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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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Virtues of being `foolish’

Tomorrow is April Fools’ Day. I often wonder what is the point of observing April 1st as All Fools’ Day when in reality, in the current social milieu, we make fool of ourselves most of the time.
Though the Day has a history and the earliest recorded association between April 1 and foolishness can be found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1932), however, in the current social context, playing the `fool’ has its own set of virtues. The more foolish you appear to somebody the more easily your work gets done. I know from personal experience - the more intelligence you show the less favour you get. Some of my friends and acquaintances I consider smart and wise hold this view as well.
If you want to get your work done put on an act that you are a simple fool who knows nothing. The other person, often out of pity and a sense of superiority complex, would do all the work for you. The trade off is simple. You get your work done for you while the other person gets his ego massaged doing it. This is a very effective especially in the Third World countries where the bureaucrats and the clerks are often in a position to make or break your life.
So it is always better to play the fool and make others feel comfortably superior and appear more brilliant than they are and you will easily attain your objectives. On the contrary, going too far displaying one’s talents often accomplishes the opposite. For example if you enter a No Parking zone and the cop catches you there are two options. Either you pretend and say you did not know and be let off by the cop or end up paying a fine, as I have so many times, trying to play smart.
The same holds true in politics. Never outshine the master if you want to be successful. Intelligent people are perceived as a threat and their wings clipped by their political masters. On the other hand, an average person or the `fool’ is always preferred since the master is comfortable with the sense of control he or she has over a foolish person. I shall not name names but cutting across different social and political organisations across the country the story is the same – It is the `fool’ who eventually scores.
So it is always clever to play the `fool’. So be `foolish’ and celebrate All Fools’ Day in the true spirit, not by scoring brownie points over someone gullible but by projecting yourself as a `fool’ and reaping the astounding dividends.
ess bee

Remembering Rajasthan Diwas

Yesterday - 30th March – was the Rajasthan Diwas. The state of Rajasthan was formed on this day in 1949 when all the erstwhile princely states ruled by Rajputs, known as Rajputana, were merged to form Rajasthan. For over six decades the Day is celebrated as the Rajasthan Diwas. Rajasthan has been through many ups and downs in the past sixty years and has come a long way from the days of the bullock carts to the private jets that bring in tourists in droves from the farthest corners of the world every day. From child marriages to the hottest marriage destination in the world - Udaipur, Rajasthan is a panorama of life at its extreme. The same can be said for the weather.
So far, Rajasthan has had 23 Chief Ministers, 33 Governors, 16 Speakers in the Assembly, 21 Opposition Leaders and 33 Chief Secretaries.  Also, there have been 44 Padma Shri, 19 Padma Bhushan, 6 Padma Vibhushan awardees from Rajasthan till 2010.
I am too young to pass any comment or judgement on matters pertaining to the state and the way things have shaped up for Rajasthan. However, I have been very active and a part and parcel of the state’s socio-cultural development during the last 15 years. Having been appointed Secretary of the Rajasthan Foundation by the Chief Minister, I have closely and keenly observed many things good and bad of the Ashok Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje Scindia regimes. They differ vastly in their style of work and functioning.
Yesterday, I was explaining to various people the reason for not celebrating Rajasthan Diwas this year in Kolkata. One of the top intellectuals of Rajasthan for whom I have the highest regards, Sri Ved Vyas ji, with a heavy heart, told me in the morning that Rajasthan has lost much of its respect and prestige in the last 60 years. I have never before heard such a comment from someone like him. He lamented that the socio-politico system in the state has come to such a pass that we cannot even save those very cultural traditions and identities that Rajasthan in known for the world over.
Rajasthani food and clothes are in vogue today and people from all over the globe make a beeline to experience it. But then a big question remains. Why is it that the non-resident Rajasthanis (NRRs), mostly businessmen and entrepreneurs, are hardly involved in state the way they are in other states and countries running large enterprises and businesses!
I agree that Rajasthan has not produced glamorous film personalities like the ones who hog the limelight and scorch the ramps, but in trade and commerce Rajasthan holds sway.
It is still one of the most peaceful states of India and one of the highest number of armed forces personnel in India are also from Rajasthan including those who have laid their lives for the nation.
I am also very surprised by the fact that earlier many senior ministers and government officials from Rajasthan used to frequent Kolkata and other cities on a regular basis. But for the past one year not a single minister or bureaucrat has undertaken such official visits to Kolkata. In the last meeting, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan had personally promised me to visit Kolkata. But that visit is yet to materialise.
Yesterday I was chatting up with a friend of mine who happens to be a senior editor of a daily in Rajasthan and he too felt that in the past six decades Rajasthan’s progress has been nowhere close to its potential.  As an NRR I am still groping for a correct analysis or answer to why is it so. Vyas ji’s voice still echoes in my ears and I am at a loss to explain why Rajasthan, after 60 years, is not where it should have been.
I felt very sad for not being able to organise and celebrate the Rajasthan Diwas in Kolkata this year. The celebrations, organised by Rajasthan Foundation for the past several years, has become very popular not only among the NRRs but also among the non-Rajasthani communities who looked forward to this annual event. 
(pictures of Rajasthan Diwas 2005, 06, 07 & 08 in Kolkata)
ess bee

