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, September 29, 2010

A380 - Luxury in the sky

I arrived in Kolkata via Dubai today morning. On board the Dubai-Kolkata flight, I met Ravindra Chamaria and Mrigank Dhanuka. The Dubai to Kolkata flight seemed very ordinary especially after my extraordinary experience that preceded my arrival in Dubai via Emirates EK2 flight from London on board the largest passenger airliner in the world.
A new experience awaits you once on board the wide-bodied-multi-deck super jumbo Airbus 380 aircraft that brags 14 first class seats and 76 business class seats on the upper deck and 427 economy seats on the lower deck. I think this one was the best commercial aircraft that I have ever availed in my life that has so far taken me to around 60 countries across the globe. I'd call it luxury on clouds
The four-engined Airbus 380 aircraft, I was told, has the same configurations only in long sectors like Dubai-Toronto with 399 economy class seats instead of 427 since it houses a crew rest area.
My business class seat was as good as the first class seat of any other airlines with only more head space and less noise. There was a lounge bar to cater to the business class passengers with an excellent range of wines including GreyGoose wine, Royal Salute and 21-year Chivas Regal and other malt whiskeys. Forget about USBs and mobile chargers and entertainment programs, there was a private mini fridge with every business class seat having cans of soft drinks, juices and Evian mineral water.
The best part – a dedicated personnel to keep each of the washrooms spic and span – something that I have never seen on any other flight. The first class and business class seats were all filled up. I don't know about the economy class as the access to the lower deck was closed from both the sides.
From the Emirates business class lounge at the London airport we straight boarded the aircraft by stepping out of the lounge door. I saw the first class section of the aircraft that was structured like a private mini suite with provision for two showers and, of course, all other modern amenities and two dedicated staff at your beck and call. 
Thoughts of my good old days in Rajasthan, when I used to commute on bullock and camel carts to the school, flashed across my mind. And here I was, part of a system that provides showers or `flight spas' while on air. From the cart to the craft, it has been quite a journey.
Thanks to the crew supervisor who guided and helped  me get acclimatized with the systems on board. She also informed me that currently these super luxury air flights were operational only in select sectors linking Dubai with London, Toronto, Bangkok, Incheon, Jeddah, Manchester and Beijing. Dubai-New York is expected to take off later this month. I also gathered that the crew of A380 are a dedicated and especially trained lot and only service A 380 flights.
ess bee

Monday, September 27, 2010

At the House of Lords

St James Hotel, London: I went to attend the award function that was followed by a reception-cum-dinner at the House of Lords.
I have been to the House of Lords many a times before to see the sessions, attend functions and at times to meet some of the members over lunch or tea. But today I was there for a very different reason, I was honoured with the `Special Achiever' Award at the function. The Indian Ambassador to UK, Mr Nalin Suri presented the Award to me (picture) in the presence of MPs, ministers, diplomats and many prominent Indian community members in London. I met Lord Kakkar, Baroness Usha Parisar, Shailesh Vara MP, Priti Patel MP and others.
Today's function was a a follow up of yesterday's Award function at Kent where I was awarded the Pride of India Leadership Award by Baroness Verma (picture). This Award is instituted by the NRI INSTITUTE.
I was overwhelmed. So many people came forward to congratulate me. I was introduced to the guests and the invitees. It was my moment of glory.
Tomorrow I shall fly back to Kolkata.
ess bee

