Sundeep Bhutoria

Welcome to my blog. Do share your views and thoughts with me. Request visitors to keep their comments brief and to the point. I shall respond to you to the extent possible.
Thank you.
ess bee

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Catching up with journalist and artist friends

A senior journalist came over for tea yesterday evening. We had a long chat on various political issues.
In the evening I was supposed to attend a wedding reception at the Fort William but could not make it. On Monday evening I met Sanatan Dinda at the Flurry's and discussed with him about his upcoming art exhibitions. I also discussed with him about his permanent art gallery in Kolkata.
From Flurry's I went to hotel Floatel to attend the function on Bengal art hosted and organised by Satyam Roy Chowdhury's Techno India. I met many artists. Floatel, no doubt, is a different kind of hotel in the City of Joy. The property is housed on the deck of ship. The banquets over looking the Ganges provides a soothing view and so does the other suites, especially the Vasco da Gama suite.
Today I leave for Delhi in afternoon.
ess bee

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rotary function


On Saturday evening I went to the Saturday Club to attend the 6th Installation Meeting of the Rotary Club of Calcutta Renaissance as the guest speaker. I met the incoming District Governor 2011-12 Rotarian Angsuman Bandopadhyay.
Usually I do not go to the Lion and Rotary functions. My personal feeling is that they have more of a club culture than a social culture. However, in recent years, I have noticed that both the Rotary and Lion clubs, at least in India, have developed and taken up various social programmes.
I was invited by the incoming secretary, Chirabrata Majumdar, whose father is well known to me. Our association goes back many years and to the West Bengal Assembly. I am also working with him in one of the Organization’s committee in the State Assembly.
In the evening I went to meet Mehreen, an upcoming singer from Bangladesh, at the Taj Bengal, she was en route to Hyderabad from Bangladesh, I skipped the invitation to the Bharat Nirman Awards.
Yesterday, Sunday, I had an official visitor from Jaipur and after a meeting with him in the morning I went to the Silver Springs banquet hall to attend an annaprasan ceremony. The food from the Tangerine at that banquets was, as always, very tasty.
ess bee

Friday, June 24, 2011

Delhi hop

I returned from Delhi last night. In Delhi, I had meetings with different people from the world of art and culture but two scheduled meetings with Namita Gokhale and danseuse Sonal Man Singh, however, had to be cancelled at the last minute as they fell ill.
I met Pradeep and Namrata Sureka by chance at the Hyatt lobby. Also met Sitaram Sharma at the India International Centre lunch room. I took some time to visit the UNIC Centre.
Delhi is really hot for this time of the year and bug in FM's office is the hottest discussion doing the rounds.
I have quite a few functions lined up for the weekend in Kolkata that I plan to attend.
ess bee

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flight missed

I was supposed to be in Delhi on Monday June 20th but had to come back from the airport because by the time I reached the check in counter only seven minutes were left for the flight's departure. It took me two hours from ITC Sonar Bangla to reach the airport.
I wasn't the only one, there were at least 20 other passengers who reached after me and requested the girl at the counter to do something since it was the last flight to Delhi. I endorsed my ticket for Tuesday June 21st noon flight and returned home.
There has been the chat that the traffic in Kolkata had improved ever since the new regime took charge. I too have heard this at the Page 3 parties and in general discussions. Thanks to Mamata di, she can go anywhere, any time and may be that had a positive affect on the traffic.
On Monday afternoon she went to Delhi and on my way back from the airport it struck me that the traffic was bad because the Kolkata traffic police would get some breathing space to relax a bit as the chief minister was out of city. Just moderate rains and some road mishap cannot cause such a major traffic snarl to the airport. A daily newspaper also reported the same the next day.
ess bee

