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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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Felicitating Kiran Bedi

With Kiran Bedi
July 30, 2013: The First Lady IPS Officer of India, Mrs Kiran Bedi, is in city. Today afternoon I went to The Park Hotel to felicitate her at a preview and promotional function organized for the Hindi film Calapor directed by Dinesh P Bhonsle and produced by A Durga Prasad. 
With Devdoot
It is the first Hindi film of Bhonsle - the Marathi film director. The film is scheduled to be released on August 2.

The film deals with the subject of prison reforms, a topic that is close to the heart of ex-police and current social activist Kiran Bedi who had initiated many such programs at the Tihar jail. 
Felicitating Kiran Bedi
Kiran Bedi is promoting this film was in Kolkata with the message that “prisons should be correctional homes”. The leading actress of this film, Rituparna Sengupta, who has few Hindi films under her belt, was there at the function.

I met Kiran Bedi after a decade and she immediate recognized me and even recalled where we had met the last time. This surprised me because Kiran Bedi in her new avatar of a social activist meets numerous people each day, I must salute her memory.

ess bee

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Where have all the camels gone?

At The Rajasthan Diwas in Kolkata, 2005
I have very fond memories of Jhumroo from my childhood. Jhumroo was a camel I grew up watching and playing with till he was four years old. Though too big for a child like me, he was my playmate with whom I indulged in riding, playing and even fighting.
After good many years, the next
time I got to ride a camel was on Rajasthan Diwas of 2005 on the champion camel pair called Dhola Maru named after the mystical Rajasthani folklore about the Romeo and Juliet-like love story of Narwar prince Dhola and Poogal princess Maru who escape with their life on a mystical flying camel.
I remember when this camel pair were brought near South City in Kolkata to get down from the truck, people were awestruck by the sight of large four-legged humped creatures on city roads. The police were called in to manage the crowds.
At that time I had thrown a house party on desert theme and camel rides turned out to be a hot favourite with the guests.
I am very upset to know from reliable sources and alarming media reports that the camel population is declining at a worrying rate. According to available data there were about 6 lac camels few years ago which has come down to around 2.5 lacs now. At this rate they would, in five years time from now, be an endangered species with about 5000 only left, mostly in zoos and owned by the rich. This is a scary situation. A sort of silent holocaust of camels is on at the moment. Where have all our camels gone?
Camel is a unique animal that can survive in very high temperatures and most inhospitable climes and has very low maintenance cost. In many remote inhospitable sandy terrains it is still the most reliable means of transport and lives up to its name of being the “Desert Ship”. There are villages where Indian Postal services use camels to deliver letters. Camels are also used for transporting food and carrying ballot boxes during elections.
Years ago someone presented me a painting on camel skin. It is also common knowledge that the camel bone is used for making various kinds of so called handicraft items. There have been instances of people passing off camel bone products as ivory.
I am told that the Rajasthan Assembly have rules regarding killing of camels but I wonder if this is being followed. Or else, how do you explain the alarming decline in camel population. Are we waiting for the camel population to come down at par with those of the tigers before we begin to think of banning camel skin and bone products. Why don't we wake up now to save the pride of the desert.
According to an excellent article by animal activist Maneka Gandhi, with petrol and diesel prices moving up, a large number or people in the desert region have actually gone back to buying camels for using them for transport purposes. In the past decade the camel population has declined to one fourth.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – one of the largest and oldest global environment organisations – have put camels on its Red List of threatened species. When will India see the facts?
ess bee

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

At Rituparna's film party

With Rituparna Sengupta
July 23, 2013: Sunday evening I went to The Bengal Club to attend the party of Rituparna Sengupta's new film Alik Sukh. I missed the premiere of the film on Friday. 
With Shiboprosad Mukherjee
As my trip to Jaipur got cancelled I decided to drop by at at The Bengal Club around 10:30 pm.
The film Alik Sukh is directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee who was there at the party. 
Among others who attended were Rituparna's husband Sanjay, Soumitra Chattopadhyay, Debshankar Haldar, Chaiti Ghoshal, Nilanjana, Sanjay Budhia, ex-footballer Gautam Sarkar and others.
With Anindya of Chandrabindoo band
Today evening I have a series of meetings with the Kolkata Police regarding the proposed Central division Pronam members' cultural programme on 3rd August, 2013.
ess bee

