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, November 28, 2010

Back to ground zero

Sunday today. I returned from Pench on Friday. From the Kolkata airport, I headed straight for the ITC Pala to attend the inaugural function of Odeon Theatre Festival organised by Vodafone. I met many known faces and went through the usual rigours of explaining that I wasn't out of country......... and that I was back in city...... and so on.
Could not attend a party at the Hyatt due to bad traffic but did attend the 60th Birthday celebrations of Renu Roy at the Elgin Road venue. At the party someone mentioned to me that recently Pranab Mukherjee made a remark in Delhi saying the he felt happy reading a comment by some Bhutoria in The Telegraph in Kolkata that he would like to use a custom-made Ambassador car because he felt that it was like a national car.
I don't know Pranab babu personally, however, the fact is that when a journalist from The Telegraph called me and asked me about my dream car I told her that my choice of a car would not be a good quote for their column.
Yesterday there were two programs that I wanted to attend. One was the debate at the Calcutta Club and the other was Anupam Kher's play Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai at the Birla Sabhaghar.
Anupam Kher at the Odeon Theatre Festival
When I spoke to Kirron Kher over phone in the afternoon she said that she was herself going to the Calcutta Club, but insisted that I must go and see the play. Also, I was not sure if dress code restrictions of the Club were in effect or relaxed for the debate. But after watching the play I realised that Kirron was right. I really enjoyed the play very much and it was indeed very different. It was a very well acted and directed one act play (picture).
I couldn't manage to attend the annual fashion show of Bhawanipur College that was conceptualised by Hina Gorsia. I have been attending this show for many years as a guest or sometimes as a judge.
Having attended few back-to-back functions and parties, I feel I am getting back into the groove.
ess bee

Friday, November 26, 2010

The call of the jungle

Gary Kirsten, Coach of Indian Cricket Team, at the Pench National Park
Silence has its own voice. One should go to the jungles to experience this. There is so much calm in the forests that one can listen to the sound of dews dropping on the leaves. Yesterday evening I was in a jungle again at the Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. I had been planning since 2007 to stay at one of the Taj Safari lodges but it didn't materialise earlier.
But then, there is a right time for everything. And as far as the jungles go, they always call you.
This Taj Lodge is a haven of peace and tranquility set amid forest trees and the highly personalised service adds to the comfort. Bereft of urban trappings, the jungle experience is all about going back to the nature. But there are some experiences that can make your heartbeat faster like the last night's hullabaloo on the roof of my lodge around 3 am. I called up the counter but nobody answered the phone till 4 am. I did not open the door till sun up as I feared it must have been some denizen of the jungle out on a courtesy call.
Later in the morning I learnt that it was a group of langurs. Only few days ago a tiger had passed by the Lodge during the wee hours. While having coffee I spotted a sambhar standing next to one of the Tata Safari custom-made cars that was our mode of transport in the jungle.
Yesterday at the swimming pool, I saw a gentleman reading a book on his iPad. After the pleasantries, he introduced himself as Gary from South Africa. During our conversation I realized that his too, like mine, was a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit the Lodge. Our cars were together on the morning drive to the jungle and we even clicked a photo together. While coming back from the jungle trip, at the Park’s exit gate, few people shouted for his attention and approached him for his autograph. This aroused my curiosity and I asked him about his profession.
The coach of the Indian Cricket Team just smiled, probably at my cricket sense.
My butler, who was surprised at my knowledge of cricket or rather lack of it, informed me that after India defeated the Kiwis, the Nagpur match had ended early and Kirsten decided to visit the Pench National Park. The Indian coach struck me as a very nice and composed person.
I shall leave for Kolkata today and have plans to attend few events in the evening provided the flight is on time.
ess bee

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In the jungles of central India

Yesterday afternoon and early morning today I went on Safari drives at the Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. I really enjoyed being at the jungle seeing the animals and birds in their natural habitat. Pench is a birdwatcher's paradise. Pench is home to as many as 270 species of birds. Naturalist Dipu Sasi drove down from Panna to accompany and guide me through the wildlife sanctuary and make my trip a memorable one.
The Pench jungles are basically deciduous forests. Nearly 40 per cent of the trees in forests are various varieties of teak. These trees shed leaves and remain leafless for nearly four months. Mahua and Indian ebony, also called the tendu tree, are among the numerous other species that are found in abundance. Tendu leaves are used for making biris and is a major source of livelihood for the local populace.
Also saw the huge ghost tree or the Karaya gum tree (sterculia urens) which is also known as the Indian tragacanth. This tree changes colours to pink, white and green and has a very weird branch structure. The tree is white during the summers. It's strange branch structure gives it an eerie look and hence its bizarre name.
I spotted groups of jackals, monkeys, sambhars, spotted dear, nilgai and also had glimpses of the gaur - a wild cattle that weighs up to a 1000 kg and is a major source of food for the tiger. I followed pugmarks of the tiger and the leopard for quite a distance but missed seeing the large cats as the trail vanished into another region of the jungle.
About three weeks back, one of the tigers had killed another in a territorial face off. I also saw a jackal sleeping off its kill after a meal while other members feasted, relaxed and stood guard in a relay, taking turns. Wow! It seemed that they too have their own code of conduct and behaviour.
I saw different kinds of birds like the black rumpet flambeck, black drango, Indian roller and above all the rocket tailed drango which is also called the super star bird for its ability to mimic more than 20 different sounds including that of motor bikes, cellphone ringtones etc.
The black rumpet flambeck belongs to the common woodpecker family found in central India. The red crown makes it look beautiful and majestic. The black drango is not a hard core forest dweller but is sighted in and around the forest areas. The Indian roller is the most common bird of the grassland forests of central India.
While coming out of jungle my naturalist, who is an expert on birds, suddenly stopped the jeep to show me an eagle. I think he said it was the crested hawk eagle which is called tiger in sky. The spotted deer and monkeys alert other animals of the presence of tigers and leopards in the vicinity. Likewise, the peacock sounds out alarm calls against eagles and other birds of prey that hunt other birds apart from them and rodents.
I have much to say and even more to learn from these jungles.
ess bee

