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

1A Camac Court, 25B Camac Street, Kolkata – 700 016, India.

Phone: 91 33 2281 6934

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Google Generation and Blackberry Auntie

Last week, while on a flight, I saw a 6-year-old child using a laptop even after an announcement requesting all electronic devices be switched off was made. When the air hostess requested him twice to turn it off, his parents, instead of helping him do so, were gloating and giggling at their tender-aged son's public display of nerdy intelligence. Little did they realise how their son was missing out on one of life's most important lessons – Good manners.
I feel the greatest loss of our society in the past 20 years is the loss of childhood. As we plunge deeper into the techno era, and if morning shows the day, then, we aren't very far from that time when a child on being asked his grandfather's name would Google first and then reply. Not just India, during my recent trip to the Americas I requested a concierge in a hotel for a popular local address and I found him looking it up on Google. By the time he came back to me, I would have actually reached that place on my own.
Gear up to welcome the Google Generation!
Well, if the Google Generation is on its way, the Blackberry Auntie has already arrived. Wearing black dress is common in Western societies during mourning. But I recently saw a lady do it with her Blackberry during a memorial service in Kolkata.
At the condolence meeting I shared a row with a lady who is reasonably well known in the Kolkata social circuit. She was continuously working on her Blackberry cell phone.
At first I thought it must be a matter of great urgency or else why would anyone attend to a cell phone during a Shraddhanjali Sabha. However, to my utter amazement, she kept on fiddling for over an hour. Never even once did the Blackberry Auntie take her eyes off it. She was too busy to countenance a show of respect to the departed soul.
From cell-yells to multi-tasking to chatting or the ring tones shattering the calm, rude cell phone users are lurking everywhere. Atrocious cell phone manners are spreading across the globe like an epidemic. For all the good that cell phones have brought us, there is a downside.
Cellphones have created mobile bubbles where people are in their own little world cut off from what goes around them. They hold up queues while texting, let their phones ring during lectures, restrooms, meetings, movies and even during funerals, they talk and flush at the same time and so on. It seems, carrying a piece of technology called cell phone allows people to act like cavemen.
A very recent World Health Organisation report says cell phone radiation can cause brain cancer. I wonder if it has a similar adverse effect on the user's sensibility and manners. Why else would our generation that is so well connected on line be so disconnected in life.
Put a cell phone in an otherwise courteous person's hand and then watch how the person loses all his awareness of the people around him. Cell phone is not the issue here, the user is. Cell phone etiquette is an important part of our social behaviour.
I hope the next time Auntie picks up her Blackberry to leave for work she doesn't forget her manners behind. Let technology and manners live in peace - together and forever.
ess bee

Monday, May 30, 2011

First day at the Assembly under new government

I went to the Legislative Assembly for the first session of the new government. The only agenda for the day was election of the Speaker.
I went to the Speaker's gallery first but as expected it got crowded so I decided to sit on the first floor to get a full view.
The House, including all the guest galleries, were full. As were the media galleries. The print and electronic media turned up in full strength. I have never seen the galleries so over crowded with most of the people standing. This was quite an unusual scene as far as the Assembly protocol is concerned.
I reached the Assembly around 2:20 pm, the House was scheduled to start at 3 pm. Subrata Mukherjee, wearing a traditional dhoti kurta, was among the first ones to arrive at 2:30 pm. He was followed by others. Amit Mitra, like Subrata, donned a traditional attire, Bratya Basu had a light green kurta on him. Mamata Banerjee came in with Partho Chatterjee just five minutes before 3 pm. Debasree Roy was the last to enter the House with a Sathya Sai Baba book in her hand.
From 2:30 pm till 2:50 pm there were a lot of courtesies and pleasantries exchanged by the members. Subrata Mukherjee went to the opposition benches to meet up with some of the members. This time the benches and the seating arrangements were changed.
The pro tem speaker, Mr Gyan Singh Sohanpal, better known as Chacha, entered at 3 pm sharp.
Mr Biman Bandhopadhyay was selected the new Speaker of the House unopposed. He was escorted to the Speaker's chair by Partho Chatterjee, Manas Bhuiyan and other ministers amid applause and cheers. Mamata did not join the group as she is not an elected member of the Assembly as of now.
Different party leaders delivered speeches and Prabodh Chandra Sinha's address drew the loudest applause. It is good that members like him, who is a well read person, has made it to the Assembly although he lost the last elections.
The newly-elected Speaker drew mild laughs from the crowd when he said Prime Minister instead of Chief Minister. There were murmurs of “hoye jaabay” from the Trinamul Congress camp. Before the House adjourned, the Speaker announced that Governor would give his speech on June 24th 2011 and the elections for the Deputy Speaker would be held on June 27th, 2011.
The visitor's galleries were full of TMC supporters who were commenting about he new developments and the onset of a new era in the state. After the House was adjourned I went to the main hall and met the newly-elected members and ministers.
With Tony and Parambrata
In the evening I went to The Oberoi Grand to attend the function of the launch of Parambrata and Rudraneel's joint venture production firm with Tony (picture).
ess bee

