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, April 30, 2010

Cause for the elderly

Today morning the prominent daily of Canada The Gazette carried a front-page lead picture of police constables helping a 95-year-old senior citizen to leave for a pub. It was a program organised by the local police for taking elderly women from the Fulford Residence Retirement Home – an old-age home - for an outing chaperoned by the policemen.
The picture in the daily reminded me of a similar project that was launched with Kolkata Police back home in Kolkata. The project called Pronam was the brainchild of the Kolkata Police Commissioner and our welfare organisation The Bengal – a joint initiative. The 24-hour emergency coordination line for senior citizens in Kolkata, under the police jurisdiction, received tremendous response with senior citizen membership base touching 1500. The Puja outings, movie shows, picnics and health check-up support programs made Pronam a very popular project among the elderly who are all alone. This project has infused a sense of security and a will to live a dignified life. Right from the inception, the Kolkata Police has given its whole-hearted support to this project. (Picture: Left to right - Smt Madhabi Mukherjee, Gautam Mohan Chakraborty, Mr H M Bangur, Mr Sunil Gangopadhyay and Mr Soumitra Chatterjee)
There is one senior citizen residency home or old-age home in West Island called Chateau Dollard that is well known for its facilities. I am planning a visit to see if I could pick up on some new ideas that I can introduce in Pronam.
I remember when Pronam was formally inaugurated (Picture: Left to Right - Mr Gautam Mohan Chakrabarty, Smt Krishna Bose) many people had doubts about its working and the very success of the project. But today, with a 1500 membership base, the initial target of having 1000 members has well been surpassed. Once I return to Kolkata I will deliberate with the Kolkata Police and the Joint Convenors of Project fashion designer Ms Agnimitra Paul and actor-director, Mr Arindam Sil, to work out the modalities and finalise a date for a program `Pronam 1500’. I look forward to it.
ess bee

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Multi-cultural pangs

I am back in Canada again from the US. In New York, while walking the stretch towards Madison Street and then towards the Union Square where there is a statue of Gandhi ji (picture) I noticed that a group of Sikh families in their traditional attire donning orange and navy blue turbans. I thought they were coming from a wedding or some other function. After walking about a kilometre I saw a huge gathering of Sikh community members (picture) amid hundreds of empty chairs, electronic media persons, NYPD cars, big artificial barriers marked in the middle of the road and an empty dais at the end of the road near Madison Square Park.
As always, the activities of non-resident Indians attracted me and I asked one of the Television reporters what was it all about. The reporter told me that it was the Sikh Day Parade. I spoke with some of the families who were doing kar seva and realised that it was a part of their religious ritual. The Sikh Day Parade has been on for the past 22 years in New York in which thousands of Sikhs participate in a walk and each year it keeps getting bigger with more people joining in.
Canada too has a large Sikh community. Last year in Ottawa, I was discussing about the strong presence and strength of the Sikh community in this country with the Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Mr Gavai. Much to the community’s resentment, a recent court order had banned the Sikhs from carrying kirpans in schools by sikh students. Another burning issue on similar lines is the wearing of niqab, hijab or the face veil. Hajera Khaza, who is a research assistant, in an article in one of dailies in Canada wrote, “We should all be equal in the eyes of the state. If the government has no business banning abortion because a segment of Punjabi community in Toronto selectively aborts female foetuses, then it has no business banning veils on the false assumptions that they promote inequality among the sexes.”
There was a huge protest by women in niqabs last week against the Quebec Bill 94 which proposes a ban on the niqab for public employees and those seeking services from the government or government-funded institutions. The argument `equality of sexes’ should dictate that a woman wearing a veil be treated the same way as a Sikh man wearing a turban or a Jewish man wearing a skull cap or for that matter anyone wearing a baseball cap.
The women who were opposing the Bill were given a line of logic that this is Canada and not Saudi Arabia where women are told what to wear and what to do. However, it is a very different situation here and the Canadian government wants to impose the law because it thinks that the women are forced by their fundamentalist husbands to wear the hijab, niqab or burkha. Most of the local Canadian society feels so. But now, after the strong protests, it seems there is a degree of willingness among the women too who want it to be a matter of personal and free choice.
Whether it is the kirpan or the burkha, it is undeniable that America and Europe have accepted and granted full respect to the different religions and cultural identities something which Asia, especially West Asian/Gulf states have failed to reciprocate.
 There was a spell of non-stop snow fall for the last 16 hours out here. It was like cotton balls pouring from the sky and the mercury dropped suddenly. This was not expected in this season as the people had changed their winter wardrobe and car tyres as well.
ess bee

