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

1A Camac Court, 25B Camac Street, Kolkata – 700 016, India.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Holi weekend

I am now in Kolkata. I decided to come to Kolkata in the afternoon post budget presentation. Called up my travel agent and office and was surprised to learn that IC 5 pm flight and also both the Kingfisher flights showed no seats were available and waiting list bookings were not being taken. My travel agent somehow managed a PNR for me in IC264. Called up a friend in Kolkata, who has very good contacts in the civil aviation ministry, and requested him for a seat. His contact informed him that almost all the 20 seats were blocked by MPs travelling to Kolkata from Delhi to attend the Holi weekend after the Budget session.
Thanks to my friend, by the time I reached the airport the seat was booked for me. At the airport lounge I met Sougata Roy and Sudeep Bandhopadhyay. Some other MPs and even Prakash Karat was also there. Sudeep told me that Mamata didi was also flying with us. I have never met Mamata Bannerjee before personally except for once with the Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (picture) when he was in Kolkata on a visit. I have very recently communicated with her over mobile a couple of times but never met her. Sudeep introduced me to her at the airport. I was really impressed by her simplicity. She stood in the queue to board the plane. Despite her cabinet minister status she travelled economy class. No wonder her simplicity has made her a leader with mass appeal in recent times.
ess bee

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Photo exhibitions - Delhi

Yesterday I almost spent the whole day at the India International Centre (IIC) library and in the evening I went to Lalit Kala Academy to see the photo exhibition of Raghu Rai. His exhibition was on the classical maestros of India and the photos were really impressive. I also saw Kesav Rao’s work on Mahatma Gandhi at the exhibition titled Bapu on Serrated Road. At the Lalit Kala Academy I met many known art lovers of Delhi. Before visiting these two exhibitions I took out some time to visit another photo exhibition at the Columbia Diplomatic Mission at Poorvi Marg. The Columbian ambassador and his wife Soraya are known to me.
In fact, I have very good relations with the missions and diplomats of various Latin American countries. Many of them have been to my house in Kolkata and I too keep meeting them when I am in Delhi. The Latin American countries have their own group in Delhi called GRULAC which means Group of Latin American Countries. I am in regular touch with the Ambassador of Cuba, His Excellency Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos, who is the present chairman of GRULAC and the Ambassador of Ecuador, His Excellency Carlos Abad, who is the ex-chairman of GRULAC (pictures). We had once toyed with the idea of having a GRULAC single window office in Kolkata to promote art, culture, literature and films between Bengal and Latin America. But the idea is yet to crystallise. I look forward to meet some of the other Latin American diplomats during my stay here in Delhi.
ess bee

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Well done Tony

Spoke to a friend in Kolkata who attended the felicitation party of Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and his team for bagging the National Award (Golden Lotus) for the Best Bengali film in 2009 hosted by Mumbai Mantra at The Park which I missed. I was told that the film fraternity turned up in full strength at the party.
With this Award, Aniruddha (Tony) has joined the illustrious list of filmmakers from Bengal like Debaki Kumar Bose, Satyajit Roy, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Utpalendu Chakraborty, Gautam Ghosh, Rituparno Ghosh and others who have been honoured in the past. The function that would formally confer the Award to Tony for his film Antaheen is scheduled for March 2010 in Delhi.
Recently, Indrani and Tony were in my house for dinner along with few writers and Shabana Azmi (picture)
Tony and I happen to have many common friends. About two weeks back I jokingly told one his closest friends “I pity Tony has friends like you who were indifferent to their friend’s achievement and success. ” My motive was to persuade them all to organise a public function in Kolkata to felicitate him.
Tony’s achievements are quite stellar. Though he has directed just two films so far, both his films have won awards. His first film Anuranan won the award for the Best Feature Film in Bengali in 2008 and now he has again scored it with Antaheen in 2009 in four categories including the Best Bengali film.
Tony has made us all feel proud. Well done Tony.
We look forward to 2010 as well!
ess bee