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kolkata gets its groove back

Sunday today. As the dust of the euphoric electoral celebrations settles down, the city is once again donning the cultural mantle it is famous for. The weekend and the next two or three days are full of functions and events.
A new Italian restaurant Casa Toscana near Menoka Cinema is slated to open, yesterday there was an interactive session with Mahesh Bhatt at The Conclave, Koneenica's birthday bash at the Plush Lounge on Friday (picture), Star Jalsa event at The Oberoi Grand, the function of Neelanjanaa Sengupta Productions, Entertainment Awards at The Science City auditorium, May Queen Ball at Fort William, launch of Parambrato and Rudraneel Ghosh's joint venture and the Italian National Day reception at The Taj Bengal, to name a few.
I went to Mahesh Bhatt Productions play “The Last Salute” - a play based on Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi's book The Last Salute to President Bush at the G D Birla Sabhaghar, Kolkata, on May 29th at 7 pm.
Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi broadcast journalist shot to fame on December 14th, 2008, when he shouted “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people. You dog,” and hurled his footwear at the then President of United States, George W Bush. The video footage became a rage in the cyber world. This act of shoeing triggered a spate of similar incidents across the world as a form of political protest.
Mahesh Bhatt's play dwelt upon this unusual subject.
I think the hosts were unable to get the right audience - which Kolkata has more than any other city - for a play based on this kind of subject.
ess bee

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Halim calls it a day

I went to the state Assembly. It was the last day in office for Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim. Technically he'll remain the Speaker till Monday May 30th 2011 when a new Speaker would be elected. He, however, chose Saturday to be his last day in office.
Over the last 15 years (picture of 1999-2000) I do not remember a single week when I was in town and had not met him in person at the Assembly. Sitting in his room I have learnt so much about International Affairs, Diplomacy, the Parliamentary System and what not.
From the then Presidential candidate Pratibha Patil to Speakers of the different state assemblies to Lord Swaraj Paul, numerous foreign delegations and countless important dignitaries have all interacted with him in his room in the state Assembly.
Mr Halim is one of the most respected members at home and abroad. He happened to be the only Speaker from the state who has been elected the Chairman and Parliamentary Association apart from the Presidentship of World Federation of United Nations Association (WFUNA). He has served in many international organisations and has left him impact there.
I personally learnt a lot about International Affairs from him. Indian political system needs people like Halim who do politics guided by ethics and principles that strengthen the spirit of our Parliamentary democracy. I think after his retirement from the Assembly, I won't be that regular a visitor I used to be.
ess bee

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back to city events

I had breakfast with Mr Kaushik Mitter Managing Editor of The Asian Age - a Xaverian who had earlier worked with The Telegraph. The meeting stretched till early noon and we discussed everything under the sun, moon and stars, including The Asian Age.
I took the afternoon flight to Kolkata but strong winds over Delhi delayed the flight that had to slow down on the runway. The flight braved the weather all through. On arrival, I attended a party at the Plush Lounge hosted by Koneenica where I met quite a few of my friends from Tollywood.
From there I went to Hotel Hindustan International to meet Bangladeshi singer Mehreen who was in town for a couple of days. I missed the Star Jalsa event at The Oberoi Grand.
ess bee