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hearts beat for Tharoor in New York

The last two days kept me busy with a number of meeting with various persons. On Friday, I met Mr Hardeep Singh Puri, Permanent Representative of India to the UN, who is a very   positive gentleman. He assured me of his full cooperation for the UNA work. Apart from some other UN officials, I also met Kiyo Akasaka, the Under Secretary General of UN. I had met him in the Republic of South Korea in 2008 and last year in Moscow (picture - Left to Right: Sundeep Bhutoria, Mr Kiyo Akasaka, Under Secy Gen of UN and Alexi Borisov, Unesco Chairholder).
We discussed about the upcoming model UN for youths to be held in Kuala Lumpur. I told him that I would try my best to be there.
I had dinner with the Ambassador In Kook Park - the Permanent Representative of Republic of South Korea to the UN – at his residence. Mr Park knows Mr Puri very well as they were posted in Geneva at the same time. Currently, South Korea is very relevant in terms of UN as the Secretary General, Mr Ban ki-Moon, is from the Republic of South Korea. Mr Akasaka currently holds the same position that Mr Shashi Tharoor had held during his UN stint.
In the last two days at the meeting of WFUNA Executive Committee, many members from different countries asked me about Mr Shashi Tharoor in the context of recent developments. Most of them shared the same feeling about Mr Tharoor being an erudite and intelligent person and may be the dirty Indian politics is not his cup of tea. I had meetings with Mr Shashi Tharoor in his office at the UN only. On another occasion I had met him at a dinner reception with the then UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan. Other than some public functions, I have never had the opportunity to meet Mr Tharoor personally since he took charge at the External Affairs ministry although I did receive a letter of congratulations from him after I was formally elected Treasurer of WFUNA in South Korea. I don’t know for fact but I had heard that Mr Tharoor was offered a membership of the Rajya Sabha but he had decided to fight an election and become a Parliamentarian. I personally believe our country needs ministers like him with a vast international exposure and being so well known in the diplomatic circles.
Today on the second day of our executive meeting at the UNA-USA office (picture) a representative from South Africa asked me if I knew which teams are in the IPL finals. I replied I’ll check out and let you know. He was surprised by my ignorance. It seems cricket is becoming an essential part of Indian life. Wonder where will all this lead to.
As I have said before that I have never watched a single match in my life. Thinking of Mr Lalit Modi, I remember when he became the President of Rajasthan Cricket Board, Subhash Joshi was elected or nominated as the secretary of Rajasthan Cricket Association. I know Subhas ji for many years as he has been one of the most active persons in the cultural circuit of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. That time he was considered to be very close to Mr Modi. Once Subhas ji asked me informally that they were thinking of forming an advisory council-like body for the Rajasthan Cricket Association with 5 to 7 persons as members and he wanted me to be a member of that council. I had laughed away his proposition saying that I didn’t even have an idea of how many players are there in a cricket team. Later, he had approached me once again and I had politely declined and thanked him for his affection. I don’t know whether the council came into being.
 Today after the meeting I spent some time in the world famous bookshop `Strand’ located on the 12th Street on Broadway and had a good walk through Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue and Lexington Avenue. Had dinner at an Indian restaurant Bukhara on 49th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue with a Hungarian friend.
ess bee

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hotel Hilton Manhattan, New York