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Women writers and books

Yesterday I met Daman Singh through a common friend of mine at her house. She is indeed a very polite and down-to-earth woman. Her Labrador Snoopy reminded me of my wife's pet dogs Kenjo and Casper (picture). Singh has written a book Nine by Nine which is published by Harper & Collins.We discovered a common interest in books and we discussed about some of the recent books and of course her forthcoming book as well which she will be writing on her parents. 
I also met Urvashi Butalia from Zubaan, a publishing house specialising in books on women. Urvashi is doing a great job to uplift womens' writings. Though Shabana had introduced me to her over phone and we had talked few times, it was only yesterday that we met for the first time in person. One of Zubaan's recent publications is Kaifi & I: A Memoir which is translated in English by Nasreen Rehman and written by Shabana's mother Shaukat Kaifi. It was a short meeting as she had a flight for Abu Dhabi to attend a book fair. I think her organisation and mine may work together in future.
ess bee

Monday, February 22, 2010

Party season in Kolkata

Went back to Kolkata for the weekend on Saturday afternoon and came back to Delhi today morning. Good friends Amajeet Banerjee, Harsh Neotia and Rajive Kaul were there on that flight and after reaching Kolkata Harsh took Amajeet and me to show his new City Centre and treated us to Coffee at the Creperie. He is always very kind to me.
Missed Sanjay Budhia’s party on 19th which he hosts every year but did manage to attend Neelanjana Sengupta’s birthday bash at Soho which had a very selective gathering. Jishu and Neelanjana are very warm and played the perfect host. Had an adda session with Prasenjit, Arpita and Jishu at Soho. Later, Harsh and Madhu joined in.
It seems to be a party season in Kolkata - 19th was at Sanjay Budhia’s, 21st at Neelanjana’s, today there is Tony’s felicitation at The Park, 23rd there is a get together at the Floatel, 25th Abhijit Sen’s dinner, 26th Joy Ganguly’s 033 Music Album celebrations at the Little Italy and Gulab Bari event. On the 27th family friend Suuchanndra’s CD launch at the Taj Terrace.
On the same day Jogen Choudhury’s famous annual Dol (Holi) programme would be held at Shantiniketan.
There are more than 25 different invitations for dol and Holi which are organised different people and organisations every year before Holi. Apart from these, there are in fact some more invitations in Kolkata and outside noted in my diary. One of which I wanted to attend is in Bywar Rajasthan. Let me see which all I can manage and which I miss.
ess bee

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Winter sojourn in Delhi

During my winter sojourn in Delhi I try to meet up with all my friends and acquaintances. I go for walks in Lodhi Gardens, visit the Mont Blanc shop in Hotel Maurya Sheraton, make it a point to watch the Parliamentary Budget presentation and few sessions, see some theatres and engage in good addas over lunches and dinners with people from different walks of life. Yesterday, I had tea with Kavita Sharma, Director, India International Centre, met over lunch with Amajeet Banerjee who happens to be everybody’s friend whether anybody is his friend or not and spoke on phone with Ina Puri. I have known Ina for the past 15 years. She was in Kolkata when I was in college. It was because of her that I developed a keen interest in art and artists.
Recently, she was in Kolkata for the inauguration of a very impressive art gallery (by Kolkata standards) at the Harrington Street. Ina’s ideas have shaped the gallery. She has a very good taste for art and is very well connected with many artists. I also met Sri Ganesh Haloi after a long time at the Harrington Street Gallery that day.
ess bee

Friday, February 19, 2010

At the IIC

I arrived in Delhi day before yesterday. Every year, I spend 30 to 40 days in Delhi during winter. Actually it would be correct to say at the India International Centre. This institution has its own warmth and aura. I love spending hours and hours in the IIC library. My arrival this time here has been delayed somewhat as I was very busy and tied up in Kolkata during December and January. But I still did visit Delhi for a week in December. IIC, I feel is the only-of-its-kind institution in the country that was founded with a vision to highlight India internationally. IIC is a non-governmental institution for which I have the highest regards and respect. In the words of its Founder President, Dr C D Deshmukh, “It is a place where various currents of intellectual, economic and political thoughts meet freely.”
ess bee

