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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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Plastic, play and Pala

I attended The Bengal meeting at The Conclave today early evening (picture: From left: Jogen Choudhury, H M Bangur, Arindam Sil and Sunil Gangopadhyay)
Various issues were discussed about the past activities of the organization as well as the future activities to be taken up. One new project on the agenda of The Bengal is to launch an awareness campaign against the use of low quality use of plastic bags that is legally banned.
Though there is a law banning plastic bags measuring below a certain micron, but it has been very difficult to implement the law and would not be effective till the citizens of Kolkata become aware of the environmental damage caused by the use of such plastic bags. An awareness campaign, The Bengal members felt, was the need of the hour.
It was decided in principle that one market and one road would be adopted by The Bengal, in consultation with the Mayor of Kolkata and Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), as a model that could be replicated elsewhere as part of expanding the awareness campaign.
The Mayor was supposed to attend this meeting for the discussion, but he could not attend as he had gone to the accident site at Nagardeep. He, however, called me on phone and said that he would sit with us on the matter once he returned to Kolkata and also assured me of extending his full cooperation.
On Saturday evening I went to Hotel ITC to watch the comedy play directed by Aamir Raza Husain and Virat Husain. It was a Welcome Theatre production. It was sleazy humour. I enjoyed the popcorns served at the ITC banquet corridor more than the play. I was quite surprised by the crowd, normally in this type of event in Kolkata you get to see familiar faces from the social circuit of Kolkata, but I could not spot any known faces apart from Shukla Sil, wife of Arindam Sil, Purbayan and Taj Bengal general manager Mohan Kumar and his wife Seema.
I met Deepak Haskar in the Hotel's lobby while going to the Pala for the play. Mr Haskar is known to me since the days before he took over as the general manager of Maratha Sheraton in Mumbai. Whenever we cross each other in Kolkata, we fix up a plan to sit in Delhi for a meal or coffee but somehow it has not happened for quite sometime. All my fault. The ITC general manager, who is new in town, seems to have acclimatized himself with the city culture and its ways. Mr Zubin S Songadwal and his wife Monisha were welcoming and greeting everybody at the Pala and it was their warmth that prompted me to cancel all other commitments to spend the Saturday evening at ITC Sonar Bangla.
ess bee

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Brunch with Dr Shija

Today, a little late in the morning, I organised a brunch in honour in Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Secretary General, Dr William F Shija at the Hotel Taj Bengal banquets. Dr Shiza is known to me personally from the time he took charge as Secretary General of CPA office based in Mill Banks (Westminster), London.
The last time when Dr Shija was in Kolkata, he had paid a visit to the ailing former chief minister, Jyoti Basu, who was then admitted at AMRI, Salt Lake. I too had accompanied him and that was also the last time I met or saw Jyoti Basu alive.
Dr Shija was here to attend the Legislative Assembly conference held at Raipur. Kolkata wasn't in his itinerary but he made an overnight visit to see Mr Hashim Abdul Halim, Speaker, West Bengal Legislative Assembly, who was admitted in Apollo Hospitals. Mr Hashim, who has served as the President of the Executive Committee of CPA, has a good working relationship with Dr Shija.
Dr Shija's whistle-stop trip gave me an opportunity to host the brunch, in less than 12-hour notice. My heartiest thanks to all the guests who attended the brunch on short notice. It was a small political get-together and was attended by the chief whip, deputy speaker and other ministers and officials of the West Bengal branch of CPA.
Besides the dignitaries, Rupa and Farook Halim, Fauzia Halim, Arindam Sil and others also joined in at the brunch. Many important international issues were discussed. Dr Shija also thanked me for the kurta pajama set that I gifted him during his last visit.
ess bee

