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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Saturday, July 31, 2010

At the launch of Three Novellas



Today I attended the launch of Three Novellas at the Oxford Bookstore in Park Street. The book is a translation from Bengali to English of Nashtanir, Dui Bonand Malancha. Translated by Sukhendu Roy, the Book was formally released by the Governor of West Bengal M K Narayanan.
The release was followed by a discussion on the book by Supriya Chaudhuri, Prof Department of English, Jadavpur University and Swapan Chakravorty , director, National Library. Nabaneeta Dev Sen (file picture) could not attend the function as she was not well.
I thought I’d see her today at the Oxford as I haven’t met her for almost over a month now. In Kolkata, each day there are several programmes every day at the same time to mark 150th Celebrations of Tagore but I felt this book launch was be very helpful for the non-Bengali community as the Governor said that translations are really useful for a non-Bengali like him.
Also met Sujata Sen, Director, British Council Kolkata, at the Oxford and discussed about the possibility of some joint programs with British Council and Prabha Khaitan Foundation. We had talked about it six months back but I could not give the idea a shape. We decided to sit next week and try to work out a programme.
After the
 Book launch, had masala chai at the Oxford chai bar in traditional tea glasses with Bharti Roy, Governor and Suranjan Das, the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University over light conversation. It is a good feeling to have tea or chai in traditional glasses in the company of such intellectuals.
ess bee

Friday, July 30, 2010

Aastha exhibition

Today afternoon I visited an exhibition at the Taj Bengal banquets organised by a women’s organisation called Aastha. Every year, around this time, they organise this annual exhibition of home products, clothes, jewellery, cosmetics, gift items etc.
A small group of young women are involved with this organisation and honestly I was pleasantly surprised to see the exhibition as it was very different from the usual round-the-year exhibitions held at the Ice Skating Rink and the so-called hep designer wear exhibitions that draw more window shoppers than real buyers.
Aastha’s exhibition was very well organised and I could make out that the women who were there were more interested in buying then passing time or hanging around. Kolkata has many women’s organisations like Jyotirmay, Jagriti, Mahila Parishad, Marudhara etc., but somehow the younger generation is not involved in the decision making process and the organisations are by an large controlled by elderly ladies.
Aastha, for a change, is an organisation with young women at the forefront. I feel the city needs more organisations of this kind where the upper middle class and middle class ladies feel comfortable and direct their energies and efforts towards more fruitful social welfare activities.
Later in the afternoon, I had a meeting with Arindam, Agni and police officials at the Commissioner of Police’s room in Lal Bazar to streamline the process to provide medical facilities to the members of Pronam.
The officials of the hospital associations present were Mr P Tandon (Belle Vue Clinic), Mr D N Agarwal (AMRI Hospitals Limited), Mr R Barua (Calcutta Medical Research Institute), Dr Rupali Basu (Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals), Dr Aloke Roy and Mr R Udayan Lahiri (Medica Superspecialty Hospital).
Overall, it was a fruitful meeting. It was decided that one more meeting will be called on the 5th of August evening with other representatives from major hospitals of Kolkata. It was also decided that Pronam annual function would be on held on Saturday 4th of September at the Vidya Mandir. Previously it was slated for 1st of October – observed as the World Elders Day by UN.
However, due to the Pujas, may be, we plan to have another program for the members and hence the change of the date to 4th September.
ess bee

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A hands-down week

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today, all the four days were easy and relaxing, I did not attend any public function but took time out on Monday to be at the private screening of Moner Manush with Prasenjit, Gautam Ghosh and others.
The music, songs, locales and above all the acting of Prasenjit and his make up as Lalan was amazing.
Based on Sunil Gangopadhya’s story, the film has been directed by Gautam Ghosh. The film’s release date is yet to be fixed. I have been hearing a lot about this film for the past one year from different quarters of the Bangla filmdom.
I remember during the launch of Soumitra Chatterjee Trust, Prasenjit was shooting for this film and had attended that function sporting a beard that he had grown for role played in the film (picture).
Sunil da is in the United States at present and I miss his advice regarding The Bengal and other events (file picture)
I spoke to him over phone yesterday and he said he would be back by August 12 or so.
On Monday there was a brief meeting with students regarding the Education of All project.
In the past three days Kolkata had some interesting events, especially the release of the Bengali version of Amartya Sen’s book by Somnath Chatterjee at the ICCR. 
I could not attend this function and also other functions in the city during these three days and I am planning to skip today’s and Friday’s events as well. 
It is good to do some deskwork that is essential for streamlining the meetings and the programmes.
ess bee