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Of tigers and Belinda

In recent times there have been quite a few reports of poaching tigers and rhinos - the two endangered species - in India. And just day before yesterday the Kolkata airport authorities confiscated more than 10,000 baby turtles being smuggled in from China.
This alarming piece of news was preceded by another shocking report in a leading daily few days earlier that India's tiger translocation programme of 2008 at Sariska Tiger Reserve (Rajasthan's Alwar district), which is the first of its kind in the world, was in a shambles with the tigers under threat. In all, nine big cats, including two cubs and five females, were relocated from Ranthambore to encourage cross breeding to maintain a healthy gene pool and genetic diversity.
But illegal grazing by cattle, plying of vehicular traffic and illegal mining in the critical tiger habitat have taken its toll on the conservation effort at Sariska and it was reported that one of the tigers named ST-1 was poisoned to death by villagers. I am a wildlife enthusiast and am drawn to any news about tigers. But sadly, the news are mostly negative. Few months back I visited the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and was lucky to get an eyeful of the majestic tigers which I got photographed and written about in my book The Safari.
I was in Delhi earlier this week to meet Belinda Wright at her residence in the Sultanpur area, famed for its plush farmhouses, on the outskirts of Delhi. I met up with Belinda to freeze a program in Kolkata in the first week of August in which she would be in conversation with me on my book The Safari.
For those who have an abiding interest in wildlife, Belinda needs no introduction. She is a tiger conservationist, wildlife photographer, wildlife campaigner and the founder and executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Born in Kolkata, Belinda has spent her entire life working in India. She spent more than two years following the secret lives of wild tigers in Kanha and Ranthambore Tiger Reserve for a documentary film.
Thinking of tigers, let me end on a positive note. The BBC reported last month that a female Bengal tiger and a male Siberian tiger have produced three cubs at the Jaguar Zoo in Oaxaca, Mexico, despite being different sub-species. The Siberian tigers are also critically endangered with only 2000 left in the wild. The half-Siberian, half-Bengal cubs, about two or three months old, are doing well.
Another bit of positive news that I read last month was about the Royal Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans. It is estimated that there are more tigers than the 2011 census. The West Bengal Forest Department has said the minimum identified tiger count in the unique natural mangrove habitat stands at 103 based on camera trap stations yielding over 800 convincing photographs of tigers in the wild.
While visiting Belinda, I was quite impressed to see the black and white pictures of Kolkata, dating between 1945 and 1947, adorning the walls of her house. I am hoping she would enlighten the wildlife enthusiasts of Kolkata when she visits the city early next month.
ess bee

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Author's afternoon with Rahul Pandita

With Rahul Pandita
July 20, 2013: Another series of Author's Afternoon, in fact the ninth edition, was held at the Taj Bengal today evening with Rahul Pandita who has authored the book Our Moon Has Blood Clots which is a memoir on how Kashmiri Pandits became victims of a brutal ethnic cleansing in the hands of Islamist militants in Kashmir.  
Among his other works are Hello Bastar: The Untold Story of India's Maoist Movement and the much acclaimed The Absent State. He is also the recipient of International Red Cross award for conflict reporting.
Former Police Commissioner of Kolkata, Dinesh Vajpai, was in conversation with Rahul. This edition of Author's Afternoon was due for quite sometime as Rahul could not make it to Kolkata on the earlier occasion due to a mishap in the family.
With Rahul and Manjiri Agarwal
In the evening Rahul came to my home for dinner. British historian Patrick French, who was is in town, joined us. Artist Chitravanu and his wife and other few friends also came and made it all the more merrier.
On Saturday there are two events in Jaipur, Write Circle with Nilanjana Roy and Desert Soul with Kathak dancer Shashi Sankhla. I had booked this morning's flight to Jaipur but as it is about 2 am I have cancelled it and I shall be in the city only.