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Life’s like that

During my recent visit to Amritsar, I asked my driver on way to the hotel from the airport,  “What is the population of Amritsar.” Very smartly he replied that it was more than Ludhiana. At the new airport restaurant, where I had stepped in as my flight was delayed by two hours, I inquired if brown toast was available with tea. The waiter earnestly said that he would toast the white bread brown for me.
We are often amused by such innocuous answers from our day-to-day interactions with others. I was looking for brown bread in the land of makhan (butter), ghee (clarified butter), parantha  and lassi. It happens in almost every part of our country and beyond.
Life’s like that.
I recall, I was at the Delhi-Bikaner House and someone asked the driver of a direct coach to Jaipur – “Will it go directly to Jaipur.” The driver had innocently replied, “No. Bahror is on the way via Gurgaon.”
Several times on the Kolkata-Delhi flight, people known to me have come up to me after the take off and asked, “Are you going to Delhi?” or “Where are you going to?”
Though it is mostly funny, sometimes, depending on your mood, one may find such queries very irritating and stupid. Well, whether people casually ask these questions to break the ice and start off a conversation or they do it in right earnest is something we can only surmise. Sometimes, after the airhostess distribute the newspapers on flight, I have heard passengers inquire if it were today’s newspaper.
Last week, inside Hall 4 at the Inox Forum, just as the movie was about to start a couple known to me entered and while passing by asked me which movie I had come to see. When I said “Jai Hanuman,” they realized what a question they had asked.
In India, there are lots of jokes on Sardars, Bengalis, Punjabis, Gujratis, Marwaris, Biharis and South Indians. I think these funny jokes, targeting different communities, are there because we want to highlight the funny or foolish aspects of the other community without realizing that the other communities do the same with us. The content remains the same, only the name of the community changes.
This has got to do with a certain psychology that seeks out a reason to spark off conversation.
During my trips to European countries, so many times I have noticed tourists standing on the platform and the platform number clearly indicated or displayed in front of them. Yet they would confirm from the ticket examiner that number of the platform. Similarly, many tourists, despite seeing the destination clearly mentioned on the coaches of the train, would crosscheck it was indeed so. How do we explain this – Fear of getting lost? Lack of confidence or self esteem? Or may be as I said earlier - Life’s like that.
ess bee

Monday, October 25, 2010

Room for improvement

I returned to Kolkata yesterday evening. The traffic and the queue at the airport seemed a tad lesser than the usual. Even the events are fewer after the hectic Pujas. Delhi, in contrast, is abuzz with pre-Diwali festivities and the parties are in full swing.
I attended the Indian Federation of United Nations Association (IFUNA) function at Hotel Ashok banquets after a short trip from Amritsar. I met Dr N Trehan in Delhi, the man behind Medanta Medicity, a massive medical care set up with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities at Gurgaon that is currently operational with 600 beds. This medical centre is expected to have a total of 1600 beds, including suites, deluxe rooms, single and double rooms for the patients, in another three months.
India needs more such advanced medical infrastructure and facilities considering the growing population and the current state of medical care. However, there is another question that is nagging me. Are good facilities and the best equipment enough to run such huge medical centres.
Not really! I think without a good hospital management and administration system in place the latest equipment and other facilities can hardly serve its true purpose. In fact, human resource management in the health sector is as or even more important than any physical infrastructure or facilities. Medanta Medicity too needs to address this aspect.
My first impressions of this gargantuan marvel of a medical facility at Gurgaon was that I was awestruck by the sheer size and scale of operations and the ambience. But I felt there is room for improvement in certain areas of hospital administration. Especially in the mid-level administration and management. Something that looks great, at the end of the day, must also make you feel great.
At the IFUNA function, I met the officials of Bharat Soka Gakkai. Soka Gakkai is one of the world's leading NGO headquartered in Japan. I also met Dr Sheshadri Chari who'd be going to China this week as a part of the Indian IFUNA delegation. I have been to China as part of IFUNA delegation sometime ago and was very impressed by the growth of Shanghai and Beijing.
I remember after coming back from China I wrote an article for a magazine in which I said that it seems we live in a different version of Communism in Bengal. This feeling of mine was based on the strong discipline, respect for time and punctuality and the law-abiding qualities of the Chinese citizens.
Right now, issues like the Chinese visa for Kashmiris and the disputes over Arunachal Pradesh have kept China in the news here at home.
ess bee

