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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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jaipur Times Food and Nightlife Awards

Giving away Award to the Kucchal Family (Arjun, Rashmi Kunal) and Captain Gurinder of Copper Chimney
February 27, 2014: Tuesday February 25 afternoon I took a flight to Jaipur to attend the Times Food and Nightlife Awards 2014 at Marriott
Initially, when I cancelled my Jaipur trip, I was thinking of sending a regret note to this event but then I decided to go there as Jaipur Times has been very supportive of my activities in Jaipur. I also thought that after the Jaipur Literature Festival it would be a good time to catch up with the Jaipur fraternity and get to see many friends and acquaintances in one evening.
At Bina Kak's Birthday Party
The Awards Ceremony started a little late and I gave away the awards in three categories including awards to the ITC Rajputana and the Kucchal family – Arjun, Rashmi and Kunal and captain Gurinder from Copper Chimney.
Rashmi Kucchal, who is from a family of freedom fighters, is a woman entrepreneur from Jaipur and a social activist who runs her own NGO. She espouses the cause of HIV postive persons and an active member of Vikas Manch and Ficci.
I was expecting the food layout to be much better and pleasing to the palate as it is always so at the Times Food and Nightlife Awards in other cities.
Initially I thought I would come back on the morning of Feb 26 but stayed back to attend the lunch hosted by Bina Kak at the Polo Club. She is an ex-minister who celebrated her 60th birthday along with her daughter Amrita, son Jawaher and husband Riju.
Felicitating Shashank Bhargava and Deepankar Khosla
I again met many known faces in Jaipur including Her Excellency, Smt Magarat Alva, Governor of Rajasthan, members of Rajasthan’s erstwhile Royal Family, Maharani Padmini Devi, Princess Diya Kumari, Maharaj Jai Singh, Maharaj Narendra Singh and others.
In fact, this is the first time I met Princess Diya Kumari after her winning the elections and she informally discussed a few things she had in her mind regarding projercts which we could initiate in Sawai Madhopur. Bina Kak played the perfect host. 
I also met Sujata Bhandari.
With Sujata Bhandari and Princess Diya Kumari
On the way to the airport I stopped at Tapri which is one of my favourite joints in Jaipur opposite Central Park. While I was sipping tea with friends, the weather suddenly changed and within moments there was a hailstorm. Unseasonal rains are not uncommon, however, the hails, which were more like the size of small ladoos, could injure people, bikers and did damage several vehicles. It was a rare sight and the hails lashed on for 15 minutes.
I was sure that in this unruly weather would hold my flight to Kolkata. But it cleared up in half an hour and the flight took off on time and the Indigo Jaipur staff were extremely kind and nice to open the system and give me the boarding pass just 20 minutes before take off. But then, I realised, I should have stayed backed for a night as it was a bad bumpy flight.
Today evening I will go to a friend’s house for a meal and look forward to having authentic Bihari vegetarian cuisine.
ess bee

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Discovering new food joints in Kolkata

Tuesday, February 25, 2014: On Sunday, after the Nitin Mukhesh show, I went to a place called The Corner Courtyard (TCC) on Sarat Bose Road which opened last October.
In the last five years, Sarat Bose Road, with its eateries and cafes of all kinds – Lebanese, Japanese, Continental, Mexican and so on – has become a new Park Street-of-sorts in the city. I had never been to any of these joints earlier.
I don’t exactly remember when, apart from the five star hotels, I walked into any of the restaurants or cafes other than Flury’s or maybe just one or two Coffee Cafe Day cafes at Vivekananda Park or Wood Street for a meeting.
I was really impressed with the old-world aura of The Corner Courtyard which is a boutique hotel-cum-restaurant with a 50-seater restaurant-cum-patisserie and seven individually themed designer rooms. The restaurant, serving Italian and Continental food, came into being after renovating a 100 plus old colonial era building with period furniture and decor. In some ways TCC is like the Jhaal Farezi but much cosier.
Later, I was told that it is owned and run by Ms Megha Agarwal a young entrepreneur who left her job in a consultancy firm to follow her passion. I met Ms Agarwal before leaving the cafe.
There was a time when girls from the Marwari families were into jewellery and fashion designing only. But in the last couple of years I have seen that many of them have begun to open food joints which was earlier considered a taboo since it was implied that a successful restaurant would have to serve non-vegetarian dishes.
In fact, I recently attended the opening of another restaurant in Quest Mall called Smoke House Deli, which, again, is an initiative of two Marwari housewives Manjri Agarwal and Abhilasha Sethia. The duo have also penned a book called Healthy Cooking for Patients with Kidney Ailments. The book, as the name suggests, is all about healthy and tasty recipes to help patients eat their way to good health.
I found the menu at The Corner Courtyard very innovative and different from the other Italian restaurants in Kolkata. Rohan D'Souza is the Consultant Chef for TCC who has crafted the menu. In fact, the pizza that I had there reminded me of one of the posh restaurants of Venice where I had tasted similar kind (thin type) of pizza years ago. The restaurant was full to its capacity with a queue outside waiting.
This is usually the case with new restaurants which has an aura of novelty around it. But once it wears off the crowd becomes usual. But this one, I had a feeling, was bucking the trend.
Megha Agarwal's visiting card quotes Van Gogh “I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate.” I think it is indeed adventurous to open an outlet of this kind in Kolkata, especially one involving Italian food. I hope TCC would live beyond the beginner's curiosity to attract fine diners and do well.
I have realized of late that there are many new such joints which remain to be discovered and explored in Kolkata. 
Today afternoon I leave for Jaipur.
ess bee