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Soumitra Chatterjee Trust

Currently I am in Delhi. My Kolkata office called today and informed me that all the modalities of Soumitra Chatterjee Trust have been completed and the funds transferred. The Trust was formed in October-end last year but the formalities took some time to be completed.
Soumitra Chatterjee Trust is a joint initiative of five persons – Kolkata Police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty, Bengal’s top actor Prasenjit, journalist Gautam Bhattacharya, businessman and cultural aficionado Protimoy Chakraborty and myself.
We all felt that though Sri Soumitra Chatterjee, the living legend of Bengali cinema, received due recognition by the Government of India when he was awarded Padma Shri, his very own city, Kolkata, owed him one for a long time.
In fact, the idea of felicitating him in a different way was mooted by four others, who later shared their thoughts with me and included me in the venture. What followed was a series of meetings in my residence and at The Conclave that finally culminated at a function `Coffee with Soumitra’ on the eve of October 24th 2009 at The Oberoi Grand.
Sri Chatterjee was felicitated in the presence of top dignitaries, celebrities, corporate heads and icons of Kolkata from the field of art, literature, culture, dance, drama, music, films, social work, politics, sports and business who turned up in full strength to honour and felicitate Sri Soumitra Chatterjee and create a memorable evening. Kolkata has rarely witnessed such a robust gathering in recent memory. The Soumitra Chatterjee Trust was also formally announced at this function and the relevant papers of the Trust handed over to him by five of us.
I must mention that the initial money collected by us for the Trust was more than our target. Congratulations to the foursome who floated this wonderful idea. Also, my personal thanks to them for including me to become a part of a historic event and relying on Prabha Khaitan Foundation for providing support.
ess bee

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A `heart ache’ follows me

Went to Jogen da’s birthday celebrations. It was a family affair with few close friends. I presented him an Uttoriyo designed by Sharbari Dutta. He liked it very much and wore it immediately on his kurta and kept it on till the last.
This morning I read about the Citu’s protest at the National Library while Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was chairing a Kolkata Group Workshop. I did hear about some disturbances yesterday but only learnt about Citu’s involvement from The Telegraph Metro report. The fact that the disturbance took place despite the presence of Sri Ashim Dasgupta and Sri Sitaram Yechury at the workshop came as no surprise to me. But what shocked and shamed me, and the city perhaps, was the utter disrespect and insult shown by some people who timed their raucous protests when a Nobel Laureate was involved in a discussion with a host of other dignitaries including Shabana Azmi, Sharmila Tagore, Nandita Das and others.
May be for people like us, who share the dubious credit of losing Nobel Prize, have yet to learn to value and respect the Nobel Prize. A fact that becomes more glaring when I recall the tributes and respect that other countries have bestowed upon Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.
I remember, years ago when I was in Czech Republic, and learnt from Indian chancellor Ramesh Chander that a bust of Rabindranath was placed at the Thakur Riwa (street in local language) in Prague. As I visited the spot and saw Gurudev’s bust set atop a pillar (see picture). I stood speechless, my heart swelling with pride.
While in Hungary, Indian ambassador Manbir Singh told me that a cardiac hospital in Balantonfured, a village about 100 km from Budapest, where Tagore was treated during his visit in 1928, housed his statue.
There were more surprises waiting for me when I went to the village and found a park named after Gurudev. As was the room where Tagore had stayed named Tagore Suite, which is reserved for VIPs.
Director of the hospital Dr Gabor Veress inquired about the nearest airport to Santiniketan and in which museum the Nobel Prize medal was kept. I was caught off guard. What could I tell him - That the prize had been stolen?
For the reader’s interest let me tell you that Pablo Neruda’s birthplace Santiago (Chile) has a park named in honour of Tagore. Shanghai has immortalized the conversation of Tagore and a Chinese poet in a sculpture. There are many such examples alluding to the love and reverence with which the world remembers Gurudev.
And here we are, in his very own land of birth, not even able to protect his Nobel Prize.
And as yesterday showed, it seems to be getting worse. I wanted to tell more but tomorrow have a flight to catch.
ess bee

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Jogen da!