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remembering Badal da

I spent the afternoon at the India International Centre (IIC) library. In the evening I went to Meghdoot, Rabindra Bhavan, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi to attend the memorial meeting of Badal Sircar.
Badal Sircar died on May 13, 2011, in Kolkata and I had just arrived from my trip abroad and could not go to pay my last respects. It was a selective gathering at the Meghdoot Hall. Those who are from the world of art and theatre know about Meghdoot Hall and its history.
There were a speeches by Smt Shanta Serbjeet Singh, Vice Chairman, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi, Dr Anuradha Kapur, Director, National School of Drama, Delhi, and Kirti Jain. I met some of the theatre personalities from Delhi.
There is much to learn from the works and life of Badal da but what I like the most is the kind of respect he had for his work. Last year, the Government of India honoured him with Padma Bhushan. But Badal da did not accept the award saying that he had already got a fellowship from Sangeet Natak Akademi and there was nothing more than that in theatre to achieve. This showed the kind of dedication he had for the work he engaged in.
Indian theatre would never be complete without his name. His works will always be there to inspire others and his contributions will be appreciated by generations to come.
ess bee

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

From Jaipur to Delhi

Hotel Hyatt Regency: I arrived in Delhi yesterday evening from Jaipur. At the Jaipur airport lounge I met Srimant Pandey, IAS, Secretary to the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. He also took the same Delhi flight. I has a chat with him on various issues including Parivartan in Bengal.
Mr Pandey had served at the Chief Minister's Office during the last Gehlot government. 
I have known him since then. Besides holding key government positions in Rajasthan, he had also served as Divisional Commissioner, Bikaner division. 
My native district Churu in Rajasthan comes under this division. Earlier, when I had organised the Anuradha Paudwal evening in Sujangarh, he had attended the whole programme as the Guest of Honour with the then Home Minister of Rajasthan, Gulab Chand Kataria.
The weather here in Delhi is hot. 

I spent the day at the India International Centre and had a meeting with Kapila Vatsyayan, Rajya Sabha MP and the recent recipient of Padma Vibhushan. She discussed with me the proposed Asian Writer's Conclave in Delhi in November 2011. We also discussed the possibility of bringing the Archaeological Exhibition to Kolkata after the Conclave.
Prabha Khaitan Foundation would be supporting this event and I have also agreed to hold the Exhibition in Kolkata.
ess bee

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bumpy flight to the Pink City

Kairoli Suite, Hotel Rajputana Palace Sheraton: I arrived at Jaipur yesterday late afternoon missing out on the DVD launch of Moner Manush at The Taj Bengal in Kolkata. It was a bumpy flight from Kolkata to Jaipur with gusty winds, sudden downpour and darkened skies in the afternoon.
I had a late night meeting at my Hotel lounge. Today morning, I had an impromptu breakfast meet at Jalmahal with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his son Aayan. I will go to the Civil Lines for a meeting and then leave for Delhi in the evening.
Each time I am here, I find the service and standard of hospitality at the Rajputana is always improving. Among the ITC Hotels in India, the Windsor in Bangalore and Rajputana in Jaipur seem to specialise in taking personal care of guests. Specific needs and requirements of the guests are given due attention. I don't see such standards of service in Delhi and Mumbai. Thank you and good show Rajputana.
ess bee

Friday, May 20, 2011

A green carpet welcome for Mamata

I was at the Raj Bhawan to witness the oath ceremony of Mamata Bannerjee's government. The Kolkata's hub around the Governnor's House turned into a sea of humanity.
Earlier, I had witnessed the swearing-in ceremony of Buddhadev Bhattacharya government and also other such functions of the BJP and Congress governments in Karnataka and Rajasthan and on one occasion a function at the Rashtrapati Bhawan
But never ever have I seen such excitement and euphoria among the people as was evident at the Raj Bhawan in Kolkata today. It will be etched in my memory forever.
The green and while pandal and most conspicuous of all, a green carpet welcome for Mamata, set up a perfect ambience for the occasion where more than 3000 guests were invited. 
At the swearing-in function at Raj Bhawan
I went to the Raj Bhawan with Nabaneeta Dev Sen (picture) and Prosenjit Chatterjee and decided to sit a few rows from the front anticipating that the weather would get hot and humid. There were arrangements for enough number of fans but there weren't any coolers as reported by some of the dailies.
While entering I met Bratya Basu and H A Safwi's family members. As the swearing-in function progressed I got up for a brief chat with Harsh Neotia and also exchanged greetings with Mamata Shankar, Pradip Bhattacharya, Abdul Mannan, Nayantara Pal Choudhury, Jogen Choudhury, Rachana Bannerjee and others.
The excitement all around was not just about the regime change after 34 years. People were curious and eager to have a glimpse of Mamata as she walked from the Raj Bhawan to the Writers' Buildings. Everything was the same. The same protocols, police, government officials, rituals except for the look in the people's faces. I think this is what Parivartan is all about.
Mamata had once talked about transforming Kolkata to a city like London. Mamata's walk to the Writers' Buildings today reminded me of Tony and Cherie Blair, who, on the occasion of the State Opening of Parliament which followed a few days after the 1997 election, had walked from Downing Street to the Parliament soaking up the cheers of the crowds while the Queen arrived in her royal coach. Their decision had upset the Queen who, in a rare rebuff, had asked them not to do it again.
After the ceremony, Mamata was on her way to have tea with the Governor. As she crossed us she very affectionately put her hand on Nabaneeta di's hand. While we were waiting for the car, I met Derek O'Brien and our new minister, Amit Mitra, who respectfully touched Nabaneeta di's feet.
There were so many people from all walks of life and cross sections of society. I met them and while greeting them it looked like I was in some very big party where all the celebs, who, for a change, were drawn by Mamata's appeal. I also met many of my old acquaintances after a long time who inquired where I had been as they had not seen me in the Kolkata circuit in recent times.
I hope the new government would fulfil the people's expectations and put Bengal's growth on a fast track.
ess bee

