Sundeep Bhutoria

Welcome to my blog. Do share your views and thoughts with me. Request visitors to keep their comments brief and to the point. I shall respond to you to the extent possible.
Thank you.
ess bee

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Friday, December 31, 2010

My paathshala days

Kishangarh Suite, Rajputana Sheraton, Jaipur: I returned to Jaipur from Churu late night yesterday. I have known the staff of this Hotel for quite many years who are insisting that I should spend the New Year Eve here. The suite is very much of my choice and taste and located near the elevator there is a small terrace in the suite overlooking the pool. 
But I'll take an evening flight to Kolkata.
I visited Churu almost after three years. Earlier, I used to frequently visit Jhunjhunu, Churu and Sikar districts as I was engaged in various welfare activities with many socio-cultural organisations in the region.
I spent some time in the same room where I was born. As a child, I used to spent one-and-half months of my summer vacations in Churu. This small town was always in the news because of its extreme weather conditions - very hot in summer and very cold in winter.
For several years, during Holi, I used to visit this area and attend the annual folk song and dance competition known as Chang and Dhap. I don't think the competition has been organised for the past three years. Though I am still keen to support this event as I used to earlier but the fact is that local club politics and groupism has dissuaded many right people from participating in this annual event.
Not just Churu, the event is no longer on in Fatehpur ever since one of the key persons and organising member, Mr Subhash Joshi (picture), became the Secretary of Rajasthan Cricket Association when Lalit Modi became the President and got busy with the affairs of the Association.
From left: Mr Subhas Joshi, Master Bhanwarlal
In Churu, Narendra Sharma, one of the most respected journalists in the region used to organise this event. But whatever the reason it is no longer held.
Lot of my childhood memories are linked with this place. I still have vivid memories of those days when I used to walk two kilometres, slate in hand, to reach my paathshala. I still remember the Joshi panwala, Bijjo chaiwala and Niwas dahi bara -kachori shop of my paathshala days. These three have survived and still exist. I feel that except for these two or three shops, everything else has changed in the world.
Besides the Chang and Dhap competition, I used to visit frequently many other annual functions in the area, from Muharram tazia processions to different annual school functions. Today, when I receive on an average ten times more invitations from this region than what I used to get earlier. However, I can hardly afford to attend these functions though there are three daily flights linking Kolkata and Jaipur. Most of the time, the priority gets the better of my heart's yearnings.
True, childhood days are the best part of one's life.
ess bee

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter charms

Kishangarh Suite, Hotel Rajputana Sheraton Jaipur: I just returned to my room after dinner at the Hotel's open verandah that houses a mini bar next to the pool. It wasn't just raining but pouring. The hotel staff did warn me that it would be cold outside as the state rarely gets rains during winters.
I like this kind of cold weather and enjoy sitting outside as long as it isn't raining. The view of the poolside, the cold wintry weather, the general quietude except for the sound of untimely rains and with no other guests around, I almost had the place to myself.
In Kolkata, I prefer to go out to the open-air events. Yesterday evening I went to the DKS Club in Kolkata with Arpita where a musical evening with Alka Yagnik was organised as a part of the Club's festive week celebrations.
Although a temporary shamiana was erected for the festivities ahead, the charm of being in the open air and hot coffee was too strong to resist.
I met Chuni Goswami, Ranadeb and Rachana Banerjee who were also the guests for the evening and had also come to hear the melodious Alka Yagnik (picture). But I made an early exit as she hadn't taken to the stage till 9 pm and I wanted to call it a day little early.
I arrived here at Jaipur today evening and tomorrow early morning will travel to my native village Churu.
ess bee

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A classic afternoon

Usha Utthup, Rekha Surya, Sujoy Prosad, Mamta Shankar
Today afternoon I hosted a lunch in honour of Rekha Surya, an exponent of Hindustani Light Classical who has trained under legendary Begum Akhtar and Girija Devi. She is in city and will perform at the ICCR tomorrow. I thought why not host a lunch and invite some of city's classical musicians and performing artistes.
I arranged for a barbeque at the Taj Bengal poolside and nearly 95 per cent of the invitees turned up. It wasn't like any of the cocktail evenings involving diplomats, the celebs from Tollywood and partygoers. It was a relaxed lazy afternoon where the city's top classical performers got together. I'd call it a classic afternoon.
Among those who graced the occasion were Bickram and Jaya Ghosh, Dona Ganguly, Mamta Shankar, Preeti Patel, Radhika Singh, Tanusree Shankar, Tanmoy Bose, Pt Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, Partho Desikan, Suuchanndra, Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee, Usha Utthup and others (picture). The Taj Bengal poolside provided a perfect ambience for a relaxed time out for the guests who otherwise have a busy schedule for their own performances and rehearsals.
Besides classical performers, I did invite a couple of my friends who patronize classical music and dance like Jayshree Mohta, Madhu Neotia and Satyam Roy Chowdhury.
ess bee

Monday, December 27, 2010

Events galore!