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

The last two days I was preoccupied with deskwork. First of all with the financial year drawing to a close even a non-business person like myself has to sign on an awful lot of papers for the organisations I represent. Second, my wife and I would soon be out of India for over a month and this calls for lot of planning and preparations on our part. Third, the forthcoming program at the Raj Bhavan is also taking a lot of my attention and some of my energy.
I again missed the Jagjit Singh program that was rescheduled on Monday after the rains washed out the first program at the Fort William last week. That makes it two misses but not the last one.
I missed yet another program on Sunday morning - Dr Manilal Bhaumik's book launch - for which I had even changed my travel plans. The program was at the Taj Bengal Hotel and was organised by some of my close friends which I had promised to attend. That makes it three misses in a row.
At times, one has to do things one doesn't enjoy doing and also there are times when one cannot do things one wants to. Well this is part of our life from which there is no escape and often have to face such situations.
Today I went to the Horticulture Garden in Alipore where Arpita, Raveena Tandon and Saheb are busy shooting for Raja Sen's new movie. Raja, Saheb and Arpita were very happy to see me (picture).
Tomorrow is going to be a long day with lots of meetings lined up for the late afternoon and evening. 
Today 30th March is Rajasthan Divas. I got many phone calls from Kolkata and Jaipur asking me whether I was celebrating Rajasthan Divas this year or not!
ess bee

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rain plays spoilsport

Today was an easy day. I spent some time communicating with the Raj Bhavan, some members of The Bengal and Ranjana Gauhar in Delhi regarding the upcoming program on the 5th of April, 2010, in Kolkata.
Today evening I went to Nandan for a pre-screening tea party of Choukath directed by Arindam Sil and produced by his own new production house Nothing Beyond Cinema. Arindam’s new company has successfully produced the tele-serial Bandhu Tomay. At Nandan, I met Tarun Majumdar (picture).
There was a cool breeze in the evening that brought in some respite with promise of rains. I could not stay for the screening as I had promised my wife to take her to the Jagjit Singh evening at the Fort William stadium. My wife and I, we both love ghazals very much and we skipped not only the movie screening but also the Blue Mug play at the Birla Sabhaghar so that we could be at the Jagjit Singh program.
It was drizzling when we started from home and by the time we reached Fort William stadium it was pouring. The program was organised in the open with a stage in the middle. We saw military personnel carrying the sofas and chairs indoors due to the rains. We were left with no options but to return home. I am sure if Arindam heard about this he'd say it served us right for giving his screening a miss.
I was keen to see the play Blue Mug today but missed it and tomorrow I may be in Bangalore and will not be able to see tomorrow's evening show as well.
ess bee

Friday, March 26, 2010

SPark Street!

Returned to Kolkata from London and on my way back home crossed ParkStreet and The Stephen House  (picture) which bore the brunt of yet another major fire on Wednesday that Kolkata has witnessed in recent years. The high death toll has left deep scars in the psyche of all Kolkatans. There is no doubt the city has a chronic fire problem. It is a singed city.
While on my flight back to Kolkata from Delhi the Chief Minister of Mizoram Pu Lalthanhawla and Sharmila Tagore discussed with me about the fire on Park Street. We were all shocked by the death toll. Going by the spate of recent events, Kolkata, it seems, is increasingly becoming a fire-proned city, a dubious distinction borne by major conflagrations like the ones at Nandaram Market, Topsia, McDonald’s, New Market, Ultadanga and numerous other such outbreaks.
As we hunt for the villain, I am not sure who can be held responsible for these tragedies – Is it the unscrupulous property owners, rickety infrastructure, corrupt officials, inept administration, zero disaster management preparedness or the callous citizens? Though fingers are pointed at the inept fire department personnel but I have seen them in action during the Nandaram Market fire and how bravely they did their jobs putting their lives at stake.
Illegal construction and unscrupulous property owners are allegedly responsible for such mishaps in the city. If that is so – I wonder how does the Kolkata Corporation, instead of taking stringent action, gives legal sanction to such projects.
Tenants in many of the city’s old buildings still continue to pay paltry sums as rent on property valuations that goes back to the days of the Raj. What maintenance and upkeep of property can one expect with rents as low as Rs 20 to Rs 100 per month. I wonder what stops the government from correcting this imbalance.
Kolkata boasts of many heritage properties. Most of these buildings have wooden staircases, defunct fire escapes and the frightening cobwebs-like electrical and cable wires which, besides being an eyesore, is also life threatening. Even the building I stay in is no different.
The Kolkata Commissioner of Police, Sri Gautam Mohan Chakraborty, on a recent visit to my house cautioned me of how unsafe the building’s electrical wires were. I told him that since I was a co-owner I could not change things on my own. My repeated requests have fallen on deaf ears and my concerns laughed off.
I think that most us are not serious about fire protection or else how can one explain the fact that despite series of outbreaks, in fact three fires within 50 sq metres of The Stephen House over a period (Alliance Francais and McDonald’s) have failed to stir up any administrative action. The Kolkata Fire Station headquarters is only a few stretches away from Park Street and yet so many lives were lost. I shudder to think of the fate of the residents of so many high rises that are no so close to the city’s fire-fighting establishment.
Earlier this month on the 5th of March there was fire in Topsia that gutted 250 hutments and injured three persons. This was again preceded by another incident in which a fire raged through the sprawling Basanti colony area in Ultadanga adjacent to the railway tracks. The Rajasthan Foundation, thanks Sri H M Bangur, who contributed Rs 20 lakh for the Mayor’s Relief Fund for redevelopment of the area and rehabilitating the victims whose houses were burnt to a frazzle. But the fact is that whenever there is a fire outbreak we take some relief measures but the crux of the problem remains un-addressed.
I pray for the souls of the victims who died in the mishap and hope such tragedies are averted in future. Someone referred to Park Street as `SPark Street’ – I know Park Street will never be the same again.
-ess bee