Monday, June 20, 2011

At the Tele Cine Awards 2011

Sunday evening I went to the Science City to attend the Tele Cine Awards (TCA) 2011 function. Science City auditorium is becoming a favourite for hosting the Bengali cinema and television serial award functions.
Surprisingly, the number of award functions is increasing by the month. I think that it has become a more of a profitable venture for the organizers than recognition of the personalities. I met Kaushik & Churni Ganguly, Swastika Mukherjee, Srijit (picture), Sashswata, Rituporno Ghosh and others from the Tollywood fraternity.
I handed over the award for Best Actress to Nandana Sen for her film Autograph (picture). One of the songs from the movie Autograph – Amake amar moton thaktey dao... - has become a rage. Nandana, the daughter of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Nabaneeta Dev Sen, flew down from Mumbai for the function.
On the evening of Saturday, June 19th, before returning home for dinner with some guests, I attended a function at the Crystal Hall of The Taj Bengal, organized by Penguin Books India and The Taj Bengal, to launch the Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke – his second book in Ibis trilogy. Amitav's books are a bestsellers overseas putting him on top of the list of bestselling Indian writers.
I shall will be in Delhi by today late night.
ess bee

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fear makes one a fair-weather friend

There is great demand among the city industrialists to get an entry card to the Belvedere Road meeting with prospective investors being organised by Mamata Banerjee. Those who have not received any invitation were making all efforts through their channels and contacts - from the Writers' to Raisina - to procure an invitation card.
I wonder why there is such a desperation to be there at the meeting. It is because all of them want to set up an industrial project in the state or they just want to show their faces to Mamata Banerjee to countenance a show of solidarity with the new regime. Or is it they are worried by the fact that not being invited would dent their social standing and reputation as top industrialists.
Industrialists are always on the right side of the fence. They are with those who are in power. This is their compulsion given the nature and character of socio economic set up in India. The first impact of parivartan is most visible among the industrialists.
Last Sunday evening, before attending the wedding of Jagmohan Dalmia’s son, I dropped in at The Park to attend the Russian National Day Celebrations. Though the card mentioned the reception time as 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm, I dropped in at around 8:15 pm and was surprised to see very few people in the hotel's Banquet.
Apart from one former Chief Secretary, I couldn't spot any other bureaucrats or celebs. There were only a couple of Honorary Consuls with career consuls and of course people from the Russian Mission.
Over the years, the Russian Consulate celebrations have always been much talked about and well attended. I have seen the Honorary Consuls, most of whom are industrialists, attend the Russian celebrations in full strength. I have personally seen on three occasions the Hall packed to its capacity. The unstated reason was that it offered a great opportunity to rub shoulders with the top leaders of the Left who made it a point to attend the Russian Consulate function in full strength. Who'd skip such a chance!
On my way to The Taj BengaI from The Park, I kept wondering whether this low turn out at the function was due to the Parivartan factor or because of the so many other glamorous events in the city.
It is alleged that the industrialists always favour the government in power as they have their businesses to run and can ill afford to be on the wrong side of the fence. Do they have any choice on this?
It is not that their thinking have actually changed. It is the fear of the government in power that make them switch their loyalties overnight. So, there are no permanent loyalties. It is the fear that makes one a fair-weather friend.
One of the greatest challenges for Mamata Banerjee would be to put in place or restore a neutral administration as she has said that she would.
ess bee