24 Indian pilots and the Summer of 1940

From St James Hotel, London: It is 2 AM in London 6:30 am in India. I went to Kent, a small town on the outskirts of London. The last time I visited Kent was in 1994 . Kent county is one of the greenest in whole of England.
I met Alan Marsh who is a Cabinet member for Public Health and Innovation. While talking over dinner about India-Britain relations, he shared with me a very interesting piece of history linking Kent and India.
Kent's India link goes back to the summer of 1940 when Britain was in the thick of WWII and the skies above Kent reverberated with the deathly rumblings of German bombers. That was a time when most of the European states had fallen and only Britain stood alone against Germany in war.
In the summer and autumn of 1940, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) had launched an aerial campaign against Britain and the Royal Air Force(RAF) to gain air superiority. In 1940, 24 Indian pilots came to England as part of the Commonwealth team to assist Britain in the war. Within a year, twelve of these young Indian men who took to the skies were killed in the decisive battle that was fought in the skies above Kent.
The Battle of Britain carries a very special significance for the people of Kent who have been observing the Battle of Britain each year in September. Last week Kent observed the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. A lone Spitfire MK9 aircraft, called theSpirit of Kent that was in action in WWII, flew over all the old Battle of Britainairfield watched by the families of the new generations and others.
In the same week when Kent was preparing for the 70th Anniversary, Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Puji, DFC, died at the age of 92 in Kent. He was the last of the 24 Indian pilots who came to fight 70 years ago. Very few pilots who took part in the action in 1940 are alive today.
Mahinder flew sorties throughout the war not only in Europe but also in all the other war zones, including Burma. He was awarded the DFC for saving the lives of many West African troops under the command of the US against the Japanese attack. Earlier this year he had published his story called For King and Another Country. After the war, Mahinder went back to India and once even took Prime Minister Nehru for a flight on a glider.
Till today, the people of Kent are grateful and proud of the pilots, including the 24 Indian pilots, and especially Mahinder who survived the war and came back to settle in Kent in 1974. Mahinder had a special permission to wear his RAF wings on his turban. Many tributes have been paid to Mahinder. His contribution is recognized in the RAF Museum at Cosford.
While driving back to my Hotel from the historical war town of Kent amid heavy showers, I kept thinking about the 24 Indian pilots whose sacrifice the people of Kent have kept alive in their memories. They are all a part of a history that some experts consider to be the turning point of the War.
ess bee

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Changing profile of a city

St James Crown Plaza Hotel, London: Sunday today arrived at Gatwick airport from the Emirates.
On Friday, I had cancelled the trip to London but again re-booked on Saturday for a two-night trip to London to receive an award at the House of Lords. For the past 10 years, like many other Indian travellers, St James has been my address in London. This hotel is owned the Taj Group and managed by Crown Plaza.
I have keenly observed the changes that London has undergone since my first visit in 1994. The city's profile has changed rapidly in the past 15 years. The Britishers are hardly in London. One has to visit the country side to see the real British families and the British culture.
A large number of British families have shifted from London to Barcelona and Madrid. The housekeeping and room services jobs in the hotels that were once with the Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Filipinos and immigrants from other Asian countries, have, by an large, been replaced by the Romanians, Polish, Czechs and workers from countries that were under the former Soviet Union. It is hard to believe the amazing rate at which the number of personnel from these countries have multiplied.
If you are in Victoria Station or Kingcross and seek directions you are likely to get a reply “Sorry I am new here.” The mini cab business is still very much controlled by the Bangaldeshis and some Punjabis. I remember about a decade back, if one inquired from an Asian, he or she would invariably say that they were either from Indian, Pakistan or Bangladesh. But the same query now and they'd say they are from London.
While availing the Emirates drop service from Gatwick to St James , the person who was driving me told me his name was Mohammed and he was from London. After a few minutes of driving I got a call from Kolkata on my cellphone. When I hung up, the driver asked me in Bengali “Dada apni ke Bangla janen?” (Do you know Bengali?)
I learnt that Mohammed was from Bangladesh and had shifted to London with his whole family 15 years ago. For Mohammed, and many others like him, when asked about their home country they say they are from “London”. To know about the native country one has to rephrase the query, in fact, the new terminology is “What is your motherland?” 
The quality of service at the St James Hotel had declined about four or five years back. But from the last two years it has improved and is back on track. No wonder, the Hotel and its 342 rooms and 82 apartments next door are all booked for this week. St James address remains a favourite place for Indian politicians , film stars and cricketers especially with the 51 Buckingham Gate Apartments next door.
During my last visit in March this year I was discussing about London with David Burner the head concierge and perhaps the only Britisher at least I could spot among the hotel staff. David has been working at St James Hotel for the last 38 years. Even he agreed that London has changed a lot.
Today evening I will go to attend the  Function at Kent being organised by the NRI INSTITUTE.
ess bee