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Broadways and Lebanese food

After visiting both the Bengali festivals in London it is time to relax. Yesterday, I along with Tony and his wife Indrani, Indrani Halder, Parambrato, Swastika, Satyam, Shiladitya Ganguly and others went to watch the Broadway Production - Mamma Mia! The Broadway shows are one of its kind and perhaps the best in the world as far as sets are concerned. I had seen Mamma Mia! two years back but for the rest of the group this was their first time. We all immensely enjoyed the show. June, who wanted to see the show, could not join us as she had left for Kolkata a day earlier.
It was drizzling when the show ended I had dinner at a Lebanese restaurant Fakhre l Dine  at 85 Piccadilly with Tony and his wife Indrani, Parambrato and Swastika (picture). After the twin festivals in London, we went around exploring Piccadilly and Leicester Square from late afternoon till midnight. I am home bound - flying back to Kolkata via Delhi today evening.
I have just heard the news that there is yet another major fire in Kolkata and this time in Park Street.
ess bee

Monday, March 22, 2010

`Bengaliana’ in London

The Indian diaspora has always been the subject of my interest.
I am here in London and attended two different Bengali festivals – Anando Utsav at the Great Hall of the Alexandra Palace and the Billat Bangla Utsav at The Harrow Art Centre. The non-resident Bengalis (NRBs) in London were indeed very lucky last weekend when they had a whale of a time with Bengali music, theatre and songs and of course Bengali food. The long queues for the Bengali mishti and singhara only proved that we Indians are deeply rooted in our culture and our passion for desi food, which rules our palate, is here to stay.
 The Alexandra Palace, where the London Anando Utsav was held, had a Great Hall set atop a small hill with great scenic view (picture). The function began with a dance performance by Dona Ganguly and Mom Ganguly. I met Sharmila Tagore, Soha Ali Khan and Soumitra Chatterjee before the inauguration on Friday outside the Great Hall. (picture)
Sharmila Tagore could not recognise me as she has always seen me in attired in white kurta and I was in a black suit. Not just Sharmila, many others from Kolkata who have always seen me dressed in white failed to recognise me in a black suit at first glance.
The inaugural dance performance by Dona was followed by Soumitra’s play called Tritiyo Anko Atoeb. This was followed by a performance by Babul Supriyo that I missed. I had told Babul on the flight to London that I had some prior commitments and if his performance got delayed I’d miss it.
The Great Hall, which looked somewhat bigger for the crowd on Friday, was packed to the capacity on Saturday and seemed smaller. People from 8 to 80 years thronged the venue. Usha Uthup had called me up in the morning and told me that the timing of her performance had changed from 12 noon to 5 PM. At 12 noon Anjan Dutta and his troupe staged a musical play Bhalobasa Nandini. I liked it very much, especially the style of letter reading by Churni Ganguly and of course Anjan Dutta himself.
After this play, I had to leave for Harrow Art Centre the venue of the Billat Bangla utsav (BBU). Thanks to my chauffeur Mr Bal who was familiar with the streets of London and drove me to the spot a minute before the inauguration of the festival.
The Chairman of BBU, Satyam Roy Chowdhury, a personal friend of mine, had put up a lot of effort to make this event happen at the Harrow Art Centre. I met the Mayor of Harrow along with the ex-Mayor of Kolkata, Subrata Mukherjee, and the Chairman Bidhannagar Municipality, Biswajiban Majumder, at the inaugural function. Many other people from Kolkata were there - Indrani Dutta, Raya Bhattacharya, Indronil Roy, Biswajit and others. I was thrilled and watched in disbelief the excellent performance by small children aged between 3 to 4 years.
There was a dance performance by Indrani Halder – a very good classical rendering on Rabindra Sangeet – in which she quickly changed dresses many times during the performance.
From the Harrow Art Centre I had to rush back to the Alexandra Palace where Usha Uthup had the audience up on their feet. Wow! What an electrifying performance it was. The crowd kept asking for more and she obliged with Dum Maro Dum, Uri Baba and concluded with the timeless Sarejahan Se Accha, all along she played to the galleries amid resounding cheers.
On Sunday, after lunch I went straight to the Harrow Hall and met Tony and his wife Indrani, Swastika and Parambrato, June and others. Had a small adda session at a coffee lounge with Indrani, Tony and two lady singers from Bangladesh, Shama Rahman and Mehreen.
Late evening, after the festival, I visited Leicester Square with a big group. I had missed the performance of Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik at the Alexandra Palace but did watch the movie Hitlist with Sandip Ray at Harrow. Many times even in Kolkata I have felt - why can’t we be at two places at the same time. Well, if only wishes were horses……
ess bee 