West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan with
 Hashim Abdul Halim and Asim Dasgupta

The last five or six days there were many events, parties, functions and annual programs in the city that kept me busy. In public life, prior commitments always get the better of personal choice when it comes to attending functions and events. So some of the last hour invitations that I get and badly want to attend - I have no choice but to miss out.
On December 21st there was a program organised by Sanjay Budhia at The Oberoi Grand to felicitate the Golden Peacock Awardees which I could not attend but on 22nd December I did attend the quiz programme organised by Ananda Bazar Patrika and enjoyed it very much. Though it was a freezing cold evening by Kolkata standards as it was an open air program at the RCGC, the guests stayed on till the last.
This was a first-of-its-kind program in the city. All the six teams were a mix of directors, actors and actresses. The team of Rituporno Ghosh and Indronil came second but there was little doubt that they were the favourite of the audience. Rituporno is an encyclopedia of Bengali cinema.
After the Quiz I attended the post quiz party of Ananda Bazar Patrika but missed out on the inaugural party of the ITC Fortune hosted by Bipin Vohra.
Anjan Dutta and Churni Ganguly
On December 23rd I missed the lunch at the Legislative Assembly but did attend the premier of Aar Ekti Premer Golpo at the Priya Cinema. I met Sandip Ray, Anjan Dutta (pictures), Kaushik Ganguly and other stalwarts of Tollywood
Sandip Ray
who were there to see this much talked about and controversial film in which Rituporno has acted an the film is directed by Kaushik. The word going around is that this is the first film that is based on the life story of a person who is alive i.e., Chapal Bhaduri, who himself was present at the premier.
After this program I attended the 41st Anniversary party of Hotel Hindustan International hosted by Dilip Jaiswal. The same evening I breezed through two other private parties.

Amala Shankar
On December 24th, I missed my appointment with Lok Sabha Speaker Meera Kumar at the Raj Bhawan since the tentative time for the meeting given to me by her office clashed with my other event at the State Legislative Assembly. 
I duly informed her office about my inability to attend.
With Chiranjeet
The Flower Show is an annual affair at the State Assembly and this year it was inaugurated by the Governor of West Bengal in the presence of Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim, deputy speaker, Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta, Roopa Ganguly and others. I took a round seeing the award winnng flowers pots with Amala Shankar (picture).
On the eve of 24th I attended the event conceptualised by Idea Creations, the company of cine star couple Arpita and Prasenjit at The Park. I am also a board member of this company. I met Chiranjeet after a long time there in the post event party at the Hotel. I had a dinner at The Oberoi poolside that evening.
I missed out on the polo ball at The Oberoi Grand on the 25th evening and hardly watched any of the matches properly. I am very fond of watching polo matches and make it a point every year to do so either in Delhi or Jaipur.
My list of missing events included two events organised by the Chambers of Commerce, one with Pranab Mukherjee and another with Meera Kumar. But no regrets, as I have never attended any Chamber of Commerce function till date except of the Prabha Khaitan Puraskar at the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce as I as directly associated with the Prabha Khaitan Puraskar. I did make plans for a Christmas lunch but was in office till late noon and finally ended up having tea at the Flurry's.
Yesterday evening I went to DKS Club to listen to Jagjit Singh, something that I had planned a month in advance, but a religious event at the Netaji Indoor Stadium, organised by my close associates, compelled me to make an early exit. Alas! I could not be at Jagjit Singh's till the last though I wanted to sit through the entire program.
I also gave the SKM Annual program yesterday, where Kailash Kher performed, a miss. Another great performance that I missed was that of Hari Prasad Chourasia a couple of days back.

ess bee

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Xmas spirit is on

I missed the Sunday evening dinner at St Xavier's hosted by the Father Rev Dr J Felix Raj. About 100 prominent citizens of Kolkata were invited to the pre-Christmas get together. The X-mas spirit is on in city.
I heard Mamata Banerjee was present at the dinner and interacted with all the guests. It seems these days whatever Mamata does is lapped up by the media and served as news in Bengal. No doubt, all eyes are focused on her and every move she makes.
Kalki Koechlin, Pooja Swaroop and Rajat Kapoor
Yesterday evening I went to the Birla Sabhaghar as the Chief Guest (picture) to watch the play Hamlet - The Clown Prince directed by Rajat Kapoor. The man who brought this play to the city is Sumit Bhatt. He runs a production company and had approached me about a month back and wanted to associate with me and also print my name in the invite.
Since I did not know him nor did I get any proper reference, I declined his proposal and also shared with him the grounds of my reservations. I also told him that since it was a big budget play to inform me once he had the sponsors arranged. Honestly, I was not sure about his abilities. But he has proved me wrong and managed to stage a nice play in city. Except for the less-than-expected audience, everything was in order.
Good show Sumit.
ess bee 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An enchanting evening


Zakir Hussain and Aashish Khan
 December 19th Sunday: Yesterday evening I went to the Science City to attend the program of Aashish Khan and Zakir Hussain. The enchanting evening of classical rendition was a tribute to two of India's greatest maestros Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Allah Rakha.

I missed the lunch with Zakir Hussain at the Mani Mansions restaurant but made it up by meeting him backstage at the Science City auditorium. It had the pleasure of honouring both Zakir and Aashish with garland and shawl on the stage (picture). I wanted to sit through the whole concert but was pressed for time due to other commitments.
From the Science City I went to The Oberoi Grand Hotel ballroom where an adda session with Lala da - Buddhadeb Guha - was organised by some of his friends and well wishers. After meeting Lala da and spending an hour I went to a friend's place for dinner at South City. There I met two very interesting persons from San Fransciso one of them, Rana da, is the nephew of Jyoti Basu. I also met Shama Rahman who is a Rabindra Sangeet exponent from Bangladesh.
By the time I called it a day it was well past midnight stretching almost to the wee hours. I missed two different parties one at the Peerless Inn Hotel and the other at a South City Mall restaurant.

