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

Fax: 91 33 2280 2930

Email: essbee@essbeeindia.com

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thanks for the compliments

31 July, 2012: Yesterday I had a series of meetings with various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representatives and few individuals.
I got lots of compliments, adulation and encouragement for initiating a series of cultural events in Jaipur and expanding it further to Jodhpur. I have plans to hold an event in Udaipur sometime after 15th of August, once I return from my overseas tour.
I thank everybody for the compliments and words of encouragement and look forward to their support. In the evening I had dinner with Mr Sunil Gupta, General Manager of Rajputana Hotel and his wife Anamika Gupta. Mr Philippe Charraudeau and his wife joined us.
Mr Charraudeau is the new Vice President and General Manager of ITC Grand Chola, an upcoming property yet to be opened to the public.
With more then 600 rooms, this property it is said would be the best among all the ITC properties currently under the group.
Today evening I'll take the Kolkata flight.
ess bee

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rajasthan Forum meeting

Rajasthan Forum members
July 29, 2012: Today afternoon I attended the meeting of `Rajasthan Forum'. Many decisions were finalised during the meeting. It also set the pace for planning out events to be held next year.
On the 24th of July Rajasthan Forum member Prerna Shrimali would hold - `A Conversation with Pandit Girdhari Maharaj' – an event lined up for the next and continuing series of Rajasthan-specific events initiated by me called the Desert Souls.
Further, the Forum members also took a decision to organize a two-day event on Meera Bai at her birth place at the Merta City in Nagaur district of Rajasthan. Merta city is famed for its 400-year-old Meera Bai Temple which attracts lots of tourists and pilgrims.
I had suggested that instead of Merta City we could do the event in Puskhar which isn't very far from Merta and, being a bigger city, is endowed with better logistics for holding any event.
The whole idea behind organizing the event is to have a session of discussion on Meera Bai and her relevance in today's world along with a musical program on the same theme. It was decided that the event would be held on 8th March 2013 - the World Womens' Day.
Rajasthan Forum meeting in progress
The Forum also decided that a financial assistance of Rs 51,000/- would be given to a needy artist. A five-person committee has been formed for the purpose along with the formation of another committee that would to execute the Meera Bai event.
Prior to the meeting, the members, who are prominent names from the world of art, theatre, literature, music, fine arts and performing arts, had a Sunday brunch at Hotel Rajputana.
In the evening I went to the Polo Club to attend a farewell party of a head of a prominent English daily who has been transferred from Jaipur to Delhi. 
I did get to meet quite a few people known to me and also some of the new journalists and bureaucrats.
ess bee

Unpalatable cocktail

The other day a song caught my attention. No it wasn't because of its exceptional music but because I felt the lyrics and tune were at odds. The lines were something like Tumhi ho bandhu sakha tumhi ho / every time every minute all the day / tumhi ho bandhu sakha tumhi.....
I almost believed it was a modern rendition of a traditional Sanskrit shlok (twamev mata cha pita twamev) until I was told that it is a song from the film Cocktail which is a smashing hit with the new generation. I should have been happy that at last the metallic hard sounds (some prefer to call it music though) have been replaced with our very own desi lyrics set to the tune of a bhajan which the younger generation seem to have taken to but I could not stifle a deep sigh. It perturbed me too.
Why the trivialisation of such intense soulful lyrics of a bhajan?
I do not know in what context it has been used in the film but from whatever little I have heard it is clear that it is anything but spiritual. It was to say the least – quite an unpalatable cocktail.
I remember a controversy that media wrote about several years ago. A top fashion designer of our country had used the national flag in her couture at a fashion show. There were angry protests as at that time she had committed a punishable offence which came under the purview of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. Later, of course the law changed and was relaxed to some extent.
But even then Mandira Bedi once sporting a sari on television during the World Cup with a national flag motif drew criticism. Our little master Sachin Tendulkar also drew flak once when he cut a cake that was shaped in the form of our national flag.
My point is why are we touchy about some things and why do we put up with others even though they affront people's faith and sensibilities? Where is the line that can be drawn as to what can or cannot be used for public consumption? More so if it is for commercial purpose?
I have nothing against the usage of religious words in films. There have been several memorable films where bhajans have been used or even names of films with religious connotations. A classic example I can think of is – Dev Anand's Hare Rama Hare Krishna where these words were used in a song based on Western composition. What a superb combination of R D Barman and our very own Usha di – a song that made her famous overnight.
More recently, I remember a young budding hero in Bengali films disco dancing to “Bhojo Gourango” that provoked a group of Vaishnavites to go to court to have this song banned. Well after all this is indeed a matter of taste and choice. But then in the name of freedom of expression does anything get allowed to be used indiscriminately in any manner? Can guidelines be issued for these matters without being a Taliban watchdog?
According to a latest report a figure of Goddess Kali has been used inappropriately in a gaming site in USA which has evoked strong reaction not only from the Hindus but from different religious sects including Jews, Buddhists and even Roman Catholics. The point I am trying to make is when penning a song, drawing a picture, or creating anything that is meant for public domain one needs to be a little more sensitive.
ess bee