Friday, March 19, 2010

My England memoirs

London, as I had said, is the city I love the most. For the past 10 years, whenever in London, I stay at the St James Crowne Plaza Hotel  on 51 Buckingham Gate. The Hotel is owned by the Taj Group of Hotels and for the past few years being managed by Crowne Plaza.
I feel very comfortable and at home here since I am quite familiar with many of the hotel staff and as well as the area in and around the Hotel. The Hotel is a 10-minute walk from the Victoria Station and about 3 minutes from St James Park tube station. I don’t know whether it is due to the hotel’s Indian ownership or strategic location that the Indian embassy puts up its guests there. I once saw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his entire delegation staying in here in this Hotel. One of the best things about this Hotel is that they give you Indian breakfast. This means a lot especially if you are an Indian and a vegetarian.
I have countless memories of England and one of them was attending a mock Parliament in Manchester in 2000 (picture). It was one of the most interesting International functions that I have attended so far. I remember for three days we behaved, acted and learnt about the Parliament. There is a replica of the British Parliament in Manchester. It was there that the Commonwealth Parliament Association (CPA) had held the mock sessions and attended by delegates from across the world, including two other Indians Raghavendra Mirdha and Nivedit Alva. 
I was elected Home Minister in the cabinet of the `Parliament’. I recall that during the farewell dinner hosted by the Mayor of Manchester, the Mayor said that many of us would meet each other again after five to ten years when we would be in the real Parliaments of our respective nations and meet in CPA’s meetings. He said this because the composition of the members who attended the Mock Parliament was based on strong political and international diplomatic relations. I had laughed off the matter by saying to Nivedit and Raghavendra that I had no idea about myself and perhaps they two would meet the others in the future as the Mayor had opined. I said this because both of them came from seasoned political families of India. Raghavendra is the grandson of Ramnivas Mirdha and Nivedit is the son of Margaret Alva (picture).
Recently, when Raghavendra was elected the Congress president in his district, I called him up and reminded him of that `Parliament’.
Well, coming back to the present, while I was checking in at the Kolkata airport for my Mumbai flight en route to London a lady at the counter smiled and asked me,  “Sir, are you going for the Bengali Festival.” I believe this event has been well publicised and, given my activities, it was quite an innocuous query on her part. Usha Uthup and Anjan Dutta were there on the flight for the same destination and I chatted up with them about their performances in London and promised them I would be there to watch it.
ess bee 

Old habits die hard

My family – the Bhutoria family – is still a very orthodox family and probably that is the reason most of them aren’t very fond of me. I spent my childhood in Sujangarh a small town in Rajasthan with the large joint family that was against my decision to journey outside India to London. I thank my biological mother who stood up for me like the Rock of Gibraltar and ensured that I went to London.
After about three months of my stay in London, I shocked my family in India by sending them pictures of mine in hat and suit (picture). I really enjoyed my stay in London and used to walk to Golders Green Station at the Northern Line to get to the  office. At that time, the newspapers at the rail stations were kept on a table without any newspaper seller. Everyone used to pick up the newspapers and leave the money on the table and take the balance. I was very surprised by the honesty of Londoners. That was London then.
I picked up the habit of browsing through the newspapers in the early 90s at the rail stations around London, something that I still do. Well! Old habits die hard.
ess bee 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Barbican Library London - life’s turning point