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baghvan safari

On a safari at the Pench National Park
Baghvan, Taj Safari lodge: I arrived at this lodge called Taj Safari around midnight yesterday. The Taj Hotels, in collaboration with &BEYOND AFRICA that was earlier known as Conservation Corporation Africa or CC Africa, started four safari lodges in the forests of Madhya Pradesh located in Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna and Pench National Park.
This lodge, named Baghvan meaning tiger forest, is located in Pench which is among the lesser known parks situated in the districts of Seoni and Chhindwara. It was declared a Sanctuary in 1977 and its status elevated to National Park in 1983. In 1993 it was declared a Tiger Reserve.
I had first heard about these lodges while I was staying at the Dennis Islands in Seychelles in 2005 or 2006. The Taj Group used to own and maintain that property at maximum 100-people island. The first time I learnt about Mahua Koti Lodge in Bandhavgarh from one of the brochures lying in the cottage. I was surprised as I had never heard of this property despite having a fair knowledge about major 5 Star properties in the country.
After returning to India, I inquired about the lodges and came to know that it was an unsaid policy of The Taj Group not to market the lodges in India thus targeting only foreign clients.
As per the Indian standards, the minimum charges of INR 60,000 per night per person was very steep. Also, for Indians, the term 5 Star meant sophisticated luxury in general. At that time, despite the high price, getting a room at the Mahua Kothi was almost impossible unless booked well in advance. If I remember correctly, at that time it used to be 2 months advance booking and 100 per cent cancellation fees were charged if not notified within a month.
After Mahua Kothi, The Taj opened three other lodges and one of them (Baghvan Taj Safari) is the one from where I am penning this blog. It is just a 11 unit property but the service is very personalized. I was a little surprised this morning during breakfast time when the butler gave me a toast that he had picked up by his hands contrary to any five star standard.
But when I shared my concerns about the dirty spotted floor, the lounge operation manager Bryan informed me it was not dirty but a part of the design as the concept is to give the guests a feel of old circuit houses. I doubt the average Indian mindset would find this acceptable specially after shelling out a high price for one night. Now I understood why Taj had not marketed this well enough in India.
Even till date, the feedback form says, “We look forward to welcome you again in India” thus addressed to the foreign guests.
But after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, the business suffered badly and the rates were slashed. Since then, the lodges have begun to woo the growing Indian clients as well.
I'll go on a safari today afternoon.
ess bee

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Mowgli's land

I arrived in Nagpur this evening by a direct flight from Kolkata - an unscheduled trip. It is hard for a wanderlust to stay put when there aren't too many commitments on the log. So I decided to travel to the forests of Madhya Pradesh. One of the popular area is Pench and takes about two hour's drive from Nagpur. Madhya Pradesh has many forests rich in wild life, flora and fauna. The various initiatives to save the tigers too are being implemented.
At at the turn of the 19th Century India was home to 45,000 tigers. Currently, as per official figures, there are less than 1500 tigers left in India. Despite the Project Tiger initiative, started in 1972 and after 44 specially constituted areas called Tiger Reserves and buffer zones spread over 41,000 sq km across at least 16 Indian states, tigers are on the brink of extinction.
It seems, the centrally sponsored initiative, that was set up to protect the dwindling tiger population in India, has failed to increase the tiger population.
The Pench region was the setting that gave life to some the world-famous jungle characters like Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera and others immoralized in writings and works of Rudyard Kipling especially his Jungle Book series.
Pench, spread across 750 sq kms, is located in Seoni and Chhindwara districts and named after the Pench river. The sanctuary, which is the home of the Gond tribes, extends up to the lower reaches of Satpura ranges. The Indira Priyadarshini Pench National Park, covering an area of 118 sq km, forms the core of the reserve.
These forests, located close to the Maharashtra border, welcomes you into Madhya Pradesh. In fact the Pench dam shares the water with one state and power with another.
This is my first visit to the city of oranges and on way from hotel to the airport I heard the sounds of crackers all over the city. The driver informed me that India won the cricket match against Kiwis today and hence the celebrations.
I halted briefly at Hotel Tuli and will soon drive down to Pench. I am told that there is not much mobile connectivity in the forest area, I guess net connectivity would be a far thought.
ess bee

Emotional atyachar!

