Sundeep Bhutoria

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Thank you.
ess bee

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Monday, December 31, 2012

January is for Jaipur

At the Apna Gaon Rajasthani Mela at Nicco Park, Salt Lake (Kolkata)

Last weekend I loosened up somewhat keeping in mind my hectic travel schedule in January 2013. I shall be flying in and out of Kolkata, spending most of my time in Jaipur.
In recent years January means being in Jaipur. Not only the much talked about Jaipur Literature Festival is held in Jaipur in January but also many other events like the Jaipur International Film Festival, Jaipur Heritage Festival and Jaipur Polo season and add to this an excellent weather.
On Saturday evening I inaugurated the Apna Gaon Rajasthani Melaa village fair at the Nicco Park in Salt Lake. Apna Gaon is a village theme mela which has folk musicians, dancers and performers from Rajasthan and Haryana.
This is the 9th year of the Mela that held annually on the last seven days of the year.
This festival provides the right kind of family entertainment and has something for the people of all ages. When it started nine years back no one thought it would take such a big shape. Over the past four years, besides Rajasthani artists, the folk artists from Haryana have also been added.
It was amazing to see camel rides, bullock carts and other traditional village items. Every year they also have a replica of a famous temple in Rajasthan. 
This year it was Baba Ramdev’s temple. What has been a real hit over the past nine years is the traditional Rajasthani cuisine served at the mela in traditional Rajasthani style. 
The food court is named Chokidhani. People who have travelled to Jaipur know about chokidhani. It is an activity centre for all kinds of folk art, dance, music and food.
On Saturday evening, after inaugurating the Mela, there was a performance by Ila Arun. I must congratulate the main organizer Lok Sanskriti for organising this seven-day extravaganza full of family entertainment. In an era of western dance and music, a traditional cultural event has held its own.
ess bee

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yes – hang them till death

Delhi's crime problem is spiralling out of control. The heinous sexual assault of a woman on December 16, 2012, witnessed one of the biggest spontaneous outburst of public anger since Independence, sans any kind of leadership, against a somnolent government on an issue that is still considered a taboo.
It is a sad reflection that once again the National Capital's explosive crime rate has become a cause for national shame and tumult.
The brutality of the incident moved people to the streets to voice their protest against a crime for which even the death sentence seems less. The message that the widespread protests across the country is not a passing phase is loud and clear for the keepers of law and order in the country.
I think the brazenness of sexual assaults like the Delhi incident stem from the fact that conviction rates in India remain abysmally low. If a perpetrator knows that his chances of going to jail are slim, he is less likely to be deterred than if he knew that his chances of going to jail were high and punishment would be severe. In 1973, about 44% of alleged perpetrators of rape were convicted. By 2010, that percentage had dropped to just over 26%.
Renuka Narayanan in a recent article recalled the incident involving two soldiers of the President’s Bodyguard who got life terms by Delhi High Court for outraging the modesty of a 17-year-old girl at the Buddha Jayanti Park in 2003. To quote from the news report: “They were military men in uniform and in broad day light committed rape of a young girl, who was completely helpless before them. They have exhibited moral turpitude of extreme depravity by subjecting the teenage prosecutrix to rape and making her a victim of their physical lust,” the court said, sentencing Harpreet Singh and Satyender Singh to life sentence.
“Both of them are more than six feet tall and well built. Instead of defending and protecting the public, they have committed an offence which does not deserve any soft or lenient approach. Their sentences under section 376(2)(g) are confirmed,” the court said.
The interesting part of this movement is that the youth who gathered is not driven by any political party nor for any personal cause. They were there for one cause as they feel that what happened in Delhi on December 16, 2012, could happen to anybody or any of them as well.
The government's ostrich like attitude is only messing up things further. I fail to understand why the government is still taking the stand that the law will take its own course. A senior minister made a statement that they are planning to have a separate law for extreme rape cases come out with strict punishment. There cannot be a more foolish statement than this which tries to measure the quality of rape.
It is time that we all join hands with those who have left behind the comforts of their homes to come out in the open in Delhi's chill to gather at the Raisina Hills to demand exemplary punishment - “hanged till death” - for the rapists. Public opinion can move mountains and change regimes. Let this spark fire our zeal to seek speedy justice. India has spoken, I hope the powers that be have heard.
ess bee