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Calendar of events

Yesterday night I managed to watch the movie Inception and found it to be a different kind of movie and very well directed. It was a late show that started around 10:35 pm and by the time I returned home it was 2 am - well past midnight.
Today I was planning and prioritising my schedule for the coming months. My diary is full of markings and it seems it is going to be a hectic affair up to January 2011. There are lots of invitations from Universities and a multitude of other programmes and then in August (15th to 18th) there is the Second Global Model United Nations.
At the same time in Africa there is going to be the Youths in Under Developed Nations Conference and they want me as a speaker.
At the end of August, a Theatre Festival is scheduled in Kolkata to be co-hosted by Prabha Khaitan Foundation. Theatre celebrities and big names from all over India are expected to attend including Sharmila Tagore, Sanjana Kapoor, Om Puri, Girish Karnad, Amol Palekar and others.
Around the same time there is going to be the 623rd DPI/NGO conference in Melbourne, Australia, which I am again supposed to attend on behalf of WFUNA. I am currently the Treasurer of WFUNA.
September, it seems, would be a tad easy and I have plans to be at the India International Centre (IIC) Delhi.
I am already working out the modalities for the Pronam program on October 1st – Elders’ Day - at the Rabindra Sadan. I also have to prepare of the Pujas around middle of October.
From the 3rd to 14th October are the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and in the middle of November there is the Executive Committee meeting of WFUNA in New York.
Coming to December 2010, I have already accepted the invitation for the Youth Conference in Europe to be followed by seminars in the Scandinavian countries. I am in two minds to convey my regret for the December invitations and spend time in Rajasthan.
Normally, I spend two to three weeks in a year in Rajasthan, mainly Jaipur, and this is a part of my responsibility. For the last two years I have hardly spent any time there. This year I haven’t been to Rajasthan at all and this has been the situation for the last several years.
So all these are packed into the calendar of events in 2010 besides the daily activities and related organisation works and projects plus few other regular annual events.  At times I question myself if I have taken on too much and every day the pressure seems to pile on with something new coming up.
ess bee 

Friday, July 23, 2010

An agonizing decision

I got a call from Tollygunj Club that Michiko was suffering badly writhing in pain and that if I would give them the permission to put her to sleep or still stick on to my decision – which hoped that nature would take its course. But life isn’t necessarily that simple, particularly with horses.
It was one of the most agonizing decisions of my life and I told the Club authorities to do what they thought was best. That is, to put Michiko to sleep.
Michiko is our horse that I had leased and gifted to my wife who had liked her at the very first sight. Like us, anyone would have fallen for the big attractive tilak- like white mark on Michiko’s brownish forehead (picture).
I used to do horse riding in Class 11 and 12 and also at many places when I was abroad. I remember when I was in a summer camp in Switzerland I opted for horse riding as my favourite activity (picture).
About two years back I got the first call from the Tollygung Club saying that Michiko was old and could not be used for riding or any other purpose and it would be better to put her to `sleep’ - an euphemism for a lethal injection that would put her to death.
Putting horses to sleep or to euthanize is practised across the world when the horses are senior enough and their condition renders them incapable of comfort due to age, injury or disease.
Veterinarians generally choose lethal injection or gunshot for euthanasia. In Europe, gunshot is the preferred method; in the US, lethal injection is more popular, likened to the emotional ideal of dying in one's sleep.
I told the Club then that we were very attached to Michiko and ready to bear all expenses required for her proper care. I also ensured that she should not be used for riding.
I was approached three or four times by the Club authorities in these two years and each time I made it very clear to them that unless there is no option left Michiko should not be put to sleep.
But this time I realized that my decision was causing Michiko immense pain every moment she lived. So I finally took the painful decision that would relieve Michiko of her misery and pain. I sent a formal authorisation letter to the Club saying that they may do what is best.
As I pen this blog, I am not sure whether Michiko is alive. I had instructed the Club officials to spare themselves the trouble of further informing me on this matter. I will know when the monthly bill from the Club stops.
What should I say - Michiko take care! Or Goodbye Michiko!
ess bee

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Old times

I got an email inquiring if I were the same Sundeep Bhutoria whom she used to know. I was surprised to see the name of the sender. She was someone I had had no contact whatsoever in 20 years. Actually I don't even remember her face and I am sure similar is the case with her since she failed to recognize me from my picture on the blog which she chanced upon while surfing the net.
My uncle with whom I used to stay in Delhi was her father's friend and I have vivid memories of the joint outings our families had.
I talked to her over phone and there was this flashback to my primary school days. I was always a stage person and an active participant in the extra curricular activities of the school. I still have my Class III report card in which our Principal had remarked about I being an ".... intelligent but very naughty student".
I even remember that her father had given me a green shirt on Diwali which I had worn at the annual function or some school competition (picture).
I never thought that one day we'd be in touch once again. It is said that your school friends are the best friends. But is today's hectic world how many of us manage to be in the same city or place for long to be among childhood friends.
It was a very different feeling talking to someone from my early school days and it stirred up childhood memories.
Thanks to the net and the blogs.
ess bee 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Miss Masala