In the hectic evening schedule the memorable part was the time spent with Amala Shankar at the backstage lounge of Science City auditorium. At 90, she is still active. As we talked, I realised that her words carry great wisdom her words carry like she said that there are only two castes in the world - man and woman. Her approach towards life has always been very different and continues to be so.
ess bee

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Foodies, winter and open-air restaurants

Brijesh Damani, P K Banerjee

The weather has changed in Kolkata. With the onset of winter almost all the 5 Star hotel properties in the city have laid down open-air barbecue adjacent to the restaurants or food corners. The Taj Bengal and The Oberoi Grand every year start their poolside restaurant during winters. The Taj Bengal has a special spread and this time the theme is Oriental i.e., Thai food, Korean and south-east Asian food etc.
I did go there to have dinner and tried with the starters, but despite my best efforts, I found it to be too much for me and my hunger got the better of the ambience and I had to go back to the coffee shop and to my strict good old Indian vegetarian food.
The Oberoi Grand poolside has always been my favourite and I think the 15-20 days of this time of the year in the only time that I go to the Oberoi Grand for dinner. It comes close to my idea and preference for having food outside in a hilly weather. The Oberoi Grand's open-air restaurant is one of my favourites in Kolkata especially because it serves Indian cuisine.
This year, my everyday destination, ITC Sonar Bangla, has also started the open-air restaurant. The water bodies and the lilly ponds, without doubt, provides the best open-air ambience in Kolkata. But in ITC Sonar Bangla, somehow, the quality and the taste of the food, whether it is Indian or Italian, has come down somewhat. Sometimes, I find that the food, except for the famed Peshawari, tastes rather vapid these days.
Before going for dinner at The Taj Bengal, I attended the felicitation function of Brijesh Damani (picture) that was organised by a Hindi daily. Brijesh has made us all proud by winning the silver medal in men's team snooker at the Asiad along with Yasin Merchant and Aditya Kumar.
I also met P K Banerjee and Dolon Banerjee (picture), both of them are accomplished sports persons of India. P K Banerjee, in his speech, observed that Brijesh would not win a gold medal until and unless he gets proper training and for this there was a need to spend money on proper training facilities. PK spoke aloud the unpleasant fact as is evident and reflected by the huge gap in the economic status of cricketers and other sports persons in India.
It is indeed a fact that in our country hardly much is done to promote sports other than cricket?
ess bee

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our journey begins with Journey

Chief Guest Adrian Johnson
Yesterday evening there was a function in city organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation in collaboration with the British Council Kolkata. This function was initially planned for the 17th of December but was pre-poned to 16th December as 17th was a holiday on account of Muharram.
Adrian Johnson, writer, poet and story-teller from Birmingham, was the Chief Guest (picture) of the function. Mr Johnson, who was the 14th Birmingham Poet Laureate in 2009, has a very personal style of reciting poems and story telling.
Mr H M Bangur, Piali Ray, Sujata Sen
This was the first pilot project of British Council-Prabha Khaitan Foundation in which the book Journeys was released by industrialist Hari Mohan Bangur (picture). The book Journeys is a collection of short stories, poetry and reportage by writers associated with the South Asian diaspora centering around the theme of journeys.
A young writer receiving copy of Journey
The award for best writing was given to Hema Raman from Chennai. I seized this opportunity to meet the young and very young writers and some other guests.
Sujata Sen, director, British Council, thanked Prabha Khaitan Foundation for this collaborative effort and successful program.
I had met Sujata  (picture) a couple of months back and mooted the idea that Kolkata should host some Indian and foreign writers, scholars, poets on a regular basis. I had suggested a year-long collaboration between Prabha Khaitan Foundation and the British Council Kolkata for this project. Sujata had liked the idea very much.
Today's program was the first in the series of such collaborative effort. The modalities of our association and future course of action would be worked out in details. 
I am sure Kolkata can look forward to many interesting programs like today's in the days ahead. 
Our journey has begun with Journey.
ess bee

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rajasthan Foundation Kolkata to rev up


Vinod Ajmera, Exec Director,
Rajasthan Foundation
Today evening I organised a get together over high tea at The Taj Bengal with Vinod Ajmera, Executive Director, Rajasthan Foundation, Government of Rajasthan (picture). I organised this formal get together as the Honorary Secretary of the Kolkata Chapter of Rajasthan Foundation which is an autonomous body instituted by the Government of Rajasthan.
Mr Ajmera very recently assumed charge as the Executive Director. As a state official he is also the Additional Commissioner, Bureau of Investment Promotion, in the Industry Department of the Rajasthan Government.
It was a small get together of about 25 people in which some key persons from other Rajasthani organisations in the city (pictures) were invited besides the committee members of the Kolkata chapter of the Rajasthan Foundation.
Mr Nandlal Rungta
To be honest, the Rajasthan Foundation was almost non-functional for the last 18 to 20 months. I had personally mentioned about this to the Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on a number of occasions in last 12 months. He had always given me a positive answer and had assured me that he would come to Kolkata and the Foundation would be active again.
But after two years since the current government came to power the CM's trip to Kolkata is still due. In fact in my last meeting with him I had told him that hardly any work was done and the felicitation function, for which he had given his consent, was due. I had told him that I wanted to resign from my post in the Foundation as I strongly felt that the Foundation's Kolkata Chapter, during my tenure as the secretary, had achieved a lot and that it was time someone else took over and carried forward the good work. He had put his hand on my shoulder and laughed away my suggestion.
Mr Jugal Kishor Jaithalia
During the past two years, many of my so called `well wishers' had announced that they would become the Secretary or the President of the Foundation soon. Some of them had even spread the word that I had been removed from my post and that's why the Kolkata Chapter of the Foundation was defunct.
The get together at the Taj Bengal put to rest all these rumours as Mr Ajmera went on record to say that the Kolkata Chapter was not only the most active chapter of Rajasthan Foundation but also kept the Foundation alive at the time when the headquarters in Jaipur wasn't active.
He also said that now things would be streamlined and the head office in Jaipur would extend all cooperation and support to Kolkata. I hope Ajmera's visit signals the fact that the Rajasthan Foundation Kolkata Chapter is active again.
ess bee