On last few occasions the last minute cancellations have caused some problems but then by next day things get better and I am relaxed.
ess bee

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Meeting Belinda and the CM of Meghalaya

From L to R: Prof P C Sinha (MLA and West Bengal UNA), Mr Mahajan (Himachal UNA), Dr Mukul Sangma, the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Meghalaya and Chairman of IFUNA, Mr P M Parvatiyar (Bihar UNA) and Mr Bharat Babbar (Haryana UNA)
July 17, 2013: Yesterday afternoon I arrived in Kolkata from Delhi. While in Delhi, I met Belinda Wright at her residence in Sultanpur area on the outskirts of Delhi to work out a programme in Kolkata early next month.
I share many common interests with Belinda who is a tiger conservationist, wildlife photographer-cum-film maker and campaigner. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and travels across the length and breadth of India assisting and supporting conservation efforts and enforcement of law.
Monday evening I went to the IFUNA Office to attend the Emergent Executive Committee (ExCo) meeting (picture). 
The newly appointed / nominated Chairman of IFUNA, Dr Mukul Sangma, Chief Minister of Meghalaya, formally took over as the Chairman of the organisation and chaired the first meeting of IFUNA. In fact, it was my first meeting with him and I found him very knowledgeable regarding United Nations Associations (UNA) and its work.
He has been very kind and supportive of the UNA organisations in north eastern India. I observed him while he formally conducted the meeting and also when he was having a dinner with me informally after the meeting. Both the times, I quite liked him. The country definitely needs young and knowledgeable politicians like him.
ess bee

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Get together with Patrick French

With Patrick French
I landed in Delhi this afternoon. On Saturday I had hosted the cocktails and dinner at a get together at The Taj Bengal Chambers to meet and greet British historian and biographer Patrick French on behalf of Prabha Khaitan Foundation in association with the British Council.
This was Prabha Khaitan Foundation's the first event with the British Council since the signing of a memorandum of association to conduct cultural events in Kolkata.
With Sujata Sen of British Council, Kolkata
I had invited selective individuals to interact with Patrick who is in Kolkata to participate in a workshop with Amit Chowdhury to help youngsters develop writing skills.
At the get together Patrick read out a passage from his latest book India: A Portrait that led to the topic of Arushi murder case as there were many questions from the guests. 
With Soumyojit Das and Sourendro Mullick
Among those present were Sujata Sen of British Council, Nayantara Pal Choudhuri, Suman Ghosh, Arindam Sil, Anandi Ghosh, Saira Halim, Soumyojit Das and Sourendro Mullick and others.
Patrick made an interesting comment during the get together that “ hunch is that India's next Prime Minister would be somebody we are not expecting.” Patrick also said that after V S Naipaul he would like to write a book on Mamata Banerjee.
The event was a very well attended one and truly representative of the culture that Kolkata is.
ess bee

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Life's like that

Last week I came across two contrasting news articles from China and India that had to do something with the subject of death arising out of two opposite issues - corruption and honesty. Let me relate the two incidents from China and India and leave it to the readers to ponder upon.
The first was a report from China that a Beijing court had sentenced Lui Zhijum, ex-railway minister of China, a suspended death sentence for corruption, bribery and abuse of power. Lui, who was the driving force behind China's ambitious $170 billion 10,000-km high speed rail track project expected to be completed by 2020, had accepted $10 million in bribes over two decades. The court also deprived him of his political rights for life and confiscated all his personal property.
Liu was found to be the main culprit behind the favour-for-bribe railway contracts that lead to an accident in the coastal city of Wenzhou in 2011 in which 40 people were killed. Public opinion turned against the rail project and media glare revealed Liu had 16 cars, 18 mistresses and over 350 flats and unaccounted cash stashed away. Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life imprisonment, however, Liu's was one of the high-profile corruption cases in China in recent times.
So here was a news about a politician from China who got a suspended death sentence for corruption, bribery and abuse of power. The other news report from Bahraich (Uttar Pradesh), India, was about the death of Bhagauti Prasad, a two-time MLA from Econa reserved assembly constituency, who died almost unattended, uncared and in poverty at the Bahraich district hospital last Tuesday. In fact, his son, Radheshyam, did not have money to pay for the last rites of his father. The villagers came forward to arrange for the money for his funeral.
Bhagauti Prasad had won his seats in 1967 and 69 on Jan Sangh ticket. His honesty, integrity and uprightness was exemplary - a rarity among the politicians. Most of the MLAs from the region are said to be multi-millionaires who sport a flamboyant life style. Bhagauti was an odd man trying to eke out an honest living by selling tea and grams and struggling to make ends meet. However, he never compromised on his lofty ideals. He led a frugal life travelling in buses and trains.
Bhagauti Prasad, who was 70 years, breathed his last after prolonged illness. He was suffering from hernia and asthma and could not afford to meet his medical expenses. He died in poverty without any property or land for his family. The burden of poverty now hangs over his surviving family members.
In 2006 the then chief minister of UP, Mulayam Singh Yadav, on learning about Bhagauti, had arranged for Rs 1 lakh. Before his death, he wanted to meet Mulayam but his family did not have the money to travel to Lucknow. As he breathed his last at the district hospital, no political leader came forward to show any respect or solidarity. That was how an honest politician died in India.
I was struck by the sheer contrast and similarity of the two reports. On one hand a politician is condemned to death for corruption and abuse of power, a few thousand miles away in another country, another one actually dies in poverty and misery for leading an honest life and not compromising with his ideals till the last. Well, what to say, perhaps life's like that.