It was a normal day. I had two appointments outside and attended three programmes. I also attended a pre-wedding function in the family of Vineet and Nitu Hirawat - friends whom I met after almost 7 years. We relived all the old memories and times spent together.
I met Shabana Azmi, Sharmila Tagore and Nandita Das. The meeting with Shabana and Sharmila was a scheduled one but bumped into Nandita at the Taj Bengal. She introduced me to her husband Subodh Maskara who hails from Jhunjhuna in Rajasthan, a place not far from Churu where I was born. All three were in Kolkata today for attending workshops and discussions by Kolkata Group - an organisation headed by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. 
I had a lengthy discussion with Shabana on the book Kaifi and I. 
In the evening attended a special screening party for the film Maati-O-Manush starring Tapas Paul, Rimjhim and Sabyasachi Chakraborty. Jogen da was the Chief Guest and he had given my name as a special guest since he is well known to the director Sisir Sahana from Hyderabad. Jogen da and I share a special relationship. Sunil Ganguly had introduced us and we clicked immediately. 
Many evenings of planned and unplanned addas together seems to have bridged the age difference and we still enjoy each other's company ever more. Tomorrow is his Birthday and of course we will meet in the evening to celebrate along with some other friends.
Happy Birthday Jogen da!
ess bee

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Feb 14th - Not just Love!

Went to the Celebrating Kolkata award function at the Calcutta Club. Dignitaries and achievers in their fields like Rituporno Ghosh, Harsh Neotia,  Aparna Sen, Indrani Haldar, Dr Bikash Sinha, Suvaprasanna among others were awarded at a function. I and Moubani Sorcar were asked to give the award to Indrani Haldar, who again, is a friend of mine.
When Renu Roy approached me for this award function, I asked her two things.
First - Would Calcutta Club allow me for my attire given their strict colonial dress code regulations?
Second – I was too junior to give away an award to an achiever who is senior to me. But her persistence prevailed over Calcutta Club and me.  I agreed to her proposal and so did the Calcutta Club.
In the evening the announcement was made that today Feb 14th was Valentine’s Day - the day of love. True. But how many of us remember that on this Day in 1930 or 31 three legends of Indian freedom struggle - Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev - were hanged to their deaths. I am not against Valentine's Day but I strongly feel that we should respect our culture, history and tradition. Yesterday evening when I was watching Pandit Birju Maharaj’s performance at the Science City, one of his statements “.....please make sure your children do not swing on the floors with chewing gum in their mouths and ensure they know their rich heritage and culture,” really struck me.
It is said that sacrifice is a part of love and without sacrifices you cannot get love. If this is true, then why do we think we can give or get love on Feb 14th without remembering the sacrifices made on this day. And yes, thank you Renu for making sure that the Club allowed me in our traditional Indian national dress.
ess bee

