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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Sunday, September 30, 2012

FITA – a unique flying school


Last whole week the London weather was what everybody would enjoy - cold and sunny. During the weekend, I went to the Cranfield Flying School about 90 kms from central London. I am not into sports or adventure sports at all, however, after flying around for a couple of hours in an airplane I did get an idea of how thrilling adventure sports could be.
All thanks to Gautam Lewis - a man of stupendous achievements. His life is an ordinary man's extraordinary story. He was born on the streets of Kolkata in 1977, he contracted polio at the age of 3 and was abandoned by his parents at 7 and was adopted by a British volunteer and nuclear physicist, Dr Patricia Lewis, from Mother Teresa's orphanage in Kolkata and brought to New Zealand and then to England.
With Gautam Lewis
Gautam went on to study at the Hill House in England where the children of the rich and famous go. This is the same preparatory school even Prince Charles went to. He graduated from Southampton University and entered into a successful career in music industry. But soon quit to set up Freedom in the Air (FITA) – a unique flying school for the disabled people in UK, which aims to inspire and empower through aviation.
Gautam, who as a boy used to fly kites from the roof of Mother Teresa's orphanage, went on to become the first disabled commercial pilot of the world. He is currently the Unesco ambassador for the Global Polio Eradication initiative.
Gautam came over and picked me up in his two-week-old BMW convertible which was perfect for this times weather. We headed for the Cranfield Flying School. After a couple of hours of flying sessions with Gautam, he dropped me back to my hotel.
I was very impressed seeing the pilot in him, his level of confidence and his sheer mastery over his aircraft. To be honest, I wasn't very keen to fly, but went there to see for myself the incredible fact how Gautam, despite his physical disability, could actually steer a craft with such ease and elan. The Cranfield University scientists have devised a hand held rudder control steering device for people with lower limb disability, eliminating the use of legs and feet.
Not just flying in an around the flying school, Gautam actually proposed that we should that we should go to Paris, have lunch, and return by evening. I politely declined.
I first met Gautam in London about four years ago. Later, I had organised an exhibition of his photographs at the Calcutta Information Centre. In his words, “Never underestimate yourself, you can do whatever you want.” I think he is right. He himself is a living example, or else, how do we explain that someone who has to take the help of crutches to walk goes around imparting flying lessons.
Truly, for him, sky is the limit.
ess bee

Friday, September 28, 2012

A hectic week lies ahead


September 28, 2012: I returned to Kolkata from London yesterday evening.
Next week there are two events lined up in Jaipur and three in Kolkata. Besides this, the World Federation of United Nation Associations (WFUNA) officials would be visiting Kolkata.
I am gearing up for a very hectic week ahead and shall leave for Jaipur on October 1, 2012.
ess bee

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Ritz rendezvous


September 26, 2012: The day I arrived in London the weather was excellent but it began to rain since the last couple of days. I had a series of meetings on September 24 and 25 and I thought the best place to have meetings was at the Rivoli Bar lounge of The Ritz.
The Ritz has always been famous for its `Afternoon Tea' ever since it started operations. The Rivoli Bar lounge is located before the entrance to the Afternoon Tea area and I like this lounge because it, unlike the Afternoon Tea area, allows you can sit there without the formality of having to wear a tie and a jacket.
While coming out saw Ian Gomes, The Ritz's resident pianist. He is the son of a celebrated concert violinist and Ian developed a love for the piano as a child and began his career as a classical pianist before graduating to popular music.
Extending his talent across the musical spectrum, Ian formed a successful rock band called ‘The Kings’ and worked with such musical luminaries as Frank Sinatra before taking up his position as resident pianist, first at The Savoy and since 1995 onwards at The Ritz.
Ian is the master of the international language of the piano. He is renowned for playing frequently requested songs and melodies from every country across the globe. He can be heard playing during Afternoon Tea at The Palm Court and during dinner at The Ritz Restaurant. He is noted for his popular renditions of Puttin' on The Ritz and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square which have become traditional favourites.
Yesterday I went to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) office at Millbank and had a meeting on Youth Parliament scheduled from 8 to 10 December 2012.
After the CPA meeting I went to the Asia House and had tea with Lord Meghnad Desai and his wife Kishwar Desai. Kishwar, in fact, had her book event at the Asia House after my meeting with her but I had to skip that event as I had other commitments.
On Sunday evening I went to Tamarind a fine dining Indian restaurant. I wasn't at all impressed with the food. Today night I am flying back to India.
ess bee