ess bee

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dinner with Hon'ble President

11 July, 2013: I arrived in city from Jaipur yesterday evening and missed out the Silver Jubilee Wedding Anniversary party of Sunil and Sunita Kanoria.
In Jaipur, the dinner hosted by Rajasthan Governor, Margaret Alva, and attended by the President of India, was a rather private and simple affair with about 40 guests.
Besides the Governor and the The Hon'ble President of India, Sri Pranab Mukherjee, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Justice S S Bhandari, General Gyan Bhushan, few Cabinet Ministers of the State Government, Director General of Police, Hari Ram Meena, were in attendance. Then there was the Protocol invitee list, outside it, there were hardly five or six people who were invited.
Apart from me, Ram Pratap, Jyotika Singh, Dr Sudhir Bhandari and his wife Reena Bhandari were there. Dr Bhandari is also the Honorary personal physician of the Governor.
Due to the Uttarakhand calamity, the dinner was kept a very simple affair and the proposed cultural performance, that usually goes with such dinners, was cancelled. The food was a good blend of Rajasthani cuisines as well as misti doi (sweetened curd) from Bengal.
ess bee

Monday, July 8, 2013

Unscheduled Jaipur visit

With Belarus Ambassador Vitaly Prima
July 8, 2013: I arrived in Jaipur today morning. It is an un-scheduled visit. I got an invitation from Raj Bhawan for a dinner with the Hon'ble President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee. for tomorrow evening. The President of India is scheduled for a two-day visit to Rajasthan.
I was supposed to be here tomorrow, I, however, decided to be here a day earlier in order to attend a private party of a friend's birthday. In fact, I have come to Jaipur exactly after one month. I was last here on June 8 to celebrate my book on Ranthambore. The last few days in Kolkata were quite happening as well.
My list of attending the events was a lot less than what I missed. I attended a lunch hosted by Mr Sitaram Sharma, Honorary Consul of Belarus, and also met the Ambassador of Belarus.
With Raj Mahtani
I was quite surprised when I received the text invite from him as we weren't in touch for quite some time. So I decided to drop by in at The Bengal Club where the lunch was hosted.
The same evening I went to The Taj Bengal to attend the get-together hosted by Mr Raj Mahtani for launching his new collection of jewellery “Retro Fantastique”. 
I quite liked the d├ęcor and the ambiance Raj had created. In fact, the French Vodka brand Tigre Blanc was also launched and the whole event was done up in a stylish way.
I met Anamika Khanna the moment I entered the banquet. Though the event started late but the who's who of the city were there to witness this event as Kolkata rarely hosts these types of events. 
Sufi Singer, Parvati Kumari, also sang sufi songs. I had heard Parvati Kumari the first time when she accompanied Bickram Ghosh in last Shree Musical Festival which was held in Jaipur. Raj Mahtani should be complimented for presenting this gala blend.
With Sangeeta Kejriwal and Anamika Khanna
Saturday evening I missed Shreya Panda's birthday bash. On Sunday evening I could not manage to attend three different celebrations - the engagement party of Rahul Saraf's son Vidyut with Ayesha at Hyatt Regency, Mr Rajendra Bacchawat's invitation at The Oberoi's and C K Dhanuka party to celebrate the pre - nuptial wedding of Svasti and Rishabh at his residence.
I'm looking forward to the dinner with the President tomorrow.