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lucky - Unlucky! SMSes

I received an SMS on my mobile from a well-known Page 3 celeb of Kolkata - “Baba Jogendra sobka GURU” yeh SMS dil se 11 logoko forward karo mujhe chorke. 3 din me apki MANOKAMNA puri hogi. Inkar karoge to 2 sal tak unlucky rahoge.
I checked the cellphone number from which the message came to be sure that it had actually come from the person himself. And it was so. I am sure most of us have received such SMSes some time or the other.
The text reminded me of my childhood days in my village when we used to get the pamphlets that emotionally blackmailed us by saying, or even commanding, the recipient to print a large number of copies of the same pamphlet and distribute it for better luck, happiness, wealth and fulfillment of life-long desires exemplified. It would name few unknown individuals who had benefited by doing so.
Conversely, the pamphlets would also carry an ominous note of warning that all sorts of ill luck, tragedy and even death may strike those who did not carry out the instructions. Again, some phony names of such unlucky persons would be mentioned.
The handouts would popularly mention the names of Lord Shiva, Hanuman ji, Shani Maharaja, Lord Ganesha, Jesus Christ or Sai Baba and others and how their divine blessings or wrath would be invoked depending upon our earthly act of reproducing or not reproducing those pamphlets.
Much later in my life, I realized that those pamphlets were the periodic handiwork of the owners of local printing press. They would orchestrate such schemes to keep their machines running. It often worked to their plan as many dimwitted people would actually turn up to get hundreds of copies printed and the chain would go on. That was something quite akin to what we now call chain marketing only that it was more discrete and exploited a person’s fears and faith.
Whether the pamphlets did good or bad would always be open to debate but it sure did good to the printing press owners who laughed their way to the banks. These typical chain or luck letters consist of a message that attempts to induce the recipient to make a number of copies of the letter and then pass them on to as many recipients as possible. Emotionally manipulative stories, get-rich-quick schemes and the exploitation of superstition to induce or threaten the recipient if he or she “complies or breaks the chain" are the common methods.
From luck letters of yesteryears, we now we have these chain messages coming to us from social networking site, e-mails and SMSes - like the one I received. We also have newer versions like the `chain spider’ - a type of electronic chain letter whereby recipients are encouraged to sign a petition in favor of a particular cause with the list of names contained within the message. We can use our common sense logic to deduce who actually benefits from all this.
I was surprised when I got the chain SMS because there is hardly any need to market a concept that has clicked. Or are these pranks played by idle minds that rope in those who have more faith in superstitions than their common sense and logic.
I never expected this from someone who is educated, intellectual, well-informed and eminent member of our society. Or is it that most of us are chicken-hearted when it comes to matters of faith. The SMS that I received was a clear case of superstition vanquishing common sense.
ess bee

Saturday, December 11, 2010

At the premier of Gorosthane Sabdhan

Mayor Shovan Chatterjee with
Mr Satyam Roy Chowdhury
I attended the premier of Gorosthane Sabdhan at Priya - the Felu da series based on Satyajit Ray's story. Film has been directed by Sandip Ray and my friend Satyam Roy Chowdhury's wife, Mousumi Roy, has produced it.
It was good to see a film after along time based only on a male character. Apart from the usual crowd at the premier, there were a good presence of not-so-regular movie watchers like Somnath Chatterjee and Mayor Shovan Chatterjee.
Tinu Anand (left)
Met Tinu Anand (picture) and was surprised to find him speaking in Bengali. After the movie I missed the party at DKS Club and went to attend a wedding reception at the Agri Horticultural Garden.
Earlier in the day, I had a meeting with Neelanjan Chakraborty at Flury's along with Jina Mitra Banik. They both want to start a grooming and personality development workshop in Kolkata as they feel that Kolkata's young generation needs it. But I doubt so?
Somnath da inquired about my future social activities and cultural endeavours.
I also met the Mayor of Kolkata and mentioned to him about our proposal to the KMC to spread awareness against the use and throw of plastic bags.
Sabyasachi Chakraborty
Yesterday I had a meeting with Anandi Ghosh at Flury's on this and told her that the programme committee of The Bengal would be meeting on the 15th at The Conclave to further deliberate and act on the matter.
ess bee

