public memory, communists are usually remembered as ascetic, dour, and humourless personalities. During the many years in which I interacted with the former general secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), AB Bardhan, as a reporter, I found that he passed the first marker with flying colours, and failed the other two by a significant margin. Bardhan worked out of his office on the second floor of the CPI’s headquarters, Ajoy Bhavan, and had his meals in the collective mess with the rest of the party staff downstairs. In 1989, he shifted into a room in the same building and continued to live there until last year, when he was moved to a hospital because of a brain hemorrhage.
I first met Bardhan nearly two decades ago, and was somewhat taken aback when his sense of humour did not evaporate with my acidic potshots at his party for continuing to adorn the walls of Ajoy Bhavan with a photograph of Joseph Stalin. By this time, the Soviet Union had collapsed. Moreover, documents that served as evidence of the killings and stage-managed trials of the Stalinist era had made their way into the public domain.
The CPI’s office—unlike AK Gopalan Bhavan, the headquarters of the Communist Party of India-Marxist [CPI-M]—had become an adda for the Left beat reporters. Even during the Left’s years in the sun, when the CPI’s senior leader and then General Secretary Indrajit Gupta became a home minister in the United Front-led government, the culture in Ajoy Bhavan remained the same—warm and welcoming.