Thursday, May 19, 2011

India's credibility goes for a toss

The media has gone gaga over Mamata's victory - the change of a Communist regime after 34 years, her ardous journey to the Writers' Buildings, the preparations for the oath ceremony tomorrow and so on. Another news that has stood out in the media like a sore thumb is the government's faux pas on the list of 50 most wanted terrorists in Pakistan prepared by our Home Ministry.
More than two years after 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai and after the setting up of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Government of India continues to have a shoddy counter-terrorism data base. The embarrassing diplomatic faux pas of including Wazhul Kamar Khan, a terrorism suspect living on bail in Thane, in the list of 50 most wanted terrorists enjoying sanctuary in Pakistan
has put a big question mark on India's credibility post Osama incident. It has also revealed to the world the manner in which the concerned government departments at the highest level function.
Just as attempts were made to rationalise and trivialise the issue came the second blooper that Feroz Abdul Khan, another name on the 50 most wanted list given to the Pakistan Interior Ministry by the Indian Government, was actually in a Mumbai jail.
As if this wasn't enough, the media reports pointed out that the CBI team from India in Copenhagen was left red faced after the defence counsel of Kim Davy (of Purulia Arms drop case) pointed out in the court that the arrest warrant issued by the special CBI court had expired in January 2011.
In America, I watched a number of international news channels and found that they were veering around to support India's stand regarding Dawood and other wanted terrorists sheltered by Pakistan. I also saw the interview of former general Parvez Musharraf from Dubai where he said that a terrorist from one country cannot be a terrorist of another country. He strongly put forth his view claiming that Pakistan had proof of some of the people on Pakistan's most wanted list being extended five star facilities by the Indian intelligence outfits.
I don't know how much importance was given to his claims internationally, but India's faux pas with the list has put its credibility at stake before the international polity. The advantage that India had gained due to mounting international pressure on Pakistan in the aftermath of Osama killing is likely to fritter away.
Today's statement by Mr Chidambaram that is was a human error reminds me of my personal lawyer friend who always argues about the typological errors in the court. I have lot of respect for Mr Chidambaram, his sincerity and the way he functions as an individual and politician. But I strongly feel that this mistake which he described as a human error can no way be compared to the typological errors in courts. It points towards the serious deficiencies of our system. India has no one but itself to blame for giving Pakistan a handle to hit at us.
It seems India first has to grapple with the errors before taking on the terror.
ess bee

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A tragic twist of fate

Yesterday evening I went to the residence of former Director General of Police, Hyder Ali Safwi, in Salt Lake. Mr Safwi recently won elections on a TMC ticket to become an MLA. I was about to pick up the phone to congratulate him when I got the message that he had lost his 38-year-old son who died of a heart attack in his sleep.
I also went to convey my condolences to the Bothra family in Alipore. The young couple Rishi and Nidhi Bothra, just 35 and 32 years respectively, died in a tragic accident three weeks ago. The couple, who were holidaying, were en route to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh from Guwahati in a Pawan Hans helicopter. Their chopper caught fire after landing in Tawang with 17 or 18 passengers on board plus the crew members. Only four or five persons were rescued and the rest of them met with a tragic end dying on the spot.
Nidhi died in the fire and Rishi was admitted to a Delhi hospital, while in hospital his family was hopeful that he would survive, but sadly he had a cardiac arrest and passed away a week later leaving behind his two sons aged five-and-half years and eight months old. Life indeed can be very cruel.
For may years now a lot of questions have been raised about Pawan Hans helicopters that have claimed the lives of many a politicians. More than security, I think it is our destiny. Who could have imagined that a tragic twist of fate would drown the celebrations of Mr Safwi's electoral victory or for that matter the young Bothra couple would never return alive from their holiday trip. I pray for the bereaved families that they find strength to overcome their grief.
ess bee