Friday, June 17, 2011

Colonial hangover in Clubs

The recent incident of preventing veteran artist Suvaprasanna from entering the dining area of the century-old Calcutta Club and later ejecting him from the premises because he had arrived there to attend a function is traditional Indian attire – kurta and pyjamas.
The Calcutta Club's notorious track record for turning away those who wear Indian attire include, among others, M F Hussain. Former Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi had also declined invitation to the Club.
A team of intellectuals including poet Joy Goswami, Bibhash Chakrabarty rightly demonstrated their protest against the Club's antiquated and offensive dress code regulations that reeks of a sick colonial hangover.
The Club, however, exercises its rules selectively and does make exceptions when it suits them. I remember on Valentine's Day, February 14th 2010, there was an award function Celebrating Kolkata at this very same club. Suvaprasanna, Rituparno Ghosh had also attended this function. At that time, when Renu Roy had approached me for the function, I had asked her if Calcutta Club would allow me in my traditional attire. She had assured me and the Club did allow me and others in our traditional Indian dress. Where were the rules then!
Several years ago I faced a similar situation at the Calcutta Swimming Club – another Club that is rooted in its colonial past. At that time kurtas and pyjamas were a strict no no at the Calcutta Swimming Club except for the banquets that were let out for private functions. However, in a sudden relapse, the management of the Calcutta Swimming Club decided to stop those attired in kurtas and pyjama from the banquet halls also and I was stopped from entering it. That was during a pre-marriage ceremony where most Indians attend in kurtas and pyjamas.
Earlier, I had organized several functions in their banquets attended by some of the chief ministers who wore kurtas and pyjamas. I had written about the incident then and the national print and electronic media had raised this issue at length.
Now the same issue has again surfaced but the problem is whenever it happens we protest for a while and forget it. Otherwise, why Calcutta Swimming Club, which is technically housed on a property leased by the Governor of West Bengal, and even today have a representative of Governor or Government in the Commitee, runs such an offensive dress code diktat or tanashahi in Kolkata at the very heart of India's cultural Mecca even after 64 years of Independence.
I am not advocating this just because I always wear traditional Indian attire. But my modest knowledge about the law tells me that any disrespect to the national flag, national currency, national song is not allowed. Then what about the national dress. Many have given me the argument that kurta and pyjamas is not the national dress. But then, why does such clubs exist where even the democratically-elected Prime Minister of the country cannot enter.
The last time when I went to the Tolly Club, I saw there was a board “Dogs & Maids are not allowed”. It defies logic as to how the club, which is supposed to be “the most posh club” in city, can put maids in the same category as dogs.
I have heard from my seniors that there used to be a board at the Calcutta Swimming Club even years after Independence that read “Indians and dogs are not allowed”. One fine day, the then political leader Ram Chatterjee had jumped into the swimming pool with a group of dogs in protest.
Should we continue to be apologetic for our Indian attire living in India. It is high time we all should get together and do something to settle this outrageous issue of banning Indian dresses in Clubs - once and for all.
ess bee

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Respecting rules and protocols

Earlier this month, I attended the Italian National Day function (June 2nd). There was an arrangement for checking cards at the entrance.
In line with the Indian and Kolkata culture, half of those invited were not carrying the cards with them although it was clearly mentioned in the invite that guests should bring the card for security reasons.
It is very common in Kolkata to ignore such instructions mentioned in the invitation cards. It seems that the only matter people read in the invitation card is the venue and timing of the function. Other instructions are ignored or not given due credence.
It is almost like a certain sub-culture to ignore instructions especially if it says “Please carry the card”. People in India and in Kolkata don't take such instructions in the right spirit. I think it hurts them to show their credentials or a card at the gate or entrance even though their own security may be at stake. Others may feel that it would slight their social status as they are well known in the social circuit.
The psychology that runs is something like “.. everybody knows me or ought to know me”. You don't ask if Sachin can bat or Lata can sing! Few things can massage a giant-sized ego as much as passing through a high security zone or gate with zero compliance and no questions asked.
Since a number of very important guests do this, the organisers are left with no choice but to allow them entry without the cards, compromising on security or protocols. I fail to understand how many of the same guests, when they go to the American National Day, fully comply with the instructions and also carry and present the invitation cards at the security without fuss.
Well, it is simple. The guests know that the US security protocol is usually very strict and uncompromising and there's always the possibility of entry being restricted if they do not carry the card with them.
I think the organisers too should put in some thought while sending out invites. It is cumbersome for the guests to carry a large A4-sized invite in one's pocket. As a host of various events in the city, I always make it a point to attach an entry card the size of a visiting card along with the invitation for the convenience of the guest whenever there is a need for the card to be shown. My experience, however, is that Kolkatans, in general, lack the culture of carrying such cards for functions and events.
The guests and the hosts, both have to learn. While the guests must respect and comply with the requests and rules a card requests of, the hosts should ensure that the card is easy to carry in pockets or handbags.
I remember a few years back I had hosted the Film Festival Farewell Dinner at the Hyatt poolside. Two top personalities of the city were stopped at the gate as I had issued instructions that only those with cards be allowed entry. One of them, a good friend of mine, understood the gravity of the situation, but the other gentleman was upset and created quite a scene. I had to go to his home the next morning and apologise in person for the inconvenience caused. But I explained to him that it was due to the security factor and also to prevent any gatecrashers from entering. The seriousness of the matter then seeped in and he praised the tight security arrangements that had denied him entry.
Let us hope guests would take invitation requests seriously and things would change for better.
ess bee

