Sundeep Bhutoria

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Thank you.
ess bee

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Concern over Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad

I arrived from Delhi yesterday evening. On Saturday evening I met Ashok Vajpayee and Om Thanvi for the proposed Agyeya Centenary Celebrations in Kolkata.
From the moment I shook hands with Ashok Vajpayee, the first thing he talked of was about Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad. I had written about the Parishad fiasco in this column earlier.
Vajpayee ji mentioned that he had met Suresh Neotia, Parishad's member Trustee during a meeting in Jaipur. He told me that he had, at the airport, given to Mr Suresh Neotia the full set of documents that was prepared by the staff of the Parishad and requested him to sort out the issue.
I, meanwhile, learnt from my sources in Kolkata that Suresh Neotia and Pratibha Agarwal had mediated with the staff representatives and sorted out the matter and that the doors of Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad would open soon.
I came to know from the media reports that the issue had been settled with the management agreeing to increase the staff salary by 45 per cent. Thanks to Suresh Neotia for taking the initiative and saving one of the great institutions in this part of the country, which is part of our heritage, from closing down.
During my conversation with Ashok Vajpayee and Om Thanvi, I learnt that there were rumours that other Trustee members and some of the management cadre weren't happy with this decision and they strongly felt that the management had not been able to present their point of view and position before the society. There is a strong feeling in certain sections of the management that the literary figures, who favoured the staff members, have only heard one part of the story.
I also spoke to Geetesh Sharma, an activist, who, while endorsing the fact that the staff demands were absolutely okay, felt that the management's version too should have been heard properly. Geetesh was also a part of the meeting of a literary group that was called to discuss the problem at the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad.
One very relevant question was raised in the meeting – “Why a particular group of people are always vocal whenever things go wrong in Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad and are absolutely mum when it comes to other issues of the Society. He also said in the meeting that why the group, that is so bothered about Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad, did not utter a word on the Hindi Academy in the state that was closed down and is defunct for over 10 years.
The state Hindi Academy, housed in the Sanskrit College in College Street doesn't have a single permanent staff. Only last week, thank to Mamata Banerjee government, the Governor has officially constituted the committee for the Academy. In a meeting, questions have been raised as to - Why there were no protests against the misdoings in the last so many years?
As a well wisher, I understand that the literary group had to be neutral. Actually not many of us know for sure who is right or who is wrong. We should take a deep breath that, at least for now, the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad is functional.
Who knows what’s next?
ess bee

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Once again in Delhi


I came to Delhi on Friday afternoon. It was rainy day. The rains seem to follow me from Jaipur to Kolkata to Delhi. However, there has been a let up since Saturday and there is once again bright sunshine.
On Friday evening I went to 1, Amrita Shergill Marg at the residence of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela's ambassador Ms Milena Santana Ramierez. She had invited about 20 people, including Prakash and Brinda Karat, few diplomats and a couple of senior editors. The theme was Indian food.
It was my first visit to her residence and no doubt the collection of world renowned painter Francis Newton Souza's paintings adorned the walls and added a lot of glamour to the charming old beautiful house.
Saturday, I had tea with Malashri Lala at India International Centre (IIC) and  updated her on the proposed program on the 29th in Kolkata since she was out of India for almost a month.
Before meeting Malashri, I had quick meeting with Fatos Kerciku, ambassador of the Republic of Albania, over coffee in his house. A common friend introduced us. Although India doesn't have a mission in Albania, but, for past 3 years, Albania has a full fledged mission here in India with an Honorary Consul General in Kolkata as well.
At the dinner over Ms Milena's, I learnt about an important piece of information from a senior bureaucrat from the Foreign Services that there are in all about 725 Indian Foreign Services officer at present, including all the postings in overseas missions and in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) as well. On the other hand, a small country like Cuba, has more then 1400 foreign service officers.
No wonder, Albania did not have an Indian mission. In fact, I recollect, when I was travelling to Armenia a couple of years ago, Georgia was making world headlines. In Yerevan, I met Mrs Reena Pandey, who was the then Indian Ambassador to Armenia, and just asked her about the Indian Mission in Georgia. She told me that there was no mission in Georgia and that she was taking care of Georgia and when required she would travel to Sibley.
I think in the current era of globalisation and networking, India needs to pull up its socks. If India doesn't have a representative in many of the important countries, we lag behind others and miss out on many issues.
Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar is on an official visit to India.
India has always been proud of its friendly foreign policy. Currently, the world is looking at India as an important global player. Just think, how can India live up to its expected global role through a cadre of mere 725 A grade foreign officers
It was 1994 or 1996 when I visited Luxembourg. At that time, there was no Indian Mission out there. After Geneva, Luxembourg was one of the leading banking   and insurance services destinations and was also emerging as a common platform for EOU countries.
Things have changed in our country and is still in  a flux. Let us hope for the best and I hope that some steps would be taken to ensure that we have more able foreign officers who would serve our interests in the global arena.
ess bee