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Alfredo of Rome and Azad Hind Dhaba

The first weekend after returning from the Americas and there isn't any noticeable social, cultural or literary events for over a week now in Kolkata. All roads leading to Harish Mukherjee Street. 
The only event of some weight was Mrinal Sen's birthday at Nandan (file picture).
Saturday evening I went to Roxy at The Park, on Sunday I was at Tangerine's for lunch. This is the only restaurant that I like to visit apart from those in the 5 Star Hotels of Kolkata. I like the view of the water body as well as the food there.
On Friday I also had food from Azad Hind Dhaba which has a sketch by M F Hussain and it reminded me of my recent visit to the Italian restaurant, Alfredo of Rome, in New York which brags an Al Hirschfeld caricature. This 8000-square feet Italian restaurant, located on the 4th West 49th Street at the Rockefeller Centre is famed for its Italian food.
The Restaurant has six 16-feet portraits of Albert "Al" Hirschfeld, the American caricaturist born in 1903 who worked for the New York Times for over seven decades. His political cartoons and theatre joint became world famous and he had a huge fan following.
Hirschfeld is known for hiding the name of his daughter, Nina, in most of the drawings he produced since her birth in 1945. The name would appear in a sleeve, in a hairdo, or somewhere in the background. In 1956 Al appended a numeral after his signature to tell his fans how many Ninas he has hidden. Locating Nina's name became a sort of extremely popular game.
Hirschfeld liked the food at Alfredo and had drawn a caricature, with the Nina name hidden, in this restaurant. When my host, a journalist friend, told me about this I remembered our own Azad Hind Dhaba in Kolkata.
And on Friday, while at the dhaba, I remembered Alfredo. But, for me, Kolkata's Azad Hind Dhaba is still better than New York's Alfredo of Rome.
ess bee

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Airport security, broken lock and my missing articles

On Tuesday evening I returned from New York to Montreal. I took the flight from La Guardia city airport in New York and landed at the Pierre Elliott Trudea International Airport, Montreal. After clearing the immigration while collecting my baggage I noticed that there were hardly any baggage at the check-in point. I suppose New York-Montreal being just a 75-minute flight from city airport, most passengers travel with hand luggage.
After reaching my place of stay in Montreal, I suddenly realized that the lock on my baggage was missing and the clip that held the lock was ripped apart. I first thought it must be due to mishandling of the baggage at the airport. No one would have the guts to do such a thing in a flight that originated from a high security New York Airport and at the backdrop of the Osama incident when security is already on a high alert.
On looking closely at the bad it seemed like a handiwork for which some kind of plier was used to tear out the lock. On opening the bag I found that the items not in the original order and my pair of Prada shoes and Mont Blanc sunglasses were missing. I was shocked and realized that someone had forced open the baggage by breaking the lock, sifted through the belongings and taken away two expensive branded items.
All this happened during the security check and by someone in line of duty and at the New York-Montreal route which is one of the world's leading flight routes with most elaborate security infrastructure and protocols.
There is nothing much I can do about it. As per the rules, I should have informed the airport authorities or to the airlines before coming out of the airport premises. Never in my wildest dream could I imagine such a thing could happen. I have travelled to almost all the continents in the world and nothing had ever gone missing from my baggage at the airports.
Due to heightened security at airports in the US, all checked luggage can be inspected by airport security and may need to be opened for inspection if need be. The Airport security is so determined to gain access to inspect that they will break the luggage lock if the lock isn't TSA certified. The outcome of this luggage inspection is clipped locks and cut locks for travelers. But my bag had a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) security-compliant lock approved by the US customs.
I am still trying to fathom as to how could this happen and that too an airport with heightened security. Let me mention that while boarding at the Montreal airport, passengers are shown their baggage at the gate of the aircraft for verification and confirmation that it belongs to them.
I intend to write to the Airlines to at least keep them posted of what is going on under their very nose. I would have overlooked had something small gone missing but expensive branded shoes and sunglasses sure alludes to an active well-organised racket.
ess bee