I attended the book release program at the Oxford Bookstore in Park Street this evening. The book called Miss Masala is on quick Indian cooking and authored by Mallika Basu the grand daughter of Jyoti Basu.
Mallika's younger sister Doel, her mother Dolly Bose and Bickram Ghosh were there at the function (picture: Bickram Ghosh, Dolly Basu and Mallika). The book, published by Harper & Collins, has already been released in London. The Book's introduction says, "This is a book on Real Indian cooking for Busy Living."
Despite Mamata Banerjee's rally that drew between 3 lakh to 20 lakh people as per guesstimates, the Oxford Bookstore was packed. Only once earlier did I see such attendance at the Oxford and that was when Gopal Krishna Gandhi released a book on Mrinal Sen in his presence.
Mallika started writing blogs on cooking while in London and soon after the blogs became popular that it matured into a book. 
As a hardcore Indian foodie I really enjoyed the discussion that was moderated by Doel with Mallika and Bickram Ghosh actively participating. While referring to one of the paragraphs from the Book which mentioned that Vodka helped in cooking food, Bickram jokingly said that this means Sundeep cannot cook good food because he doesn't drink. 
Anyway, I think it is one-of-its-kind cooking book with its share of unique recipes. With the author sharing her experiences, it is good light reading about heavy food.
ess bee

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New initiatives for the city

In the last four or five days I have been planning two new projects. First is the Student for Students project under the Education for All scholarship scheme. The second is the planting of one lakh tree saplings in and around Kolkata over the next 12 months. The Sheriff of Kolkata, Utpal Chatterjee, is planning to initiate this project. He called for a meeting at The Conclave that was attended by the Commissioner of Police, Gautam Mohan Chakraborty, Saurabh Chaudhuri, Conservator of Forests, IFS (Govt of West Bengal), Mr Harsh Neotia and a representative of Rotary Clubs.
In the next day of the meeting, I placed a proposal that we expect to finalise in our next meeting. Since both these projects required considerable deskwork and time, I missed out on a lot of events in the city where I was invited. I was not able to attend the French Consulate’s reception at Hyatt nor was I able to attend the reception of Friends of Nepal at HHI. Not just that, I could not make it to the launch of the Bengali channel Mahua at the ITC Hotel.
And then, there was the Kolkata Police Coca Cola Friendship Cup 2010 yesterday that was graced by the renowned Brazilian footballer Romario. Mr P K Tiwari of the Mahua Channel was also there. As I had missed the opportunity to meet them earlier, I made it up later in the evening at the ITC Health Club and said hello to them.
Tomorrow I shall attend Mallika’s book launch at the Oxford Bookstore. Mallika is the elder daughter of Dolly di who is a personal friend of ours. However, I will miss the comedy show of Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood at the ITC Hotel since it’s timing is clashing with the book launch.
Theatres and comedy films are my favourite pastimes. I have picked up about 15 comedy films from North America, besides our Mr Beans, hoping to watch it at home but have not been able to see a single film so far. I also had plans to see the movie Inception but had to call it off at the last minute.
The fact that most often we end up doing things our hearts don’t desire, and miss out on those things that we want to, haunts me. May be this is the price one has to pay for leading an active social life.
ess bee