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Respite for Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad

Thursday, July 21, 2011: Day before yesterday I attended Harsh Neotia’s 50th birthday party celebrations at the Swissotel. The party was hosted by Harsh’s wife Madhu at the hotel’s new Indian restaurant called Durbari.
The get together was a small gathering of Harsh’s personal friends and family members. Met many of the city’s industrialists and quite a few from the art and cultural fraternity. 
Yesterday evening I met Saoli Mitra in her studio at Beckbagan.
Suresh Neotia
Today morning I heard that the problem at the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad was settled amicably through the efforts of one of the Trustees, Suresh Neotia (file picture).
I learnt that the ex bureaucrat and cultural icon in Delhi, Ashok Vajpayee, who is currently the Chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi and also the Executive Board Member of Sangeet Natak Akademi had spoken to Suresh Neotia about Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad.
I got to know that the management has agreed to increase the salary of the staff by 45%. Thanks to Suresh Neotia for his efforts that has saved a prominent institution from being closed down.
Tomorrow I shall leave for Delhi.
ess bee

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad fiasco

Tuesday, July 19, 2011: I arrived from Jaipur on Sunday night. The literary circle in Kolkata is rife with the controversy around Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad – the renowned institution located at Shakespeare Sarani in the heart of Kolkata. Many businessmen who are active on the social circuit too have evinced keen interest in the matter and have been following the recent developments involving the Parishad quietly.
Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad was founded by the Late Sitaram Seksaria and Bhagirat H Kanodia with the aim of promoting Indian languages, especially Bengali and Sanskrit. The Parishad has an auditorium, a conference room, and also used to have a library and rooms for scholars to stay when they visited the city.
Those who founded the Parishad were visionaries, and in this part of the country, it is the only such institution that seeks to promote regional Indian language as stated in the Memorandum of Understanding and Articles of Association.
Last week, Kolkata's Hindi print media reported at length the sit in by the Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad staff protesting against the management's decision to close down the Institution. The country’s leading scholars, including Mahashweta Devi, have expressed their solidarity with the workers.
Before I left for Jaipur, a group of staff members from the Parishad met me. What the media reports say is that the wage increment of the staff is the real bone of contention surrounding the whole issue. The employees are grossly underpaid as per extant government norms. I was told by the Parishad staff that if their total demands are accepted it would cost the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad not more than 3 to 4 lacs per annum, where as the profits made by the Institution each year, apart from the hefty deposits in the bank, is much more.
The management has its own reasons for not agreeing to increase the wages, but the result of closing down this Institution would cause a damage that cannot be easily repaired. I don’t understand if the founders, including member Trustee Laxmi Niwas Birla and committee member Vishnukant Shastri, could set up such an illustrious society, then what keeps the current society from running this reputed institute if it is a matter of paying 3 or 4 lacs per annum as wage increment to the staff.
Irrespective of who is at fault, it is a matter of shame that such an institute is closed as of now.
I think the real issue is something else that needs to be probed and sorted out by the Society itself. I strongly feel that the management, with leading industrialists on its board, should not be reluctant to shell out a paltry sum of Rs 33,000 per month towards staff salary. The problem definitely lies somewhere else.
A few weeks back I had met senior journalist and chief editor of a national Hindi daily, Om Thanvi, at the India International Centre in Delhi. He told me that he had received an invitation for a literary program in Kolkata from the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad and that he had sent in written his regret saying that he wasn’t at ease to attend the program after the kind of controversy the Parishad was embroiled in. In fact, Thanvi ji said that he wasn’t comfortable participating in any of the Parishad’s event.
A prominent national daily has, in its report, quoted the last six directors of the Parishad, leading scholars who have gone on record to say that they weren’t happy about the way the institution functioned. I ask are all six of them wrong?
Years ago, when the Parishad had rented space to a private school, the Society had come together, and, if I remember correctly, it was forced to shut down.
I think one of the main problems is that nobody wants to mediate between the management and the staff, or for that matter want to interfere in the current functioning of the Parishad which is in line with the civil society motto ‘Stay away till it hurts you directly’. As Ramdhari Singh Dinkar had rightly said, “History would also be written about people who want to stay away.” (Samar shesh hai , nahi pap ka bhagi keval vyardh jo tatasth hai, samay likhega unka bhi aapradh).
I am hopeful the Parishad will tide over the current impasse and not only work out a solution with the staff members but also put its act together to promote the cause it was set up for.
ess bee