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An Indian hotel in London


The whole of last week I was in London staying at The Crowne Plaza – London St James hotel. This 4-star deluxe property, located in central London, is owned by the Taj Group of Hotels but marketed by the Crowne Plaza Group. It qualifies as one the rarest of hotel properties in the world that can be booked from the websites of two different hotel chains – Crowne Plaza and the Taj Group.
The hotel also provides a quick access to the Buckingham Place, The Houses of Parliament,Victoria Station and other places and landmarks. The next door property which goes by the name of 51 Buckingham Gate has apartments and suites only. This one is owned, marketed and managed by The Taj Group. There is a common courtyard which connects The Crowne Plaza and 51 Buckingham Gate.
Like so many other Indians, The Crowne Plaza has been my address in London where I have often put up twice or thrice a year for the past 12 years. But this time I am here after almost two years.
This property has always been a favourite of the Indian guests for they not only cater to the clients with Indian food but also keep in mind the typical needs of the Indian guests. Besides parantha bhaji, upma and masala chai (tea) for breakfast, the hotel's Indian menu also brags one of the finest coastal Indian cuisine at its South Indian Michelin-starred food joint called Quilon Restaurant.
I always bumped into many friends, acquaintances and famous Indians in this property, including film and sports persons. While checking in, I said hello to Bomman Irani and on thursday also meet singer Hariharan by chance at breakfast. Over the last decade, I have come across famous Indians like Amitabh Bachchan to Sourav Ganguly.
The Indian embassy also makes arrangement for the visiting ministers and guests at The Crowne Plaza. I noticed that this property has made some sweeping changes. The new lobby at the hotel reception has a huge and amazing Paresh Maity artwork which is drawn by him on 51 Buckinghom Gate itself
The Hamptons Bar bar counter which used to be inside is now in the lobby. The decor is vibrant and friendly. The restaurant started serving Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis. At the bar you can enjoy kathi rolls. The whole courtyard has been changed into a beautiful garden with barbecues and all.
I was told that a day before I checked in, there was an Indian womens' organization meet over samosas and pakoras in this very courtyard. I was amazed to see the positive changes in terms of quality of service, the courteous approach of the hotel staff towards the guests.
Nearly 75 per cent of the property's rooms and suites have been fully renovated with well thought out designs and convenience.
Being a frequent traveller, I haven't seen such a nice layout of a plug-in-board on the study table complete with laptop, USB chargers and any other gizmos. The credit for all this goes to the General Manager Prabhat Verma under whom the makeover took place. He showed me around the renovated areas and while coming out of the Jaguar Suite he saw a lady was coming out with a trolley. He quickly took the trolley and escorted the lady out and also helped her with her baggage. I immediately understood how and why such courteous and personalised service has seeped down the ranks.
The much talked about Jaguar Suite is Prabhat's dream project. With a price tag of 5100 pounds a day, the suite is dedicated to the Jaguar car brand now owned by the Tatas. From the mark of tyres on the flooring to Jaguar print on the wall upholstery, to the many Jaguar logo, each and every small details have been dedicated to the Jaguar. Prabhat proudly informed me at that even at this rate the suite had a high occupancy. I went to see the suite with him between the guest check out and a next checking in.
There yet another suite, dedicated to 100-years of Indian cinema, is nearing completion. Our very own fashion boy Sabyasachi is designing this suite which would be a tribute to Bollywood and Hollywood from Madhubala to Marilyn Monroe.
It is not only that the St James Hotel has undergone a massive makeover. The entire surrounding areas too is being renovated. Work is also on in the area around Victoria Station and on the Victoria Street. Many of the old shops would exist no more.
I think during pre and post Olympics, London has had a major facelift. Things had changed a lot since 1994 when I used to live in London. But two things that have not changed is that you'd still need to wear a tie with a formal jacket and shoes to enjoy tea at The Ritz London. This iconic hotel was opened on May 24, 1906, and conceived by renowned hotelier Cesar Ritz.
I went there to try my luck in formal shoes and a jacket but without a tie. I don't like wearing one. But they very politely offered me one to put on at the clock room so that I could join in for the world famous high tea.
Another thing that has not changed yet is David Burner, the head concierge at St James. He has been working on that desk for the last 35 years and knows a lot about India and Indians.
ess bee