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The rails still tell (sent to DNA Afterhours, Jaipur)


July 28, 2012: It is about 4 pm and I am Jaipur bound on Jodhpur-Puri Express. The last time I was in this Jodhpur railway station in 1993 to attend my friend Babulal Jain's wedding in a village called Elana which is located about 170 km by road from Jodhpur in Jalore districtthe one time constituency of Buta Singh.
This is my first railride after 15 years. Since morning, I was thinking of cancelling my train ticket and avail an alternative means of transport. There's no flight from Jodhpur to Jaipur and a detour via Delhi takes almost nine hours with transit. It takes 6 hours by road and this train takes less.
Though a little shaky at first, I finally decided to travel from Jodhpur to Jaipur by train. I was the only one in AC First Class coupe meant for four persons. There were few people in the other coupes on the train when it started. As the train moved, I stared out of the windows into my past. As a boy I used to frequently travel from my grand father's house in Churu to my maternal grand father's house in Sujangarh via local train, covering a distance of 120 kilometers.
It used to be very crowded with few hundred people cramped into a bogey meant for 70 people. My co-passengers, at times, included goats and other four-legged beings. Counting trees from the moving train was a favourite pastime.
It seems the wheel of time moves very slowly for the great Indian Railways for nothing much has changed since my childhood days. Despite some of the modern trappings, the spirit remains the same. At the Jodhpur rail station I had noticed three metal detectors at the entrance. Not a single one was working and no one cared to pass through them.
But of course in the last few 15 years there have been some add-ons. I see there is a reading light but no bulb. There is a tissue holder in the toilet but no tissues. There is a dustbin which is fully to the brim from the point origin. There's a cupboard with hanger stand but no hangers to put your clothes on. The same typed chart pasted at the entrance of the bogie with the names and seats numbers of the passengers in most unfriendly print.
The toilet indicator light that tells us if it is in use always glowed red. There were very well uniformed dining room staff but the tea pots in which they served tea wasn't in a good condition and the tea barely hot.
There is an old saying - If you want to see the real India, you must travel by rail. It still holds good in 2012. There used to be thefts of bulbs and other things which still continues. The state of the railway trains is indicative of the state of the nation.
It is pointless blaming the government because until and unless we learn and consider public property as our own, things would never change for the better.
ess bee