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chilliest winter

With Ustad Ghulam Ali and Koel Mullick
December 28, 2012: Kolkata is in the throes of one of the chilliest winters. Yesterday night as well as today early morning I was in Salt Lake for a family function and got a real feel of the cold wave.
After the function yesterday night, I went to Dakshin Kalikata Sansad which is celebrating a week-long cultural extravaganza for the New Year.
Ustad Ghulam Ali had a live performance and I did not want to miss it. 
Thanks to the Club authorities and the Cultural Secretary of the Club, Mr Gautam Bhattacharya, who had requested me to present an uttoriya (a traditional way of welcoming guests in Bengal) to Ustad Ghulam Ali (picture) on stage with Koel Mallick .
I also met Debasree Roy, Jaya Seal Ghosh, Ranjit and Deepa Mallick and others. 
 I had tea with Ustad Ghulam Ali in the green room before the start of the function. I think it’s a good start after the Pakistan cricket team visited India.
Honestly, Ustad Ghulam Ali had a cold and this affected his voice. At first I thought there was a problem with the microphone but soon other guests too also realized it.The ghazal’s living legend has performed only once in this season in the city.
May be, due to age or the cold the live performance of Ustad ji was not what connoisseurs of music would vouch for but being at a live performance itself was a matter of great satisfaction. 
Today evening I am hosting a dinner at my residence for a small group of friends, some of whom are from Chennai and London.
ess bee

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Fogged in

Today is Xmas and I am in New Delhi at the Maurya Sheraton Hotel. Delhi and surrounding regions are under a dense fog cover. Many trains and flights have been fogged in with schedules going haywire.
My yesterday morning flight from Kolkata to Delhi was on air for an extra hour due to the fog. Had it been another 10 minutes the flight would have been diverted to Chandigarh or any other nearby airports.
I thank myself for availing the morning flights again. Though the flight was nearly 75 minutes late, I still managed to be on time for my 11:30 meeting. After this meeting I met Namita Gokhale and had a detailed discussion on the forthcoming Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) 2013.
I am planning to do some event with the Rajasthani authors around that time during the Lit Fest
The cover of the Book to be released at the Jaipur LitFest 2013
We also decided about my mother Late Dr Prabha Khaitan's autobiography A Life Apart - an English translation of Anya Se Ananaya (Hindi) by editor and author Ira Pande. 
This English translation would be released during a special session at the JLF.
Anya Se Ananaya was the last published book of Dr Khaitan and is one of the largest selling books by a female author in Hindi. Its English translation would help me in taking her works to a larger audience in India and abroad. She would be the first Rajasthani writer whose translated work would be released at the JLF.
Today early noon I shall meet Padma Shri Urvashi Butalia whose publishing house Zubaan has published the book with a foreword by Namita Gokhale.
I shall take an evening flight to Kolkata today.
ess bee

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Incredible India?

Last week I was staying at The Taj Sawai Madhopur Lodge, Ranthambore. This property, Vivanta by TajSawai Madhopur Lodge, is the only heritage hotel in Ranthambore that was built some 80 years ago and used to be the camping lodge for hunting expeditions of the Royal families.
This Lodge has a long history of hosting the rich and the famous, including Queen Elizabeth who had stayed here while visiting Ranthambore. I am visiting Ranthambore after eight years. The last time I was here, I had put up at the Oberoi Vanyavilas. This time I decided to try out the The Taj Sawai Madhopur Lodge which is more close to the city.
The General Manager of this property Nagendra Singh Hada is from the Jhalawar district of Rajasthan. His knowledge of wild life is vast. He is also the man behind opening of the Taj property in the Gir forests in Gujarat which is the only home of Asian lions at present. With old trees and manicured lawns, this 12-acre sprawl is home to numerous species of birds.
While driving from Jaipur en route to Ranthambore, I stopped at a spot called Gangaur some 60 kms short of our destination. It seemed a decent place and I decided to have tea. I was surprised to find that a cup of tea cost me 80 rupees. 
I have travelled thousands of kilometers in this part of the region in past 20 years and my understanding was that a cup of tea could at the most cost Rs 25 in such modest ambiance. 
I picked up a CD of Pandit Ravishankar from the same place and its price tag read Rs 750/-. I know for sure that it should not have been more than Rs 130 or Rs 160.
I inquired from the person in the counter the reason for such steep pricing. The man replied that I could have it for Rs 500. I was somewhat annoyed and inquired further and he put the blame on the owner of the shop and confessed that these rates were targeted at the foreigners. I saw through the whole game.
There is a huge inflow of foreign tourists who make a beeline for the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and the game parks. Not only is there any other decent stopover in and around that place but also on the entire route. This makes it a happy fleecing ground.
I understand that there is a different rate for Indians and foreigners while entering the Ranthambore National Park (picture)
But charging four to five times the rate for CDs, books and chocolates defies reason. Is this what Incredible India all about – daylight robbery? 
Are we encouraging tourism or promoting cheats.
One more thing, if you really want to have fresh Rajasthani style home food, Taj Sawai Madhopur Lodge is perhaps the best place for it. If you are visiting Ranthambore you must have tea and kadhi with mogar kachori at Pappu's shop outside the Park.
ess bee