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Basking in London weather


I have been enjoying the London weather and English tea over meetings with different people. The current London weather, not too cold nor wet, I like it.
I met Baroness Verma, Dr William Shiza, Secretary General of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Lord Swraj Paul, Lord Gulam Noon and many others. It is always good and inspiring to meet people with varied interests who have carved out a niche for themselves.
I went to the Hatchards – one of the oldest bookstores in Europe – once again. I also went to the Waterstones, the other famous British book retail chain that operates 296 stores. The store at Piccadilly is one of the biggest. I took time to watch Barfi. I must say that Indian cinema is one of the strongest bonds that tie NRIs to their motherland.
Today evening I shall go to a restaurant at Mayfair not far from the Nehru Centre. During my last visit I could not get a table booking at this famous Kai Restaurant restaurant. This restaurant is very famous among the Bollywood stars. It offers classic, modern and fusion Chinese cuisines. Established in 1975 by Mr Kai the restaurant changed hands in 1993. I have heard that this restaurant has a special menu for the veggies. I am looking forward to try it out today.
Tomorrow Pramita Mallick would be performing at the Indian YMCA, a historic building located on Fitzroy Square, the event is being organised by Baithak an organisation headed by London-based film director Sangeeta Dutta.
I plan to be there as well and meet up with the pravasi (overseas) Bengali community members.
ess bee

Monday, September 17, 2012

At the Hatchard's

London: Since last Friday till today morning I had been in a series of meetings. I also took time out to meet up with few of the London-based families and others known to me. I met Sangeeta Bahadur, director of Nehru Centre in London. She would be coming to Kolkata on the October 5, 2012, as a guest for the next round of Author's Afternoon series.
On Saturday also went to Hatchards book shop in Piccadilly which was established in 1797 and is one of the famous and oldest surviving book stores in Europe. While browsing and picking up few books, I saw a special shelf with the books of those six authors who have been shortlisted for 2012 Man Booker Prize. And there was Jeet Thiyal's debut novel Narcopolis.
The winner of the 2012 prize would be announced at a dinner at London's Guildhall on October 16, 2012, in a ceremony that would be covered by BBC. Each of the six shortlisted authors have been awarded 2500 pounds and a specially commissioned beautifully handbound edition of his / her book. The winner would receive a further 50,000 pounds.
Jeet was the second guest in our Author's Afternoon series initiated by us in Kolkata. I inquired about how the book was faring. The salesman checked his computer and said, “We kept it around 12 noon today and four copies have been sold in two hours. It is good going.” Congratulations Jeet!
ess bee