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Change in the air

After a month-long trip to the Americas, I am back to my city .... the same people and familiar surroundings. However, there is a change in the weather. There is also going to be a change in the air at the Writers' Buildings if one goes by most of the exit polls. I'll be back on track from tomorrow.
ess bee

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Human rights vs target killings

Canada: I am back in Montreal from New York. Osama is in news in all the channels the world over. Conspiracy theorists have been on an over drive. Also, questions over legality of the killing had taken over the discussion soon after the news of Osama's death.
There have been voices from many quarters saying that the norm should be that terrorists be dealt with as criminals i.e., through legal processes of arrest, trial and judicially-decided punishment thus highlighting the issue of target killings carried out by a government agency in the territory of another country.
I heard the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem (Navi) Pillay call for a “full disclosure of the accurate facts,” on the Osama incident. “The United Nations condemns terrorism but it also has basic rules of how counter-terrorism activity has to be carried out,” she said.
It seems that for about 24 hours nobody knew much about the operations. Osama was shot in Pakistan and given a watery burial within 10 hours. In the wake of changing versions of the incident by US, reactions began to pour in from many quarters, including from various segments of the civilized world.
The whole of last week was full of speculations about what had actually happened. There were different stories doing the rounds. Other than the issue of international law, geographical boundaries, US invading air space, the issue of human rights was also raised.
I saw on television a noted film director in the United States saying that what America did wasn’t right. He said he would have preferred Osama tried under the US law.
I don’t understand how can human rights be the same for a terrorist and a petty thief ? For example, from a human rights point of view, can a child molester be treated at par with someone who stole a bike.
The laws and rights are for the civil society not for terrorists like Osama. I think it is high time we redefine the laws governing human rights.
Theoretically, law is equal for all. But we all, especially the people of Third World countries, know that it is a myth and how the laws favour the rich against the poor. I think we should make a clear segregation between law for the civil society and those for criminals like Osama.
ess bee

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

9/11, Osama and Hotel Millennium

Hotel Millennium, New York: Tuesday, May 3rd: It is celebration time in New York. People came out of homes cheering and waving US flags to gather at Times Square and Ground Zero as they heard the news of Osama's death. Cafes, salad bars, offices, tube stations, tourist and business spots and Osama's death was the talking point.
Morning dailies lavished space to report the story at length. The Monday eveningers carried special issues with banner headlines screaming “Got him” or “No more”.
Yesterday, at a bookstore on the 5th Avenue and 49th Street, I saw famous international magazines had printed special issues of the royal wedding. But in sudden turn of event, the whole media focus shifted from London to Pakistan.
For me, Hotel Millennium seems to have a common thread with both the events. As I have mentioned in my earlier blogs, I was in this Hotel when 9/11 took place. I had seen the twin towers coming down from the window of my hotel room. Now, after 10 years, like an action replay here I am again in the very same Hotel reading about the killing of the very same perpetrator and master mind behind 9/11 and also witnessing a public outburst of people's emotions.
I even saw a hawker selling pictures of The Statue of Liberty holding up a severed head of Osama Bin Laden. The New York Times reported “....the history's most expansive, expensive and exasperating manhunt was over.”
In the evening I went to an Indian restaurant Junoon near Madison Square on the 24th Street. Junoon and Tulsi are the two Indian restaurants that have recently come up in New York city. Both are elegant and well decorated and in situated in posh locales.
Tulsi has modern Indian fusion food while Junoon maintains original Indian food. Though Junoon is much bigger than Tulsi, I wasn't at all impressed with the quality of food. Also, there aren't many Indian service staff and it is bit difficult to make them understand Indian food.
I had gone to Junoon with a lot of expectations but apart from the decor and the ambience there isn't much to talk about. Seems it is aimed at catering to the foreign clients. But yes! They have a spice room which is quite impressive. They use freshly grounded spices everyday.
I told one of the senior servers, a Nepali, about my observations on the quality of food. I told him that I really liked the food in Tulsi. He admitted that no one can beat Chef Hemant Mathur and when it comes to Indian food, he was the best.
Junoon also has a bar lounge and a waiting area. I met the restaurant's Chef de Cuisine, Walter D'Rozario, who showed us the spice room located at the ground floor. He was born in Rowdan Street, Kolkata and lived in the Tangra area. He left Kolkata some 20 years back and has worked at Taj President, Mumbai.
In this trip I have done enough research on Indian food and restaurants. I leave for Canada today evening.
ess bee