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A whole wet week in Jaipur

Sunday July 17th, 2011: The whole of last week I was in Jaipur. It rained almost every day and I had the feeling that I was in Kolkata. When it rains it is celebration time in the far flung regions of Rajasthan because it is the rain water harvesting and storage that helps the parched city face the rest of annual dry spell. 
Ironically, a couple of years back, this desert city had floods which is quite unusual.
Sometimes I wonder whether the weather condition that has changed so much in recent times is for good or bad. Are we already in the throes of the effect of global warming?
Today evening I shall leave for Kolkata.
ess bee

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bomb blast and VIPs

In Jaipur. I missed the premier of Rituparna movie Icche at Priya yesterday. The premier was followed by a party at the Calcutta Rowing Club. When Ritu called on me with a request to attend the premier I told her I would try to make it if my work in Jaipur gets over.
I wanted to attend the premier of this film by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee.
The Pronam members' cultural program that was scheduled for 16th July had to be cancelled. The rehearsal for the program was also called off today at the Bodyguard Lines Police Auditorium, because of the Mumbai blast.
It was a painful sight seeing the sufferings of the blast victims on the TV channels but some of the comments made by senior politicians and minister of the country were even more painful. What else can one expect if the person, who is supposed to be responsible for ensuring security of the country, says that bomb blasts cannot be controlled and goes on to further claim that nothing had happened after the 26/11 or Taj episode till this recent bomb blast!
Another debate has been sparked off by the inflow of VIPs in hospitals to see the blast victims. I fully subscribe to the view that such visits be banned in hospitals since the only thing it does is to slowdown the treatment process of the patients.
ess bee

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

When numbers numb your reason

I arrived in Jaipur on Sunday (July 10th) evening and put up at my favourite Kishangarh Suite at the Rajputana Sheraton Hotel. The suite is known as Kishangarh Thikana. A thikana was the designated area or region (often more than one) or an estate in the then Rajputana state prior to India's Independence. The Hotel has around 18 to 20 such suites which carry the name Thikana.
I usually visit Jaipur when there is an appointment with the Chief Minister, Governor, other ministers or government officials, mostly regarding Rajasthan Foundation.
The other occasions being a visit to my native village, weddings and socio-cultural events that I attend from time to time. But this time I am visiting Jaipur for a very different and personal reason. My agenda was to complete the registration and other paper works for a house that I have bought in Jaipur. The formalities were completed on July 11th 2011.
I am not a very religious person and nor do I blindly believe in astrology or numerology. I, however, do wear some stones on the advise of my close ones and friends.
It has become a fashion to add an extra alphabet to one's name or surname or for that matter to the name of the projects undertaken. There's a joke that India would have been more prosperous and better off as Indyaa. Namita Gokhale's recent book - Priya: In Incredible Indyaa – has a character Nnutasha, a soothsayer, who advises Delhi celebs and gold diggers to add one or two extra alphabets to their names in order to change their fortunes overnight. Another character called Pooonam, a socialite who increased two Os in her name on her advice.
This practice is also very common in Bollywood. There are many film and television directors who name their projects with a particular alphabet.
My earlier residential address at Lansdowne, Kolkata, added up to the number 4. My current residence at Russell Street also has number 4 as the address. 
4 Civil Lines, Jaipur
The house that I have bought in Jaipur too is located at 4 Civil Lines (picture). Well, I usually don't attribute much significance to such replay of numbers and pass it off as mere coincidence. I, however, realised that my birthday is again on the 4th. There are times when such frequent play of numbers in mundane life has no explanation and tend to numb one's reasoning and logic.
In Jaipur, when I first saw the property I liked it since it was beautiful, well planned and done up and situated just a stone's throw from the Raj Bhawan. I, in fact, made up my mind only after seeing this property and when I was getting the papers readied I realised that the address was again a number 4. I have never consciously chosen any address with any particular number for any of the property that I have but somehow the number 4 keeps popping up which has now attracted my attention and set me wondering – Why is it so!
A long time back someone told me that the numbers 4 and 11 are lucky for me. I have realised that the month of birthday is 11, my formal naming ceremony took place on 11th, few of my close friends' date of birth also add up to 11. And very recently, the date of registering the property in Jaipur was done on the 11th. One of the NGOs started by me, The Bengal, is also connected to the number 11. The Bengal has shaped up very well with the help, effort and support of other board members.
Why such occurrence of same numbers in random events. Is it just the way things are or does numerology or astrology really matter. May be so, but I don't want to become an overnight convert but I am willing to explore.
ess bee