Sunday, September 16, 2012

9/11 Remembrance Day - ground zero


Last weekend I was in New York before coming to London and it was the 9/11 week in New York - 11 years since the twin tower tragedy struck.
Television channels beamed directly from ground zero and also from Washington DC where President Barrack Obama and the First Lady of USA paid their tributes to those who died in the tragedy.
New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly went live on television assuring “...there are no credible threats today.” He said that US had invested a lot of effort and time to protect itself from another terrorist attack, but there are no guarantees. The NYPD cast a security net over the city from a day earlier using all kinds of modern equipment.
The 9/11 function was confined to the family members and US government officials. So I decided, and did manage, to get entry tickets to the Memorial for the eve of 9/11 as the site was slated to be off limits for visitors from 4 pm onward. Thanks to one of the Millennium Hotel concierge team members who managed to get me an entry ticket for the last visit on the eve of 9/11.
It was very crowded but the queue was disciplined. 
It took half-an-hour to reach inside the National September 11 Memorial (picture) after clearing security checks and points. The mood was sad as people shed tears and passed silently looking at the inscriptions in bronze panels of names of the victims who died. Few of them offered flowers and wreaths.
I have special and unforgettable memories linked to the 9/11. I was there in New York in 2001 and on that ill-fated day and had watched in horror from my room in this very same Millennium Hotel as the planes flew into the twin towers. In fact, I had, a day earlier, planned a visit to the North Tower in the morning with few friends and UN officials, but postponed my plans when I got a call from the Indian Mission requesting to visit them. I lived to tell my tale.
The Memorial honours 2,938 men, women and children who died in the twin tower terror attack on September 11 in 2001 and at the Pentagon and the February 1993 World Trade Centre bombings.
The Memorial, which was opened last year, has twin reflecting pools as the footprint of where the original twin towers stood. The largest man-made waterfalls in North America cascades into the pools and then on to a central void. The names of the victims are inscribed on bronze parapets around the pool. In 2003 an International Design Competition was held which received a total for 5,201 designs from 63 countries. Architect Michael Arad from New York won the competition.
Once complete, the surrounding Metro Plaza would have 400 swamp white Oak trees selected from nurseries within a radius of 500 miles of the attack sides.
No one and nothing can bring the lives back but we would always remember them. What a tribute indeed!
ess bee

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

At the St James Crowne Plaza London

St James Crown Plaza, London: I arrived in London this morning from New York. As expected, the security at the JFK Airport when I boarded yesterday nigh was tight due to the precautionary measures taken on account of 9/11.
I came into London via Kuwait Airways. This was my first flight on this airlines and perhaps also my last. I had heard that it wasn't a good airlines and even the charges were much lesser than other airlines. The service, even in the first class, was a lot poorer than expected.
I flew out to the Emirates from Kolkata en route to New York via Dubai. I would be flying back to Kolkata from London by the same airlines via Dubai. I opted for this sector and the Kuwait Airlines because of a meeting in New York on the evening of Sept 11 and also had to attend another one on Sept 12 afternoon in London. The timings of this airlines suited me.
There is no way I am comparing it with the Emirates but it was a great relief to learn that Air India and Kuwait Airlines have a sharing code and the New York-London sector being the prime sector for any airlines in the world would try to do their best. I, however, think that one should not settle for this airlines even if it costs less. The first class seats are like those of the ordinary business class in which I could not even recline properly. The aircraft was dirty and smelly and no request for meals were entertained. It is said “You get what you pay for” - so why to complain.
The good thing was that it landed at the Heathrow about an hour before schedule and I was on time for my meeting in London.
ess bee

Monday, September 10, 2012

A pedicab view of upscale NYC (Sent to DNA Afterhours Jaipur)