Saturday, October 23, 2010

First visit to the Golden Temple

From Hotel Ista, MBM Farms  in Amritsar: I arrived in Amritsar today morning from Delhi. This is the first time I am visiting the historic city. Hotel Ista, where I have put up, is at par with any of the five star deluxe hotel properties of Delhi or Mumbai in terms of service, standard of rooms and facilities.
This Hotel is owned by the same gentleman who owns the world-famous Ananda Spa near Dehra Dun. No doubt it reflects a certain class and efficiency especially in spa service.
From the Airport, I straight headed for the Golden Temple. This trip wasn’t planned and did not feature in my itinerary. A good friend of mine from Kolkata was en route to Amritsar via Delhi. It was just a spur-of-the-moment decision to accompany her for a day to visit this historical city and the Golden Temple.
The morning visit to the Golden Temple was a unique experience. The gurdwara looks so beautiful surrounded by water and especially when the sun’s golden rays falls on the resplendent golden dome of the temple bathing it in a golden halo. I find everything very organised, neat and clean. Starting from tying a cloth on my head outside the gurdwara, to washing my feet, to buying and offering prasad and and finally praying at the Guru Granth Saheb.
Within the Temple precincts, so many images and scenes from the movies and television of Bhindranwale and others flashed across my mind.
Whenever I visit any religious place from Balaji temple, Tirupati, Ajmer Sharif Dargah,Kali mandir, Birla temple in Kolkata or St Paul’s Cathedral, I feel a great inner peace. I don’t know whether it is due to the peaceful atmosphere that prevails at the religious centers. It is a fact that our religious centers, namely mandirs, masjids, gurdwaras andchurches, are the strongest pillars of our faith and inner strength. It is the faith that moves millions in this country to go on and on.
I spent quite sometime observing the queue that presented a panoramic view of faithful who had come to pay their homage. There were village folks and farmers from the rural areas, newly wedded couples, parents with their newborn babies and NRI Sikhs from the United States and Canada accompanied by their Western friends in
 Punjabi attire. But the common thread that brought all of them together was – faith.
I also visited the Jalianwala Bagh and the Old Kotwali from where General Dyer had given the orders to shoot the innocent at the Jalianwala Bagh.  I had lunch at the famous Bharwan ka Dhaba. The Dhaba was established in 1912 and is famous for its mahan ki dal, chana and Amritsari parantha. The third generation of Dhaba owners is running it successfully, catering to the religious tourists.
 Wagah border is just about 30 kilometres from Amritsar and then a further 30 kms away across the border lies Lahore. Thinking about Punjab, Amritsar and the great history of Sikhs and their sacrifice from the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Udham Singh, I had a feeling that the Partition had caused an irreparable loss to the state.
I recalled that it was mentioned in the novel Freedom at Midnight that how Lord Mountbatten took a pencil in his hand, due to paucity of time, and drew a line that became the India-Pakistan border splitting Punjab into two. That was the reason many villages and few houses were half in India and half in Pakistan.
I wonder if both the countries would have been better off without the Partition.
ess bee

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Delhi after the Games

It is Friday night, a new phenomenon in the country that took off two or three years ago on the lines of Saturday Nite Fever that started about a decade ago in the metros.
Delhi's weather is very soothing at present, poised somewhere between the retreat summer and the approaching winter. Suddenly, most of the star hotels in the capital are full. All the hotels were hoping to be fully booked during the Commonwealth Games but were only reasonably filled up. Contrary to expectations the occupancy at the star hotels suddenly shot up post Games.
Today, earlier in the evening, I was discussing this with my friend Timothy Bruce, who is the General Manager of Hyatt, and we both agreed that it could be the people had planned their Delhi appointments after the Commonwealth Games for business and other meetings. I remember earlier this year when we were discussing with few of the hotel groups for our corporate arrangements, almost all the groups had given us offer blacking out dates of Commonwealth Games.
But it seems in Delhi's drawing rooms, at the India International Centre lounge and at the five star hotel coffee shops, the Commonwealth Games are no more being discussed. I missed today evening's National Film Award function at the Vigyan Bhawan as I had to attend the reception marking celebrations of United Nations Day at the United Nations Lawns in 55 Lodhi Estate.
I saw Amitabh Bacchan in the Hyatt lobby, the moment I saw him I realized that he is in Delhi for the Film Award function. Although I wanted to attend the Award function but my current responsibility in WFUNA demanded my presence at the UN function.
I met UNIC officials Rajeev Chandran and Sanjana from the Director of UNIC office at the reception and also said hello to Patrice Coeur Bizot, the UN resident co-ordinator. UNIC Delhi ist still waiting for the their new director to join since Shalini Deewan last completed her tenure.  It was a gathering of diplomats, bureaucrats and officials of Delhi. I also met Mayor Arti Mehra after long time. Iin the evening, while leaving for Lodhi Estate I also met Rahul Todi near the reception at the hotel.
Tomorow early morning I shall leave for Amritsar.
ess bee