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Twin wedding functions in city

Last Sunday, June 12th, was a busy one. In the morning I went to The Oberoi Grand for lunch. The occasion was the engagement of Neeta and Ghanshyam Sarda's daughter Prerna with Abhinav, son of Tapoti and Amitabh Jhunjhunwala.
The Oberoi ballroom was very graciously decorated and the Kolkata’s industrialists were present in full strength. The groom and the in-laws are from Mumbai and some of the elite industrialists from Mumbai were also present including Anil and Tina Ambani.
Among the politicians present there for the lunch were Praful Patel, Prem Gupta, Saugata Roy, Subroto Mukherjee, Dinesh Trivedi and many others. Vidhu Vinod Chopra from the Mumbai film world was also there.
In the evening I went to The Taj Bengal for the wedding reception of Chandralekha and Jagmohan Dalmia’s son Avishek (picture) with Koeli – daughter of Sharmila and Late Shantanu Mitter.
At this wedding reception there were a number of sports personalities including Kapil Dev, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sourav Ganguly and others. Even the new State Cabinet Ministers were present in full strength. I spotted Mayor Shovan Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra and others. Some film personalities were also present.
If Sunday morning witnessed the gathering of industrialists, the evening went to the sports personalities. The presence of politicians were there on both the occasions in good measure.
I met the Union Minister for Tourism, Subodh Kant Sahai, after a long time at the reception (picture).
ess bee

Saturday, June 11, 2011

At the Kolkata Police function

With Jawed Shamim and Damayanti Sen
Today evening I went to Vidya Mandir for a function hosted by the Kolkata Police to felicitate the students who performed well in the recent Board examinations.
This was followed by a Rabindra Sangeet for Pronam members.
I met up with quite a few IPS officials (picture).
Among the guests at the function were Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, State Cabinet Ministers - Partho Chatterjee, Savitri Mitra and Subroto Bakshi.
June Maliah also attended the programme as Member, West Bengal Commission for Women. 
June (file picture) had attended few of the programmes organised by The Bengal in the past (picture). 
The programme started with a song by the Pronam members.
I could not make it for dinner at Arindam Sil's residence.
ess bee

Friday, June 10, 2011

Face of Bengal - photo exhibition

With Ms Constance Colding Jones, the new Director of American Centre in Kolkata, Jogen Choudhury and Dr Sushanto Banerjee, Director, American Centre Library in Kolkata.
This evening I went to attend an exhibition of pictures by US Consul General Beth Payne at the Harrington Mansions. I really appreciated the photos.
Beth isn't the only Consul General in Kolkata who is into photography.
With Nemai Ghosh
The late Consul General of Germany, Günter Wehrmann, was also very good at shooting with the camera and was an accomplished photographer. He too had held his exhibitions in the city a couple of times.
I found Günter’s subjects were very photogenic while Beth’s  photos are very intelligently done. Every photo speaks of West Bengal. The exhibition was aptly named – Face of Bengal.
ess bee