Monday, July 19, 2010

The importance of RSVP

I was at a friend’s for the weekend lunch. The small gathering was quite a mix of politicians, bureaucrats, artists, industrialists and diplomats and their better halves. After the starters and mocktails, we all were about to settle in for the main course on the dining table with nametags marking the seating arrangement for the guests.
Just then, a couple announced their arrival. Quite well known as they are, I bet most Kolkatans would know them by sight.
Their arrival embarrassed the hosts into hasty action to accommodate them on the table whose seating arrangement and layout was planned well in advance.
The hosts immediately instructed his staff to put two more chairs and apologised to the new guests and said that since they did not get any confirmation from their end they had presumed that they would not be able to join the group. The celebrity couple just smiled and said that they had not seen the invite details properly.
In Kolkata it has become a fashion not to reach on time. I mean whatever the invites say, whether 7 pm or 8 pm or 8:30 pm, the guests wouldn’t arrive before 9 pm and say that they have to rush somewhere or they had to make a detour from somewhere to get there and in the process got late. This is precisely the reason why some get-togethers, since the past one year, have started mentioning the duration of the function or reception i.e., 7 to 9 or 7:30 to 10:30 and so on.
This French phrase
`Répondez, s'il vous plaît’ (RSVP) - meaning “please reply” -
is a word that is freely and frequently used in invitations across India but the overwhelming majority of guests and hosts don’t know what it means. The person inviting you would like you to tell him or her whether you accept or decline the invitation. That is, will you be coming to the event or not?
Etiquette rules followed in most Western cultures require that if you receive a formal, written invitation, you should reply promptly. For hosts who are planning a dinner party, a wedding or a reception, this is important from a practical point of view, because they need to know how many people to count on and how much food and drink to provide. More important, though, is the simple courtesy of responding to someone who was nice enough to invite you, even if it is to say that you regret that you will not be able to attend.
Many consider RSVP a polite way of reminding people of something that they should already know. That is - If you receive an invitation, you should reply.
Many invitations come with a response card that you can mail back. Most written invitations will carry the host's telephone number so you can call with your reply, although under strict etiquette rules, a written invitation requires a written reply. Nowadays, invitations often carry a "regrets only" notation at the end. That means that the host will count on your being there unless you tell him or her otherwise.
I have been involved in organising various kinds of functions, dinners and get-togethers from Chetla basti to pockets in Burrabazar to Star hotels and the Raj Bhawan. I can’t recall a single function where even a quarter of the invitees have either confirmed their presence or sent their regrets.
Even for programs where protocols are involved, RSVP is not given the importance it merits. This is the case, even if the host office calls up the guest’s office, especially with the celebrities, politicians and bureaucrats. When you call up their offices sometimes the office does not even acknowledge that they have even received the invite.
I fail to see any reason for not responding to an invite with a line or SMS confirming or regretting one’s presence. Normally when an invite says `Regrets Only’ and someone does not respond then how can the hosts make suitable arrangements.
Not just dinners or lunches, many times I have witnessed that VVIPs and celebs come in late into the auditoriums and the organisers have to face an awkward situation and offend somebody with a request to move over to the second or third row from the first row in order to accommodate them. If the organisers are expecting them, then it is fine, and the onus lies with the organisers to keep provisions for the guests as per protocol. But if the guests or the organisers are at dark about whether an invitee would at all come or not, then it can cause logistical problems ranging from embarrassment to colossal wastage of resources.
The standard norm for a VIP is if that if you get a card it’s a piece of information. An invite is considered to be proper only if it is followed by an SMS or personal call. So many times in my house parties I have to change the sitting arrangements or set up buffets at the last minute simply because some invitees would inform me about at the eleventh hour that they would be late but would join us. The increasing or decreasing headcounts invariably leads to wastage of resources or embarrassment for the hosts.
I think we don’t understand the importance of the meaning that RSVP carries in an invite.
I remember it first started in a marriage card about 15 years back as a practice. Earlier, only the names of the family firm or children used to be mentioned. I have also seen an invitation letter in London that even mentioned the preference for vegetarian or non-vegetarian food and also the time of arrival and departure.
We often blame the traffic for not being able to reach on time, but Is there any excuse for not responding to a RSVP!
ess bee