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Childhood alas!

Hotel Hyatt Regency Delhi: On Dussehra, I attended a function here after many years. I have many fond memories of Dussehra in Delhi from my school days when I used to visit the Ramlila Maidan every year. It was almost like a ritual. I remember how as children in my native town we used to collect money from house to house in our mohallah to erect a Ravan with our own hands using coloured papers, bamboo sticks and attaching rockets in the ten heads and crackers and lari on the hands and legs.
But now-a-days neither Ramlila nor Dussehra seems to hold much charm for the current generation of youngsters. I recollect how rightly someone had alluded to the current generation belonging to the "Maruti Culture". But things have changed rapidly and I think it has actually gone further and it is now the generation of "Nano Culture". How correctly one of the great minds of our time had said that the biggest loss of the past three decades is the "......loss of childhood".
These days the culture is such that there is no more dadi-nani stories, no Ramlilas, no tales of Panchatantra or Jataka, no joint families and no groups of children playing kabaddi, kancha gulli or flying kites in the gullies of mohallahs. Instead, what we have is an iGeneration that wants everything from iPod, iPhone, iPad and so on. There is a big I and only I.
Honestly, I personally feel that the loss of childhood is more of an urban phenomenon afflicting our metros more than the smaller cities and towns. I spent a good many years of my childhood in a small town of about 60,000 people and I still feel the warmth of these people and also an inexplicable feeling of oneness with the town.
Today's generation of youngsters would probably find it hard to believe going to a school on a camel cart, as I used to, just as much we find it strange that a whole new young generation growing up in a closed air-conditioned environment in a concrete jungle with hardly any real contact with mother nature.
It is a matter of time before the mud houses and home made toys of our tender years become history for the young lots of the current generation. I am quite surprised to see young boys and girls of 8 or 10 years at ease with laptops and video games and other gizmos. It is good to change and adjust with time but distancing oneself from nature and our cultural heritage can hardly be described as a balanced growth.
The value system has changed. The children who wield the joystick or know every key on the keyboard of their computers are no doubt smart. But this has come at a very heavy price - loss of childhood. I wonder how many of them would know the names of the flowers and birds or climb a tree or may be survive without fuss a power outage in summer without a generator.
ess bee

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Commonwealth Games 2010 - a balanced view