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tourist's eye and a foodie's confession

View of Statue of Liberty from Hudson River
From New York: I have never seen New York from a tourist's point of view. After a late night on Saturday, I set out on a city tour on Sunday which included cruising along the Hudson (picture) on a steamer.
I either stay away from things or get deep into it. 
Helipad near Manhattan
So after the guided tour of the city – on land and by river - on Sunday, I went in for an aerial tour of the city in a chopper on Monday morning. Whether on land, sea or air you see the same things – The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, UN building, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre (picture) and so on. 
At the Rockefeller Centre, New York
There's nothing that I have not seen before. But seeing New York from a tourist's eye is a new experience altogether.
On Sunday evening after the tour, I went to the Tulsi restaurant again and met Hemant Mathur. He happens to be the very chef who had started the Sonar Gaon restaurant inTaj Bengal, Kolkata. From Kolkata, Hemant went to Germany where he set up a couple of Indian joints and then came this venture in a posh location in New York.
Being a Sunday the restaurant was a little less busy but Hemant had prepared so many different Indian cuisines. I was amazed with the presentation and quality of Indian food at Tulsi. The only other place I recall having seen such fine presentation was at the celebrity chef Vineet Bhalla's Indigo restaurant in Dubai.
While at the Indian Mission I came to know about Tulsi and Hemant. Initially I thought it was chef Heman Oberoi's joint but found it was Hemant Mathur of Sonar Gaon fame.
I also had a mocktail of fresh saffron juice, tamrind with orange flavour and some special masala. I have never had such nice mocktail till date in any of the Indian food joints. The mocktail was prepared by Nirupama Srivastava, a friend of Hemant, who was visiting him from California where she is into wine tasting. She has profound knowledge about cocktails, mocktails and wines.
I am at a loss to understand why can't we get Indian food like Tulsi's or Indigo's here in India. Or is it that all the good chefs, like the software engineers, have left our shores for greener pastures.
ess bee

Sunday, May 1, 2011

From UN meeting to the Indian joints in New York

Sunday 3:30 am: The WFUNA Executive Committee meeting stared at 9 am today morning and finished around noon over lunch. Yesterday, while the meeting was in progress, a group of Syrians were protesting outside the UN building on some human rights issue. 
A member from Israel demanded that WFUNA Executive Committee should issue a statement regarding the Syrian problem. After deliberations it was decided that it would not be appropriate for the Executive Committee to do so.
There was a discussion on hosting the next plenary in Juba – the proposed capital of Southern Sudan - that will become the independent state of South Sudan on July 9th 2011. South Sudan is the 55th country in Africa and Juba is a picturesque town on the banks of the White Nile.
The UN membership roaster contains 54 African states and that of the African Union lists 53 states. Of these, 48 states are on the African mainland while 6 are island nations. Many WFUNA members felt that it would not be practical to hold the plenary as WFUNA currently has no branch in Juba. They felt it was not pragmatic to depend on the new government for the plenary. The next Executive Committee meeting, it was decided would be held in India in the first week of November.
The Executive Committee members expressed their satisfaction on the financial position of the organisation that is at its best in recent years. As a treasurer, I have all the reasons to be happy.
After the Executive Committee I went to Jackson Heights – one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in New York city. It is a microcosm of the Indian subcontinent in New York with a mixed settlement of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis etc., along with a large number of South Americans and East Asians.
Every time I comeback to visit this place I find more and more immigrant populations have moved in. Procuring a green card seems to be a major goal for most of these groups. I had a chat at Rajbhog shop and also had a pan at the Shetty Pan Centre and went to see an Indian movie on Long Island.
Before going to the Jackson Heights, I visited the New York University area and further down to the University at MacDougal Street, students from Bangladesh and West Bengal know that there is one very famous roll shop called The Kati Roll. This shop, selling only rolls, enjoys a reputation among the students that rival's our very own Nizam's.
Bang opposite is another shop that sells Jhal Muri and chats called Thelewala. It is a fact that we Indians cannot forget our food and culture and are actually drawn to it even more when far away from home.
After seeing a movie I went to another Indian joint called Five Star in Long Island, which, as far as I know, is the only one that is operational 24 hours a day. It reminds me of Azad Hind Dhaba, Kolkata. At 2 am, well past midnight, I had excellent dhaba food on my way back to the Millenium.
ess bee