I spent a few hours at the Max Super Specialty Hospital in Saket, Delhi, last week. This Hospital, considered to be one of the best, has infrastructure and facilities that are good by Indian standards. The Hospital has visiting hours from 11 am to 8 pm for two persons at a time and also allows a person to stay full-time as an attendant to the patient.
When I expressed surprise on such long visiting hours, my friend joked, “They have to ensure sales in cafes and the food courts.” True, there were many cafes and food courts in every bloc and corners and I was also told that by evening much of the wares fly off the shelves.
It struck me that in our country almost all the hospitals seem to have more visitors than patients. In fact, managing the steady stream of visitors is one of the biggest concerns for hospitals these days.
Critical patients admitted in the intensive or critical care units are kept away from visitors for medical reasons and thus the visiting hours are regulated. But in our country rules invariably are meant to be broken.
Visitors go to great length to get strings pulled and exert influence to arm twist the hospital authorities into allowing them to meet the patient at will, flouting the basic health guidelines. We hardly spare a thought that such actions might be detrimental to the patient. One may also end up being carriers of various infections from outside jeopardizing the patient's well being.
There is always a demand from the patients' family members and relatives, whatever their social class, that if they can bring in home food, stay with the patient and so on. I don't understand what can a person do sitting in the hospital lobby whole night when the patient is under 24-hour medical supervision.
Whenever I visit Belle Vue or Woodlands in Kolkata, I see and hear how people use their influence to get extra visiting cards issued. When someone is in hospital, I think many people see it as an opportunity to flash their social connections. Also, how many people come to visit us is a measure of one's social status. I know few of my friends who really mind if you don't visit them in hospital.
I am against this kind of conduct and strongly feel that it is more likely to disturb the patient than comfort him or her. If there is a need, we must be there but just for formality's sake “... accha nahin lagta” … visiting someone is a waste of time. A visitor's presence should always be comforting and encouraging for the patient and not otherwise.
I often see lot of gossip groups in the lobbies of private nursing homes during the visiting hours and others having a great time over tea and snacks during the visiting hours. Invariably, there are more people in the rooms than the rules permit. Many visitors often overstay the visiting hours time limit and have to be coaxed into leaving the patient alone.
Marriages are made in heaven, but some are also made in hospitals. In one classic case that I know of, two Marwari families, who met by the bedside of their patients, became friends. They used the hospital lobby to introduce two young members of their respective families for matchmaking and eventually formalized their marriage.
It is very irritating for any relative of the patient to answer the same question on mobile phone the whole day or to every visitor. Then there is also the free advice and anecdotal stories of health and healing that the patient has to endure.
I feel visitors must comply with the hospital rules and develop good bed-side manners and spare the patient of emotional atyachar.
ess bee

Sunday, November 21, 2010

At peace with myself

I came back to Kolkata from Delhi. I saw the movie Guzaarish in Delhi. It is a well made movie, sterling performances, nice pictuarisation and a new storyline i.e., the stamp of Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB). Watching the magic show scene on stage in the film, I can say that it only confirms the thorough perfectionist that SLB is.
Once when I was in Paris, SLB was rehearsing Padmavati with danseuse Tanusree Shankar's troupe. Tanusree (picture) introduced me to him and I first hand got to see how thorough and dedicated he was in his approach. Tansuree wanted me to see the premiere but my London commitment did not allow me to avail that opportunity. 
The Kolkata social scene is the same with film premieres, plays, parties and exhibitions. I have no social commitments till December 10, 2010, and the only event that I have confirmed in on December 17th to be hosted by Prabha Khaitan Foundation and the British Council. As my arrival from North America was scheduled for December 10th, I had communicated in advance my inability to attend all the events and parties.
I suddenly find myself in a very calm and composed environment and at peace with myself. I have realised that it is sometimes good to be in a no-work situation. I am thinking of penning another book.
ess bee

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Facebook - not my cup of tea!

Pawan Ruia at Hyatt 2007
KFF Farewell Party

In Delhi, I had dinner yesterday at the Kebab Factory in Hotel Radisson. The last time I had dinner at  Kebab Factory was at the Radisson Chennai sometime around 2001 or 2002. I don't exactly remember about the food to draw a comparison with yesterday's spread. But I can say that it was good in terms of menu and taste. Unlike Kolkata, the dining-out culture is very high in Delhi.
I saw the movie Social Network and found it was quite interesting. No doubt Facebook is now one of the most popular medium of keeping in touch these days. I am not on the Facebook and neither do I intend to be on it at the moment. My friends from all walks of life, especially from the film and glamour clan, often send me email invites and requests to be on the Facebook. Many times they have told me in person about it. But I tell them to visit my blog to know the latest about myself and my whereabouts.
It is a fact that breach of privacy is a gift by mankind that is growing exponentially with the help of newer technologies and inventions, foraying into our private worlds.
I heard that yesterday the Kolkata Film Festival Farewell Party was hosted by Pawan Ruia. In 2007 he had hosted a party on November 16, a day before the annual party that I had organised. I remember that when I greeted him at the gate at Hyatt (picture), he commented that he was supposed to leave for Singapore but had heard so much about my party that he wanted to see the theme and had postponed his trip for a day.