The Commonwealth Games 2010 has received many brickbats from all corners of the globe. I think the positive aspects of the Games were largely eclipsed by the predominantly negative reports in the media. I don’t want to sound like the devil’s advocate when I say that we must have a balanced view to the whole affair that was keenly watched by the world as it unfolded.
The allegation of corruption around the Games is only a reflection of our system in action. The fact is that the level of corruption has actually come down since the past decade according to the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International. India had scored an index of 2.7 in 2001 which improved to 3.4 in 2009.
The barrage of media reports and bad press at home during the run up to the inaugural function of the Games and unwarranted and immature reactions from some of the officials made us the butt of jokes and highlighted our shortcomings to a global audience like never before. But the spectacular inaugural function, which even the foreign media lauded, did much to cover the lost ground and salvage the damage done to the image of a resurgent India.
I think the XIX Commonwealth Games 2010 laid bare two facts about India.
First, a system beset with corruption. Second, if it comes to, India can put its act together and deliver.
Mr Suresh Kalmadi had said that, “We will speak again after the Games are over,” meaning that he would stand by any post mortem. Just as one swallow does not make a summer, one botch-up does not mean the end of the road for India. India did finally put its act together in the last few weeks and delivered one of the most successful sporting events and the highest medals haul in sporting history.
I do not agree with the argument that the gargantuan budget (cost overruns) went down the drain. The National Capital Region has moved up a notch higher as far as creation of new infrastructure is concerned. India is an emerging economic powerhouse in the global arena. I think the upkeep of the capital city of such a resurgent nation should reflect the new global aspirations that we seek to achieve. Thanks to the Commonwealth Games 2010, it did that for Delhi.
ess bee

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Probashi Pujas

Navami today. I was scheduled to leave for Canada (Montreal) via Frankfurt early Saptami morning but had to cancel the trip on Sashti evening. Last minute cancellation of trips is becoming quite common on my part. I often change destinations and on the other side take up travelling to foreign destinations on short i.e., few hours' notice. My travel agent and my office is now quite used to my cancellation and re-booking of flights and hotels on short notice.
I normally maintain an hour-by-hour daily log. But somehow, when it comes to travelling, everything goes haywire. To be honest, time constraints, work pressure and hectic social life and other commitments in Kolkata and at times my mood has much to do with this.
I was looking forward to visit the Probashi Pujas of North America. However, I was forced to change my plans. There is no better time to be in Kolkata or Bengal than during the Pujas.
But let me put in few words about the Probashi Pujas which the Indian communities in other countries celebrate. The Pujas have spread across numerous cities globally. Someone told me the other day that where ever there are 10 Bengali families in the world there is a Durga Puja. I don't know if this is really so but it is a fact that not just in the United States or UK, Probashi Pujas are a part an parcel of all major cities in the world.
From the east to the west coast, cities across the United States to London, Stuttgart, Toronto, Ottawa, Brussels, Zurich, Moscow, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai to down under Melbourne and so many other cities, one gets to see the celebration of Pujas in ways traditional and modern. Not just the Bengalis, the Indian diaspora also join in the Puja festivities.
Though the essence of the Puja spirit remains the same, what is unique is that, with the changing times, the Probashi Pujas are undergoing a subtle change often in keeping with the laws of the foreign lands. While the Bharat Sevaashram Sangha of New Jersey observe the Pujas as per the vedic rituals in accordance with the panjika, others like the Bengali Association of Victoria, based out of Melbourne in Australia follows a 2-day abridged weekend version of the Pujas. On the other hand, the Sarbajananin Puja Samity of Brussels in Belgium observes the Pujas for five days starting from shasthi.
In some foreign places even Kumari Puja takes place. Others, like the Bengali Association of Victoria, have evolved ingenious ways of replacing age old rituals like bisarjan by drowning the mirror reflecting the image of the goddess Durga in a river. The main fibreglass idol is kept for the next year.
The Probashi Pujas have been growing in size and stature. The Bengali Association of Greater Dallas – Antorik – was started in 1999 with 30 families and now over 500 families visit this puja.
Some of the Probashi Pujas have started using fibreglass idols instead of the traditional clay and mud idols. Improvisation and the great Indian sense of Jugaad comes into play driven by pragmatism and statutory compliances of the respective land.
Yesterday I offered anjali to Maa Durga on ashtami at the Chaltabagan Puja mandap yesterday (picture). Tomorrow I will be in Delhi to attend Dussehra function.
ess bee

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Maa Aesheche Bluetooth Diye (Mother Goddess cometh on bluetooth)

A novel use of technology to spread the puja spirit has clicked with the mobilephone-wielding masses out to visit the puja pandals in the City of Joy. The novelty here is to turn on the bluetooth on your mobile and lo! ….. images of goddess, pictures of pandals, sounds, greetings etc., are downloaded on your cellphone.
The Chaltabagan Durga Puja Committee's initiative in collaboration with Blumax called Durg Puja Bluetooth Campaign shared the spirit of the pujas by offering `Durga Mahotsav' a collection of the pictures of Goddess Durga and greetings to the visitors are transferred on to the cellphones via bluetooth.
This is the first time that such an initiative has been taken by any puja in Kolkata, in keeping with the IT and mobile revolution sweeping India.