A view from Central Park
Last weekend New York weather was perfect for a stroll. I took a long walk towards the South of the Central Park and after a cup of spicy tea at the Taj Group-owned Pierra Hotel Lounge, I decided to take a pedicab ride to the Central Park – a patch of green in the heart of the city.Pedicabs, an utterly unconventional mode of transport in New York City, are a smarter version of our rickshaws and is a great way to plying through the Central Park since it is open on all sides and you get a 360 degree view around you. It has a collapsible canopy and can be used in case it rains or if the sun is too much on a given day. 
The pedicab drivers often fill in as the tour guides, and interpreters at the Central Park.
I was really lucky to get a pedicab driver who seemed very intelligent and informed.
He told me that the upper west side (UWS) of the Park was teeming with rich celebs like Madonna, LeBron James, Steven Spielberg, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Tiger Woods, Steve Martin and others who have taken up residence.
While the upper east side (UES) of the Park, the toniest of tony areas, belong to the Rockefellers, Kennedys, Vandebilts, Astors, Whitneys and other old-monied families often linked to the great American success story with old mansions and grand pre-war houses. Once known as the Silk Stocking district, it still is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods of New York City with the most expensive real estate in the world. The famous Met (Metropolitan Museum of Arts) is located there.

From one of the corners of the Park, my guide helped me espy the famous USD 88 million penthouse which a Russian billionaire bought for his 22-year-old daughter who had come to study in New York University. 
Dmitry E Rybolovlev's 15 Central Park West penthouse condo created history as the most expensive residential deal in Manhattan last year.
I asked my guide what he did earlier. It took some more conversations and light talk before he opened up. 
He said he was a professor of English literature in Burkina Faso. Even more surprising to me was the fact that he got his green card in a lottery. 
On a pedicab
He said that the US government does conduct online lottery from time to time and if you win one you receive to approach them and get your green card. First I thought he was joking, but soon realised that he was right. The US government indeed has such an online system in place, however, one has be careful enough to avoid numerous fake sites. I enjoyed my trip immensely.
The Professor doesn't want his family or students back home to know that he is a pedicab driver. I promised him not to write his name.
We know very well what many Indians do to get a green card. Many of them do jobs which they are not comfortable telling their families and friends. During my extensive overseas travels, I have a fair idea of the sacrifices people make just to have that blue passport or green card. Many of them can be seen sitting among the 9000 benches of Central Park.

Isn't it also a fact that many village boys came to Jaipur after Independence to live a glamourous life on to end up being rickshaw walas in the city's lanes.
ess bee

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Vedas Kolkata – starts with a flash

This weekend I hosted a dinner in New York at the Copper Chimney restaurant on Lexington Avenue. This place has a certain draw since it also has a banqueting service which is not very common in that upmarket area.
I think new and different resturants are always in demand to begin with in India.  Last Saturday I was at the Vedas – a new restaurant in Kolkata launched by ace fashion designer Rohit Bal – at the Park Mansions in Park Street. I decided to try out this new joint as I had missed out on the opening bash since I was out of Kolkata.
I was hardly surprised when my office informed me that booking a table at the Vedas at a desired time was a tough call due to heavy demand. So I settled for a table at 10:30 pm. When I stepped in I found that place was full. Not only was the place all full, people were also waiting for their turns as late as 11:30 or 11:45 pm.
I know from experience that this is a typical Kolkata trend. It has happened so many times earlier and with different brands and big names. Many such ventures have quietly folded up. Once a place is opened to visitors there's certain euphoria and a mad scramble to be there first. I think it draws more of the curious than the foodie or those who are into fine dining. Also, somehow, the glamour of big ticket restaurants in Kolkata doesn't last for long. In fact, it fades away fast.
To begin with a flash and end in smoke seems to be more of a order than exception for food joints in Kolkata. Not that I am trying to dampen anyone's spirits.
During our college days, there used to be a Golden Park restaurant, which is now replaced by the Soho Lounge. Only last year an Italian joint Casa Toscana was opened with lot of fanfare and celebs near Southern Avenue. But within a week of it's launch, the chef quit his job.
Another example was Sourav's. A four storied multi-cuisine restaurant in Park Street - the heart of Kolkata's most happening place. Sourav's got national publicity in ample measure since it was named after India's cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and that too at a time when cricketing craze was at its height in India. Kolkatans in droves made a beeline to be there at Sourav's. This euphoria lasted for a while and finally ebbed out. Most Kolkatans aren't even sure of what happened of it. It officially shut down about a year back.
There are more such examples like Copper Chimney, Nola chain and others that failed to carry on once the fanfare ended. I think the Kolkata mindset is very different from that other metros. Guests of five star hotels do not try out new outlets when it comes to fine dining. I am saying this because the regular restaurants like Mainland China, Zaranj and good old Amber are still going strong.
As far as Vedas is concerned, I felt the d├ęcor was a little loud. The food is good, but service needs to pick up. Vedas specializes in North-West Frontier and Mughlai cuisine. If you love rabri there you have your desert. If not, then there's little to choose from. The dessert deserts you.
ess bee