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kolkata Film Festival 2010 - on a low note

Yesterday I was at Nandan for the tea function which is a run up to the forthcoming 16th Kolkata Film Festival to be held next month. The tea  party is held every year prior to the main event and is attended by many industrialists. Though the Chief Minister has announced that the Film Festival would be a low-key affair this year, I was taken aback by the amazingly low turnout at the tea party. In stark contrast to the past years, this year, apart from Mahendra K Jalan, no other industrialists attended the tea party. I found it hard to believe that this was happening in Kolkata - the cultural capital of India and one of the foremost film-loving cities of India. At the tea party, hosted by the chief secretary, all leading members from the corporate world and industry, who patronise the film festival, were invited. It is during this tea party the outline plan of the film festival in announced.
I met Tarun Majumdar, Nilanjan Chatterjee of Nandan and Niloy Ghosh, Special Secretary, Cultural Affairs, at the function. I was not supposed to be there at that time as I was scheduled to go to London and catch the 8:30pm flight to the Emirates. But due to numerous factors on the work front, I had to call off the trip around 4 pm. This year the number of films to be screened during the festival has been reduced drastically. But it was announced that the focus has been on the quality of films. Mr Nilanjan Chatterjee also announced that there would be no extravagant expenses during the Film Festival.
I really miss the film festival evening parties that I have been closely associated with for quite some time now. I recall that a couple of years back I had organised and hosted the farewell party for the Kolkata Film Festival which is still remembered as a sort of record for being one of the largest and most attended parties in Kolkata.
ess bee

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pratibha ji in Kolkata

President Pratibha Patil was in Kolkata today. I called on her, it was a courtsey visit. 
I have known Pratibha ji since she became the Governor of Rajasthan. She has attended many functions requested or organised by me in my home district in Rajasthan as well as in Kolkata. When she was announced the President of India, I could not believe that she was at my residence for dinner a few days prior to the announcement.
The last time she was in Kolkata as the President of India, I went to meet her along with Hashim Abdul Halim, Speaker, West Bengal Legislative Assembly, Syed Md Masiah, chief whip, and Dilip Bannerjee, author of the book Election Recorder (picture).
But today I met her alone and after the pleasantries I presented her with my book Aapbiti Jagbiti (picture). The book was recently published by Rajkamal Prakashan and I have received very few copies in the first lot. The is expected to be in the market in a week or two. I have done anything to formally launch the book but yes, I did present one copy of the book to Shabana Azmi when she came to Kolkata earlier this month. Pratibha ji asked me about the contents of the book and expressed surprised on learning that I had written the book. She had no idea about my interest in writing. At the Raj Bhawan I also met Partho Chatterjee, Sudip Bandhopadhyay and Pradip Bhattacharya. Pradip da told me that he enjoyed reading travelogues and could read Hindi. He requested me to send a copy of the book to him.