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Unwinding at Ranthambore

I arrived here in Jaipur yesterday from Sawai Madhopur. After the Shree Music Festival I decided to take a break and went on a trip to the forests of Ranthambore which is also one of India's famous Tiger Reserves.
It was a great holiday for unwinding but I missed the December 15, 2012 Author's Afternoon with Jeffrey Archer in Kolkata and also the reception to celebrate the unveiling of the new-look Jaigarh lobby and Sheesh Mahal bar of Hotel ITC Rajputana on the same evening.
I had last visited Ranthambore in 2004. This time I spotted 13 tigers, tigresses and their cubs. My main objective of visiting the game park was to see the three tiger cubs that were born this summer and thankfully my wishes came true.
I shall be back in Kolkata tomorrow.
ess bee

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shree Music Fest ends on a high note

The three-day Shree Music Festival in Jaipur at the Jawahar Kala Kendra (JKK) ended on Sunday with an amazing performance by southern sensation, Hariharan (picture).
The imposing JKK amphi-theatre began to look small when nearly 5000 people gathered at the venue. The newspapers reported that it was the largest crowd at JKK in recent memory.
By the time the program started and Hariharan went to the stage, there wasn't a wee bit space left. Even on backstage floors and the lawn were occupied as people squatted on the floor. Even the weather Gods smiled and it became very pleasant. 
With Manisha Agarwal
Hariharan too was in full mood and played out to the galleries with his hits. The program overshot it schedule by over an hour and I had to intervene with a request to call it a day.
Earlier the third day began with a sitar recital by Amita Dalal of Ahmedabad. She was accompanied by Pt Ram Kumar Mishra on the tabla and Pt Praveen Arya on the pakhawaj. Post event during the dinner, she informed me that she has never performed in Kolkata till date. 
Before Harihran, it was Vishwamohan Bhatt who took to the stage and displayed his mastery over Mohan Veena.
Frankly, I never thought that the Shree Music Festival would be such a huge success. It is often said that some times there are certain venues and stages that bring out the best in the performer. I think JKK was such a venue. 
The Times of India, in its December 8 edition had aptly reported "Times stands still at JKK music festival.
With Amita Dalal
The second day of the festival began began with unique Jugalbandi on sitar and violin by Jaipur’s own Jagdish Chandra Mothiya and Kailash Chandra Mothiya. In their presentation, the duo started with raag jog and ended with jhala. They were accompanied by Prithviraj Mishra on the tabla. The idea of putting local and budding artists with top established and reputed artists was appreciated by the media as well the common man of the city.
The next performance came from Jodhpur’s classical vocalist Pt Rajendra Vaishnav. He started his performance in ek taal in Puriya Kalyaan and sung Gao Gunijan Satguru ke Gun. Then in tritaal he sung Jao-Jao na Chedo. Pt Rajendra Vaishnav concluded his performance with a bhajan Suno Sakhi Anhad Naad Baje. He was accompanied by Mahendra Dangi on tabla and Pt Alok Bhatt on the harmonium. 
Sufi singer Parvati Kumari and Ambarish Das entertained the audience with their sufi and classical offerings respectively. 
Pulak Sarkar and Arun Kumar showed skills on keyboard and drums.
The day 2 of the music fest concluded with my good friend Bickram Ghosh's (pic) sterling performance on tabla. He held the audience transfixed with his masterly performance of The Dance of Shiva in raag jog and Zink.
Even the post even parties at the Rajputana Resident Lounge was also immensely successful. During all the three nights, the dinner went on till the wee hours. No doubt this musical festival is being seen as a major milestone and a landmark event in history of Jaipur's cultural circuit. I must thank Shree Cement, Rajputana Sheraton, Vinod Joshi of Jaipur Virasat Foundation and his team and of course the Jaipur Citizen Forum who helped us in co-ordinating and arranging for all the logistics at the JKK.
ess bee