ess bee

Sunday, July 7, 2013

In the name of relief

While co-ordinating with different NGOs and small support groups in Uttarakhand in the wake of the recent Himalayan tsunami, I realized that there was hardly any effective co-ordination between the groups.
In fact, it was the other way round. There was colossal wastage of money and resources at such a crucial juncture due to sheer mismanagement and mindless approach. For example, there were several trucks of rice and wheat (flour) that had come in by way of donation, but there wasn't a single kilo of lentils, pulses or vegetables. What I mean to say is that there was no synergy between the material needed and the materials made available.
The Great Famine of 1876-1878 lead to the constitution of the first Famine Commission of 1880, India probably has the world’s oldest disaster relief code which started in 1880. This relief code provides details of the relief to be given by the government to the affected people. In spite of such a long history of relief work, India hasn't moved on much or else how does one explain the chaos during relief work.
It also dawned on me and I realized that how correct the Uttarakhand Chief Minister was when he said “.... give us what we want and when we want, instead of just sending truck loads of materials.” The situation can be explained by the fact that there were food provisions and match box but no oil or fuel. Of what use would these relief materials be of even if it reached those starving pilgrims stranded in remote mountainous terrain. Is it possible to cook food without fuel! There was a need for paediatric medicines but instead there were packets full of painkillers.
Likewise, many vital links in the support chain were missing which derailed the entire effort rendering it meaningless wasteful exercise. In some cases, the social groups, instead of coordinating, seemed to compete with each other.
I feel sorry to write about this but it has become a fashion to seek photo opportunities in the name of relief work with political leaders, VIPs and trucks with national tri-colours carrying relief materials.
Also, nobody asks who is going to receive these trucks. Apart from a dozen top notch NGOs, who have their counterparts to receive the consignments, the entire relief material is dependent on the transporters to be delivered to the needy. Also, there is hardly any accountability to ensure that the relief materials actually reached to those who need it the most.
When a local Government has already announced that the trucks carrying the relief materials are not being allowed inside. Why the competition to despatch relief materials.
We must salute the Indian Army for the historic role played during this crisis. We must also express our condolence to our own Aditya Nandy's family whose wife Piu could not bear the shock of his death and set herself on fire. We must thank Anupam Kher who came forward to take care of a 3 year-old-baby who survived the ordeal.
As far as the Kolkata scenario is concerned, Emami created a trust providing a seed money of Rs 1 crore for reconstructing Uttarakhand. Rupa & Co contributed to Uday Foundation while Pawan Ruia made his contribution to the Prime Minister's Relief fund. But hats off to all the employees of Baisakhi Florists who contributed a day's salary towards relief work in Uttarakhand.
As far as the city celebrity circuit is concerned, only two persons have approached me to help the Uttarakhand victims - Kishore Bhimani and Koel Mullick. Thanks Koel.
ess bee

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Film premiere and American National Day

With Dadul aka Arijit Dutta
July 4, 2013: Tuesday evening, the fourth time in close succession, I was again at Priya Cinema for the premiere of Rituparna Sengupta's film A Political Murder
This new film of Agnidev Chatterjee got premiered on a Tuesday instead of the usual Thursdays or Fridays, the reason being Rituparna is leaving for Canada. 
With Harsh, Madhu, Rahul and Priyanka
The film would be released on Friday only. This movie, A Political Murder, will have a sequel.
Apart from the Tollywood regulars, there were quite a few different faces at the premiere like artist Shuvaprasanna, Md SAlim, Tejendra Narayan Majumdar and others. 
I met Dadul aka Arijit Dutta while leaving the hall. Rahul and Priyanka has acted well in the film, so has Rituparna.
With Dean R Thompson
Yesterday evening I attended the 237th Anniversary of the Independence of the United State of America at the ITC Sonar Pala Ballroom. 
It turned out to be a quite a big gathering than what I had expected. The last Consul General, Ms Beth A Payne, was quite choosy and the American National Day used to be a quite and selective affair.
With Anna O'Neil
The current Consul General, Dean R Thompson, had gained many acquaintances in the city's social circles during his stay and he also took this opportunity to invite many of them to bid farewell before leaving for the US. 
Probably that's why, I presume, it was such a big gathering.
After a long time I found ITC Sonar doing a extremely good job as far as display of food was concerned.
ess bee