Friday, February 12, 2010

Back in Kolkata and MNIK show

Arrived in Kolkata from Bangkok after a short trip. There were huge queues at the immigration and health check up counters at the airport. Given the way people were jostling at the counter for forms, I wonder the counter set up to stem infectious flu would actually end up spreading it among the passengers, particularly Indians who are ever ready to give the queue a short shrift. As I stood there quietly, thanks to the Kingfisher ground staff who facilitated my smooth passage.
Went to see the late night show of MNIK. All the electronic channels have been talking about it because of the controversy. I personally feel it is no more a controversy now that we have learnt to lead our lives amid threats and intimidations. Many say there is a competition between Amitabh and Shah Rukh. Well, if so, I am a diehard Amitabh fan although I have never met him in person. The closest I have been to him was years ago at the St James Crown Plaza Hotel at Buckingham Gate, London, where we passed each other. And Shah Rukh of course I have met him. In fact I was formally introduced to him when he was in Kolkata last time during the IPL matches and then again I met him at the ITC Sonar Bangla at a function for thalassemia patients with Rituparna Sengupta. But these Hello, How are you, meetings doesn’t matter to the big public figures who are hardly able to remember so many individuals they meet. Nikhat Azmi in Times has given 5 stars to this movie. I don’t know much about stars and ratings but am told that this is the best category rating for a movie and is rarely accorded. Shah Rukh has acted very well in the film which certainly merits a watch. Not because you are a Shah Rukh fan or a movie buff, but to send across a strong message that nobody can dictate terms in a democracy. One dialogue of the movie “I am not a terrorist” and the other one “She will, she is a mom” will drown you into a deep sea of human emotions and relationships.
ess bee

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Being in Bangkok!

From Hotel Grand Hyatt, Bangkok:  I have been to Bangkok several times to attend weddings also site seeing and en route to Australia and other countries in the East. I have lost count as to the number of times I have been at Bangkok during transit. Sometimes for 4 hours and even 20 hours.
I have strong memories linked to Bangkok airport, may it be the old airport or the new one, which intrude my thoughts every time I am here. It was 1995 or 96 and I was in England and there was the plague outbreak in Gujarat. Almost all airlines quarantined and stopped flights to India. At that time I was holding a cheap class Aeroflot airlines ticket to Kolkata via Moscow. As all direct flights to India were stopped, I was in a real fix. I was having the visa for UK and Russia and there was no way out. After putting myself up in the Aeroflot office near Hotel Ritz in London for five days, I was given the option to either fly to Kathmandu via Moscow or to Bangkok via Moscow. I opted for Bangkok hoping to avail a flight from there to Calcutta.
I got a visa for Thailand from the UK Mission which normally did not entertain such requests. Frequent travellers know that they have to apply for visa from the country of origin or from where the passport is issued.
I was ready to take the flight from Moscow to Bangkok via Sharjah but was stopped  at the customs because I was carrying more than 50 US dollars in cash. At that time in Russia the rule was to allow only 50 US dollars on exit unless declared at entry point. So I boarded the flight with only 50 USD for Bangkok via Sharjah. I could not afford any food at Sharjah as I had to save the money for flight to Calcutta from Bangkok.
After landing I came out of the airport I saw Hotel Holiday Inn complimentary shuttle bus. In those days the 5 Star hotels normally did not take any advance or deposit or guarantee during check-ins. My common sense prompted me to opt for the 5 Star hotel. I checked in smoothly in Holiday Inn and had Indian food at the Indian restaurant Tandoor without going to my room. I had seen the board at the hotel reception publicising authentic Indian cuisine.
Meanwhile, the Sethia family with whom I was staying in London informed about me to their Thai acquaintance who was very kind to give me some money in Bangkok to pay for the Hotel and also book a seat in one of the flights to Calcutta.
Last evening I was having dinner with my wife and friends at the restaurant Delii Hatt just opposite Holiday Inn and the whole incident of being in Bangkok with almost no money flashed before my eyes.
ess bee