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hamish talk

I attended a talk by Hamish McRae (picture), Associate Editor of The Independent - the London (UK)-based daily newspaper. The talk, Our Ever More Global Economy - and What Works in it, organised by Inner Eye magazine, was followed by an interactive session. 
It wasn't a Page-3 affair and was a selective gathering of serious people who exchanged views and opinions.
Mr Hamish McRae is no doubt a very well read and knowledgeable person.
I met the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata, Mr Sanjay Wadhwani, who moderated the event. After the programme I was discussing with him about the forthcoming program with the British Council on 16th of January, 2011 (picture). There were quite a number of intelligent questions from the audience on the subject.
Representatives of many NGOs were discussing with me about the proposed fund-raising activities in the future and also about how supportive the government is of the NGOs in this part of the world. I signed off after thanking Jayabrato Chatterjee and went straight to the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) to attend a wedding reception amid rains.
I congratulated the couple and then went on to meet my friend Rupa Ganguly at her residence near the RCGC. Thanks to the rains, there was the chance meeting with Suman Mukhopadhyay, director of mahanagar@kolkata and few other friends from the film fraternity.
ess bee

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Failing marriages

I went to see a play Dinner With Friends at the Birla Sabhaghar. The play, directed by Feroz Khan, was about four friends, two marriages and a divorce. It was all about the good and bad fallouts of marriages, the significance of marriage as an institution.
Today morning I heard that there would be a panel discussion organised by the Bengal Rowing Club on January 9th 2011. The topic - In the opinion of the house the Institution of marriage has lost its significance.
The growing number of failed marriages is a big problem of the marwari community which has about 95 per cent of the Club membership.
Traditional marwari community marriages were always a matter of two families coming together rather than two persons. Over the last two decades, last five years to be more specific, the incidents of failed marriages in the marwari community have sky rocketed.
I have a very different and personal take on this matter. The level of education among the girls in the community has risen steadily during the past 30 years. Like some other communities, the traditional marwari community was never in favour of educating their girls and were, instead, groomed in a typical chulha-chowki mindset that encouraged acquiring early skills in household management and adeptness in home making. Higher education was a far cry. When it came to the girl child and marriage, the thinking was Jis ghar doli wahin se arthi something that the women have been silently enduring and suffering for long.
Times have changed and it is a known fact that an increasing number of marwari girls are now better educated than the boys. The community has come around to a great extent and its members feel proud in educating the girl child. However, when it is a question of marriage and settling down, the chulha-chowki mindset still persists and women are supposed to be homemakers first.
Education has made the once-docile girl child aware of her freedom and rights and financial independence has instilled a degree of self-reliance in them. On the other side, the community that has by and large opened up to higher education and modern thinking, is still reluctant to place women on an equal pedestal. When it comes to choosing a daughter-in-law they'd still prefer one in a ghunghat. This is where the seeds of fissures, resulting from inequality, are sown and marriages go on to fall apart.
I think the dictum - bahu beti ek saman – is one of the biggest lies.
There is a huge gap as to how we think and act. The men folk don't mind going to the pubs and night clubs to shake legs but recoil into a shell of `tradition' when it comes to extending the same privileges to the womenfolk. The thinking and mentality is not in sync. There is a need to strike a balance.
If the marwari community is serious about stemming this adverse trend of failed marriages, it has to change its mindset that is rooted in a tradition governed by antiquated mores and customs. One has to accept the fact that the women too should enjoy equal rights and freedom in society. Or the other option is to stop the education of the girl child. But that would be like trying to turn the clock back.
ess bee

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Time management

Yesterday evening I went to the ITC Sonar Bangla Art Gallery for the inauguration of Simran K S Lamba's (picture) exhibition. The inauguration was slated for 7 pm but when I heard that Rituparna was to do the honours, I was cocksure that it would never happen on time.
I went to the gallery, met the artist Mr Lamba, Tanusree Shankar, Jayabrato Chatterjee, Shamlu Dudeja (picture) and other guests and left around 8:30 pm. As I was on my way out, I met Rituparna who was entering the Hotel lobby and walking towards the art gallery.
A chronic latecomer at events and functions, Ritu somehow fails to be on time even in places like the Raj Bhawan that follow strict protocols. I think this is due to her numerous pressing commitments and engagements that makes the element of punctuality go haywire and keeps her from being on time. Time management isn't really her forte.
I remember last year at the Chaltabagan puja, Rituparna arrived five minutes before the program was to start. Everybody, especially the press photographers, were surprised. I had actually printed two invitation cards. One card that mentioned the program timing as 5 pm was for Rituparna and the other that mentioned the program timing as 7 pm was for other guests. That was the reason that the guests found her to be on time or even five minutes before time.
Take away the element of punctuality and I find her to be one of the most hard working women I have ever come across.
Artist Simran's work was quite different from conventional paintings or sculptures. It was mixed art work in molten coal tar. I really liked the work titled Antaryatra.
ess bee