I will not be able to attend the two functions in spite of re-scheduling my itinerary. First, the wedding of a close journalist friend Narendra Sharma's daughter at Churu today evening. Second, the inauguration of Society of Visual Arts & Design at Sonajhury Pally, Shantiniketan tomorrow on November 19th. Jwahar Sircar would be there along with Sankha Ghosh and Sunil Ganguly.
Jogen Chowdhury is the general secretary of the Society.
I wanted to attend these two occasions but had to decline as I was to leave for my overseas trip. Now I shall miss both the occasions with no working agenda nor commitments and being very much in the country contrary to my earlier plans.
ess bee

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Royal wedding and a Royal engagement

The news of the engagement of Prince Williams, son of Prince Charles and Late Lady Diana Spencer, to Kate Middleton is all over the television channels. The Prince was dating her since 2003 and had reportedly proposed to her in Kenya in October.
There is also a Royal wedding closer home at Rajasthan of Prince Shivraj Singh of Jodhpur, son of erstwhile Maharaja of Jodhpur Gaj Singh ji and Maharani Hemlata Rajye, with Princess Kumari Gayatri of Askot in Uttaranchal.
The wedding is at Ram Nivas Bag in Jaipur and the reception at the famous Umaid Bhawan Palace on November 22, 2010. Umaid Bhawan Palace is one of the most beautiful palaces which can be seen from the air when the flights land in Jodhpur.
The last time I stayed there was about five years back. Every part of the Palace reflects the royalty and dignity of Jodhpur Raj Gharana. The last time I met the Prince was when I went to see him at the hospital in Jaipur with vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat after he had a major accident while playing polo.
The royal engagement and the royal wedding made me think of the cultural and social differences in both parts of the world. Despite globalisation and modern thinking it is a fact that marriages in India still happen between families and not individuals. You may have foreign degrees and other qualifications from abroad, but when it comes to marriage it is always the same caste, religion and tradition and above all the same status.
On the other hand, in the West, marriage is totally a matter of individual choice. When I think about this love engagement and arranged marriage I only see the vast difference between the mindset in two distant parts of the world. There is very little to hide about the two individuals and only a mere formal official announcement is made to the public who already know much about from the media.
In one world, dating, living together with normal citizens is very common even among the members of the royal family. On the other hand, in this part of the world, just one meeting arranged with a chosen girl in front of relatives are the stuff arranged marriages are made up of. There is always a collective decision behind a purdah which is formally announced and not declared individually.
I wish both the couple eternal marital bliss.
ess bee

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Man proposes God disposes

Hotel Hyatt Regency Delhi. I was supposed to be in Montreal at the time of writing this blog, however, I am here in Delhi. Just before my departure for the airport, I got a call that one of my relatives in Delhi suffered a stroke and was admitted in an surgical ICU. No one was sure whether it was the brain, heart or some other and rushed to Delhi.
My aunt, who lives in Montreal and with whom I was to stay, will now come to Delhi. This is the third time in the last two months that my North America trip had to be cancelled in the last minute. As a result, I have to miss an important executive meeting of WFUNA in New York. This meeting happens twice every year and this year it clashed with the Kolkata Film Festival. This is one of the reasons for not hosting the Film Festival Farewell Party. It will be very problematic because as a treasurer I needed to give details of financial planning. But I plan to organise a tele or video conference with the Secretariat. These emergencies come unannounced.
I need to cancel a large number of meetings, lectures, interactions etc., that was planned out in advance. What can a man do when God wills otherwise. Man proposes God disposes.
ess bee

Sunday, November 14, 2010

MNC brand? Jago Grahak!