Friday, July 27, 2012

Balsamand - a tuft of lush green in desert land

July 27, 2012, Hotel Balsamand Lake Palace, Jodhpur: Here in Jodhpur, I am staying at this property which is managed by the WelcomeHeritage group. It is a heritage hotel chain of the ITC Group.
The artificial lake Balsamand, from which this property gets its name, was engineered in the 12th Century to serve as a reservoir. The exquisite red sand-stone palace came up later and was built by Maharaja Jaswant Singh I of Jodhpur in the 17th Century.
This palace used to be the summer retreat of the Maharajas of Jodhpur and other royal families of Rajasthan. Later, the royal families started a tradition of celebrating the first rains in Balsamand; a custom that has led to the palace being referred to as the Monsoon Palace. After an ambitious restoration and modernization program Balsamand Lake Palace became a world class Heritage Hotel with modern amenities.
When I was in Jodhpur the last time about nine years ago I had stayed in this property. I clearly remember it was Room No 1. This time it is Room No 6 for me which is also called the Lake View Suite. This heritage hotel has only 10 rooms in the Palace site of this property. The property is spread across 3 acres of land and has 10 Palace Rooms and another 26 Garden Rooms in the garden area known as the Balsamand Garden. In all, the property is spread over nearly 60 acres of lush green paradise
I am the only guest in this property and all the other rooms are vacant for the last two days. I think the hot weather of Rajasthan has something to do with it.
The history of this property dates back to 1159 AD when Raja Raja Bal Rao Parihar created the artificial lake to collect monsoon water from the surrounding hills. Centuries later in 1619 the beauty of the site inspired Raja Sur Singh to create a royal pleasure garden. The current palace was constructed in the 19th Century by Maharaja Takhat Singh.
Set amid sandstone hills overlooking the lake, it has an idyllic approach through splendid gardens, orchards and tree-lined avenues. As it has for many centuries, the Balsamand Lake Palace continues to serve as the favorite venue for parties and special celebrations of the Jodhpur Royal Family and their guests.
The Balsamand area is famed for its old majestic and luscious fruit bearing trees and orchards. Today, the entire property, as a Heritage Hotel, has been opened up to the guests and is no longer the exclusive domain of the Royals. Guests at the hotel have a great time wandering through beautifully landscaped gardens, sprawling orchards of lime and promegranates and elegant waterways and even an aqueduct. There is also a lovely promenade on the lake.
The terraced marbled Peacock Fountain at the top of the central avenue is the focal point. The fountain is said to be over a thousand years old, and, when in use, creates a magical illusion. The peacocks themselves seem to respond to the magic, as they often gather here to dance.
There are hundreds of things to bewilder you in Balsamand, including old trees, flowering plants, shrubs, sandstone pergolas, stables with local Marwar ponies, an amazing variety of resident and migratory birds, squirrels, huge grey langurs and peacocks. A Shiva temple, where local devotees throng, and a step well, at least 400 years old, adds to the mystique of this enchanting place.
A local person by the name of Manohar, who worked in the property, told me there is a popular belief that the presence of the holy Shiva temple in this huge property has kept snakes and animals away from the hotel since its inception 1996.
This property also has one private area owned by Maharaj Gaj Singh which houses his horse breeding farm. His personal horse Neelkamal is one of the best horses of Marwar breed stationed there.
The property also has opened one Garden Restaurant with a bar is in the Palki. This Palki was made famous by Akbar Khan's classic film Taj Mahal. Khan had stayed here for about three-and-half years to shoot his film. After the shooting the Palki, used in the film, was converted into the bar at the Garden Restaurant.
Though the Palace Rooms are exquisitely beautiful and full of history, it is advisable not to stay there during summers as even the huge air conditioners are not able to cope up with the hot weather. Another flip side is that the internet connectivity is pathetic. But all these are made up for by the best foods that I have had.
But you can try out the identical Garden Rooms. These rooms, which were earlier the stables for the horses, are now well furnished with modern amenities for comfort. There is also a small Mahal on the right atop the cliff overlooking the lake. I was told that next year this would be converted into a `honeymoon suite'.
ess bee

Thursday, July 26, 2012

In Rajasthan's Sun City

With Danseuse Sonal Mansingh and Maharaja Gaj Raj Singh at the dinner in Sun City.

July 26, 2012, Jodhpur: This evening I hosted a dinner at the Umaid Palace Hotel in Jodhpur. I am in this Sun City for two reasons. First to meet Mr Vijaydan Detha, who, due to his ill health, could not come to our reception-cum-felicitation function in Jaipur.
With Maharaj Gaj Raj Singh
Earlier this year I had organized this function in which the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Rajasthan Shri Ashok Gehlot had conferred Rajasthan Padmashree Award to Vijaydan Detha – a literary giant whose contribution to Rajasthani literature is immense. Since Mr Detha was bed ridden he could not come to the function. He is still confined to his bed and unable to move out of his home.
Thakur Sundar Singh
So I thought I'd pay him a visit and do the honours of personally felicitating him for his life time achievement and contribution to Rajasthani literature.
My second reason for being in the city is that I am planning a number of art and cultural activities and events in Jaipur and have plans to include Jodhpur to this events circuit.
With Mahendra Detha in white kurta and others
Sun City Jodhpur is the second largest city of Rajasthan after Pink City Jaipur and has all the potential of holding big ticket events and functions. 
So I am collaborating with FICCI Flo on this. This organization has been looking for the right kind of event in Jodhpur and also to open their membership drive in Jodhpur.
Tomorrow is the Prabha Khaitan Memorial Literature series to be presented by danseuse par excellence Sonal Mansingh.

This event would be hold at Hotel Amangarh. I thought since I am in the Sun City I have to meet up with quite a few prominent people of the City who have an abiding interest in cultural activities.
That’s why I hosted a dinner at the Umaid Bhavan Palace and invited the prominent residents of Jodhpur for dinner which was graced by Maharaja Gaj Singh who is popular as Bapji in this region.
ess bee

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Leela Palace Delhi

July 24, 2012: Today morning I arrived in Delhi. For the past two months I am trying to get back to my old habit of taking early morning flights instead of the afternoon ones in order to utilize the working day fruitfully. The afternoon flights aren't really suitable for this.
In the afternoon, I met few friends over lunch at the India International Centre and went for dinner at Jamawar, the northern and southern Indian cuisine joint at Hotel Leela Palace in New Delhi. I was earlier very impressed by Jamawar at Hotel Leela Palace, Bangalore, especially by its elegant Indian decor, personalised services and cuisines.
This Jamawar restaurant in New Delhi is also good with an ethnic Indian decor, looks and style and Indian cuisines. I have visited but never stayed in any Leela property earlier and naturally have not had much opportunity to be at the Jamawar. But now I would remember it for its Pudina Nimbu Sikanji drink which one should not miss.
Tomorrow I'll fly to Jodhpur.
ess bee

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dinner diplomacy!