Last time I stayed here, this Hotel was called Crowne Plaza. This time I am again staying at the same hotel but the name has changed to Hotel Hilton. After Millennium Hotel, this Hotel is also conveniently located near the UN offices. Also, India’s Permanent Mission to UN is just 3 to 4 minutes walk from here.
Yesterday Ranjan picked me up from the airport and we went straight to a South Indian restaurant in Long Island. In the evening I attended his son’s birthday party and met many Indian couples settled here. Life is indeed very different and difficult here but in the last few years I have noticed that the Indians have started living in their own community. It wasn’t so 10 years ago.
I have witnessed that the big Indian communities in London and New York, whosoever they may do their business with, socialise mainly with members from their own community - roaming, eating Indian food, seeing Indian films and watching Indian news. They also talk in Hindi. I don’t know whether this change is for good or bad but it is there.
Went to WFUNA office today morning. From tomorrow the Executive Committee meeting is starting. Attendance may be low due to the Iceland crisis. This time I have come to New York after a gap of five years but it seems to me like I was here just a week back. All my regular food joints, cafes, grocery and laundry shops are there at the same place in Manhattan in First and Second Avenue except for the Indian restaurant, which used to be just next door at the rear gate of the Indian Mission, has changed into an Italian joint. I had lunch with the WFUNA office colleagues at another Indian restaurant Darbar.
I could not see the invitations and mails from Kolkata which are stuck in transit as numerous flights have been cancelled due to the ash cover from Iceland.
ess bee

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When time stood still

I am in New York again. It is the city I have visited the most in USA. Each time I visit NY, the memories of the 9/11 tragedy floats before my eyes. I was in New York during 9/11 and had put up at the Millennium Hotel near the then World Trade Centre. I always used to stay at the Millennium Hotel due to its close proximity to the UN building. I have travelled to New York most of the time to attend the various UN conferences and meetings.
I remember it was September 9th 2001, I along with Mr Prabodh Chandra Sinha (Prabodh babu), Minister, Government of West Bengal, were waiting in front of The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City for Ranjan Gupta - my friend from Kolkata who had recently settled down in the City. He was to take us around the City. Prabodh babu and I were scheduled to attend the World NGO meet from September 10 to 12 at the UN Office and were also to attend the Executive Committee Meeting of WFUNA. After spending about two hours at the Times Square, Ranjan dropped us back at the Millenium Hotel. We fixed up an appointment with Ranjan for 4:30 pm the next day (Sept 10th) to visit the World Trade Centre. On the 10th of September, after the inaugural speech by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and a series of other meetings, we could meet up with Ranjan at around 6 pm only. After visiting the famous statue of the Wall Street Bull, we reached the World Trade Centre quite late. There we met a Bengali gentleman who introduced himself and said that he too, along with few of his friends, had planned to visit the WTC. He suggested that we could visit the place together the next day (September 11) around 8:30 am. We decided to meet at the lobby of the Millennium Hotel around 8 am to visit the WTC.
On September 11 (2001) morning around 7:30 am I got a call from the Indian Mission to UN that it would be better if we met Ambassador and permanent representative of India to the UN Mr Kamlesh Sharma and his Deputy Mr Satyavrata Pal at the office of the Indian Mission to the UN at 9 am prior to the meeting at the UN that was schedule for 9:30 am.
I was also told that an official from the Mission would accompany us to the Indian Mission and requested us to be at the lobby by 8:45 am. When I informed the official from the Indian Mission who had called up and told him that we had other plans, he very politely said “No problem,” and said we could carry on with our program and that he would fix up some other time for us. He said that he was requesting for the meeting because as our UN meeting was to follow at 9:30 am. I discussed the matter with Mr Sinha and we decided that it was better to postpone the trip to the WTC and visit the Indian Mission to UN.
At about 8:30 am on September 11, 2001, I was chatting up about the locational advantage of the Hotel with the waiter Naiyer, who was from India, and had brought my breakfast. The room I was in had glass panelling on two sides and a clear view of the Lake and the tall imposing WTC tower. As we were talking I heard a loud boom and saw there was only smoke outside the window as an aircraft crashed into the tower. I came out in a shock when I heard a voice in the public address system announced that there was a situation of emergency and the crash into the WTC could be an attack and not an accident. I stood stunned and speechless. I rushed down the stairs from the 17th floor of the Hotel and called up Prabodh babu’s room located on the 7th floor on the other side of the Hotel and asked him to come down.
Soon we both were in the Hotel lobby and the officials from the Indian Mission were there as well. I had the presence of mind and told Probodh babu that we should bring our passport and tickets. We took the Hotel’s service lift and dashed to get our travel documents. As I was collecting my documents I turned and saw from my window another aircraft circle around the WTC before crashing into the second tower. I shook from top to bottom as the very idea of being at the WTC, as per our plan, sent a chill up my spine. Within 10 minutes we were in the premises of the Indian Permanent Mission to the UN sitting in the room of Mr Kamalesh Sharma watching the TV. Suddenly Mr Sharma exclaimed, “Oh! My God,” and at the same time the tea cup dropped from the trembling hands of Prabodh babu as we saw the tower coming down on TV.
One of the Indian dailies had already published my and Prabodh babu’s name in the missing list of Indians and there was no way we could immediately inform home about our well being.
There was no way we could come out of Manhattan. How I spent those two thinking about the incident and had nightmares. 
Left to Right: Mrs Rajni Gupta, Mr Prabodh Chandra Sinha, Sundeep Bhutoria.
On the 13th morning an Indian official dropped us at the residence of Mr Ranjan Gupta on our request. Ranjan and his wife Rajani were very nice to us ensured that we were comfortable physically and more so mentally. They took us for a drive to the Atlantic City where Donald Trump’s world-famous Taj Mahal Casino is located (picture).
There were no seats available on flights to India and it was only after 6 or 7 days, with the help of the Indian Mission officials did we manage to book a seat on a flight for India. I remember that while checking in I was told by the Airline officials that I could go and my baggage would follow later and I did exactly that – left New York without my baggage.
Sometimes when I think about what could have become of me on that fateful day had I kept my 8:30 am appointment and gone to visit the WTC on September 11th 2001. Well, for sure, I wouldn't have been writing this blog.
That was the incident when not just me but the whole world held its breath.
ess bee