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Land of the Rising Sun

The land of the rising sun – Japan - is an archipelago of 6852 islands from where each new Earth day begins. The other and older name of Japan is Nippon that literally means `Sun’s origin’ or `rising sun’ in Japanese and is still used for official purposes like money, postage stamps and international sporting events. Like Bharat, the Japanese also call their country Nihon and their language Nihongo and themselves Nihonjins. In some parts of the country the days are long with 17 to 18 hours of sunlight.
The old and historical capital was Kyoto, a large city situated in the heart of Japan. This city is also known as a `magic city’ surrounded by purple haze-mountains seen from afar. Nature has been very kind on this city. The roads and lanes of this city are like a walk through Japan’s history - old houses, old Buddhist temples and shrines, often located next to each other and visited by almost 75 per cent of Japanese.
One such type of temple is the Kiyamuju temple. Kiyamuju is one of the most popular shrines and Buddha temple. It is like our Ajmer Sharif or Vaishno Devi or Tirupati. In fact while climbing on the hill to this temple I felt like I was climbing one of the Indian temple only. Not just the approach, many other things in the temple strikingly similar to our very own temples in India.
In the backyard of the main temple building there were two big stones kept at a distance of 10 meters.  These stones are called future-teller stones. The belief is that if you love somebody and by taking his or her name and walk the distance between the two stones perfectly with closed eyes, one would get his or her love for sure.
I remember there was a huge queue in sub-zero temperature on that hilltop – people out to test the walk to get their love. Once the wish is fulfilled the person comes back to write a thank you in small wooden plate and hangs it on the wall next to these stones. How revered this place is exemplified in the numerous thank you notes in many mainstream languages of the world.
One more thing, the way of hanging that wooden takhti is same as we see at Rani Sati temple in Jhunjhunu Rajasthan or Vindhya Vasini Devi near Mirjapur in Uttar Pradesh. All things were same there only that it was extremely neat and well organised.
 I also saw different kinds of
 tabiz there i.e., for good marriage, love charms, good health, for profit in business, for safety from enemies, for healthy child and so on. Only one tabiz I could not see there which is very common in our country in the world of tabiz and tuna totka that was a tabiz to bless with a boy child.
There was a metal statue as well. I saw one person was rubbing his right shoulder on the statue. The belief is that the pain in any part of the body would be mitigated or cured if rubbed on the metal statue. I smiled as it reminded me of Ramdev ji Maharaj’s temple where I has seen someone gently rubbing the stomach on the statue to get rid of pain.
There is so much of similarity in the popular religious beliefs of Japan and India. It is so because of Buddhism’s spread to the Far East from India.
I travelled extensively through Japan and it was very interesting to see the modern temples of Japan – the huge factories of Panasonic, National, Toyota, Sanyo and even the famous Asahi Beer factory. At that time Japan had the fastest train system in the world and I did make a trip in that as well (picture).
I haven’t been to Japan since 2002. Let me see if I can go to attend one of the forthcoming Summits. I am eager to see how much has changed in Japan in these eight years.
ess bee

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Five types of countries



Yesterday I met the Chairman of India Centre Foundation (ICF), Mr Vidhav Kant Upadhyay. He came to invite me with one of our common friends for extending me the invitation for the Indo-Japan Global Partnership Summit 2010 to be held in Tokyo from 13th to 15th December 2010 to celebrate 10 years of Indo-Japan Global Partnership.
It is said that there are five types of countries in the world – the developing countries, developed countries, under-developed countries, Argentina and Japan. Most of us are aware of the first three types of countries, but of us can read these two countries that are unique.
Argentina is a country blessed with everything from agriculture, minerals to human and natural resources. All that is needed to power economic growth, development and prosperity. Yet the country is mired in a mess, economically as well as politically.
As for Japan, just the opposite holds good. There are hardly any minerals, natural resources or land to support and sustain a large population. Yet it is among the most developed country in the world.
I was in Japan in 2002 for a training program at the AOTS Institute and during that time I studied, travelled and saw the country very closely. Four islands namely Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu forms the island nation Japan.
The main activity centres are Honshu followed by Hokkaido. The other two islands are lowly populated and hardly any activities take place.  The main cities of Japan are Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
Kyoto is the historical capital of Japan and home to the Royal Family. During my training period in Japan I visited all the three cities and many industrial clusters and units as well. I also saw the Royal Palace (picture).
Japan has too many things that distinguish it from the other countries. As far as land area is concerned it is just about the same size as Germany but 60 per cent of the land is mountainous and can hardly be used. About 22 per cent of the land is suitable for agriculture and the remaining 18 per cent is only available for the purpose of setting up residences, industries and other human uses. Despite land constraints, Japan is one of the most productive nations in the world.
The per-kilometre productive capacity is $16.9 million in Japan while it is only $8.2 million per kilometre in the United States. The population density in the USA was 50 persons per sq km against Japan’s 1400 persons per sq km according to 2002 figures.
Despite dense population and low availability of productive land, Japan was the richest country in the world with $3500 average per capita income.
Highly punctual, extremely labourious and full of confidence – these may be the reasons for their success.
There are a lot of cultural similarities between India and Japan. Both the nations are religious, footwears are placed outside the house, the elder person is the head of the family. Girls normally do not work after marriage and take to managing the household. Instead of shaking hands or hugging, the Japanese prefer to gently bow themselves to greet and show respect to others.
During my training I was surprised to know that the main problem of the country was not the population growth but a diminishing population base.
The average age in Japan is the highest in the world with the male at 77 years and females at 81 years.
As per the projections made in 2002, the population of Japan is estimated to come down to 60 million by 2100 i.e., more than half of 126 million with 60 per cent above 55 years.
The reason behind this is the changing social perception among Japanese girls who think marriages as a detriment to the pursuit of careers and fulfilling their ambitions.
ess bee

