Birbhum: It's been a long journey for 77-year-old Pranab Mukherjee from a humble village in Birbhum in West Bengal to the seat of power Raisina Hill. Pranab Mukherjee, today as the top contender as the President of India was born in Mirati, at Mukherjee Bhavan in 1935.
Pranab Mukherjee spent almost 17 years of his life at his ancestral house.
Eighty-year-old Rama Rani Dasi is happy admiring her childhood friend on a calendar.
Says Dasi, "My Poltu, my friend has gone so far. I bless him with all my heart that he goes even further. A Bengali coming from this village is about to become the President."
Pranab has always chosen his ancestral home to keep the family tradition of presiding over the Durga Utsav for more than thirty years and Phoring Mondal has spent 30 years of his life at the household cooking during the puja. This time, however, his prayers are to cook for the President.
He says, "I have been in this household for more than 30 years. Earlier, I used to cook for the Finance Minister. But now I will have the privilege and the honour of cooking for the President."
Meanwhile, at the 117-year-old Kirnahar Shib Chandra High School, the students are an excited lot. Their GK just got more interesting with answers on Presidential elections ready on their lips. After all, the key contender is from their own school.
"I will be very happy if he becomes President. I will be able to tell all my friends that I am studying in Pranab Mukherjee's school," says one young student.
"He has come from such a small village and studied in this school and today he might become the President. I feel that if I also study hard, I will also become like him some day," says another.
In 1946, Pranab Mukherjee or Poltu was admitted in the school in Class 5. A quiet and reticent young Pranab learnt the first skills of debating at this school.
His teacher Amar Nath Dutt spoke on how Pranab always stood second in school and how he used to walk two miles through mud from his village.
"He used to travel from Mirati to this school part swimming and part wading through mud wearing a gamcha. He used to change at his teacher's house and come here. He had very humble beginnings," says Dutt.
After his nomination as the Presidential candidate, there were heated debates if Pranab Mukherjee was really the son of Bengal with none other than the Didi of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee doubting his Bengali ceredentials.
Bengal has never had a President or a Prime Minister before. In 1996, when Jyoti Basu had seemed all set to becoming a consesnsus Prime Minister of a united front government, the CPM Politburo refused to back him, a decision Basu himself had called a historic blunder for India and for Bengal.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was perhaps the last Bengali who gained national recognition.
Now a Congressman from West Bengal, who has won elections only twice in his life, is poised to return the Bengali to the national mainstream.
Retired professor Deb Ranjan Mukhopadhyay who taught Pranab at Vidya Sagar College in Birbhum says Pranab Mukhjerjee's Bengali-ness is beyond doubt.
"He is a good Bengali. He is a Bengali in his heart and soul. He is a Shera Bangalee. He has put Bengal on the map," he says.
Poltu, the village boy from Mirati in Bengal, is off to take a shot at becoming the President of India.