Most mobile phones now-a-days are bluetooth enabled and the thousands of youngsters who thronged the Chaltabagan Puja used it to download it by activating bluetooth on their mobile phones. The use of this simple technology to connect with the visitors drew massive response, especially from the youngsters.
The traffic police had a trying time managing the crowd of mobile users who were busy downloading the free images of Maa Durga from the vicinity of the puja pandal at Chaltabagan.
So if you are at the Chaltabagan puja and find it too crowded to click pictures, you can always activate your bluetooth and let Divine Maa Durga ride into your mobile on bluetooth.
ess bee

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Chaltabagan Puja

Today evening West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan inaugurated the Manicktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja by lighting a ceremonial lamp (picture) in front of the idol of the Mother Goddess. Being the chairman of this Puja committee, much of the responsibility vested on me. Fashion designer Agnimitra Paul and industrialist Manoj Jain joined me as the Guests of Honour at the function.
Before the inauguration of the Puja, the Governor handed over books to the needy students and clothes to other needy persons. He also gave cheques as financial help to various welfare organisations working for the blind, cancer and thalassemia. Buddhadeb Guha joined the Governor on the dais along with some other guests.
There were some other eminent dignitaries at the inaugural function including Rituparna Sengupta, Sadhan Pandey (MLA), Rajkishor Gupta (local councillor) and others. The Chaltabagan Puja has made for itself quite a place among the famous pujas in the state and has received many awards over the years for its innovation, creativity, management and social welfare activities that have drawn top politicians, celebs, members of the diplomatic corps and other eminent dignitaries from across the state. It also has a pull drawing huge crowds and pandal hoppers with its interesting puja themes.
The Chaltabagan Duga Puja is particularly lauded for its innovative approach to lighting and adopting green initiatives like using solar power etc. In fact, this puja has attracted persons and leaders with a leftist bent of mind like Meera Bhattacharya, Md Salim and former Mayor of Kolkata, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, and so many others for the past several years. 
No doubt it feels great to be associated with and be at the helm of such an initiative that combines devotion, charity and creativity in such a unique way.
I will miss the Pujas in Kolkata from 14th October (Saptami or seventh day) as I would be in North America. However, I look forward to visit some of the probashi Durga Pujas.
ess bee

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury in the City of Joy

Sunday today. Over the past three or four days I was busy preparing for the Maniktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja. As the Chairman of the Puja committee, I needed to be on my toes in terms of preparation, especially for the inaugural function, which, last year, was much talked about and had got a fair share of publicity in the media as well.
This evening I went to St Paul's Cathedral to attend the reception-cum-felicitation of The Archbishop of Canterbury, Reverend Rowan Williams - the principal leader of the Church of England - who is on a visit here. In terms of protocol, the Archbishop is second only to the British Royal Family.
It was a select gathering of around 100 people including the West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan, West Bengal Legislative Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim,  Central Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee, West Bengal leader of the Opposition Partho Chatterjee, 
State Congress President Manas Bhuiyan, INTUC President Pradeep Bhattacharya, 
Union Minister of State for Urban Development Saugata Roy and others. Besides senior representatives from all the mainstream political parties, which is quite a rare gathering in the state, eminent personalities, religious heads of different communities in the state and dignitaries from different walks of life were present at the function.
I was sharing the table as the Guest-of-Honour with Mr Sanjay Wadhwani, British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata and Ms Sujata Sen of the British Council. 
I presented to the Archbishop a small idol of Rabindranath Tagore (picture) as we are celebrating Gurudev's 150th Birth Anniversary this year. The Archbishop liked it very much and even showed it to the robust gathering from the dais with a smile.
ess bee