Monday, December 6, 2010

Whizzy weekend

I had a busy weekend with the Kolkata social circuit abuzz with various events and functions. On Friday I was at Nandan. After attending an art exhibition, I went to the premier of Gautam Ghose's latest movie Moner Manush.
Though I had seen the movie a couple of months back, thanks to Prasenjit, I made it a point to be present at the premier because the three most important persons linked with this award-winning film, namely the director Gautam Ghose, lead performer Prasenjit and novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay, are personally known to me.
May I add that when I first saw the film, I was mesmerised by the pictuarisation of some wonderful natural scenes in the film. Moner Manush won the Golden Peacock at the IFFI in Goa last week and I congratulated Gautam Ghose for his masterly work. I also congratulated Prasenjit for lending life to the main character of Lalan Fakir in the film.
From Nandan, after meeting Sunil da, I rushed to The Park hotel to attend the birthday-celebration-cum-reception of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand hosted by Mr Prasittidesh Vichitsorasatra (picture) and Mrs Naree Vichitsorasatra - the Consul General of Thailand in Kolkata. There was was the usual gathering as in any diplomatic reception in in Kolkata. However, I met a charming lady by the name of Stafinie Landerberger (picture) for the first time. After taking for a while I learnt that it was her second day in Kolkata and she was in the city as a member of a German delegation visiting the German Consulate.
I discussed with her about my late friend Gunter Wehrman, the former Consul General of Kolkata, who passed away a few months back. I wanted to spend some more time with this group but since I had few guests at home for dinner I had to excuse myself.
Saturday evening there was an Anandaloke function at the Science City that was attended by Abhishek and Aishwarya. I have been attending this function regularly in the past. I saw Abhishek in the morning at the ITC Sonar Bangla. He had come to check out the gym.
I missed the Anandaloke event and spent the whole evening at the residence of Harsh and Madhu Neotia. It was an invitation from Suresh Neotia to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Harsh and Madhu. People from all walks of life were there - industrialists, celebrities, artists, performing artistes etc. As expected, the Silver Jubilee Anniversary function was a very special one compared to the usual receptions or dinner parties that we attend.
Besides live performance, music and dinner, there was a speech by Harsh. Also, a short film in which he had lent his voice was screened. There was a touch of class and variety of style everywhere. Harsh is undoubtedly one person in my social circle for whom I have tremendous respect and someone I always look up to.
I met many of the city's eminent persons who had turned up to congratulate Harsh and Madhu.
ess bee

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Litterbugs – a national menace

Day before yesterday I was at the crossing near Hotel Taj Bengal. There was a navy blue Mercedes car waiting for the signal to clear when I noticed the window of the Merc roll down and the occupant throwing an empty mineral water bottle on the road. I was speechless. 
This incident reminded me of another incident that I recently had at the Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. One of our safari guides was Ajay, a local man who had spent his childhood in and around the jungles of Pench. Just before the safari we were apprised of the basic rules and regulations inside the forest. We were particularly told that during the tour inside the forest nobody should disembark from the vehicle. However, at one point, during our journey deep inside the jungle, our guide Ajay stopped the vehicle, quickly jumped out and picked up something. When I asked him, he showed me a piece of plastic bag and said that this wasn't environment-friendly and perhaps some tourist must have inadvertently thrown it inside the park. I was surprised by his ability to spot that small plastic and even more surprised by his concern towards the environment and his sense of duty. Ajay hardly has any educational background.
This once again brought to light the mindless acts of tourists and their disregard or lack or awareness for the environment. What struck me was the fact that the tourists who visit these forests are usually well off and educated in the modern sense and such mindless acts of littering even protected areas is shocking.
It seems littering has become a national habit irrespective of social or educational status. Litterbugs, who have left their mark from Kanyakumari to Leh, are a national menace. This stems from utter disregard and lack of awareness or any kind of concern for the environment. Awareness is something that is above education and social status. A poor and illiterate person like Ajay can be more aware of the environment and the world around him than someone who can afford to lark around in a Mercedes.
I read in a recent report that India has the dubious distinction of being the defecation capital of the world. But, for a nation where millions don't have a roof above their head, it is understandable. But what do say of people in Mercs who chuck mineral water bottles out on the road.
I think it is worse that defecation.
We decorate our homes with marbles and granites and complain about dirty premises and pavements all the while freely spitting around and dumping garbage in common or public space without any second thoughts or care. This is the typical not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) syndrome.
ess bee

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back to ground zero

Sunday today. I returned from Pench on Friday. From the Kolkata airport, I headed straight for the ITC Pala to attend the inaugural function of Odeon Theatre Festival organised by Vodafone. I met many known faces and went through the usual rigours of explaining that I wasn't out of country......... and that I was back in city...... and so on.
Could not attend a party at the Hyatt due to bad traffic but did attend the 60th Birthday celebrations of Renu Roy at the Elgin Road venue. At the party someone mentioned to me that recently Pranab Mukherjee made a remark in Delhi saying the he felt happy reading a comment by some Bhutoria in The Telegraph in Kolkata that he would like to use a custom-made Ambassador car because he felt that it was like a national car.
I don't know Pranab babu personally, however, the fact is that when a journalist from The Telegraph called me and asked me about my dream car I told her that my choice of a car would not be a good quote for their column.
Yesterday there were two programs that I wanted to attend. One was the debate at the Calcutta Club and the other was Anupam Kher's play Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai at the Birla Sabhaghar.
Anupam Kher at the Odeon Theatre Festival
When I spoke to Kirron Kher over phone in the afternoon she said that she was herself going to the Calcutta Club, but insisted that I must go and see the play. Also, I was not sure if dress code restrictions of the Club were in effect or relaxed for the debate. But after watching the play I realised that Kirron was right. I really enjoyed the play very much and it was indeed very different. It was a very well acted and directed one act play (picture).
I couldn't manage to attend the annual fashion show of Bhawanipur College that was conceptualised by Hina Gorsia. I have been attending this show for many years as a guest or sometimes as a judge.
Having attended few back-to-back functions and parties, I feel I am getting back into the groove.
ess bee