Saturday, September 8, 2012

At Sotheby's in New York

With Bonian Golmohammadi, Sun Joun-Yung (Rep of Korea), Gillian Sorensen (Friends of WFUNA-UN Foundation), Harold Herman (UNA - South Africa)
Today evening after the 203rd Executive Committee (ExCo) meeting of WFUNA, I went to the Sotheby's at 72 Street and York Avenue.
Sotheby's as we know is the place where the biggest art auctions and deals of the world take place.
Currently, the place is observing Asia Week of which I was not aware of. 
Also the WFUNA meeting took longer than expected due to deliberations on the Syrian situation. 
With Hotelier and New York-based NRI K K Mehta
Ina Puri who attended my dinner yesterday informed me about it. She too is visiting New York and took out time to be at the dinner.
Besides ExCo members, I had also invited few diplomats, friends and prominent Indians settled in New York. 
I was happy that being a Friday the turnout was very good.
The two-day ExCo meeting concludes today and the next meeting would be held in Rio de Janeiro just before the plenary. 

I have to be there for about a week.
With Linda Nordin (Sweden) and Alexei Borisov (Russia)
In fact, I am not able to get a hotel accommodation because of advance bookings by others.
Also, another reason nagging me is that very recently The Economist mentioned Rio to be the most expensive city in the world when it comes to hotels, pipping New York to the third place.
ess bee

Thursday, September 6, 2012

In New York for WFUNA

September 6, 2012, Millennium Hotel, New York: I arrived in New York yesterday from Dubai after a nearly 15-hour direct flight. The flight was full as expected. The A380 wide bodied aircraft of Emirates are much sought after and have always been in demand since these were introduced.
I got the same room in Millennium Hotel where I had stayed about three weeks back when I was here. As I entered the Hotel I could sense that something was on as the senior staff of the Hotel were all in the lobby and in one of the corners there were champagne trays for the guests.
The Millennium Hotel yesterday started their newly renovated tower block and changed its name to ONE UN hotel (picture). I have been hearing about if for the past two years and was aware of the kind of effort the current General Manager of the Hotel, Wanda Chen, has put in.
I also heard that of the five floors which were supposed to be operational yesterday only two floors have begun operations. This meant only about 40 rooms were available for the guests and many of them, who had booked rooms, had to put up at other hotels.
Although I have been a frequent visitor, I was lucky to get a room of my choice here even after checking in late during the day.
I spent the whole of today in World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) office working for tomorrow's Executive Committee meeting and also few other meetings with respect to the forthcoming annual meet in Brazil in mid November 2012.
I must mention that the warm spell of weather in New York continues with temperature touching 30 degrees.
ess bee