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

From Canada’s francophone province

West Island in Quebec.
I came back to Canada from Burlington (Vermont) on Sunday evening. I am in Quebec - the French speaking province of Canada. The Canadians in this part are called French Canadians and proudly call themselves Quebecois rather than Canadians.
Area-wise, Canada is the second largest country in the world stretching from the rainforests of Vancouver Island to the pebbled desert of the Arctic, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, from the latitude of Northern California to the Arctic Ocean. The vast Canadian expanse from the east coast to the west coast and further to the frigid northwards, while inspiring poets, has been the administrators’ nightmare.
The sheer prosperity, compared to the rest of the world, has saved the careers of many politicians. Canada’s population and prosperity are unevenly distributed with concentration on certain `favourite’ pockets. However, there’s enough prosperity to go around and according to Robert Bothwell, Professor of Canadian History, the sparse population of Canada has saved it from becoming a political impossibility.
Canada is a tad conservative compared to other developed countries. Rights recognising the status of women came about only in the 60s. About 35 years ago there were no facilities to give credit to women. My aunt, who has been a well-established medical practitioner in Canada for the last three-and-half decades, told me that when she went to buy a car with her hard-earned money she was asked to come with her husband and was also told that they could not entertain her alone.
While on my way back to Quebec from Vermont, I learnt from her that whoever used to clear the forests and started farming were allotted that portion of land. And mind you, this was so not in some other but in this very Century of ours.
I will be in this country for a few weeks more and one thing that I would surely like to do is to visit and see the natives of the Indiana community - the original inhabitants of Canada.
Today morning I had a conference call with the New York WFUNA office to finalise and discuss the budget of 2010. As a treasurer of the organisation it is one of my responsibilities. In fact, last year in Ottawa, I was given and took charge as the interim Treasurer of WFUNA (picture). 
From left to right: Mr Pang Sen, Chairperson from China, Ms Kathryn White from Canada (Host UNA), Treasurer, Sundeep Bhutoria from India, Ms Pera Wells  Secretary General WFUNA and Ambassador Sun Joun-Yung from the Republic of South Korea.