Tomorrow I leave for London, UK, once where the sun never set on the British Empire. I am quite attached to London not because it is one of the world’s major cosmopolitan cities or for that matter for its sprawling similarity with Kolkata but for the reason that London happened to be the first foreign city I ever travelled to from India in the early 90s.
Since then, I have been to many places across continents but the fond memories of my early 90s stay in London occupies a special place in my heart. I used to stay at 32 Fitzalan Road at the House of the Sethia family (picture). Mr Sethia was my guru in the sense that he initiated and groomed me into the world of international business. 
He was very affectionate towards me and took me out for a city tour the very first day I reached London (picture). The Sethias were one of the outspoken Indian families to have settled down in London. I owe a lot to all the members of the Sethia family who nurtured my growth on a foreign soil and taught me the ways of the world. Learning about international trade at their office has been the most gainful experience of my life.
In London, I used to go to the office and spend much of my time at the Barbican Library. It was here at the Indian books section that I first learnt about Dr Prabha Khaitan when I picked up a Hindi novel Aao Pepe Ghar Chale authored by her. I was really touched by the novel and wrote a letter to her on my return to India. 
I wanted to meet her and she gave me a 30-minute appointment that lasted for five hours and we became very close to each other. Though not related by blood, I became very attached to her emotionally and she cared for me like her own child (picture).
Few people know that I am blessed with two mothers that is my biological mother Kusum Bhutoria (picture) and of course Late Dr Prabha Khaitan who was a single lady and a renowned Hindi writer.
I visit London every year but the memories of 32 Fitzalan Road and the Barbican Library are etched in my mind forever. Sometimes, small incidents change your whole life. Mine was at the Barbican Library in London.
ess bee

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

IT, gulab jamuns and cigars

Today evening I kept myself free and did not accept any invitations since I hosted a dinner in honour of an IT delegation from Latin America visiting Kolkata for the first time. The members of the delegation were Ms Daisy Oropeza, Director,  Albet Company, Mr Humberto Arango, Director, Datys Company, Mr Leonel Iriarte, Vice Rector, Citi (Centre for IT) and Ms Marina Capo, Adviser, Ministry Informatics & Communications (picture).
It was an early dinner and I inquired about their experience in India and Kolkata in particular. The itinerary included a visit to the Jadavpur University to meet the Director and also the faculty members of  IIT Kharagpur. All the delegates spoke Spanish and thanks to Mr Luis Javier Baro Baez from the Embassy of Cuba, New Delhi, who made it possible for us to communicate at length. The delegates also visited Tata Consultancy Services but missed the appointment with the West Bengal IT minister as they were caught in a traffic snarl.
Our discussions, which began with IT, later stretched to topics of gulab jamuns and Cuban cigars. What I gathered was that their curiosity about gulab jamuns was no less than our cravings for the Cuban cigars. I was presented with a box of the famed Cuban cigars. Since I don’t smoke, I have decided that I shall keep it as a memento. The members of the delegation were fascinated by the gulab jamuns and I was coaxed into sharing its recipe with them.
The delegation is in India on an exploratory visit aimed at getting a first hand feel of the Indian IT scenario and the possibilities of forging business ties with Indian companies. On a serious note, I did ask them why they were in Bengal - often written off as the back waters. They told me that it was their perception that Bengal was one of the leading states in India as far as talent is concerned and thus it had to be on their itinerary.
Most of us in Bengal don’t realise the kind of talent the state has and exports. But people, like the members of this delegation, sure did their homework before embarking on a thousand-mile journey to India. They are here in India with a purpose and they know where to be. And starting with Bengal was a great idea - they all agreed.
The delegation was very impressed by the young beaming crowds pouring out of Tata Consultancy Services’ software centre in Saltlec. I realised that the youngsters from Bengal, who have fanned out across the global IT industry, are the biggest brand ambassadors of the state. I earnestly hope that something concrete materialises between Bengal and Cuba.
ess bee

Oh Kolkata!

The Board meeting of The Bengal was held at The Conclave at 7 pm (picture) in which two proposals were approved. The first proposal approved instituted a Mother Teresa Peace Award to the mark the Blessed Saint’s birth centenary in August 2010 and to confer the Award at a function in Kolkata followed by the screening of a documentary on Mother Teresa by Payal Mohanka. Some deserving names for the Award that have already come up are A P J Abdul Kalam and Nobel Laureate Md Yunus. The second proposal - to promote classical dance - was also approved by the Board. Dona Ganguly and Anandi Ghosh would organise an inter-school classical dance competition.
After the Board meeting concluded, I left for Taj Bengal with Arpita to attend a dinner hosted by Subroto Roy Sahara (picture) and met Sourav Ganguly, Dona, Tanusree, Soumitra Chatterjee, Prosenjit, P K Bannerjee, Biplab Chatterjee, Rachna, Tony and others. While leaving, exchanged greetings with Gautam Mohan Chakraborty, Commissioner of Police, as he was entering the hotel. From Taj Bengal I went to an engagement party at Ballygunge and from there to my home, picked up my wife and we went to Fort William residence of GoC Bengal Area Maj Gen Ravi Dastane for a dinner. The GoC and his wife, Smita Dastane, were very warm and welcoming. Met West Bengal Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen, Sanjay Budhia and others and after excusing ourselves to the hosts for the late entry and early exit, left for Afraa at the City Centre for Jishu’s birthday (picture)
Both Jishu and Nilanjanaa were very happy to see Manjari, who rarely goes to the parties. I felt that I should also do the same to get more attention. After Jishu cut the cake at 11:45 pm, I came back home around midnight. 
At the end of the day, I managed to attend all the invitations and kept my promises. I had only one regret of not being able to attend the charity dinner with M S Dhoni and Chennai Super Kings team hosted by Yudhajit Datta. Though I have never watched a single cricket match in my life, the subject of charity is very close to my heart.
ess bee