Sunday today, I will leave for North America tomorrow evening via Frankfurt. My first destination is Montreal in Quebec province of Canada.
One of the most important things in these parts of the world is the consumers’ rights and awareness. Going by my experience, Canada stands out in this respect. Years ago, while visiting Canada, I had purchased a Polo brand shirt from Bay's - a leading departmental store. I bought it and when I put in on I found it was little loose on me but I wore it for a day. Next day I visited the shop for some other purchases and I was asked if the shirt was right for me. I said that it was little loose the shop instantly replaced the shirt with a new one though I had used it for a day. Recently, South Korea’s top automaker Hyundai Motor recalled 1.4 lakh Sonata sedans sold in the USA due to problems with the steering wheel that could cause a loss of reduction of control.
The assurance by companies, as a policy, to replace products that are defective or due to lack of customer satisfaction is quite common. Multinationals claim that they do have such policies in place, but MNC brands, of late, have adopted double standards while dealing with customers in India. Multinational global brands seem to be evolving diluted standards when dealing with the customers in Indian.
On one hand we see the Indian government's Jago Grahak awareness campaign in the media urging the customers to assert their rights, on the other hand, some of the international brands that brag great quality and after sales services to lure customers, are gaining confidence in showing their thumbs to the consumer protection laws of the country.
A recent case in Kolkata may be a wake-up call for all those Indian customers who think an established foreign brand comes with assured services and after sales support. A friend of mine, moved by the advertisements and features, recently bought a luxury car Audi Q5 3.0 TDI in Kolkata that resulted in a nightmarish experience for the couple who are still reeling from post-traumatic stress.
All this started one fine day while driving on the road, the steering wheel of the car suddenly got locked. They were unable to manoeuvre the car that was in motion to change directions in the middle of a busy road. The car was somehow stopped and shut off.
Evidently, the system of the car had crashed due to its inherent fault and / or manufacturing defects. This major safety flaw could have been fatal for the couple who were lucky to survive a busy traffic. The car, whose safety features and reliability is said to be among the best in the world, had to be towed away ultimately.
What followed was the shockingly deficient support and after sales service from the company that promised “World class after sales services rated best in the industry....”. Repeated requests to replace the car with a new car of same specs since a major safety flaw was discovered, evoked a tepid response from the company personnel. It was earlier claimed by the company, that it has a policy to replace if any manufacturing defect is found in the car or any system of the car is found to be flawed. True, most foreign multinational brands actually deliver what they promise in other parts of the world. But this was Kolkata.
My friend finally had to hire a professional firm to issue a legal notice asking for the car to be replaced. Last what I heard was that the company had made some repairs and sent an invoice for the repair costs. That much for global brand service in India. I wonder if the company's attitude would have been the same with a customer in USA, Europe, Japan or for that matter in Singapore. But here in India, the big brands are gradually veering towards the idea that things are different here and they can have the liberty to treat their Indian customers with less respect and seriousness.
It is high time the Indian Grahak wakes up.
In my last week's blog I had mentioned about deficiency of service in a Kolkata cafe in Wood Street. I was surprised to get a prompt reaction from the company taking cognizance of the matter and assuring me that they would set things straight immediately. They even invited me for a cup of coffee.
Frankly, I did not expect such a prompt action from an Indian company. But I must say I am impressed that a Chikkamagaluru-based Indian cafe chain can raise the standards bar by initiating immediate action to set things right in one of its outlet. It seems the International brands have taken to doing just the opposite – lowering the bar – for Indian customers.
The multinationals are aware of the Chalta Hai attitude and feels it can lower its standards for the Indian customers. Or they have taken the famous “Indian standard of hygiene” remark of the Commonwealth Games official seriously. Or else, how can one explain the shoddy attitude of the world-class auto brand towards its customer in Kolkata.
ess bee

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Missing out on events


Late Thursday night I returned to Kolkata from Rajasthan. Apart from meeting Mayor Shovan Chatterjee at the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, I was neck deep in office work the whole day and even till late night at my office. Lots of work that had piled during my absence needed to be cleared. I also had to respond to the numerous invitations for various events and functions sent to me. Soon I will be out on overseas tour for about a month.
Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi with Soumitra Chatterjee (President, Nandan)and his wife and H M Bangur
at the 2008 Farewell Party at Sunderbans, Hotel ITC
I missed the inaugural function of the Kolkata Film Festival, the premiere of Notobar Not Out held at the Chowringhee Banquet at Bishop Lefroy Road in which Raima Sen and Moon Moon have acted together and directed by Amit Sen. I will also miss the whole session of the Kolkata Film Festival and many other interesting events in the coming weeks. I have been very closely associated with the film festival and also been hosting the Farewell Party year after year that is held on November 17th. Last year (2009) there were no farewell parties because of the management's decision to trim expenses.
The 2008 Film Festival Farewell Party that I had organised at the ITC Sonar Bangla was a memorable one having recorded over 5500 footfalls and is etched in the memories of many people for being one of the most-attended parties in Kolkata (picture). At that time, the parking area to the hotel's golf course and of course the whole area christened Sunderbans at the ITC Hotel was used for the party. Now, with the construction of a new structure at that spot, organising such a huge parties in the future spread over sprawling venue wouldn't be possible.
This year I received a request from Nandan to host a farewell party on the 17th again this year. But I had to excuse myself this time as I would not be in Kolkata. In fact, I'll be attending an important meeting in the United States. Also, I did not want to organise a party in haste.
Having organised and hosted different types of parties in the city, I feel that the people attribute and expect a certain high standard from me for which it is essential to work out things well in advance. Had Nandan decided on this earlier, it would have been my proud privilege to organise it.
I will also miss tomorrow's morning walk by on diabetes awareness to mark the World Diabetes Day at Victoria to be lead by Police Commissioner, Gautam Mohan Chakraborty and to be joined in by Rituparna along with Harsh Neotia. At Deshapriya Park, Saurabh Ganguly would be leading the walk. Pronam members are participating in both the walks.
ess bee