July 23, 2012: I just got through with the dinner party I had hosted in my residence today. Over the past many months I have been travelling extensively and could not attend most of the dinners, events and receptions organized by the local consuls and diplomats.
It occurred to me that I could catch up with many of them over dinner after a long time. So I invited the diplomats from Japan, China, Thailand, Germany, Italy, Nepal, Myanmar and others to my residence over dinner. I am thankful that they were all very kind to attend.
The dinner party went off very well and only later did I realize that it turned out to be a sort of my very own dinner diplomacy, though I hadn't planned it that way.
ess bee

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wonderful couple

Wednesday, August 22, 2012: I am back in Jaipur again. I arrived here on the morning of August 21st from Udaipur. Yesterday night I went for dinner at Ritu and Jaimini Oberoi’s residence. Ritu and Jaimini are one of the most prominent couples in the Pink City. It was nice of them to organize a dinner for me. They are really a wonderful couple full of charm and grace.
They invited quite a number of people known to me. Among them were Manesha and Ashok Agarwal, Ashok Jagwani, Ajay Chopra, Mita and Rahul Kapur, Jayshree and Rupendra Periwal and others. I had met the couple in Bhutan during the Mountain Echoes Lit Fest and had, in fact, accepted their invitation for a much earlier date, which, somehow, never happened.
I enjoyed the company of Jaimini and Ritu Oberoi immensely as we have many things in common. I was really amazed to see their collection of Maqbool Fida Hussain’s work. Mr Oberoi has a whole set of MF's paintings on different religions.
Tomorrow I leave for Delhi where I have a series of meetings lined up.
ess bee

A grand experience at Grand Hyatt Singapore


Singapore bound Kolkatans who shell out a hefty sum to book the classy Singapore Airlines are often condemned to travel by the lousy Silk Airways.  I too felt short changed when I arrived in Singapore on early July 18, 2012, morning via Silk Airways though I had booked my ticket having in mind Singapore Airlines. My luck ran out further when I found that the airlines had misplaced my baggage.
I checked in at the Hotel Grand Hyatt Singapore and found the property truly lived up to its name. An about 30-minute drive from the Changi Airport, the hotel was really grand and full of pleasant surprises. For the first time I saw a cascading waterfall set among beautiful landscaped gardens within the hotel premises. The hotel, a modern high rise building situated in the heart of Singapore’s commercial and entertainment hub, is acclaimed for its high standards.
This 1971 property boasts of 660 plus rooms with several food outlets. The Italian restaurant Pete’s Place is considered to be one of the best in the city state. It struck me that not only Hyatt Delhi and Kolkata but also other Hyatt properties across the globe seem to particularly excel in Italian cuisine.
Pete’s Place restaurant was opened on October 13, 1973, at the basement just a few months after Hyatt Grand started operations in Singapore in late 1972.  Earlier, there used to be two famous Italian restaurants in Singapore -Dino and Lataviana. Both these restaurants have now closed down. 
Pete’s Place has unique architecture with the original brick work and tiles. The old furniture continue to carry the old world charm in a modern set up. Due to popular demand, the hotel authorities ran down the car park to pave way for the expansion of Pete’s Place. They retained the old furniture and ensured that the new d├ęcor seamlessly blended with the old and the matching old-fashioned light fixtures.
The one of the present Captain of Pete’s, Mr Alfa, who joined in 1973 still holds fort. Apart from the fantastic and authentic Italian cuisine, what impressed me most was the pepper grinder.  While dining in the corner area of the restaurant, I saw that huge pepper grinder being carried by Mr Alfa. He worked on it to sprinkle freshly ground pepper on salad plates of the guests.  I could make out it was an arduous task carrying the grinder to serve a table full of diners.
I inquired about the grinder from Mr Aloysius Ng, the restaurant manager. He said the grinder has been around since the opening of the restaurant and weighed about six kilos and is working fine for the past 40 years.
About a decade back Kolkatans were swept by the craze for `Chinese food’. But over the last decade or so there has been a gradual shift with the growing popularity of Italian cuisine. The fact that Bangkok and Singapore, with its numerous Italian joints, are now hot tourist destinations for Kolkatans. This may have something to do with the change of palate.
I think Pete’s Place is a must-visit restaurant. It is an institution in Italian dining scene that has been on the scene much before the wave of other Italian restaurants hit Singapore’s shores. I say, not just for its good food, but for the unique pepper grinder the place merits a visit when you are in Singapore.
ess bee