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

From the Far East’s gateway

I have never been attracted to Thailand as a tourist. Though I have been to Bangkok many a times but have never visited any of the tourist spots, including the famed Pattaya. But I can’t help admiring the infrastructure and the admirable way in which Thailand has developed its tourism sector. How I wish if only Kolkata would have been the global transit point to the Far East like Bangkok with huge hotels and extremely polite and charming Thai boys and girls with folded hands welcoming the world.
In India, we often say that dust and pollution keeps us from keeping our cities clean and tidy. But let me tell you a fact that Thailand’s climate is far worse. If you ever compare the facilities and services of the hotels in India with those of Thailand, you’d find that Thailand gives you much better facilities at half the price. I am here to attend weddings in two families from Kolkata, Bhagat and Bhuwalka. This has given me the opportunity to see some other cities of Thailand. I am staying here at Holiday Inn Regent Beach which is near Cha Am main city. The King of Thailand also stays in this city famous for its serenity. Quite like our very own South Goa.
Yesterday there was a wedding at Hotel Sheraton Hua Hin and in soon I will drive down to Bangkok after breakfast. Indian weddings occupy a very special place in the world, especially the rituals and traditions followed and the festivities that bring families and relatives from far and wide. My personal feeling is that, for some, Indian weddings are becoming a matter of exhibiting money power, splurge and conspicuous consumption. The social norms in India have made daughters’ marriage a matter of great concern for their fathers. Those who want to spend Rs 200 crores in a wedding ends up paying Rs 225 crores and those who plan to spend Rs 1 lakh end up paying Rs 1.25 even if he has to borrow – the bar is always raised higher than planned. I have realised that often the whole life’s earning of a middle-class father, including his pension, is spent in one evening on the wedding day. Yet there are no guarantees of making the in-laws, or for that matter one’s own relatives, happy. But at the end of the day, I too am a part of this society.
ess bee

Monday, February 8, 2010

Walks and Weddings ….

Sunday today, I got few calls regarding yesterday’s Walk. I have discussed with Debasree Roy about the pros and cons of yesterday’s Walk and we have decided to sit again and chalk out the next course of action. In the evening I went to the Science City to attend a Tele Cine Award function. I enjoyed the dance performance of my friend Dona and Koneenica. The organisers wanted me to announce and present one of the Awards. There were some other functions to attend and I had to excuse myself. 
Left Science City at 9pm and reached Taj Bengal half an hour later to attend the pre-marriage function of Sanjiv Goenka’s daughter. The Taj banquet, terrace garden as well as the poolside, were very tastefully decorated to create a soothing ambience. Again left Taj for Burdwan Road to attend yet another wedding function in the family of Raj Kumar Sharma.
Tomorrow morning I will be flying off to Thailand. I have not found Thailand attractive as a tourist due to the weather. I hate summers. But of late, Thailand has emerged as a favourite destination for holding marriage ceremonies. In the past two years I have attended three weddings and tomorrow’s trip would add one more to the list. This time the venue is 230 kilometres from Bangkok at Hotel Hua Hin Resort Sheraton.
ess bee

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Project Karuna awareness campaign - A Walk with Dogs

It is almost 3 am just returned home from a close friend’s anniversary party. In the evening went to participate in a Walk to launch Karuna - a project of actress and friend Debasree Roy - dedicated towards spreading awareness and care towards uncared animals in Kolkata. 

Project Karuna is supported by me and my organisation, Prabha Khaitan Foundation. The one-of-its-kind Walk from the main gate of Victorial Memorial to Mohor Gate today was for the street dogs but many celebrities of Kolkata joined in with their pets as a mark of solidarity to the project. Among others who joined Debasree and me were the Kolkata Police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty, Moon Moon Sen, Indrani Dutta, Miss Jojo, Agnimitra Paul, Sohini Pal, Tanmoy Bose, Bappi Lahiri and others, including a large number of animal activists.
The birth of project Karuna took place during one of the informal addas at my house when Debasree Roy, Jogen Choudhury and I were talking about art, films, French museums and artists and the love for cats among the French. The talks led to the plight of uncared animals in our city and we decided to do something about it. 