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The `Sikkim' wrangle

Rupa Ganguly at 2007 KFF
Farewell Party at Hotel Hyatt
Today, at the Jaipur airport, I heard that a court order had stayed further screening of Satyajit Ray's 1971 documentary Sikkim at Nandan. My friend Roopa Ganguly called up to ask me if I were hosting the annual Film Festival Farewell Party on November 17th.
When I informed her about the stay order she was rather surprised. She is spending most of her time in Mumbai for the past 3 or 4 years but made it a point to regularly attend the Film Festival Farewell Party each year. In fact, we co-hosted the farewell at the ITC Sonar Bangla banquet Pala in 2006. In 2007 the Party was held at the Hyatt poolside in which Roopa had rendered a performance.
Aparna Sen at the 2006 KFF
Farewell Party in Pala, ITC
I had been thinking about the screening of Ray's documentary Sikkim. The 60-minute film was screened for the public at the 16th Kolkata Film Festival in Nandan today for the first time in India after 39 years.
But KFF's plan to screen the documentary every day till the conclusion of the festival on November 17th hit a legal wall and further screening of the film was stopped by a court order issued by a Sikkim district judge on a petition filed by ACT.
The Gangtok-based Art & Cultural Trust (ACT) bought the legal rights for the film in 2000 from the Chogyals - the former princely ruler of Sikkim - who had commissioned the film.
Rituparna, Biplab at 2006
KFF Farewell Party, ITC
Except a screening for the Chogyal family, the film never got formally released. A restored version was shown in 2008 during a "Ray Retrospective" at the Nantes Three Continents Film Festival in France.
Madhu and Harsh Neotia at the
2006 KFF Farewell Party, ITC
The film underwent censorship from the film's commissioners and the Indian government, when Sikkim became a state of India in 1975. The Indian government had banned the documentary and all known copies of it destroyed. For many years it was considered to be lost. In 2003 it was known that a good quality print of the film was with the British Film Institute. Another print is said to be in the USA.
It is believed that the film was a favourite of Richard Attenborough, and he made it available for the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences in 2003 to preserve and restore the documentary. After 35 years, the Ministry of External Affairs lifted the ban in September 2010 and a restored copy of the film reached ACT in September 2010.
Raza Murad at the 2007 Farewell Party
The current interim injunction by the court has stayed the screenings. It has been alleged that the film was shown on Thursday without Central Board certification and it was an unauthorised or `pirated' version of the film. ACT, which has the film's copyright, had special plans for a world premier for the documentary in March 2011.
As it is I am missing all the films and the Party in Nandan this year, but still the litigation and stay on screening of Sikkim wasn't heartening news.
ess bee

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

At the Salasar Balaji temple

Yesterday I went to Salasar early in the morning and returned to Jaipur in the evening. The Salasar Balaji temple is about 35 kms from my native place Sujangarh and about 165 kms from Jaipur.
If there is something that epitomizes growth and popularity, it is this temple complex. The small temple structure housing the idol of Salasar Balaji, which I saw from my childhood, has now grown into a massive temple complex drawing thousands of devotees from near and far. Earlier, we used to do seven to 11 pheris (going round the idol) but now one should consider himself or herself lucky to be in front of the venerated idol for even a minute.
This time when I visited the temple it was Tuesday and there was a huge queue with a waiting period of nearly five hours for darshan. I have seen the change since my childhood and noticed the popularity of the temple increase by leaps and bounds as evident by the ever-swelling stream of devotees.
The temple is owned by private families. Currently there are pujaris from two families, namely Devki and Rajaram, who are the functionaries entrusted with running the temple every alternate year respectively.
On one particular date of the year the responsibilities are switched. I am known to both these families and also because of my friends in the state administration I had the privilege of having a quick darshan followed by tea and prasad. It is for the first time that I got to meet members from both the families in few minutes
While on my way to Salasar and also on my return journey, I halted at the Sikar Circuit House for breakfast and lunch. Whenever I travel to Churu, Salasar, Ladnu, Sujangarh, Ramgarh or Fatehpur or any of the surrounding villages and town, I make it a point to stay at the Sikar Circuit House.
Politically, Sikar is a very sensitive town. The only CPI(M) MLA in Rajasthan, Amara Ram, prior to the last elections was from this area only (file picture). The Sikar town came to the limelight when Chauhary Devilal contested elections from here in 1989 and won (along with Rohtak in Haryana). Later, he went on to become the deputy Prime Minister of India twice under two different coalitions. It was during his tenure that some development took place in this town. 
After arriving in Jaipur yesterday, I had dinner at Peshawari Restaurant at the Rajputana with a bureaucrat friend of mine. The quality of food was better than I expected. Normally the ITC Hotels try to maintain a standardised and similar taste at its Bukhara and Peshawari outlets across India. But some differences do creep in as the chefs have a unique style of their own. But here, I felt the food tasted even better than the other Peshawari joints.  