ess bee

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time Management

My last weekend schedule went haywire. I was supposed to be in Vellore to attend the Vellore Institute of Technology Model United Nations Conference (VITMUN 2010) as a guest and keynote speaker. Accordingly, I had made all my travel arrangements and was ready to fly off to Chennai but some major last minute developments that needed my presence left me with no alternative but to cancel my Vellore trip. 
I am actually having a trying time with time management. So many things keep popping up from different quarters in the eleventh hour taking its toll on my commitments and itinerary.
On Sunday evening, I went to the Birla Sabhaghar to attend a program to mark the 150th Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore organised by Techno India. Several programs are being held in Kolkata to mark the 150th Anniversary of Tagore.
I was particularly interested in this program because Satyam Roy Chowdhury (file pic) and Tripti Chakraborty were performing at the function. Both of them are well known to me. Though neither of them professional artistes but are nevertheless very talented and gifted performers. It was a great evening with the stage setup elegantly done up. I met singer Babul Supriyo, journalists Gautam Bhattacharya and Kunal Ghosh and other friends.
The song and poetry recital was preceded by a book launch of Ranjan Bandhopadhaya. He was very happy to see me as I was not supposed to be in Kolkata due to the Vellore program. I will miss two more city events next weekend which I want to attend.
The first being the party of theatrist Bratya Basu on 25th of September. Bratya had told me about it and requested my presence more than a month back. Second, there is a play at Kalamandir on the 26th of September for which I have already booked tickets for the choicest seats for me and my friends.
Now it seems that I shall not be in a position to attend either of the functions as I have booked a flight for London on the 24th evening to go there and receive the Pride of India Leadership Award instituted by NRI INSTITUTE.
ess bee

Friday, September 17, 2010

Remembering Sethiya ji

Last Week (September 11) was the birthday of Kanhaiyalal Sethiya, one of the most famous poet and thinker of Rajasthan. He also wrote the famous Rajasthani song Dharti dhoran ri which is like a state anthem. He was one of the most popular modern Rajasthani poets, litterateur, freedom fighter and social activist. 
A Padmashree and winner of Sahitya Academy Award and other prestigious awards, Sethia ji was one of the persons who inspired me to take up social work. His patriotic fervour for Rajasthan is a thread that is evident in all his works.
I don’t exactly remember when I first met him. We were both from Sujangarh in Rajasthan. He was my inspiration since my school days and I used to spend hours with him visiting him every now and then (picture). My earliest memories of our first meeting goes back to my schooldays in Sujangarh when I was in Class V and he had given me a medal.
Sethiya ji enjoyed great respect in Rajasthan and beyond. Throughout his life he fought for the Rajasthani language to be the official language under the Indian Constitution. His 20 years of efforts and perseverance finally bore fruit. I still remember by heart another of his lengthy poems called Pithal aur Pathal.
Sethia ji’s house in Kolkta was a must-visit destination for many prominent personalities from Rajasthan. In fact, when Pratibha Patil visited Kolkata to confer on him the first Pravasi Pratibha Puraskar, instituted by the Rajasthan Foundation Kolkata, Sethia ji could not attend the function due to ill health. Pratibha ji visited his Bhawanipur house the next morning with me and other officials of the Foundation to personally give the award (picture). I still remember the moment after receiving the Award and the Rs 1 lakh cash component, Sethiya ji immediately pledged the money for public cause.
Sethiya ji is no more with us today. Many organisations celebrate his birthday in Rajasthan, Kolkata and in other parts of India. But he continues to live in the hearts and minds of millions through his poems and songs like Dharti dhoran ri.
ess bee

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Meeting friends in Delhi

Hotel Hyatt: I arrived in Delhi today noon. It has been pouring for the past two or three days, today was a tad better. Delhiites aren’t used to such incessant rains as they are experiencing this year.
I was supposed to be in the capital yesterday to attend the birthday-cum-felicitation celebration of Ram Jethmalani at 2 Akbar Road. I had to cancel my trip in the last minute due to the inclement weather and also because I wasn’t in a mood for a bumpy flight.
I somehow find Delhi to be very raucous, rude and over ambitious. Surprisingly, the Commonwealth Games is no more a hot topic of discussion in the drawing rooms or parties. The novelty has not only wore off but it also seems that Delhi, tired of the endless scams and allegations of corruption, has taken all this in its stride as being a part of our system. I think most of us are doing the same.
In the evening, I attended a reception at the Hotel Vasant Continental in honour of Dr Ausaf Sayeed, who has just been appointed the Indian ambassador to Yemen. Dr Sayeed and his wife would be leaving for Sana'a in next few days and all his friends and well wishers were invited by Dr Sanjay K Deewan.
Dr Deewan, who happens to be the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Cape Verde and his wife Sangeeta had introduced me to many other known faces of Delhi. I also got to meet many of my old acquaintances after a long time at the get together.
At the dinner table, I was joined by Padma Shri Mr Surinder Mehta, Chairman, Prime Group, his son Rohan Mehta and Ambassador Ahmed Salem-al-Wahishi, Chief Represantative of the League of Arab States Mission. Among others, I also met an old friend K Mahesh, IAS and Ashok Kapoor, IAS, who was Principal Secretary in West Bengal government few years back.
ess bee