Debasree, herself a dog lover, is deeply pained by the pitiable condition of uncared dogs and other animals. Debasree recalled the case of a dog that was brutally killed in Salt Lake one night and she rushed to the spot and soon with the support of few dog lovers and like-minded organisations, with whom she was already in touch with, decided to give project Karuna a final shape and structure. 
This was announced at a Press Meet on January 22nd with a plan to provide vaccination to 100 stray dogs in the city in four months. A plan to sensitise the public through an awareness campaign was decided which culminated in today’s Walk.
ess bee

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Book launch

I got an email from Shabana today. When I spoke to her on phone yesterday she was inquiring about every details of the 31st January book launch which she had missed due to her pre-occupations in Mumbai. I also spoke to Kiron Kher. It was very nice of her to come for the book launch functions. I made great new friends from different Asian countries during the two-day book launch functions. Organising events is my passion and when these events are for a social cause it gives all the more satisfaction and joy.
I personally feel that the launch of Speaking for Myself: An Anthology of Asian Women’s Writing would go a long way to provide a springboard for many talented Asian women writers who are already making their presence felt.
The Asian women writers got an opportunity to interact with not only other writers but also many other talented persons from different walks of life during the lunch hosted by me. Some of them are great achievers in their own fields like Javed Akhtar, Pandit Jasraj or Mamata Shankar. I thank everybody, especially my office colleagues, who made the two-day book launch an unforgettable event.
ess bee

Friday, February 5, 2010

Of nostalgia, books and launches….

Today evening I visited the Kolkata Book Fair. Each year, Kolkata Book Fair stirs up lots of nostalgic memories of visiting the Fair with my mother. Today morning Sunil da rang me up to ask if I were free in the evening. He is a person I respect very much and can never say no to him. He asked me to come to the UB Auditorium at half past six for Krittivas function. Thanks to the Kolkata traffic, by the time I got into the packed auditorium it was 6:45 pm and the function had started. As I stood on the sidelines I heard my name being announced by Sunil da to be on the dais. I was taken by surprise but little did I realise that there were more in store for me. I soon found myself accepting a bouquet of flowers and seated quietly on the dais from where I could spot Sri Mrinal Sen on the first row. I greeted him with folded hands from the dais while listening to the recitation of a poem by a young poet which I liked very much. After the poetry session, the announcer requested Sri Sunil Gangopadhyay to release a book. I sat waiting for Sunil da to do the honours. But what he did was that he gave instructions to the announcer to announce my name for releasing the book. Before I could say anything someone gave the book -Chandmanaksha O Prasadar Gaan By Parathajit Chanda - in my hand to do the honours of releasing it, which I did. Now I was asked to speak as a Special Guest. I took up the mike and said that I did not match up to the dignitaries on the dais in anyway to be accorded such an honour but could never say no to Sunil da. It is a fact that I don’t really deserve to release a book at a programme where the audience included the doyen of Indian cinema Sri Mrinal Sen. I was thoroughly embarrassed by the whole affair but it was Sunil da’s kindness and his fondness for me which I had to honour. When I expressed my feelings to the other members on the dais about releasing the book, they reaction was – “Why not!” They said that I was a book lover since I had done a “fabulous Book Launch function” in Kolkata on January 31st