I heard that Cuban legend Don Alejandro Robaina, 91, has passed away. Cigar aficionados from across the world know him as “one of the best tobacco farmers” of Cuba. In 1997, the Cuban state-owned company Habanos SA honoured him by launching a new line of cigars bearing the name of his famous farmland Vegas Robaina that produced the best tobacco for the famed Cuban cigars. I have never met Robaina, but have a friend who was close to him. Robaina used to say that he was a millionaire because he had a million friends. I like one of his lines when asked about the secret of his `best crop’ Robaina had said, “You have to love the land and care for it.”
I shall leave for New York tomorrow.
ess bee

Sunday, April 18, 2010

$200 for an apple!

Smart Suits, Shelbourne Road, South Burlington, USA
Burlington is a beautiful town in Vermont (USA) 55-km from the Canadian border. Took an hour’s drive to reach. On Friday, while entering border the immigration officer after clearing the entry asked, “Are you carrying any fruit.”
I said “No.”
While I was entering Montreal, a lady officer at the customs after the immigration section saw an apple in my hand which I had picked up from the airport lounge at Frankfurt. She asked for the apple and told me it was not allowed. She said that since I was not hiding the apple, she was sparing me this time from fining 200 dollars.
I asked the lady officer – “Why so?” She said, “We don’t allow apples,” and gave me a cold look that made it obvious that she wasn’t used to being questioned. I thanked her for not imposing any fine on me and resumed my journey.
Wow! A 200 dollar fine for carrying an apple across the border - I was speechless. We hear so much about globalisation, global citizen and no borders on one hand and on the other hand you can be penalised for carrying an apple across the border.
I remembered the world-renowned intellectual from South Korea, U Gong, who had given me the honorary world citizen passport. He has a One World vision free of borders.
It was raining the whole day at Burlington as spring is in the air with the trees beginning to bloom. Burlington is a `Toy City’ with banks, offices and restaurants housed in small toy-like houses.
With no multi-storied apartments or high rises, the houses resemble old British houses in style. In fact, it was the British who first came in here to start the trading in this part of the world. Burlington is the main city of Vermont with a population of just 38,889 people. The total population of the whole state is 6,21,760 as per the last census.
Walking on the road reminds you of the lower hill stations of Europe. The city holds much for the tourists’ interest including lakes, museums and farms. I visited the lakes and the University of Vermont (pictures).
Got few calls from Kolkata mostly inquiries of my whereabouts. Few of my friends who knew of my travel plans via Europe were worried having heard about the cancellation of flights in Europe.
ess bee

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stroke of luck

I am writing this blog from a small town called Dollard-des-Ormeaux, 20-km from Montreal in the Quebec Province, Canada. Arrived here today afternoon from Frankfurt. At the Montreal airport I was surprised by the fact that there were hardly any queues at the immigration section or for that matter of passengers at the baggage section in the arrival hall. It was quite an unusual scene for this airport but I thought that probably the afternoons were a lean period.
Later, after coming out of the airport I heard about the volcano in Iceland and realised that the Air Canada flight which brought me to Montreal was one of the last flights to take off from whole of Europe since all major airports across Europe had cancelled nearly 5000 flights due to the effect of the volcanic ash from Iceland.
I thanked God for the divine stroke of luck. I would have otherwise been stranded at the Frankfurt airport. Also, had the flight been 20 to 30 minutes late, it would have been impossible to cross the Atlantic because of the volcanic cloud spread and I would have probably been stranded somewhere else without any clue. Incidents like these reinforce our belief in the element of luck in our life.
The last time when I was here it was February and this part of the world was fully covered in snow. I have never seen such snow cover earlier in my life and it was a unique experience (picture). The temperature was minus 10 to minus 20 and I had to buy snow boots and jackets on arrival.
However, this time of the year there is no snow with the city getting the first feel of the welcoming spring – the best time of the year here.
Tomorrow I would leave for Burlington – a small town across the border in USA for a weekend.
ess bee