I had lined up a series of meetings with politicians, bureaucrats, friends and acquaintances in Rajasthan throughout the day. Tomorrow I shall meet the Rajasthan Chief Minister, Mr Ashok Gehlot.
ess bee

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pushkar - Lord Brahma's town

Hotel Rajputana Sheraton, Karoli suite: Returned to Jaipur last night from a day long trip to Ajmer and Pushkar. For the Hindus, Pushkar is one of the most important religious destinations. The only temple of Brahma - The Creator of the Universe - is in Pushkar. The temple also has all the four Vedas (Rig, Sama, Atharva and Yajur) in original.
Pushkar is also a hot destination for foreign back packers. The tents are quite famous during the season and sell for up to Rs 12,000 to Rs 14,000 on the higher end. Cheaper accommodation is also available i.e., beds and rooms for Rs 50 to Rs 500 in the town. In fact, Pushkar, Old Pushkar and Nedda are the three villages which now comes under one municipality that is called Pushkar.
The town has a population of around 20,000 approx which is quite low for a municipality. But there is a huge inflow of foreign tourists and can be spotted all around the town. Cafes serving Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Japanese and continental cuisines have sprung up and some of them have menus in French.
I watched the sun set at the Jaipur Ghat sitting in Cafe Sunset (picture). Pushkar is said to have one of the best sun set view in the country. I also visited the Gau Ghat and saw arati being performed. Pushkar has a total of 52 ghats each associated with a myth or has a story to tell.
There is popular belief in Pushkar that every God has a temple in Pushkar. This religious city, however, has a smeared reputation for cheap drugs like charas, ganja and hasish. I don't know if this is a fact, but the chat is that this is what draws the large number of back packers to the town from the lands beyond the seas.
There are also reflexology shops, bags and costume and junk jewellery i.e., stuff that is a rage with the back packers.
From the Sunset Cafe, the currently closed down portion of RTDC Hotel can be seen. The government had closed down the property complying with the regulation that there would be no hotels or restaurants within 100 metres of the ghats.
I also want to meet Ramkishan ji who got the President's Award for being a percussionist par excellence of nagara - a type of drum from the Raj era. I had met him three years back.
I heard that he had changed ghats and taught many tourists who wanted to learn nagaras. I was told that he passed away few months back and now his son Nathu ji carries forward his father's legacy and the family tradition.
I will leave for Salasar temple today.
ess bee

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ajmer Circuit House

Ajmer Circuit House
I am writing this blog from the Ajmer Circuit House. I arrived in Jaipur yesterday evening and reached Ajmer around noon today to one of my favourite circuit houses in Rajasthan.
I have travelled Rajasthan and Haryana extensively by road and stayed in many of the circuit houses and Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) properties located in different divisions of the state.
With the exception of Jhumar Bari in Ranthambore, this circuit house is my favourite. The house is located in the middle of the city atop a hillock and encircled by a lake on three sides. The picture post card view of the lake is simply captivating during the daytime. The night view of the Ajmer city below is another breath taking experience with the town presenting itself in specs of lights in the dark.
For the past ten years I have stayed here at this Circuit House many times. Sometimes I have spent the night and at times spent just a few hours, like today.
Whenever I have to travel beyond 100 kms around Ajmer, I always halt here. This Circuit House was renovated when the former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, was to visit the dargah at Ajmer sharif during his India visit. The plan was to put him up here. The Ajmer Circuit House got a face-lift and was equipped with all kinds of modern amenities.
The fact that presidents, prime ministers, senior politicians, foreign dignitaries and celebrities come to Ajmer Sharif to pay their obeisance or send a chadar at the dargah is well known. Like earlier visits, I too have plans to visit the dargah today (file picture).
The dargah has a very interesting history of Khadims and Deewans since the time of Akbar.
The Room No 7 is on the upper level and happens to be one of the biggest rooms in the Circuit House. The main door overlooking the lake leads to a verandah where one can sit and spend hours lost in the view of the lake. The effect on one's jagged nerves is therapeutic. I always prefer this room and only on one occasion I had to settle for Room No 1 on the ground floor.
Ajmer, which is home to the famous Mayo College and Sofia College, has also emerged as a good education and tutorial destination of Rajasthan on the lines of Kota.
The Kanpura village located 35 kms from here has been in news today as the villagers hooked up on a video conference with the US President Barrack Obama yesterday. This village has a population of 5000 approx and it seems that the Obama effect will last for quite sometime to come.
I will be in America next week, but as of now I have plans to go to Pushkar after visiting the dargah and laying a chadar on the shrine.
ess bee

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kali Puja, Diwali and end of an era

Sunday morning November 7 (2010): Bengal celebrated Kali Puja and Diwali on Friday (November 5). I was busy at home performing pujas and attending to the guests and receiving phone calls from all over the world for Diwali greetings.
I kept my cellphone switched on during my birthday and Diwali for convenience keeping in mind the fact that I am using the mobile phone sparingly on doctor's advice. Many of my acquaintances now contact me over landline phones at my office and residence.
From Left: Satyam, Bratya, Pritimoy and Shiladitya (right)
In the recent past, I had stopped using cell phone completely and used it only for checking out and replying to SMSs once during the day. It is practically impossible to reply to very large number of messages and greetings that I receive, not only during my birthday or Diwali, but also during other festivals. It is difficult to keep track as to the SMSes that I have replied and the ones that are due.
No wonder SMS marketing is at its peak these days.
On Thursday evening I went to attend the premiere of the film Tara at Inox Swabhumi (formerly 89 Cinema). Though it was my birthday and I wanted to stay home but changed my mind thinking about the subject of the movie and also because Bratya – the director - had told me about it a month in advance and add to it the fact that I had missed his two other recent events.
Nazrul Islam, Bratya Basu
The film's story is about the Maoists and Prasenjit has acted very well in the film. After the show I also attended the party at Swabhumi for few minutes. Met Nazrul Islam, IPS, Satyam Roy Chowdhury, Pritimoy Chakraborty, Shiladitya Ganguly and others.
Yesterday, the former Chief Minister of West Bengal, Siddhartha Shankar Ray passed away. He was a grand old man of Indian politics. His death marks the end of an era. I was first introduced to him by the then Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot, at  Hotel Kenilworth in Kolkata. I still remember that was a time when Mr Ray (file picture) contested elections from Kolkata North constituency as the Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha elections.
Ashok Gehlot had come to Kolkata with more then a dozen ministers from Rajasthan government to campaign for him. Ray had met representatives of many organisations from Rajasthan and solicited their support.
After that, I met Mr Ray in a number of social events and functions and also in his house at Beltala. The last time I met him was at the State Assembly when he came to pay his homage to Jyoti Basu after his his death. At that time also he was very weak and he needed support to walk. He was very emotional on that day and had said that he too would not live much longer and was right. I'd say he was prophetic. On that day, he had also inquired from me about Ashok ji and how his government was doing in Rajasthan.
I am leaving for Rajasthan today afternoon.
ess bee