Monday, September 13, 2010

Talking to a machine! Not yet

I am not using my mobile phone since I returned from North America about four months back. I have been advised by the doctor not to use the cell phone for health reasons.
I, however, did text messages once during the day and also used my voice mail service to revert back to the callers. For the last forty-five days my voicemail is not working. On calling up my mobile service provider in Kolkata, I was told that there was a technical snag that they were trying to rectify. But till today, after numerous phone calls and requests, the situation has not changed.
I was wondering how thousands of mobile users must have been inconvenienced by the disruption of the voicemail services in the city. Oddly, there weren’t any uproar from any quarters. But facts are often stranger than fiction. To my surprise, top informed sources told me that I was one of the 350 to 400 rare species among the million plus mobile subscribers in the city who used voicemails regularly.
Voicemail, as a communication tool, has many advantages. It is of great value for mobile users who are not able to attend all the calls, and especially those who are on the move. But that is where the virtues rest, at least in India and certainly in Kolkata.
I have had the voicemail service on my mobile ever since I got my first connection. However, what has really puzzled me is the fact that though I get numerous missed calls each day, there are hardly any voice messages on my voicemail from local users.
I have found in my voice mails people saying “Emm…” or sometimes all I get to hear are just “Hellos and hellos, followed by background noise before the call is disconnected. There have been instances when people have called my number repeatedly only to be reverted to my voicemail box but they left no voice message whatsoever.
I rarely get messages on my voice mailbox and even have to sift through the blank messages that are mostly snorts, grunts, hellos and the usual traffic and other background noise. Nevertheless I have to go through each of them with a fine-tooth comb hoping something substantial might pop up.
I think this because people either do not know how to use the voicemail service or they don’t believe in the concept of leaving a message and receiving one. I have asked many people why they did not leave a voice message on my voicemail only to be told how they felt “Shy, silly or strange….. talking to a machine.”
I am quizzed by the fact that while the Indian mobile users have no qualms using SMSes, what is it about the voicemail that keeps them away.  While I leave it to the psychologists and the marketing gurus to find out the answer, I have deduced
my own conclusions for the time being.
While voicemail and recorded messages is a part of the American and Western culture, it is certainly not so in India. In fact, almost 99 per cent of the time you are required to leave a message for the caller to elicit a response.
Efforts to evangelise its use by mobile service providers have fallen flat in India. No wonder, most of my voicemails, invariably, are from my foreign friends and acquaintances.
So we in India are yet to adapt to the voicemail culture and can always prefer to send the less intrusive SMS. And then, there is one of the greatest contributions of mobile telephony and a national phenomenon called the `missed call’ - the art of conveying without active communication.
People have evolved an elaborate communication system, something quite like a mobile Morse Code that factors in one ring, two or more rings, who calls and when etc., to convey to the recipient what is intended. Mostly governed by you-foot-the-bill psychology, the `missed call’ phenomenon has its fair share towards ensuring low voicemail service.
India is one of the fastest growing mobile user bases in the world.
But talking to a machine! Not yet.
ess bee