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Old chums, numbing routines

Yesterday went to The Conclave to attend Harsh Neotia’s party and met many common friends. The Who’s Who of Kolkata had turned up. Before that, I made a detour to The Oberoi Grand to attend Aparajita – an award function jointly hosted by the Ficci Ladies’ Organisation and Kolkata’s leading Hindi daily Sanmarg. I met many of the city’s prominent ladies including Beth Payne, the US Consul General in Kolkata (file picture). Ms Payne had earlier attended the Ranjana Gauhar program at the Raj Bhavan last week and we discussed about her. Ms Payne told me she wished the American ambassador should see the classical dance performance in Kolkata when he visits the city next time. I assured her that I would try to organise something when he comes to Kolkata.
Today was another hectic day for me at the office doing deskwork. Late evening I was at the bar in Hotel Kenilworth in the company of some of my college friends whom I met after seven years. When I meet my old buddies and other acquaintances after a long time I get the feeling that life has indeed come a long way and changed so much that the people you used to meet seven times a week you now meet them once in seven years despite being in the same city. The fact is that one has limited control over one’s routine as business meetings get precedence over meetings that the heart desires.
ess bee

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Storm before the lull

I am back in Kolkata from Bangalore. Attended the preview of Rituparna’s new movie Agunpakhi at Hotel Golden Park (picture). Met Sadhan Pandey, director of the film Subhrajit Mitra and others. I was there for a short while.
Yesterday evening had a candle lighting program, organised by The Bengal, in memory of the recent fire victims in Kolkata. Fire safety pamphlets were distributed to the visitors at the event that was the initiative of Dolly Basu. Besides members of The Bengal others included committee members Anandi Ghosh, Javed Yusuf and Arindam Sil. Locket Chatterjee and Rituparna also came to light candles. Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim, Amol Ghosh and others were also there (picture). After the event I attended a dinner at The Conclave which continued till half past midnight. Started the day today with a meeting at 8:30 am and called in a day just a while back.
Tomorrow I was supposed to leave for Rajasthan to meet the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot but just got a call from his office informing me that he had to leave for Delhi to attend a meeting and that I could reschedule my meeting to Tuesday instead of tomorrow. I called back CM’s office and informed that I would be leaving abroad and would meet the CM after I return. This gives me an opportunity to be in Kolkata tomorrow and attend Aparajita - the function at The Oberoi Grand – organised by the Hindi daily Sanmarg and Ficci Ladies’ Organisation. Besides this, I will also attend a reception to be hosted by Harsh Neotia at The Conclave and this would be followed by another dinner that I have to attend. As I often say how I wish I had a double to attend all the programs. 
I am also thinking of organising an awareness program on`Caring for Animals' with Debasree Roy and her project Karuna on Tuesday April 13, 2010.
Read about the Poland air crash. In this jet set world one can’t say about what hangs in store. I was in London around 1995-96 and the company, where I was learning about tea business, had major trade dealings with Poland. People in this trade knew that there were more women in the tea business in Poland than men. Polish women are among the most beautiful in the world. The same year I was also in Moscow (picture) where I had many Polish friends.
I have never been to Poland but visited almost all the countries in that part of the globe and I think Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world I have visited in my life so far.
Two more hectic days in Kolkata and I would leave for North America for five weeks. My first destination would be Montreal, Canada. I am looking forward to some respite from my demanding Kolkata routine.
ess bee

Friday, April 9, 2010

Choti si yeh dunia

The world is really small.
Yesterday I left Bangalore for Coonoor to see a holiday home. I took a late morning flight from Bangalore to Coimbatore – the city where I had stayed for six months after my return from England for business training.
That was in 1996 - the year of the booming tea trade with Russia and Poland. My job was to learn about tea packaging and I was dealing with a company called Shakti Associates that was owned by two brothers N Sriram and Ananda Sriram. After that I lost touch with them quite against my nature.
During the Bangalore-Coimbatore flight the person seated next to me introduced himself as Prashant Jain. During our conversation I told him that I was going to Coonoor. He asked me if I were the one looking for the Holiday Home. I said yes and he mentioned the name of my friend and cousin Anil Kathotiyas who stays in Bangalore and with whom I had talked about my requirements.
What a coincidence!
At Coonoor I went to see the family house of Mr Ajith Kumar Jhabakh. Mr Jhabakh’s fore-fathers, who were bankers to the British, came and settled down in Coonoor about 125 years ago. One of the oldest and most respected families of Coonoor, the Jhabakhs have been engaged in a lot of social welfare projects in an around that area and had even donated the family land for a temple in Coonoor. Later they shifted to Coimbatore.
While having tea at the Taj Gateways Property at Coonoor with Mr Jhabakh it dawned upon me that Mr Jhabakh knew the Sriram brothers pretty well as they were always together at the Round Table club. It is a small world indeed.
Thanks to Mr Jhabakh, the coordinates of the Srirams are with me and we would soon connect.
Flew back to Bangalore from Coimbatore and will leave for home – Kolkata – by evening flight.
ess bee