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back to the grind

I am back to the Kolkata grind from London. The few days that I spent in London was quite like the Kolkata circuit – events, premiers, launches and lunches etc. Missed Bratya Basu's party last week that I wanted to attend but could not as I was away.
I got many phone calls, flowers and congratulatory messages for receiving the Pride of India Leadership felicitation and Award at the House of Lords in London.
Today evening I went to SOHO, not exactly my kind of place, but as my friend Prasenjit was making his debut on the ramp along with Nandana Sen (daughter of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen) and Nabaneeta Deb Sen who is associated with some of my organizations. Nandana and Prasenjit, both of them had ensured that I should attend the event.
On Tuesday, I was at The Oberoi Grand to attend the opening of the Honorary Consul of Ireland in Kolkata. His Excellency Kenneth Thompson, the Ambassador of Ireland in India, was there along with the Ambassador of France in India, His Excellency Jerome Bonnafont.
Mr Mahendra K Jalan, who is now the Honorary Consul of Ireland in Kolkata, had earlier served France in the city in the same capacity prior to the launching of the full-fledged French Consulate in Kolkata. Mr Jalan's reception was very well attended by people from all walks of life.
I meet Dolly Roy, Sanjay Budhia (picture), Soumitra Chatterjee, Pradeep and Sangeeta Khemka, (picture) Sudeep Bandhyopadhya and many others. Bratya complained about missing his party. Surprisingly, comments on my Honorary Consul article published in July were still on and many Honorary Consuls mentioned about it to me in a lighter vein while others said they were regularly reading Cityscape - my Sunday column.
I had dinner with Dolly Basu at the hotel reception. 
ess bee

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The other side of festivities

I went to the Saturday Club for lunch. I normally avoid these clubs as they have a problem with my Indian attire – kurta pyjamas. Most of the old prominent clubs of Kolkata still continue to stick to some of the rules of British exclusiveness that were rooted in racial segregation. However, thanks to the family room rules of Saturday Club, I had a nice lunch.
My chauffeur had parked the car in Wood Street and like any other day gave a ten-rupee note to the parking personnel to pay for the parking fees which is seven rupees for an hour. But the parking personnel did not give the three-rupee change announcing that since the Pujas were round the corner the fee would be ten rupees. He did hand over a receipt of seven rupees to my chauffeur.
I remained a silent spectator to the whole incident. After some argument the parking personnel gave back the three rupees. I am not aware of any move by the Kolkata Corporation increasing the parking fee during the Pujas. In India, so many things ranging from the trivial to the serious happen beyond the ambit of the law and all this is more evident during the Pujas and other festivals.
Whether it is giving donations to the Puja committees or advertisements to various souvenirs, magazines and dailies for Puja supplements or dealing with parking fee personnel or the autorickshawallahs, it almost seems as if it has the sanction of the law. We seem to have little choice in the matter. Citizens compelled to put up with the demands and excesses of others in the name of celebrations is not a sign of a healthy democratic society.
I remember an incident that took place years back. There was a death in one of the families and just two weeks had passed when the local para committee forced the family to pay subscriptions in the name of celebrations. Can anyone believe a family in mourning celebrating the Pujas.
The situation has only worsened since then. I saw a newspaper report today that a local Puja committee of a para in Phulbagan demanded hefty puja subscriptions from senior citizens’ cooperative and even heckling and injuring one of the elderly who had to be given medical attention. Only when the senior ladies stepped out in protest did the committee members back out. Interestingly, the local police said that there was no case as the matter was resolved mutually.
Why festivities across the country have actually become painful expenditure events than real celebrations?
Kolkata is still better off in terms of thrift during the Pujas as compared to Delhi and Mumbai during Diwali. Huge sums are wasted in sending out sweets in a country that is home to 50 per cent of the worlds’ hungry as stated in the latest UNDP report. The report also said that India would not be able to meet a majority of the targets related to poverty, hunger, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability by 2015.
As I always say we never react to all this. However, there is a flicker of hope, as the elderly ladies of Phulbagan have shown.
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