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Day 1 of Shree Music Festival enchants Jaipur

With Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma
It is about 3 am on Saturday December 8. Yesterday evening the first day of the Shree Musical Festival took off at the Jawahar Kala Kendra. When I conceptualized this festival the idea was to have it in an auditorium but as the main auditorium was already booked we planned to do it in an auditorium in North West Command.
Later I realized that the basic idea of this music festival was to make it accessible to the local people, we decided to change the venue to Jawahar Kala Kendra (JKK) which is the cultural hub of the Pink City.
JKK was designed by famous architect Charles Correa. This multi-arts centre was built by the Rajasthan Government to preserve Rajasthani arts and crafts. It comprises eight blocks which houses museums, one amphi-theatre, a closed auditorium, conference hall, library, arts display rooms, cafeteria, small hostel, guest house and art studio. It also houses two permanent art galleries and three other galleries. But is it also a fact that JKK remain under utilized.
With Ina Puri and Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma
I often feel that performing arts are missing from many of the centres across India that are beautifully constructed with the objective of promoting art, culture, literature. I wonder why is it that such centres of art and culture with better infrastructure than India International Centre (ICC) in Delhi or for that matter Bharat Bhawan (Bhopal), as it was a decade and half ago, lack their appeal and charm.
I think it is because the Government does not want to give the management of these centres to private groups and also because of the fact that the postings of senior government officers to these centres are viewed as a “lesser posting” or at times considered to be a “punitive posting”. No wonder JKK is so under utilised. Same with other such centres across India.
With guests and dignitaries at the Shree Music Festival post event party in Jaipur
December 7 night at JKK was a perfect setting for music festival. Mohammad Amaan Ali opened the concert to a standing ovation on day one. Salil Bhatt accompanied by Cassius Khan from Canada showcased his mastery over the instrument called satvik veena created by him. Khan also exhibited his skills on the tabla winning a roaring appreciation from the audience.
Rajasthani folk singer Manesha Agarwal mesmerised with her folk songs and santoor maestro Padma Vibhushan, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, accompanied by Japanese artist Takahiro Akai on tanpura and tabla player Pandit Ramkumar Mishra, mesmerized the audience to receive a long applause from the enthusiastic audience.
The amphi-theatre at JKK drew audience far beyond our expectations. Our co-host Jaipur Citizen Forum had cautioned us that due to the peak wedding season the audience turn out could be less. Day one was a roaring success. Lets see how the next two days unfold with eight performances lined up. The after dinner party at the Rajputana Residents Lounge was lively. Even Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma retired to his room at about 2 am. After dinner I am penning this blog. Two more late nights to come.
ess bee

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Uncanny similarity

December 6, 2012: I arrived in Jaipur last evening and went to the House of Mr V S Singh, Additional Chief Secretary. I had spoken to him last Sunday on phone and we had decided to meet on December 5 (yesterday) at 6.30 in the evening. I have known Mr Singh and his whole family since my childhood days.
In fact, I had plans to visit the Ranthambor tiger reserve later this month and Mr Singh was helping me to work out the plan. But when I landed in Jaipur on December 3, I was left stunned when I got a call from one of my journalist friend who informed me that Mr Singh had died in a road accident near his home early in the morning on that very day. He was hit by a car while returning from morning walk. His friend Bijender Singh, Additional Sales Tax Commissioner, was seriously injured and taken to hospital.
I can say that the civil service has lost one of its finest officers.
It was very tragic and numbing experience for me. The man I was supposed to meet over cup of tea was suddenly no more and I was, instead, paying my final floral tributes on his portrait.
This is the second time that such a thing has happened with me in close succession. On October 22nd, 2012, I had talked to eminent Bengali litterateur Sunil Ganguly over phone and we had fixed up a meeting for the next day. But he too passed away that night due to cardiac arrest. The next morning I was at him home putting flowers on his portrait.
Once again, this time in Jaipur, I found myself placed in an uncannily similar situation. Strange are the ways of life.
ess bee