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Raj Bhavan to Raj nostalgia

Bangalore - Windsor Manor, Lord Wellesley Suite
This evening I arrived at Bangalore or Bengaluru - the garden city.
This is one city in India I visit frequently and also have many friends here. ITC Sheraton has an old property here - Windsor Manor. I have been staying in this hotel during my visits to the city for over 10 years now. I have always rated this property very highly and personally feel that among all the ITC properties this one stands out for its superior service and personal attention given to the guests.
Earlier, when our family business was in Chennai, I used come to Bangalore frequently, almost every week. Mr Suresh Kumar was in charge of this property at that time and I used to tell him about the exquisite qualities of this property. My reputation of being a very choosy person, in terms of quality of service in hotels, precedes me.
For a period of 2 to 3 years my visits to Bangalore were far and few. But from 2008 onwards Bangalore once again became a regular feature on my travel itinerary. I, however, started staying at the Taj Westend but have reverted to the Windsor Manor again. Apart from Renu, who is here for the last so many years, my good friend Anil Chaddha, whom I had met at the ITC Sonar Bangla in Kolkata, is now the General Manager. While in Kolkata, Anil and his wife Anu became our good family friends.
This hotel stirs up nostalgia from the days of the Raj and brags of five very elegant suites named Lord Hastings, Lord Clive, Lord Auckland, Lord Cornwallis and Lord Wellesley from where I am writing this blog. However, the Waterloo Suite is my favourite as it opens to a garden from two sides. 
Last few days in Kolkata were very hectic.
Yesterday I was at the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata from early evening. I had organised an informal get together for my organisation The Bengal to meet Mr M K Narayanan - the newly appointed Governor of West Bengal. Besides members of The Bengal, the get together over high tea was attended by many celebs from different walks to life (picture). We were all so pleased and touched by the warmth of the Governor. He himself helped guests with the high tea and personally served us plates saying he was the host and he had to do this (picture). We were initially little hesitant but all of us were overwhelmed by his gesture. Odissi exponent and Padma Shree awardee Ranjana Gauhar's performance at the Brown Hall in Raj Bhavan was electrifying. The basic idea of organising this event was to familiarise the Governor with the city's dignitaries and also the other way round.
ess bee

Monday, April 5, 2010

Annaprasan ceremony

Yesterday evening I went to attend the annaprasan ceremony of Nabaneeta Deb Sen's daughter Antara's baby at Snehalata Bhavan. There I met many of the city's literary fraternity including Sunil Ganguly, Dibendu Palit, Pavitra Sarkar, Sankho Ghosh, Mrinal Sen (file photo) and others.
It is good to see Sankho Ghosh in a social function. I remember my recent visit to his house to invite him and I found that some others were already there to invite him to be the Chief Guest of their program. Sankho da very politely excused himself saying that he had never attended any inaugural function as the Chief Guest or Guest of Honour. Members of the team visiting him were visibly surprised and said how he managed to do this. Sankho da said "It has been so for the past 30 years and lets see how long I can manage keep it that way." I have heard from many quarters that Sankho da has actually declined to be the chief guest of many major events and functions over the years and attended these programs as an invitee only.
After the delegates left, I requested Sankho da to attend the Asian Women Writers' function as an invitee. He said yes but insisted that his name should not be printed in the guest list. I took his permission to print his name as a participant only to which he agreed. Though he could not make it to the program due to a mishap in the family, meeting him in his residence was a different experience for me. I have never met such simple a person who is also the senior most poet of Bengal. I have heard a lot about him since my first meeting with him in Nandan few days after he had resigned from the Bangla Academy (picture).
At the annaprasan ceremony, I was in no mood to eat but Nabaneeta di, like a true Bengali mother, made sure that I ate from the vegetarian buffet spread. I met Nandana who had come down from Mumbai for the ceremony and she introduced me to her fiancé.
ess bee