Friday, July 16, 2010

When will we ever learn

The police could not find out the unknown hand that embossed the initials on my wife's car (picture)but the incident has made me think about it in the larger perspective. The psyche behind destroying someone’s material possessions and defacing national monuments remains the same.
There could be several causes for these acts of vandalism but one thing is for sure that these vandals do it consciously and cautiously so that they are not caught while they are at it.  I feel ashamed that I cannot even think of a single piece of architecture in my country, especially the heritage sites -that has not been ravaged by our very own people.
Sometimes these acts have drawn sharp criticism from people of other countries, my guests, who I accompany sometimes to show around tourist sites. I myself have been to more than 50 countries and never did I see such shameless acts of vandalism on national monuments.
Is this an Indian trait- a unique one at that I wonder? Why is it that people engaged in the act are not just the “illiterate” or “economically backward” but the “educated” and what may be termed as “privileged”? I remember an “educated” acquaintance of mine once boasting that he had inscribed his name along with the name of a girl he was dating at that time on a wall in the Taj Mahal. I was aghast and tried to make him realize that this act was hardly a way to profess his love and that it was a crime to deface this architectural wonder - a matter of pride for all the Indians. Although this was several years ago I could not forget this. It is another matter that this acquaintance of mine happens to be married to another woman and today belongs to the upper echelons of the society. I wonder what his views are now. Has he thought of immortalising his marital relationship by scribbling on the walls of pyramids or a corner of the Eiffel Tower
The very basis of such an act stems from an utter disregard for another’s property.  One derives such a perverse pleasure committing the act that he will go to any length to rationalise this. Walls in India are considered to be public property -so one is not surprised to find freshly painted walls covered with political graffiti or abstract art created by the ubiquitous paan masala
The fact that India’s literacy rate is 66 per cent has very little to do with the education in the real sense of the term. A country of paradoxes - that is what India is. For every Amartya Sen you will find one who would exterminate a woman in the name of “honour killing”, if there is a Brahmos that is fired there is also a child who dies below the age of five.  Metros are the lifeline for speedy connectivity in a metropolis but we still cannot do away with a man-pulled rickshaw or a bullock cart. There is not much difference between a rape, a murder in the name of protecting the family, beheading statues, defacing monuments, spitting paan, defacing on walls ….. or coming back to where I began, scratching on someone’s new car. And the vandals are not some poor illiterate kids but educated, modern and sometimes “successful” among the homo sapiens species who love trespassing.
ess bee

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Van Mahotsav



I was at the State Assembly today afternoon for the Van Mahotsav function. Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore had first popularised Van Mahotsav – the festival of planting trees in the month of July - in Shantiniketan.
The Government of India officially initiated this festival in 1950 through politician, educationist and environmentalist K M Munshi, who was also the then Union Minister for Agriculture & Food, to create enthusiasm in the mind of the people for conservation of forests.
It was good to see representatives from all the political parties on the dais - a rare sight in Bengal of late. Besides the Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim and the Deputy Speaker, Asim Dasgupta (Finance Minister), Robin Mandal (Chief Whip CPI-M), Manas Bhuiyan (StateCongress Party President) and Partho Chatterjee (Leader of the Opposition) were there at the function. Not only were they all on the dais, including I, but also planted trees together amid recitation of shlokas (picture).
It is indeed a nice feeling to see members from the three major political parties together to plant mango saplings that would bear fruit for the next generation. Trees are a worthy cause for the politicians to transcend their differences and come together to do something for the next generation.
I recall last year when I was in People’s Republic of Korea I was requested to attend a function for planting a tree with their deputy external affairs minister at the National Park in Seoul (picture). Important representatives of other countries were also there at the function. What I witnessed was that even the tree planting was so well organised down to the minor details like customised tools and implements for digging the soil, pouring water, hand gloves etc.
Yesterday at the Assembly, it was again a nice experience to plant a tree followed by the Rabindra Sangeet, dance and traditional Van Mahotsav songs.
Planting trees do take place on many occasions in India and across the world. But it is not enough. The problem is that we have more tree cutters than tree planters. Has anyone ever spared a thought that had our earlier generation not planted trees there would have been no fruits for our generation after twenty years.
If every one of us planted a single tree a year we would have done a lot to save our habitat and the future from global warming.
ess bee

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grand old man of Indian politics