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Back to the grind

With winter ebbing away, I came to Kolkata from Delhi on Friday. I could feel the days getting warmer despite the cool morning and evening breeze at the Lodhi Gardens. This time, my duration of stay in Delhi was less compared to the previous years. Had a late lunch with Pauli Dam today and then spent some time in my office. I have known Pauli since the days her movie Kaalbela, directed by Gautam Ghose, was about to be released.  I remember when I picked her up from her residence for one of our charity programmes for the children in North Kolkata, she was nervous about her career and her film. But the film went on to do well and she is all set to emerge as one of the leading stars (picture).
On Saturday, spent much of the day in office sorting mails and returning calls. I felt it would be better to be at home and rest on Sunday.
Tomorrow, I’ll be back to the grind with four meetings scheduled between 9:30 am and 3 pm. At 7 pm is the Board Meeting of The Bengal, of which I am the Honorary General Secretary, at The Conclave.  After this, I have to attend four other programmes having given my consent.
Then there is the dinner hosted by Sahara Sree Subroto Roy at the Taj Terrace followed by another dinner hosted by GoC Bengal Area Major Gen Ravi Dastane and Smita Dastane at his residence to be followed by Jishu’s Birthday celebrations at the Afraa and an engagement ceremony at Ballygunge Park Road. I have given my commitment to all the five programmes and have already apprised my hosts that I would be there for a short while and may be little late. That is the only way to keep my promise and schedule on track. Thanks to my hosts, who I am sure, would understand.
ess bee

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A day at my own pace

The day was at my own pace. Just returned from a dinner party held at 4 Lodhi Estate which was followed by a sitar recital by Shujaat Husain Khan son and disciple of master sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan and hosted by Dinesh Trivedi, Minister of State for Health. Dinesh bhai has just shifted here and has done justice to this beautiful house. It was a selective gathering of 100 people and included Sharad Pawar, Gulam Nabi Azad, Ravishankar Prasad et al. Jaya Bachhan, Sam Pitroda, Rahul Bajaj, Suresh Neotia, Sanjay and Amrita Singh, K P Unnikrishnan and others. Met quite a few people I know after 2 or 3 years like Digvijay Singh, Shanawaz Hussain and others. Many of them exclaimed “Oh! Your annual Delhi trip. Good to see you again.”
I reached Lodhi estate with Amajeet and Ms Sukhda Mishra, senior politician of UP. Had a chat over dinner with Jaggi Panda who operates Oriya channel and her husband Jay Panda, MP. We discussed about Tollywood and the status of Oriya cinema. Dinesh bhai and his wife Minal were perfect hosts.
In the afternoon there was a chance meeting with Natwar Singh ji at the India International Centre lounge. He was in a meeting with somebody. Natwar Singh ji hails from Bharatpur, Rajasthan. I know him for many years now through a common friend and a Congress supporter from Bharatpur. When he was in Kolkata for the first time after becoming External Affairs minister, Natwar Singh ji visited my residence  for a breakfast get-together (picture below).
ess bee

Much ado about email

A strange thing happened yesterday. My office got an email from Kishwar Naheed, prominent Pakistani poet and writer, which said she was held up at gunpoint while returning to her hotel last night in London. The mail said that except for her passport she was dispossessed of all her valuables, including all her money and credit cards, and she was in a shock and not feeling safe any more – she needed my help.
When my office informed me I was surprised. This type of incidents are still quite unusual despite the fact that London today is no more what it used to be 10 years back when I stayed there. I told my office to ask for her contact details and within five minutes an email came from her claiming she had very limited access to the computer, no money and the hotel was not allowing her to check out without clearing her dues. The mail also gave the details of her Western Union Money Transfer along with a request for US $1300 which she would pay back as soon as she returned home.
I had my doubts. 
First of all if the hotel wasn’t allowing her to check out, and she needed help, then why didn’t she share through email the phone numbers of the hotel where she could be contacted. Second, of all the people why would Kishwar contact me for I have known her (standing right hand side in the picture) only recently when she was in Kolkata for a book launch  end of January 2010. When my office staff conveyed via mail that I wanted to talk to her there was a reply giving the number of the hotel manager. I made a call to the hotel and a person by the name of Michael Andrew picked up the phone and he said that there was no such name on the guest list.
I was thinking of calling Shabana Azmi, because Javed Akhtar knows Kishwar quite well, to check with her Pakistani permanent number. While I was embroiled in all this my friend Amajeet came and after hearing the matter laughed it off and told me that this was a very common fraud these days. This happens when someone hijacks your email account and sends out mails to all those who are on the user’s contact list.
He told me that the same thing had happened with his wife and also with columnist and TV anchor Mr Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. This was all news to me and I told Amajeet as to what if the mail was genuine and Kishwar really needed help. Amajeet just brushed it off and did not allow me to do anything further on the matter.
Meanwhile, Sukrita Pal Kumar with whom I had scheduled a meeting came and I told her the whole story. It was through Sukrita that I came to Kishwar Naheed. Sukrita warned me that this was a very common prank on the net and that I should not even bother replying because I ran the risk of having my mail hacked and similar requests would flood all those who are on my contact list. I took her advice and immediately instructed my office to change the password. By the way the mail from our end stating that her name did not feature on the hotel list got no response.
I thank Amajeet if this was a fraud. If not, I don’t know what to say. But one thing is sure that those who have not faced such a situation remain gullible to frauds but on the other hand it could also be a situation of `crying wolf’ wherein people really needing help may be denied simply because it would be passed off as a prank.
Well, this is some world we have to live in.
ess bee