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hoogly cruise

Today afternoon I went river cruising on the Hoogly all the way to Batanagar and then to Belur and back. Four hours passed in a jiffy.
I started from the Millennium Ghat opposite Shipping Corporation of India office at the Strand Road aboard a yacht which is the best one available in Kolkata and owned by Karan Paul. The cruiser, that can house 14 persons, had a drawing room, a lounge, a bedroom, toilet, pantry and many other modern amenities.
This was the first time that I was on this yacht. Karan had acquired this piece of floating luxury about a year and a half ago for his personal use. I was a guest of the President of Kolkata Racquet Club (picture) who organised this exclusive get-together for his friends on a visit to Kolkata from Dubai and also invited few of us on board. Those who have been to this part of the Ganges on a boat would know how beautiful the Howrah Bridge, Vidyasagar Setu, Bally Bridge, the ghats, The State Bank of India building, Belur Mutt and other river front landmarks look from the river. It was an amazing experience. The last such memorable Hoogly experience was during the time of the Pujas when Kolkata Police Commissioner Mr Gautam Mohan Chakraborty organised a very small ride to see the idol immersions of Maa Durga. We were also treated to a delicious Chinese cuisine at that time and today once again, at the yacht, we helped ourselves to some of the most delectable snacks and the mishti doi.
Late in the evening I briefly visited a lounge at the Camac Street with Arpita for a small get-together with the cast of Raja Sen’s new film Laboratory. I met Raveena Tandon and her husband Anil and other team members of the film (picture).
I also met June Maliah and discussed about our recent London visit where we all had a whale of a time at the Leister Square (picture).
I was in office whole of yesterday and till today noon working for the upcoming executive meeting of WFUNA in New York. This year, I am the Treasurer of this organisation and there is some serious work to be done. I am also planning to propose in the meeting that the next executive meeting of the UNA Youth Convention be hosted in India.
Let me see how things shape up.
ess bee

Friday, April 2, 2010

RTE – a turning point

April 1 2010 marks the advent of a new chapter and a turning point in the field of child education with the Right to Education (RTE) Act making free and compulsory education up to class eight a fundamental right for every child (aged 6 – 14 years) in the country.
Most of the educationally developed countries attained their current levels of educational by legislating free and compulsory education. Britain did it in 1870. I wonder why India had to wait an extra six decades since Independence to make RTE an Act.
UN bodies UNICEF and UNESCO have lauded the move and said that this Act would go a long way in propelling India’s potential to even greater heights of productivity and prosperity in the future.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has also been quick to react saying that RTE brings forth an opportunity to reach the disadvantaged sections of the society such as the child labourers. I too feel that child labour is a major issue in India and the RTE should, if implemented effectively, would surely address this problem. As a member of United Nations Association (UNA) youth body I have so many times faced embarrassing queries on this issue from representatives of other countries. I have always been at a loss to explain why Right to Education is not a fundamental right in India. The fact is that a healthy childhood is essential for country to have a generation of healthy youth force.
At last, after 60 years of Independence we have realised the importance of providing education to the children in India. In my own humble way I had started an education-for-all project in 2000 under the Education for All Trust. It is ironical that a common citizen like myself thought of this 10 years ahead of the Government of India. Better late than never. But there is a big question mark on implementation of the RTE Act. We have so many laws in our country which remain a law in paper only. I sincerely hope RTE will not fall in such category.
Today I wish to thank all the sponsors who contributed in cash or kind to the educational project that was launched by Smt Pratibha Patil in Raj Bhavan of Rajasthan (picture).
I hold to the view that lack of basic education is the prime reason for all others social problems including crimes.
Lt Gen V K Singh has become the Chief of Indian Army. Lt Gen Singh and I have many common friends. I had missed his farewell luncheon party as I was abroad. He has been very kind to attend one of the dinners hosted by me (picture). I wish him all the best for his new assignment.
ess bee