Received a message that Balram Jakhar will be in Kolkata on July 18th for a day. Balram Jakhar who has been a former Lok Sabha Speaker, ex agriculture minister and a former Governor of Madhya Pradesh has been in the Parliament at various times.
At present Jakhar sahab is probably the oldest politician in the country. I would call him the grand old man of Indian politics. I remember the last time when he was at my home, he told me over breakfast that he felt good coming to Bengal as this was the state where veteran politicians, older than himself, resided.
I have lost count as to how many times Jakhar ji has been to my place (file picture) in the past two decades, each time holding a prestigious but different post. My visitor’s book has a number of comments from him. He is still active at this age and has an excellent memory.
Jakhar ji was the first Indian to be elected Chairman of the Executive Committee of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association - a world organisation of member of parliamentarians and legislators of Commonwealth countries - headquartered in Westminster, London. The Queen of England is the patron of the organisation and the Presidents of all Commonwealth countries its vice patrons.
Talking about CPA, I remember when West Bengal Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim was elected as the Chairman of CPA executive committee I gave a reception at my home inviting the local Cabinet as well as Speakers from other state assemblies. Actress Jayapradha was also there as a woman member of CPA executive committee at that time (file picture: Mr Balram Jakhar, Hon’ble Governor of Madhya Pradesh and former Chairman of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Executive Committee, Hon’ble Mr K Rahman Khan, Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha, Hon’ble Mr. Suresh Reddy, Speaker, Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, Smt Jaya Prada, MP and Member of Commonwealth Women Parliamentary Association, Hon’ble Mr Mata Prasad Pandey, Speaker, Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly, Hon’ble Mr T N Haokip, Speaker, Manipur Legislative Assembly & Hon’ble Mr Mingma Tshering Sherpa, Deputy Speaker, Sikkim Legislative Assembly  with  newly-elected chairman of CPA executive committee,Hashim Abdul Halim and Dr Prabha Khaitan (all designations held were as on the day of the event)).
I had kept Gram Bangla as the reception theme and guests were requested to arrive on rickhshaws from the road to the main gate of my house. Jakhar sahab was thrilled seeing this arrangement and while he was boarding the rickhshaw I wanted to give him my hand in support which he politely refused and climbed on to the rickshaw on his own (file picture) saying let me check how fit my body is. 
When he was the Governor of Madhya Pradesh, he had invited me several times to visit Bandhavgarh where there was a very well located guesthouse. Though I have always wanted to, but have not been able to visit the place.
Prior to becoming the Governor of MP, Jakhar ji lost the Lok Sabha elections from my native district Churu. Though he was very confident of winning, the chat was that he was a victim of in-house party (Congress) politics.
Even after his loss he retained his jolly mood and had once said that politicians should be in politics if they afraid of losing elections.
ess bee

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chasing status! Become an Honorary Consul

I got a call from my well-known industrialist friend from South India seeking a favour. He wanted me to recommend his friend as an Honorary Consul of any country in Kolkata. Further, my friend requested me to leverage my excellent diplomatic contacts in Delhi and arrange for him to meet some of the ambassadors who could be instrumental in appointing his friend as their Honorary Consul. 
Becoming an Honorary Consul is a status symbol among the industrialists in Kolkata and may be elsewhere too. In the past five years the number of Honorary Consuls in our city have increased rapidly. It is perceived as a ticket to a charmed circle and a gateway to the round-the-year parties in Star hotels where you get to meet and rub shoulders with the high and the mighty and the glitterati (picture: Saugato Roy, Suvaprasanna and Subrata Mukherjee at a reception in a leading city hotel).
Basically, Honorary Consuls are akin to the trade representatives or those who articulate or facilitate trading interests of their respective countries in designated areas. There was a time when very few were appointed Consul Generals and were delegated with the power to issue visas. Initially, the countries used to appoint only those with whom they had strong business connections.
But over the last few years this has been done away with. In some cases the persons who just happened to visit that country for the first time ended up becoming an Honorary Consul. In other cases, it has become a family affair with the post of Honorary Consul being passed on to another member of the family.
These days the post of Honorary Consul is being chased as a status symbol. It is seen as a gateway or ticket to the government functions where the Who’s Who of the city throngs. For the nouveau riche industrialists in city, this is an easy way to mingle with bureaucrats, diplomats and celebs.
The trade off for taking care of the logistics for the ambassadors and visitors of the country they represent is hardly much in terms of what they are out to seek and leverage in our own society.
It is, however, unfair to paint all Honorary Consuls with a tainted brush. There are Honorary Consuls who have added a lot of respect and understanding for the country they represent in Kolkata. But they are rare and are seldom seen in these weekly receptions or parties nor do they have a need to be recognized by this post.
In the last seven years I have been approached by the representatives of three different countries with proposals to become their Honorary Consul in Kolkata. I have declined their offer because I have strong reservations in putting up the national flag of another country on my car, office or residence.  However, one of the Honorary Consul’s office in Kolkata did extend to me a position on paper and issued an airport permanent entry card that gave me access to the restricted areas.
With due respect to all my friends who are Honorary Consuls, I am not at all comfortable being an Indian citizen and representing some other country. Many times I have had arguments on this issue with my well-wishers and friends.
Why become an Honorary Consul when I continue to receive all kinds of invitations from the government and the diplomatic corps. In fact I am not able to cope up with my current quota of invitations.
What can the tag of an Honorary Consul bring other than the guilt of representing some other nation in my own country.
At the end of the day it is a matter of personal choice. But there is little room for doubt that the office of the Honorary Consul is gradually being demeaned.
ess bee