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ramdev fiasco

I wonder what made the government of a 1.2 billion nation so jittery over the mere threat of a hunger strike by a yoga guru. The Ramdev fiasco has put the Government in a tight corner. 
The uncalled for police crackdown in the middle of the night to evict sleeping men, women and children from the Ram Lila Maidan has revealed how the Government panicked and put itself in a situation it could have well avoided.
With the TV channels playing out the high drama 24x7, most Indians feel the yoga guru and the peaceful gatherers at the Ram Lila Maidan were wronged. The action, which came hours after the government tried to roll out the red carpet to woo Ramdev, seemed vindictive.
Further, the official statement that the yoga guru was trying to destabilise the government was reminiscent of the "foreign hand" argument of the 60s and 70s when anything and everything that went wrong was attributed to it.
Also, the fact that a mere fast unto death by a yoga guru can destabilise a big country like India - a so called super power in the making - seems far fetched. I do not subscribe to this view at all. Those who think so are belittling the resilience and strength of India.
Others felt that the Government was creating a precedent that was detrimental to the spirit of Indian democracy. With the Supreme Court taking suo moto cognizance of the Government action and the notice served on the Delhi administration by the National Human Rights Commission indicates that the Government action was questionable.
In recent years India has seen and thrown up some broad trends like Trial by the Media, Judicial Activism and now Civil Society Activism. I think all these stem from our democratic system and tradition of free thought. Right to peaceful protest is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution of India. That's what Baba Ramdev was doing.
If the first mistake of the Government was to welcome Baba Ramdev like a foreign dignitary, the second one was the midnight crackdown on the people. As if the Government hadn't had enough, it announced that the Enforcement Directorate and other Government agencies would be engaged to determine the source of Ramdev's funds and other activities.
The ill-timed immature announcement of this act once again showed the Government in a poor light. It conveyed to us a feeling that the Government agencies are the personal tool of those who are in power. It has also given the Opposition a handle to hit back at the government.
What the Government has not realised is that it has overnight given Baba Ramdev a degree of publicity and space that would have taken him years to build. Threats of hunger strike by others, like the civil rights activist from Manipur, Irom Chanu Sharmila, have not been given much importance by the government. So why was this one given such due importance. Was it because of the fear of the spontaneous public response that Anna Hazare's call got!
India has a long history of civil society movements. A call for fight against corruption is a universal call and if the method of protest is a peaceful one there should be no issues.
On the other side, there is no doubt that Baba Ramdev has hogged the limelight during the past few days but questions have been raised from many quarters - Why should a yoga guru engage himself in cutting back room deals with the government?
ess bee

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Masai Mara! Next time perhaps

I was supposed to be in Nairobi (Kenya) today on an invitation from Eshila Maravanyika, Deputy Director, United Nations Information Centre, Nairobi, to participate in a symposium on Responsibility to Protect organised by the World Federation of United Nations Association (WFUNA) in partnership with the United Nations Information Centre, Nairobi, and the Swedish Embassy in Kenya, at the UN office there.
I have never been to Kenya and was looking forward to the trip. In order to apply for a visa for Kenya
, it is necessary to have the Yellow Fever injection certificate. I had had a dose of the Yellow Fever injection about 7 to 8 years back when I was planning a visit to Ghana. The certificate is normally valid for 10 years.
I, however, could not trace the certificate and this was yet another reason for cancelling the trip though the main reason was due to unavoidable important work in Jaipur that is getting delayed.
I informed the WFUNA head office about my inability to attend. I also thought if I visited Nairobi, I would also go on the famed Masai Mara Jungle Safari - the game drives which is supposed to be the best in the world.
May be the next time perhaps.
ess bee

Friday, June 3, 2011

At the Italian National Day celebrations

Yesterday I went to The Taj Bengal for the Italian National Day celebrations. There was a concert for the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy presented by The Calcutta School of Music.
It was a select gathering of diplomats with Governor M K Narayanan (picture) as the Chief Guest. 

I met the new Consul General of Italy, Mr Joel Melchiori. I had a chat with Beth Payne (picture), the US Consul General in Kolkata. I shared with her my experience in New York which I visited last month. 
There was an Italian spread but I skipped dinner as I had invited a police officer and a senior journalist for dinner at my residence.
ess bee

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A new Italian food joint in city


With Sankho Ghosh
On the first day of June I went to the Saturday Club to attend the launch of Antarotomo - an album on recitations from Tagore by Soumitra Mitra. 
I met many eminent personalities like Sankha Ghosh, Sri Dwijen Mukhopadhyay (pictures) and filmmaker Sri Goutam Ghosh.
Dwijen Mukhopadhyay
It was an hour-long function.
I also attended the inaugural party of Casa Toscana and Casa Paneterria near Menoka Cinema
Kolkata now has a new restaurant with a refreshingly new ambience serving ethnic Italian food.
ess bee