Saturday, September 11, 2010

ELT centre in Kolkata

Today evening I went to the British Council for the inauguration of the English Language Teaching centre. His Excellency, Governor of West Bengal, Shri M K Narayanan formally launched the centre.
I met Ms Ruth Gee, the regional director, India and Srilanka, British Council division, and Sujata Sen, the director of British Council in Kolkata. I think this English Learning Centre will be good for the city as the Governor very aptly said in his speech that it would teach English-English not the American English.
After the British Council program, I went to the Bengal Chamber of Commerce & Industry to attend another function. This was a very different kind of function as far as any Chamber of Commerce is concerned. It was an adda session with the heroines of yester years who were cast by Satyajit Ray in his films. The programme was moderated by Barun Chanda.
Among the heroines on the dais were Aparna Sen, Alokananda Roy, Madhabi Mukherjee, Uma Dasgupta and Paramita.  They all shared their experiences with Manik da. It was indeed a very different kind of function and I really enjoyed it with Kalyan Ray (picture).
I seldom attend any Chamber of Commerce functions. But this time, I thankfully did or else I would have missed something that was worth attending. Thanks to Khokan Mookerji (picture), the chief mentor of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
ess bee

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Bandhs – Agony or Ecstasy!

September 9: Kolkata witnessed yet another bandh on September 7. We always criticise bandhs but hardly make any effort to protest or stop it. I agree that the Indians’ ability to endure sufferings is legendary and well chronicled in the history books. But this habit of suffering silently is causing severe problems in our democratic system.
Like hartals and chakka jam, bandh is an offshoot of the civil disobedience movement that Gandhi ji had started against the British. Somehow it stuck on even after Independence disrupting social life and causing immense damage to the economy.
Bandhs have even affected International perceptions about India and West Bengal in particular. Needless to say the high incidence of bandhs have dampened West Bengal’s global image scuttling many investment opportunities. The word bandh, meaning shutdown, is among the latest Indian words to be included in one of the editions of dictionary published by Oxford due to its high frequency of usage and everyday reference in English. Even the Supreme Court tried to ban bandhs in 1998.
Bandhs have almost become synonymous with life in Bengal. Have Kolkatans ever thought why the bandhs are always successful in the city compared to the other metros. It is not that the political parties who call bandhs are more violent or always have the government’s tacit support.
I think Kolkatans enjoy bandhs and even look forward to it. Or else, how do you explain the fact that West Bengal has the highest number of bandhs called each year by political parties and organisations of all hues.
Tuesday evening I went to Taj Bengal to see Shabana Azmi’s play Breaking Images (picture: Toni and Raima Sen). The play was fixed up well in advance and much before the bandh was announced. Everybody from the organisers to the cast, the support teams and the guests were left guessing as to what would happen since it was a 24-hour bandh. When the moment of truth came, it was a packed house. The city’s glitterati, industrialists, members of the diplomatic core, artistes, fashion designers and the folks from the film world were all there.
I was talking to the Taj Bengal General Manager, Mr Mohan Chandran, at the cocktails before the play that day and we agreed that is was really amazing to see the turnout on a bandh day.
In fact, I had to postpone my luncheon program with Shabana Azmi and the sponsors of the Education for All project from the 7th to 8th September. On hind thought, it seemed that the bandh day would have had an even better turnout.
I don’t understand that if we can go to see a film, eat in restaurants and watch plays on the bandh day... why can’t we open our offices and work.
Is it not a fact that somehow we want to relax or unwind during bandhs. If the number of people who throng the entertainment centres during bandhs open their offices or attend their workplace, I don’t think the bandhs would enjoy the dubious distinction of being `successful’.
At the end of the day, the public that has the final say in a democracy and must decide whether to enjoy a bandh or end it.
ess bee