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weekend wedding functions in the city

There were quite a few wedding receptions and marriage ceremonies on Friday and Saturday in Kolkata. I attended the wedding party of Ajay Kayan's daughter at the ITC Sonar Bangla (Pala). Ajay Kayan's father, Gourishankar Kayan, who was into various social activities and charity, was known to me. I did serve on the boards of some of the social organisations of which he was a member.
It was a musical evening hosted by Ajay's friend Utsav Parekh, Ghanshyam Sarada and others jointly. Besides being attended by Kolkata businessmen there were others from Mumbai and Delhi, including Praful Patel, Cabinet Minister-in-charge Department of Heavy Industries, and Suhel Seth.
I had a brief chat with Suhel on Namita Gokhale book event in Kolkata. I have to finalise a date for the program that suits Namita, Suhel and myself. Suhel indicated that 20th or 30th August would be fine with him. Incidentally, Namita too had suggested the same dates to me.
I will fly to Jaipur today afternoon.
ess bee

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bye bye Beth

As I write this blog, the US Consul General of Kolkata, Ms Beth Payne, would be well on her way to leave the City of Joy having completed her tenure. Many Kolkatans would remember the familiar sight of a foreign lady shutterbug clicking away pictures of the rickshaws, roads, lanes, ghats, old buildings, potua para, Maidan, Victoria Memorial and countless other interesting places that Calcutta - The City of Palaces - had to offer.
I think Beth has, perhaps, been the only Consul General in Kolkata who travelled deep into the rural areas capturing rare details of Bengali life and culture in a camera that many city dwellers don't get to see very often. Beth is a very media shy person who is more comfortable shooting from behind the camera than facing one. Her skills as an adept photographer was there for all to see at her recent photography exhibition on Bengal.
Beth loves Bengali culture and was very much at home here in the city. I think Beth and Kolkata are made for each other. Despite her Western looks, she blended into the Kolkata's sea of humanity as easily as any of us. Her unfettered and informal ways were much talked about in the city's diplomatic circles. She stayed away from the parties and seldom attended events that bragged of celebrity presence.
Some of the other American Consuls in Kolkata before her, like George Sibley and his wife Alison Lee Sibley, also evinced interest in local Bengali culture. But Beth became a part of it. I have travelled across continents and met so many people but never come across a more dignified and principled Consul like Beth Payne.
Some time back, I invited Beth for lunch at my residence. As it was her first visit, I presented her a print of a famous painting that was signed by the eminent artist himself. She liked it very much and sent me a thank you card and a email.
One day, a month later, I received an early office hour call from her and she told me that she had already framed that piece of art and had it put on her wall. She said someone had mentioned to her that it was a valuable piece of art and that she had used her own sources to determine beyond doubt that it was indeed so.
She apologised that she could not accept this gift from me. I tried in vain to persuade her and she told me very politely that the US rules for diplomats doesn't allow acceptance of gifts beyond a certain value and the only condition on which they could accept such a gift was by paying for it from personal account. I was in a fix for I did not want to accept money for a gift that I had presented.
Beth told me that she liked the print and wanted to keep it with her as a memento of our friendship but it could only be possible if I accepted the price of the gift value. I could not convince her and had no choice but to accept the money which an official representative personally came and delivered to me.
I am no fan of America and I have never been impressed by its popular culture. But having met a person and personality from the United States like Beth Payne, I am ready to learn, with an open mind, more of the life and culture she comes from.
ess bee

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Held back in city

I was in office the whole day trying to sort out some of the long pending work in Jaipur. In fact, I was supposed to be in London today for a couple of weeks as part of my annual schedule but this Jaipur work held me back. I am stuck in Kolkata by the sheer load of work that has piled up and had to cancel the London trip.
There are a lot of wedding functions in and out of Kolkata for the coming weekend.
While I was in Delhi, a couple of meetings on project Pronam were held. Some of the programs, that would be held during the course of the month, have been finalised with the Kolkata Police.
The programs planned include a debate competition, cultural programmes for the elderly by the senior citizens themselves.
ess bee