The fact is that I had not even met the author of the Book that I released. On my way back home I was thinking about the book which was released on January 31stSpeaking for Myself: An Anthology of Asian Women’s Writing - by Sri Mrinal Sen who was the Chief Guest of that function in the presence of Sunil Gangopadhyay, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Kapila Vatsyayan, Kavita Sharma, Authors Sukrita Paul Kumar and Malashri Lal and six leading Asian writers namely Agnes Lam (Hong Kong), Donia Gobar (Afghanistan), Kishwar Naheed (Pakistan), Kunzang Choden (Bhutan), Manju Tiwari (Nepal) and Putsata Reang (Cambodia).
I remember, about a year ago Kapila ji, whom I had known for quite some time, had presented me with a copy of the Book. The next morning I suggested to her why not launch the Book in Kolkata. I did not get any affirmation from her initially and had to convince her about the fact that Kolkata and Bengal borders were close to many other Asian countries and that the Book launch would be a great idea. She agreed. After all it was a decision to host a function by the India International Centre (IIC) outside Delhi for the first time. The two-day programme really went off very well. My office colleagues really worked very hard for this event. There was a Round Table discussion in the morning on January 31st inaugurated by Magsaysay award winner Mahasweta Devi and attended by Kolkata’s top literary fraternity and others including icons like Bani Basu, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Krishna Bose, Amalendu De, Jashodhara Bagchi, Dibyendu Palit and others would be present. Kapila Vatsyayan, MP and Chairman of IIC’s Asia projects and Kavita Sharma, the Director of IIC, were also present. In the evening the Book was launched by Sri Mrinal Sen and later followed by a dinner hosted by Sahitya Academy president Sunil Gangopadhyay. Jogen Choudhury, Subodh Sarkar and Amit Chowdhury also joined the others at the dinner.
The next day (Feb 1st) the overseas guests along with 15 senior writers and journalists, who came in from other parts of the country, were overwhelmed by the reception and warmth extended to them over lunch hosted by Sri Hashim Abdul Halim, Speaker, West Bengal Legislative Assembly, at the Assembly House. The overseas authors were pleasantly surprised by the literary knowledge of the Chief Minister Sri Buddhadev Bhattacharya whom they met at the Writers’ Buildings.
ess bee

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thanks T2

Yesterday night we went to the third Birthday Party celebrations of T2. After the book launch on 31st January it was time to say goodbye to the guests. The last guest, Ms Donia Gobar, from Afghanistan left early in the evening. I was very tired and decided to go to the T2 party early. The party was scheduled to start at 7:30 pm. It is a very tough job to convince Manjari to go to the parties and public functions. Unlike I, she is a very private person. But she knew some members of the T2 team quite well and agreed to accompany me to the celebrations for some time. It was indeed a very different party not because it was a newspaper party or for that matter lots of celebs were around and the food was excellent. The difference was in the warmth and the welcoming attitude of the T2 team. No plastic smiles or forced greetings or taking care of the guests as a matter duty. The warmth was spontaneous. As a regular partygoer in Kolkata it was really nice and very warm experience to be there. I was keenly observing that not even for a minute were any of the guests left alone. There was always someone to attend on us throughout. This is something, I am sure, all other guests too must have observed. Normally in other newspaper parties you go there to register your attendance. But yesterday, I really wanted to stay on. Thank you T2 team for inviting me and being such wonderful hosts. Also, thanks for getting me around to see Sisha which I have never visited since it was inaugurated.
ess bee

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ladies’ Day!

There is something special about 31st January 2010. More than end of the month - it marks the successful culmination of my almost yearlong efforts to launch The Book. The Day began with the Round Table Discussion in which seven leading women writers of Asia participated, lunch with dignitaries and guests, tea in the evening followed by the moment of truth – the Launch of the first Anthology on Asian Women Writers. Seamlessly coordinating five programmes in a day is quite a job and sure gives a sense of achievement.
It all started on 30th evening with some of the women, who are also the leading literary minds of Asia, along with officials of India International Centre (IIC) came over to my place for dinner. It was nice of Shabana Azmi to join us. If Shabana is around can shayari be far behind. What followed was a memorable evening.
Pakistani writer Kishwar Naheed and Donia Gobar (Afghanistan) shared their worldviews and perspectives. Manju Kanchuli of Nepal, Kunzang Choden of Bhutan and Putsata Reang of Cambodia agreed that writing was a personal journey. Playing host to these talented ladies is an honour and pleasure. Shabana is a wonderful person. Her presence is electrifying and at the same time she has a very down-to-earth countenance. I think, Jayabroto Chatterjee and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, who joined us, would agree. The day belonged to the ladies. And yes we all had dinner too.
ess bee