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vandalraaj!

Last week someone scratched my wife’s brand new  car. Being new, the scratch stuck out like a sore thumb (pictures). My residence is located in a building in one of Kolkata’s prime locations where the residents are mostly highly educated and well endowed.
I registered a complaint at the local police station. The initial inquiry seems to point the needle of suspicion to my own building as it was done at night, sometime between 12 pm to 4:30 am, when the main gates are closed to the outsiders.
It set me wondering as to what benefit or kick can anyone get out of such an act. What amazes me is the sheer amount of energy and pains taken by the vandal who even risked the possibility of getting caught in the act. 
This reflects a sick mentality and it afflicts the so-called `high society’ or prime areas in the city as much as any other place.
Getting the damage fixed, though it involves additional expenses, is hardly the issue compared to when I think where our society is headed. Despite education, globalisation and improving standard of living the mind set remains narrow and parochial.
Graffiti on the walls of the government buildings, public toilets and train compartments is commonplace. But now I know that it very much extends to the upmarket areas as well. Whether it is defacing any wall, toilets, new cars or putting chewing gum on theatre seats or for that matter distorting or tearing down posters - the mindset is the same. Even the statues of national figures are not spared. In a recent incident that caused public outrage, mischief mongers had dabbed the statue of Gandhi ji with blue paint.
The fact that there are too many people out there who get a kick out of such act is for everybody to see. Our whole city itself is the proof and the victim of this kind of thinking disorder. It would be unfair to blame only the uneducated people. Multiplexes are largely visited by the educated and the well-heeled, yet it has its own share of woes to address.
Vandalising property and defacing walls it seems is fast becoming a national past time. This should not come as a surprise in a country where we have Gandhi brand of biris and Subhash wine stores. And to top it all, a gentleman who appeared in a popular Scotch ad even became the health minister of the country.
Those who have honed their skills in such acts are only a step away from damaging public property – breaking glasses of train windows, setting buses afire, vandalising shops and phone booths etc. We hardly protest and have come to accept it as a part of our Indian life. This has paved the way for a Vandalraaj.
Sixty years after independence we haven’t learnt to preserve and safeguard our public property.
When will we ever learn.
ess bee

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A different gathering

Last evening I was at the Hotel Hyatt for the American Independence Day celebrations. Ms Beth Payne, American Consul General in Kolkata, was there at the function (picture: Beth Payne). I know her personally and we have attended many social programmes together.
Besides own her profession, Ms Payne is involved in various social activities. She is a very warm and kind-hearted person, a good photographer and one of the finest diplomats Kolkata has had.
As expected, after crossing tight security protocols at the Hyatt Ball Room and greeting Beth, I realized that the crowd was a little different from the usual crowd that one gets to see at the Consul parties. Apart from the regular Page 3 people and diplomats, it was good to see IPS officers, politicians, artists and even educationists in the gathering (picture: Devi Kar and Sujata Sen).
Saugata Roy discussed with me about the book Kaifi and I that I had sent him recently. Devi Kar, Prinicipal of Modern High School inquired about Asian women writing books. 
British Council director Sujata Sen asked me about any new programs that I was doing. I told her about today’s programme Karuna. She was thrilled and said she too was an animal lover.
She wanted to join the next programme of Karuna.
At the reception I met Jogen Chowdhury and invited him for today’s function as well. It was good to be in a reception where the crowd was more cerebral.
Today evening was there at the pamphlet distribution programme at the South City Mall
 under project Karuna (picture: pamphlet distributionwhich is the a project of the Debasree Roy Foundation supported by Prabha Khaitan Foundation and aimed at caring for animals and creating awareness. Sabyasachi Chakraborty was there along with Jogen da. For about an hour both of them distributed awareness pamphlets with Debasree Roy and I.
ess bee