Monday, July 4, 2011

Events for Kolkata

I returned from Delhi on Friday late night and missed out on quite a number of events that evening in Kolkata.
This Delhi trip of mine was quite successful as I was able to finalise quite a few events for Kolkata. Apart from Agyeya Centenary event in Kolkata, I convinced Sonal Mansingh to agree to a lecture on August 7th 2011 in Kolkata.
For the past one year, I have been thinking of starting Prabha Khaitan Memorial Lecture series in Kolkata. The idea for initiating this series is to provide a platform where distinguished personalities from across the world would voice their opinion on art, literature, theatre, cinema, dance, drama and culture. Sonal Mansingh would be in Kolkata to deliver the first of the series of lecture.
I also had a dinner meeting on Thursday with Namita Gokhale, Co Director of Jaipur Literary Festival and author of the recently published book Priya In Incredible Indyaa. I discussed at length about the various pending issues on the event that I am planning for Kolkata on October 28th and 29th, 2011, and also an interactive session with her on her book sometime in August.
Suhel Seth may also join in. Recently in Delhi, the audience liked it a lot when he read out excerpts from that book.
ess bee

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Privacy will become rarer than gold

Yesterday, Saturday July 2nd, happened to be one of those two or three dates of the year that I always spend at home. Of late, I have been thinking a lot about our privacy in general and how it is gradually being trampled in all sorts of ways.
A spate of recent events, like the leaking of Radia tapes, the alleged bugging of the Finance Minister's office and the tie up between Chinese telecom firm Huawei and Indian Institute of Science (IIS) Bangalore, have sparked off a debate on breach of privacy, software bugs and snooping by foreign intelligence agencies.
The seriousness of the issue can be gauged from the fact that the government is already contemplating setting up facilities to test devices for bugs and spy ware and also set up a new set of security protocols in India for vendors.
We live in a society where we have machines scanning us in the airports, cameras and closer circuit TVs monitoring us public places – even the swimming pools areas in some star hotels, hacking and phising of computers and mail IDs, eye-in-the-sky satellites and now the proliferation of countless cheap spy ware gadgets and gizmos for anyone to pick up.
I wonder – as barriers crumble - does individual privacy exist any more in this techno era!
If you are thinking that it is only the high and the mighty who are likely to face breach of privacy issues, you are wide of the mark. The common man can also be an easy unsuspecting victim. Cheap devices and numerous software to spy on others are now available in the market dime a dozen. Armed with these, it is a child's play for the neighbourhood peeping Toms and nosey Parkers to breach and wreck havoc with your privacy.
My recent visit to Delhi was an eye-opener. I met a person vending the latest snooping devices and software. It was a sneak peak into an amazing world of technology in action. I was amazed to see how one could become a James Bond by spending a few thousand rupees.
I was introduced to a stealth software that takes just a few minutes to be loaded into a smart phone. It works on most of the branded smart phones and cannot be detected. Once loaded, a target number is punched in. This enslaves the mobile phone loaded with the spy software to the one whose target number is fed in becomes the master phone. All conversations, messages that take place can be heard from the master phone.
Not just that, a feature allows conversations to be recorded and automatically mailed to a pre-assigned mail address. Changing the SIM card makes life no different, the target phone gets an alert of the new SIM number and the show goes on.
Another
Trojan feature that the master phone is that it can hear all the conversations that take place in and around the slave phone. All that has to be done is to dial the slave phone number and that phone is silently activated without causing any ring or any kind of alert.
There were numerous other devices I saw that were selling like hot cakes. Some of them flaunt features that can be very unnerving. Technological progress is giving our society enough barrier to give our privacy a decent burial. Individual privacy, in the days to come, shall be rarer than gold.
Welcome to the technosphere!
Think twenty times before you accept a costly mobile phone gifted to you from someone. The other way is to spend more time learning about formatting SIMs and hard drives - become tech-savvy to protect your privacy.
ess bee

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hindi Lit Fest for Kolkata


With Om Thanvi
Hotel Hyatt Regency, Delhi: I arrived in Delhi on Wednesday afternoon. In the evening I met Om Thanvi (file picture) at the India International Centre (IIC) bar. I had a detailed discussion with him about his work “Mohenjodaro” that has made quite an impact in travel segment in Hindi Literature.
I requested Thanvi ji to have a small interactive session on that book in Kolkata. Knowing Thanvi ji, he was very reluctant as he feels it is a self promotion.
I, however, convinced him to have an event in Kolkata on Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan Agyeya. It is said that after Tagore, it was Agyeya who had achieved that status in literature. Whatever he has touched poetry, novels or any form of writing, he has been immensely successful.
Om Thanvi along with a few other prominent names from the field of Hindi literature, who are admirers of Agyeya, would hold a programme in Kolkata in September 2011.
Yesterday morning I met Sonal Mansingh at her residence in Defence Colony. It was a good meeting and also came to learn that apart from dance activities she has done a lot of research on various Indian historical characters and also delivers lectures. I will return to Kolkata today evening.
ess bee