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bangla utsav in London

About a week back I received a letter from Mr Satyam Roy Chowdhury inviting me to attend the Billat Bangla Utsav in London. He requested my consent to be felicitated for promoting art, literature and culture at a function in London. The letter took me by surprise though Satyam had casually mentioned to me about this event in London when he attended a tea party hosted by me at the Taj Bengal to meet activist Gautam Lewis where his documentary was shown (picture).
I thanked Satyam in a letter for considering me for the honour. I also wrote in the letter that I was too young for this honour and hence not comfortable with the idea of being felicitated. But I promised to attend the function as any other invitee on March 21st 2010 at the Harrow Arts Centre, London.
Many of my friends and acquaintances would be attending the Utsav in London including Tony who will be felicitated and Indrani Halder - who would be performing as well.  There would be another Bengali utsavLondon Sharad Utsav (March 19-21, 2010)  - at the Alexandra Palace, London.  Again my good friend Dona Ganguly would be performing in this fete. Usha Uthup, Soumitra Chatterjee and others would also be there. Both the cultural fetes are on my itinerary for which I will be in London.
I am sure the Bengali cultural extravaganza would be an unforgettable affair for the non-resident Bengalis.
Today morning while walking in Lodhi Gardens I met Saugata Roy and Arun Jaitley and in the evening had dinner with family at Hotel Radisson.
ess bee

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women’s Reservation Bill – a step forward

At last the Women’s Reservation Bill has been passed in the Rajya Sabha. I think it was a strategic novelty on the part of the Government to place the Bill first in the Upper House or Rajya Sabha. Those who understand this know very well why it was so done. Anyway, while welcoming this move I am aware that the Bill still has to be pass through the Lower House or Lok Sabha, approved by 15 of the 28 states and sent for the President’s consent before it becomes a law.
I welcome the Bill with a rider. If we are serious about bringing women into the political mainstream, 20 per cent reservation would have been a more pragmatic approach to begin with and gradually increased to the level currently proposed. This would have spared our country of rubberstamp women nominees of husbands, fathers or sons. But in our country many decisions are driven by vote bank politics and we may see many rubberstamp nominees in the next election if the Bill is passed and implemented.
Whatever has happened is no doubt a step forward. I fully favour equality of women in society and am dead against gender disparities. In a lighter mood, many of my women friends and acquaintances have said that they are just waiting for Bill to be implemented so that they can take their first political step. I have pledged my full support to them in advance. We all know that in our country as of now we don’t have 33 per cent women candidates.
I have more women friends than men and the idea of writing a book on 100 women in my life has often crossed my mind. May be one day I will.
My Delhi stay is coming to an end next week and I have started declining lunch and dinner invitations. Today I had a dinner with Mr Srichand Jaiswal, minister of state (MoS) for coal, at his residence on the Teen Murti Road. He had also invited a common friend - a senior journalist and we enjoyed a simple north Indian Ghar ka khana.
ess bee

The Rajasthan connection

Last night I had dinner with the Sharmas.
Mr Mahesh Chandra Sharma Ex-Rajya Sabha MP and his better half Sumita Sharma is an exponent of Kathak. Besides being a Rajya Sabha MP many times, he has held key positions in top institutions of the country. He was also the state BJP president of Rajasthan during Vasundhara Raje’s government. A senior RSS man, Mr Mahesh Sharma hails from my native district Churu in Rajasthan.
During the dinner we discussed Rajasthan politics and problems that BJP is facing in the state. It seems that at present most of the political parties in the country are busy putting their house in order rather than worry about issues of villages and roads. I am currently serving in many positions in different Rajasthani organisations around the world. One question I often face is - How come you are close to both Vasundhara Raje and Ashok Gehlot? (file pictures)
I say that I am close to neither of them. I just do my work and they both have time for me.
Nobody is convinced by my reply and I leave them to draw their own answers. But they are entitled to their views since it has so happened that many a times I have personally met or talked over phone with both the leaders on the same day or in close succession. This has set many tongues wagging with written and verbal complaints to the leaders that I have pitched my tent in the opponent’s camp.
I was appointed Honorary Secretary of the local chapter of Rajasthan Foundation by the then Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Sri Ashok Gehlot. I remember that I was the youngest invitee of  Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to the Rajasthani Conclave in the year 2000 following which the Rajasthan Foundation was set up with the objective to forge ties between Non-resident Rajasthanis (NRR) and the state of Rajasthan.
Later, my appointment was endorsed and renewed by Smt Vasundhara Raje and she attended programmes organised by me as the secretary of the Foundation. I believe that if you do your work with sincerity and deliver the goods, politics will not come in your way.
ess bee