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lunch with Shabana

I hosted a lunch with Shabana Azmi at the Taj Bengal today afternoon. The invitees were the sponsors of Education for All project spearheaded by a trust that I initiated in 2000.
I had to shift the luncheon meet from September 7th to 8th due to thebandh on short notice, yet the sponsors attended in good strength. 
Among the invitees who attended were H M Bangur, Satyam Roy Chowdhury, Rajendra Bacchawat, Gopal Poddar, Madhu Neotia and others while Ujjwal Upadhyaya, Pawan Ruia, B D Surekha, Partho Ghosh and few others could not attend due to the change in the program date as they had prior engagements.
Shabana spoke about the need for projects like Education for All and personally reached out to thank each of the sponsors of the project. The guests were overwhelmed by the Kashmiri cuisine as much by the warmth and charm of Shabana. She also liked and admired the paintings at The Taj Bengal banquet.
In the evening I went to watch a play at the Birla Sabhaghar and then to The Conclave for a small and cosy get together to celebrate Suresh Neotia’s birthday. Had dinner there with him along with Madhu Neotia and Hemant Kanoria. Also met Shalen Bhawna Khemani, Kishor and Rita Bhimani and Shridhar Rao, CEO, Vodafone, and his wife.
ess bee

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Family spat sullying Marwari community image

The name Marwari was given in general to describe the people of Rajasthan, especially natives of Marwar region who migrated outside for trade and business. Later, all Rajasthanis were referred to as Marwaris, including the Rajasthani-speaking Muslims.
The term Marwari, which has a certain geographical connotation is supposedly derived from Sanskrit Maruwat or `maru’ meaning desert, is used as a label to refer to all Rajasthanis who are in trade and business.
Kolkata is said to be the second home or a home away from home where generations of Marwaris have lived and thrived. For other communities, Marwaris evoke mixed feelings that personify `entrepreneurship par excellence’, `business acumen’, `rags-to-riches legends’ to that of `wily businessmen’ out to leech others.
The Marwari community, often rightly, is accused of being clannish. I grew up on stories, imagined or real, of how the established Marwaris helped the newcomers of their community to set up a foothold in the City of Joy.
My biological family had a guddi jute business where people from my native district used to come and stay. Not till very recently, did I ever hear a story of two successful eminent and influential Marwari families trying to pull down each other in public.
A recent report in a leading Bengali daily brought into open the spat between the two families of the same community.  The friends-turned-foes affair took a nasty turn with allegations and counter allegations flying in thick and fast. A cocktail of intrigue, power play, manipulations, politics, police, forgery, SMS/CD scams, high drama and media attention surrounds it.
The spat has all the potential to spin out of control. Eminent Kolkatans have received objectionable SMSes and CDs that transcend the bounds of propriety. The close proximity of both the families to a political party has already split the party into different camps. Things have gone worse with the name of an opposition politician being dragged into the matter. Also, behind-the-scene attempts to drum up media support is likely to further vitiate the atmosphere.
When big families fight can politics and media be far behind. I wonder if this is some kind of a new way of sorting out things that the members of the Marwari community have started subscribing to. All this is sullying the image of the Marwari community in Kolkata.
I know both the families and don’t want to pass any judgement as to who is right or wrong. I, however, personally feel that the senior Marwari community members should use their goodwill and experience to stop the mud slinging in public and work out a rapprochement between the two families. The community’s reputation is at stake.
I have heard that in the past whenever there were any disputes between families, Marwaris were the last ones to go to the police or the court and always preferred to settle things through the mediation of a third person or organisation. There is much to learn from our older generations and senior members who laid the foundations of the community over the years in Kolkata.
Being united as a community has been the Marwaris’ greatest strength and the edifice on which all other achievements lie.
The reputation of the community outweighs any personal differences of its members and should thus be resolved at the earliest. Or else, we’ll end up being just a `Mar and War’ community. The choice is ours. Either we get over our differences or go the way the great Roman Empire did.
ess bee

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pronam Annual Day function

Picture: Gautam Mohan Chakrabarty, Arindam Sil, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Sunil Gangopadhyay, H M Bangur, Banibrata Basu, Agnimitra Paul.