Friday, November 26, 2010

The call of the jungle

Gary Kirsten, Coach of Indian Cricket Team, at the Pench National Park
Silence has its own voice. One should go to the jungles to experience this. There is so much calm in the forests that one can listen to the sound of dews dropping on the leaves. Yesterday evening I was in a jungle again at the Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. I had been planning since 2007 to stay at one of the Taj Safari lodges but it didn't materialise earlier.
But then, there is a right time for everything. And as far as the jungles go, they always call you.
This Taj Lodge is a haven of peace and tranquility set amid forest trees and the highly personalised service adds to the comfort. Bereft of urban trappings, the jungle experience is all about going back to the nature. But there are some experiences that can make your heartbeat faster like the last night's hullabaloo on the roof of my lodge around 3 am. I called up the counter but nobody answered the phone till 4 am. I did not open the door till sun up as I feared it must have been some denizen of the jungle out on a courtesy call.
Later in the morning I learnt that it was a group of langurs. Only few days ago a tiger had passed by the Lodge during the wee hours. While having coffee I spotted a sambhar standing next to one of the Tata Safari custom-made cars that was our mode of transport in the jungle.
Yesterday at the swimming pool, I saw a gentleman reading a book on his iPad. After the pleasantries, he introduced himself as Gary from South Africa. During our conversation I realized that his too, like mine, was a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit the Lodge. Our cars were together on the morning drive to the jungle and we even clicked a photo together. While coming back from the jungle trip, at the Park’s exit gate, few people shouted for his attention and approached him for his autograph. This aroused my curiosity and I asked him about his profession.
The coach of the Indian Cricket Team just smiled, probably at my cricket sense.
My butler, who was surprised at my knowledge of cricket or rather lack of it, informed me that after India defeated the Kiwis, the Nagpur match had ended early and Kirsten decided to visit the Pench National Park. The Indian coach struck me as a very nice and composed person.
I shall leave for Kolkata today and have plans to attend few events in the evening provided the flight is on time.
ess bee

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In the jungles of central India

Yesterday afternoon and early morning today I went on Safari drives at the Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. I really enjoyed being at the jungle seeing the animals and birds in their natural habitat. Pench is a birdwatcher's paradise. Pench is home to as many as 270 species of birds. Naturalist Dipu Sasi drove down from Panna to accompany and guide me through the wildlife sanctuary and make my trip a memorable one.
The Pench jungles are basically deciduous forests. Nearly 40 per cent of the trees in forests are various varieties of teak. These trees shed leaves and remain leafless for nearly four months. Mahua and Indian ebony, also called the tendu tree, are among the numerous other species that are found in abundance. Tendu leaves are used for making biris and is a major source of livelihood for the local populace.
Also saw the huge ghost tree or the Karaya gum tree (sterculia urens) which is also known as the Indian tragacanth. This tree changes colours to pink, white and green and has a very weird branch structure. The tree is white during the summers. It's strange branch structure gives it an eerie look and hence its bizarre name.
I spotted groups of jackals, monkeys, sambhars, spotted dear, nilgai and also had glimpses of the gaur - a wild cattle that weighs up to a 1000 kg and is a major source of food for the tiger. I followed pugmarks of the tiger and the leopard for quite a distance but missed seeing the large cats as the trail vanished into another region of the jungle.
About three weeks back, one of the tigers had killed another in a territorial face off. I also saw a jackal sleeping off its kill after a meal while other members feasted, relaxed and stood guard in a relay, taking turns. Wow! It seemed that they too have their own code of conduct and behaviour.
I saw different kinds of birds like the black rumpet flambeck, black drango, Indian roller and above all the rocket tailed drango which is also called the super star bird for its ability to mimic more than 20 different sounds including that of motor bikes, cellphone ringtones etc.
The black rumpet flambeck belongs to the common woodpecker family found in central India. The red crown makes it look beautiful and majestic. The black drango is not a hard core forest dweller but is sighted in and around the forest areas. The Indian roller is the most common bird of the grassland forests of central India.
While coming out of jungle my naturalist, who is an expert on birds, suddenly stopped the jeep to show me an eagle. I think he said it was the crested hawk eagle which is called tiger in sky. The spotted deer and monkeys alert other animals of the presence of tigers and leopards in the vicinity. Likewise, the peacock sounds out alarm calls against eagles and other birds of prey that hunt other birds apart from them and rodents.
I have much to say and even more to learn from these jungles.
ess bee

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baghvan safari

On a safari at the Pench National Park
Baghvan, Taj Safari lodge: I arrived at this lodge called Taj Safari around midnight yesterday. The Taj Hotels, in collaboration with &BEYOND AFRICA that was earlier known as Conservation Corporation Africa or CC Africa, started four safari lodges in the forests of Madhya Pradesh located in Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna and Pench National Park.
This lodge, named Baghvan meaning tiger forest, is located in Pench which is among the lesser known parks situated in the districts of Seoni and Chhindwara. It was declared a Sanctuary in 1977 and its status elevated to National Park in 1983. In 1993 it was declared a Tiger Reserve.
I had first heard about these lodges while I was staying at the Dennis Islands in Seychelles in 2005 or 2006. The Taj Group used to own and maintain that property at maximum 100-people island. The first time I learnt about Mahua Koti Lodge in Bandhavgarh from one of the brochures lying in the cottage. I was surprised as I had never heard of this property despite having a fair knowledge about major 5 Star properties in the country.
After returning to India, I inquired about the lodges and came to know that it was an unsaid policy of The Taj Group not to market the lodges in India thus targeting only foreign clients.
As per the Indian standards, the minimum charges of INR 60,000 per night per person was very steep. Also, for Indians, the term 5 Star meant sophisticated luxury in general. At that time, despite the high price, getting a room at the Mahua Kothi was almost impossible unless booked well in advance. If I remember correctly, at that time it used to be 2 months advance booking and 100 per cent cancellation fees were charged if not notified within a month.
After Mahua Kothi, The Taj opened three other lodges and one of them (Baghvan Taj Safari) is the one from where I am penning this blog. It is just a 11 unit property but the service is very personalized. I was a little surprised this morning during breakfast time when the butler gave me a toast that he had picked up by his hands contrary to any five star standard.
But when I shared my concerns about the dirty spotted floor, the lounge operation manager Bryan informed me it was not dirty but a part of the design as the concept is to give the guests a feel of old circuit houses. I doubt the average Indian mindset would find this acceptable specially after shelling out a high price for one night. Now I understood why Taj had not marketed this well enough in India.
Even till date, the feedback form says, “We look forward to welcome you again in India” thus addressed to the foreign guests.
But after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, the business suffered badly and the rates were slashed. Since then, the lodges have begun to woo the growing Indian clients as well.
I'll go on a safari today afternoon.
ess bee