Monday, March 8, 2010

Women’s Bill and high drama

I missed the premiers of Birsa Das Gupta directed 033 and Ajay Jhunjhunwala produced Thana Theke Aschi last week in Kolkata. Not only Ajay, the producer of 033 Joy Ganguly had also requested me in advance to see the first show. But this was not possible as I am in Delhi. So I spoke to Birsa and promised him that I shall see 033 for sure. It was nice of him to suggest that we should see the film together.
I did go to Kolkata on Saturday night, spent Sunday at home and was in Delhi today morning.
Though I missed the premiers but went to see Karthik Calling Karthik night show at Inox with Arpita, Suuchanndra (file picture) and my wife. It was a bad film with neither a storyline nor a proper direction nor any good music. But we four held on till the end. Normally we four go to the movies together. Suuchanndra’s husband Arun doesn’t go out much and Arpita’s husband Prasenjit is too big a personality to be out in the open among the public. As for my wife, she never steps out for a movie without me but at the same time she never wants to miss any. So it is always the three ladies and I - their security and errand boy. Sometimes when I have to go out to get coffee and popcorn, I feel that food and drinks, like chewing gum, should be banned from the movie halls.
Anyway, after being at the beck and call of the three women on Saturday night, today 8th of March is the International Women’s Day.
From the Delhi airport I called up the Parliament House for a pass to the Speaker’s Gallery to watch today’s proceedings but heard about the chaos over the Bill and suspension of the Parliament. I fail to understand how come a Bill has not been passed when both the ruling Congress Party and the main Opposition BJP are supporting it. At times I wonder if all the political parties are just playing around with the Bill and actually want to delay it.
On this International Women’s Day what message has the biggest democracy in the world, with millions of proclaimed worshippers of Goddesses, given to the world by not being able to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill and that too at a time when the two largest political parties have taken an official stand to support it. The fact that the Indian males do not want the women to excel is quite evident.
ess bee

Friday, March 5, 2010

An easy day

The day was a little easy for me. Today had lunch with Dhritiman Chatterjee (file picture) who was in Delhi to judge a play . In the evening I had a conference call meeting of World Federation of United Nations Associations  (WFUNA) youth task force. I am currently serving as the Honorary Secretary of the youth task force.

Today I heard that Harsh Neotia has been inducted as a part time director of Nacil (National Aviation Company of India Ltd) along with Anand G Mahindra and Amit Mitra. Nacil runs our national carrier - Air India. Congratulations to Harsh for adding one more feather to his cap. 
My mother used to tell me that Harsh is someone from whom you can always learn something. He had met my mother just a week before she passed away when he attended a dinner hosted by me (pictures). Of all my friends and acquaintances in Kolkata, I have the highest regards for him. Despite being the youngest Padmashree awardee, the youngest Honorary Consul General and having achieved many other milestones in life, he is very polite and humble. All who know him will agree with me.
Delhi is getting warmer signalling the countdown to the end of my winter sojourn.
ess bee

Cuba and Castro

Yesterday I got a phone call from the Cuban Ambassador in Delhi, His Excellency Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos, who inquired whether I would be present in Kolkata for a Cuban delegation scheduled to visit the city next week. He wants me to provide some assistance and logistical support to the delegates during their stay in Kolkata. My relationship with the Cuban embassy was strengthened after I organised the Fidel Castro Photo Exhibition in Kolkata at Nandan about a year-and-half ago on behalf of Prabha Khaitan Foundation. Some rare photographs of Fidel Castro’s only visit to Kolkata about 35 years back taken by photojournalist Late Sri Satya Sen were exhibited.
That Exhibition was a first-of-its-kind in Kolkata (Pictures). But I also remember it for the chaos caused by the media as they protested the restrictions on taking pictures due to the large number of VIPs at the inaugural function. The 4-day Exhibition was opened to the public and the inaugural function attended by CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Mrinal Sen, Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s Manju Majumdar, Md Salim, Biman Bose and other left representatives from different parties.
The guests praised the photos some of which they had seen for the first time. One particular picture on display at the Exhibition was that of Jyoti Basu receiving Fidel Castro at the Dum Dum airport along with Pramode Dasgupta and other party dignitaries. This photo was published by a large number of print media recently after the demise of Jyoti Basu. The same picture adorns one of the walls of my office in Kolkata (picture).
Yesterday I also had a luncheon meet with the director of India International Centre, Mrs Kavita Sharma, this was followed by a meeting with a cabinet minister and later in the evening discussed various issues with the Ambassador of Ecuador, His Excellency Carlos Abad over dinner.
ess bee