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

CM event called off

December 5, 2012: Yesterday was a day free of appointments as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan's visit to Kolkata got cancelled. For most part I was busy with the formalities and paper work related to the cancellation of the event and some other office work as I would be out of town till Xmas.
Yesterday evening also went to The Bengal Club in the evening to attend the wedding reception of the daughter of Ms Anuradha Das, who is the Principal of Calcutta International School.
Today afternoon I will fly to Jaipur.
ess bee

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Write Circle takes off in Jaipur

December 3, 2012: Instead of Saturday morning, I returned to Kolkata today morning. On Sunday, I initiated a new series in Jaipur called The Write Circle in association with DNA After Hours and Siyahi at the Hotel Rambagh Palace of Taj Group.
In fact, I did not fly back to Kolkata on Saturday morning as I would have had to come back again to Jaipur on the December 2 afternoon for this event and again take a flight to Kolkata the next day. I was in Jaipur only for the weekend.
The idea for this event came to me from the success of An Author's Afternoon in Kolkata and I decided to initiate this new series. The first guest at The Write Circle was Saleem Kidwai. The difference between the these two series The Author's Afternoon and The Write Circle is that while the number of guests invited are limited to around 25-30 in Kolkata, The Write Circle had about 60 guests.
We had actually planned for limited number of guests but since it was our first such event in Jaipur we were a little apprehensive on having adequate number of guests. It seems nearly 99 per cent of the invitees turned up to attend the event.
Shaking hands with legend Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar
I arrived in city from Jaipur today morning and went straight to Taj Bengal for the book release function (picture) of Pankaj: Bengal’s Forgotten Cricket Legend by Gautam Bhattacharya. The event started at 12 noon and thanks to Indigo Airline my flight landed 25 minutes before time. So I was at The Taj Bengal well in time to attend the event.
Besides Tollywood celebs, sports personalities of West Bengal, industrialists and Sourav Ganguly, Jagmohan Dalmia, the Captain of Indian Cricket Team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and the entire Indian team attended the event.
I, along with actress Rituparna Sengupta, presented a Sanatan Dinda painting of Mother Teresa to Sachin Tendulkar (picture) who was the Chief Guest of the function.
Sachin is very fond of Sanatan's paintings and has visited his studio many times. So I thought it was the right gift for the cricket legend.
ess bee

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Working in reverse

Saturday, December 1, 2012: Yesterday afternoon I heard about the demise of I K Gujral, former Prime Minister of India. Except for last year, whenever I was in Delhi for more than a week I always met him. He had a keen interest in the activities of United Nation Associations (UNA) and did attend various functions of UNA from time to time. I pray his soul rests in peace.
In the evening a thought flashed across my mind,.... will the December 4 felicitation programme, involving a chief minister, happen amid national mourning”.
Then I thought that normally national mourning if for three days and our event was scheduled after four days. But when I read in today's papers that the government had announced a seven-day mourning since I K Gujral was a former Prime Minister, I was certain that the chief minister would not be able to attend our function.
Around 1 PM I received a call from the Chief Minister of Rajasthans office and the Principal Secretary of Industry informed me that the December 4 event would have to be postponed. He expressed a desire to finalize another date immediately since this event was long due and had got cancelled a number of times earlier at the last minute due to various reasons.
One of the dates suggested was December 9 which isn't suitable for me as the Shree Music Festival in Jaipur would be held from December 7 to 9, 2012. Lets see when can we work out a new date.
The cancellation of this visit has created a lot of work for me and my office as we were on the final leg of completing the logistics for the whole event. Cancellation for us means working in reverse. That is formally calling off the event. Informing all the dignitaries, guests, vendors and calling off bookings and so on. In a nutshell, it means huge amount of work to be accomplished in very little time.
In fact, we had a tough time to organizing rooms for the delegations due to the wedding season. 
Also, the cricket match in Kolkata had its share hotel bookings. We, however, had overcome many hurdles to manage and arrange accommodations for the entire delegation in three five star hotels and three different guest houses.
ess bee