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Mowgli's land

I arrived in Nagpur this evening by a direct flight from Kolkata - an unscheduled trip. It is hard for a wanderlust to stay put when there aren't too many commitments on the log. So I decided to travel to the forests of Madhya Pradesh. One of the popular area is Pench and takes about two hour's drive from Nagpur. Madhya Pradesh has many forests rich in wild life, flora and fauna. The various initiatives to save the tigers too are being implemented.
At at the turn of the 19th Century India was home to 45,000 tigers. Currently, as per official figures, there are less than 1500 tigers left in India. Despite the Project Tiger initiative, started in 1972 and after 44 specially constituted areas called Tiger Reserves and buffer zones spread over 41,000 sq km across at least 16 Indian states, tigers are on the brink of extinction.
It seems, the centrally sponsored initiative, that was set up to protect the dwindling tiger population in India, has failed to increase the tiger population.
The Pench region was the setting that gave life to some the world-famous jungle characters like Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera and others immoralized in writings and works of Rudyard Kipling especially his Jungle Book series.
Pench, spread across 750 sq kms, is located in Seoni and Chhindwara districts and named after the Pench river. The sanctuary, which is the home of the Gond tribes, extends up to the lower reaches of Satpura ranges. The Indira Priyadarshini Pench National Park, covering an area of 118 sq km, forms the core of the reserve.
These forests, located close to the Maharashtra border, welcomes you into Madhya Pradesh. In fact the Pench dam shares the water with one state and power with another.
This is my first visit to the city of oranges and on way from hotel to the airport I heard the sounds of crackers all over the city. The driver informed me that India won the cricket match against Kiwis today and hence the celebrations.
I halted briefly at Hotel Tuli and will soon drive down to Pench. I am told that there is not much mobile connectivity in the forest area, I guess net connectivity would be a far thought.
ess bee

Emotional atyachar!

I spent a few hours at the Max Super Specialty Hospital in Saket, Delhi, last week. This Hospital, considered to be one of the best, has infrastructure and facilities that are good by Indian standards. The Hospital has visiting hours from 11 am to 8 pm for two persons at a time and also allows a person to stay full-time as an attendant to the patient.
When I expressed surprise on such long visiting hours, my friend joked, “They have to ensure sales in cafes and the food courts.” True, there were many cafes and food courts in every bloc and corners and I was also told that by evening much of the wares fly off the shelves.
It struck me that in our country almost all the hospitals seem to have more visitors than patients. In fact, managing the steady stream of visitors is one of the biggest concerns for hospitals these days.
Critical patients admitted in the intensive or critical care units are kept away from visitors for medical reasons and thus the visiting hours are regulated. But in our country rules invariably are meant to be broken.
Visitors go to great length to get strings pulled and exert influence to arm twist the hospital authorities into allowing them to meet the patient at will, flouting the basic health guidelines. We hardly spare a thought that such actions might be detrimental to the patient. One may also end up being carriers of various infections from outside jeopardizing the patient's well being.
There is always a demand from the patients' family members and relatives, whatever their social class, that if they can bring in home food, stay with the patient and so on. I don't understand what can a person do sitting in the hospital lobby whole night when the patient is under 24-hour medical supervision.
Whenever I visit Belle Vue or Woodlands in Kolkata, I see and hear how people use their influence to get extra visiting cards issued. When someone is in hospital, I think many people see it as an opportunity to flash their social connections. Also, how many people come to visit us is a measure of one's social status. I know few of my friends who really mind if you don't visit them in hospital.
I am against this kind of conduct and strongly feel that it is more likely to disturb the patient than comfort him or her. If there is a need, we must be there but just for formality's sake “... accha nahin lagta” … visiting someone is a waste of time. A visitor's presence should always be comforting and encouraging for the patient and not otherwise.
I often see lot of gossip groups in the lobbies of private nursing homes during the visiting hours and others having a great time over tea and snacks during the visiting hours. Invariably, there are more people in the rooms than the rules permit. Many visitors often overstay the visiting hours time limit and have to be coaxed into leaving the patient alone.
Marriages are made in heaven, but some are also made in hospitals. In one classic case that I know of, two Marwari families, who met by the bedside of their patients, became friends. They used the hospital lobby to introduce two young members of their respective families for matchmaking and eventually formalized their marriage.
It is very irritating for any relative of the patient to answer the same question on mobile phone the whole day or to every visitor. Then there is also the free advice and anecdotal stories of health and healing that the patient has to endure.
I feel visitors must comply with the hospital rules and develop good bed-side manners and spare the patient of emotional atyachar.
ess bee