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My birthday

Thursday, November 4th is my birthday today. I was born in a small town in Rajasthan called Churu. I did my primary schooling in Churu from a pathshala. I had, never in my wildest imagination, ever thought that a person like myself, born in a small town in an orthodox family, would be able to see a metro city and venture outside India to see foreign lands.
When I was 20 plus, I travelled by plane for the first time. I got my passport in 1994 and I was the first one in the Bhutoria family of 80 to 100 members to travel abroad.
When I think of my village days, I feel that the village life can really teach you to live anywhere and in whatsoever condition the world offers. I remember when I used to travel from Churu to Sujangarh to my grandpa's house in a train along with goats on a common berth.
Today, when I am so finicky about hygiene and cleanliness, I can hardly believe how I used to drink water in Churu during those days, especially after it has been proved today that it is unfit for human consumption. I can earnestly say that the best cars of the world today cannot give me the joy that I used to get from riding the bullock, camel and donkey carts as a child.
I remember there used to be a single 3-digit phone in about 4 sq km area and today I can't count how many telephone connections I have in my establishment. I travelled to Churu every year for 5 consecutive years. Only in the last two years I have not visited that area.
My world has undergone a total change – for good or bad – I don't know yet.
ess bee

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

With Sana at Sourav's

At noon today, I was at the birthday party of Sana, daughter of Sourav and Dona Ganguly, at Sourav's The Food Pavilion on Park Street, Kolkata.
Last time Sana's birthday party was held at their Behala residence but this time Dona felt that it would be easier for Sana's classmates to attend at Sourav's – the popular restaurant in Kolkata that goes by dada's name.
Dona was right and I found myself surrounded by children all around the place having whale of a time. The food was good and the warmth of Dona and dada made it all the more charming. They of course made sure that I tasted all the vegetarian dishes that were spread out.
It felt really nice to be invited and be a part of a gathering that was for Sana's friends and other family members and relatives.
After sun down, I attended a function at Brocade at Baid Boulevard (Avani Heights) in Chowringhee. Met Sayara Halim at the function (picture). After the function I went to the Fort William to attend the cocktails hosted by Ravi Dastane (GOC Bengal Area) and his wife Smita.
The Dastane family is our good friend (file picture) and Ravi is currently posted in Leh. Scheduled to leave Kolkata on November 7, he invited few friends over to his place. I also met Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh and others. I will miss the Dastane family, but then, that's life.
ess bee

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Launch of Atri's website

Today evening I attended the launch of the web site of Atri Sen's paintings at the K2 art gallery in Lansdowne Terrace. Atri is the son of West Bengal industry minister Mr Nirupam Sen. The program was a close family affair.
Atri is a differently-abled child and he is very much into paintings. He has had many exhibitions to his credit. I don't known the state industry minister well enough to have been a part of their small family affair. I was, however, present there since the launch was done my brother-like friend Manoj Mohanka. Some of the media persons too inquired about my presence and if I had any links with the Sen family.
My friend Manoj himself normally shies away from being the guest at any event or function and has declined my requests on so many occasions. But this time, his closeness to the Sen family, especially with Atri, did not allow him to get away.
I met Harsh Neotia and Amajeet Banerjee at the launch function. I was impressed by Atri's paintings and his eye for details. I found interesting was that Atri, through his paintings, had rendered different perspectives to common everyday themes like the sunrise, nature, flights etc.
The best part of the evening was the speech by Manoj, laced with innuendos like, “ .... Atri has a fondness for the red colour which seems hereditary …........ anyone who is not connected to Obama visit may switch off their cellphone.”
In the morning, I visited a special school managed by Alokdhara Foundation which has just shifted to their new premises. This school takes care of children needing special care and attention. The best part of the school is that they make sure children with special needs get to mix with the normal children.
In the evening, I was thinking about Atri and those special children I met in the morning. I felt that God has a way of giving something extra to those who are not normal. God doesn't give everything to any one person.
ess bee