Yesterday was the Pronam annual day function. Nearly 700 senior citizens, who are members of Pronam, attended the function. This was the first such celebration and we all were looking forward to it (picture: Agnimitra Paul giving memento & certificate to the best OC, Entally Police Station).
At the function, representatives from three hospitals, liaison officers of three police stations and three OCs of Kolkata Police were given a certificate and a memento each as a token of appreciation (picture: Spl Additional Commissioner of Police -III, Debashis Roy, handing over Pronam membership kit to Krishna Bose)
This was followed by a play of Soumitra Chatterjee and high tea.
At the function, a special card was announced that would be sent to all the members of Pronam. This card would give them access to the VIP gate of all the Pujas under the Kolkata police jurisdiction. The members of Pronam were very happy to hear this.
At the function, it was also announced that an in-house magazine would be published and released on the day of Mahalaya. This would contain the writings contributed by Pronam members. Besides Pronam members, senior representatives of hospitals, Kolkata Police officials and The Bengal team members attended the function.
ess bee

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is Nandan losing its pull!

Yesterday was the 25th Anniversary function of Nandan – Bengal’s cultural hotspot and Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s favourite joint. The invite (picture) for the function had names like Gautam Ghosh, Soumitra Chatterjee, Mrinal Sen and others.
I could not attend the Nandan Anniversary function as I was held back by some of my pressing engagements that were fixed up months in advance. I was hoping to squeeze some time out of my scheduled but could not.
I personally like Nandan very much. It is one of the leading and most popular cultural centres in Bengal - the very heart of India’s cultural MeccaNandan has a certain mass appeal that no other such centres can boast of. We all know how thousands of Kolkatans are drawn to Nandan each day, rain or shine. Nandan is the cultural pulse of Kolkata.
Later in the evening, I heard that the function had a very low glamour quotient with most of the big-name invitees conspicuous by their absence. Apart from Gautam Ghosh and Tarun Majumdar, no other eminent person from the film fraternity turned up for the function. Then there was the chat that other than Sunil Gangopadhyay there were hardly any other known faces to be seen around during the function.
This was strange since any major function at Nandan means, without fail, the presence of familiar and famous faces from the city’s cultural fraternity. This was the 25th Anniversary, which, I think, is a major milestone for an institution that is a cultural icon of Bengal.
Till recently, the eminent persons in the city’s social circuit vied with each other to associate with Nandan and its various programs. But this Silver Jubilee function was a glaring exception. It is common knowledge that Nandan has always been close to the heart of our chief minister. I have personally seen how the city industrialists competed to organise the Annual Film Festival dinner function and proudly associate themselves with the festivities.
I wonder what could have triggered this sudden change of heart and scenario. Is it because associating with Nandan is likely to be labelled as being close to the government and the ruling party thus antagonising the rising opposition party.
If that is the case then I must say that an institution of Nandan’s stature should not be linked to any political party or individual. It is the responsibility of the city’s cultural fraternity to free Nandan of any political colourings.
Apart from this, the film celebs say that the invitations from Nandan always come at the last minute and often they don’t get invited properly and so on.
Whatever be the reason, the Silver Jubilee celebrations went un-noticed. It is not only the responsibility of the Nandan authorities but also of the film and cultural fraternity who have always stood by Nandan in the true spirit of Kolkata.
Roopa Ganguly (picture), who had introduced me to Nandan, was at my home in the evening and we discussed this issue over dinner.
ess bee

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Photography

For the past couple of days I was busy coordinating and monitoring the progress of the forthcoming Pronam programme.
Today I had lunch with the US Consul General in Kolkata, Beth Payne, at my residence. The lunch was long over due and we had fixed up a date for today in advance. Beth is a very down to earth person who also happens to be a good photographer as well.
I think photography is a passion. The vast scope for individual talent, preferences and ideas make it all the more exciting. In fact, some of the rare photographs are very expensive and often surpasses the demand for paintings by renowned artists.
Last Monday, after the formal meeting of The Bengal, renowned artist Jogen Chowdhury (pictures) took the camera of a known photojournalist who was there to cover the post-meeting informal get together, and started taking pictures from different angles. All of us who were there had no idea about Jogen da’s talent in this area.
I have come across many famous personalities who excel in their respective fields or domains and also happen to be very good photographers. Though I get photographed a lot it, however, is not my cup of tea and I hardly have much idea about it.
ess bee