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

18-hour transit in Dubai airport

From the Dubai Airport Terminal Hotel: I landed in Dubai today morning morning from Kolkata. Surprisingly, there wasn't any rush in the business class. After Lufthansa closed down its direct flight operations to Kolkata and with Qatar introducing smaller aircraft, normally there is always a rush in this Calcutta-Dubai sector. The business class seats in particular are more in demand and thus hard to get.
The Dubai-New York sector is also always full. I have to wait in Dubai for almost 18 hours and would take the 8:30 am New York flight tomorrow. I did not get a seat in any of the earlier flights and was not in a position to change my dates as WFUNA executive committee meeting is on the 7th of September and I must be there a day earlier. 
I left Kolkata a little late because of the Chaltabagan Puja exhibition or else I could have worked out an itinerary with less time on the transit.
Instead of going out of the airport and visiting the city, I have chosen to be in a hotel at the Dubai airport itself simply because there is no visa immigration hassles and also the weather outside is 42 degree. This Hotel is as good as any basic five star hotel. There is, however, no laundry service inside this Hotel since it is based in the airport itself. I couldn't understand the reason which the concierge gave me. In contrast, the Frankfurt airport has complimentary ironing service in the Lufthansa first class lounge.
Many other airports' basic transit hotels also do have laundry facilities which I think is a must for all transit hotels. The good thing is that my tomorrow Emirates aircraft to New York is a A 380 which I really like.
ess bee

Monday, September 3, 2012

Chaltabagan Photo Exhibition

With P R Agarwal, Smita Bakshi, Suvaprasanna and Debasree Roy
Monday, September 3, 2012: This morning I went to Chaltabagan where the Manicktalla Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja is organised each year. I am the Chairman of this Puja Committee which today flagged off its 2012 Durga Puja preparations with the inauguration of - Down Chaltabagan Memory Lane - a unique photo exhibition of the past 10 years of Durga Pujas presented by Rupa Styles an inner-wear brand of Kolkata-based firm Rupa & Co.  
Actress, MLA and social activist Debasree Roy inaugurated the exhibition along with artist Suvaprasanna and Smita Bakshi, MLA, and Mr P R Agarwal, Chairman of Rupa & Co, and other dignitaries.
Visiting the `Down Chaltabagan Memory Lane' Photo Exhibition
With 2012 being the completion of the 69th year for Chaltabagan Puja, 69 photos of the past Durga Pujas organised by Chaltabagan have been put up at the exhibition. Each photo carries its own message and theme. Chaltabagan Durga Puja is not just a Puja Committee but more of a social welfare organisation.
From there on it has now grown to become one of the top five Pujas of Kolkata in terms of being a crowd-puller, novelty of pandal themes, eco-friendliness etc. The eminent citizens of Kolkata like the celebrities, governors, artistes, foreign consuls and other dignitaries and overseas guests visit the Chaltabagan Puja each year.
On one hand, the Chaltabagan Puja has been at the forefront of innovation with socially relevant eco-friendly themes like solar lighting, use of re-cycled waste, sustainable development etc. On the other hand it has introduced and popularised newer concepts like starting khuti puja, sindur khela and dhak mahotsav to enabling Bluetooth downloads of Maa Durga's images on visitor's phones.
The Chaltabagan Puja was started in 1943 as a small celebration in a shop by Late Shri Harilal Jaiswal, Late Shri Ram Prasad Jaiswal, Late Shri Sambhunath Pandey, Shri Harihar Jaiswal and the current President Shri Lakhichand Jaiswal. The location of the Puja site is also very symbolic as it is located near the residence of the great social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy.
Over the years the Puja has become bigger and better not only in grandeur and style but also in terms of social welfare activities. People from different communities and walks of life are actively involved in the Puja.
Over the years, Chaltabagan Puja has been in the limelight for its various themes and innovations which included replica of Badrinath Temple, Rath (chariot), Bajra (boat) Temple inspired from Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's Debi Choudhurani, pandal made of iron net (2008), paper (2009), glass (2011), use of solar power, CCTVs etc. The Puja Committee also arranges for wheelchairs for the elderly and physically disadvantaged during pujas and organises blood donation camps and other community services.
A khuti puja was also performed at early morning. With things in place for the time being, I shall be at peace when I fly out tomorrow to Dubai en route to New York and then to London for about a month.
ess bee