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Jaipur trip called off

Sunday, February 23, 2014: On Thursday evening I went to a dinner get-together at a private residence which I think has one of the most extensive collection of paintings. Apart from the known faces of Kolkata, His Excellency, The Governor of West Bengal, Shri M K Narayanan and his wife, Smt Padmini Narayanan were also there.
It was a small dinner get-together and I could interact with many in an informal atmosphere. I had a good discussion with the Italian Consul General in Kolkata, Mr Cesare Bieller, who has travelled across India including Rajasthan and is known to many of the erstwhile Royal families of the desert state.
On Friday, February 21, I was supposed to fly out for a 10-day trip to Jaipur, Beawar, Bera and Jodhpur and return to Kolkata on March 3, 2014. But I cancelled the entire trip as there were loads of deskwork and commitments pending in Kolkata. In fact, I missed the annual function of Step by Step International School which was on February 22 where I was the Guest of Honour with Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma and the Chief Guest.
Usually, once I give a commitment and if my name is on the invitation, I always make it a point to be there. But somehow and due to circumstances beyond my control I had to cancel this Jaipur visit.
This morning there was a series of The Write Circle event in Jaipur with santoor maestro Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma and Ina Puri. Ina has just written a book on Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma’s life The Man and His Music. I am told that it was a very well attended session and the conversation went off very well. I am glad that The Write Circle series in Jaipur is following the footsteps of Authors' Afternoon in Kolkata and moving up the popularity scale and also gaining appreciation from many quarters.
As I am in Kolkata, I will attend a journalist friend’s wedding reception at St Paul’s Cathedral. Yesterday evening I went to the Kala Mandir to see the performance of Nitin Mukesh. It was Nitin Mukesh’s 30th performance on stage at Kala Mandir and he did a fabulous job by singing more than 30 songs. Nitin got very emotional about his 30th performance at the same venue and did mention this quite a number of times. I have seen Nitin Mukesh perform so many times in this auditorium, though not in the past two or three years, and I think it was his best performance ever and many others would agree with me on this. He also broke the convention of usual two-hour Sangeet Kala Mandir programmes in Kolkata and went on to perform for more than three hours. Everone loved it. Well done Nitin Mukesh!
Apart from Nitin Mukesh's concert, I thought I would attend the Indian Naval Symphonic Band Concert at the Bhasha Bhavan Auditorium in National Library yesterday evening but could not.
ess bee

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Text books distributed to the needy students

With Tanusree and Victor Bannerjee at the text book distribution event
Kolkata Feb 19, 2014: Yesterday evening I went to a function to distribute text books to the needy students which was organized by the Bharat Relief Society in association with Prabha Khaitan Foundation at the Maheswari Sadan in Central Kolkata. This event celebrated its 29th year this time with actor Victor Bannerjee and Tanusree as the guest of honour.
Sri Bishambhar Newar, general secretary, Bharat Relief Society, conducted the programme which was graced by His Excellency, Chandra Kumar Ghimire, Consul General of Nepal, and other guests and dignitaries. Sri Hari Charan Garg, philanthropist and industrialist, was the chief guest.
In all over 2000 needy students have benefited from the initiative which is an annual event that completed 29 years today. Till date over 60,000 students have benefited from the initiative. Victor Banerjee recounted his experience in the hills of Uttarakhand where he had taken up relief work. He said that the organizers were the actual heroes and heroines in the real world and that the actors and actresses were just an element of hype.
There was an august presence of the media persons to cover the event which was attended by school children from the poorer sections of the society. I must thank Tanusree and especially Victor Bannerjee for agreeing to come to the programme on very short notice. Thank you Victor da.
ess bee

Monday, February 17, 2014

Patna Litfest 2014 ends

Patna, Feb 17, 2014: The Patna Literature Festival 2014 came to and end yesterday (Feb 16) evening with a concluding performance titled "Piya Bavari" by Pt Ajay Pohankar.
Today late afternoon I'll fly back to Kolkata. The weather, afer a few days of downpour, has cleared up today. It seems the rain gods wanted to test the organizers of the Patna Litfest who succeeded in living up to the challenge.
With Pt Ajay Pohankar during a PLF session
I could feel that Patna has changed a lot. The locals, mostly the young people I interacted with, said the crime rate had come down sharply paving way for growth and development.
My thanks to Dr Ajit and Anvita Pradhan, their sister-in-law Aradhna Pradhan, for organizing a Litfest with a lot of content in seven languages - Hindi, English, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Magahi, Maithili and Angika.
My only regret of the Patna visit was that I could not visit St Karen’s School since it was weekend. 
Although I spoke to Edward Galstaun, the current President of the school, he also told me that Boston Sir, who I still remember was our head teacher, is very much there leading a retired life. He also told me that next year St Karen’s would be celebrating its Golden Jubilee and that I must attend.
Let me see whether I am able to do so.
One more thing, I was immensely impressed with the quality of service at Hotel Maurya. Not just the quality of food, the politeness of the staff was striking. The Hotel went out of its way to accommodate all my requests, including providing a separate lounge space to accommodate my large number of visitors.
ess bee

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Patna memory trek

At a dinner party in Maurya
Patna, Feb 16, 2014: Today was the last day of the Patna Literature Festival 2014 and I did not have any session today. After hearing a more-than-full house session of Yatindra Mishra in conversation with Gulzar Sahab, I decided to visit a few places in the city where I used to live during my primary school days.
I am visiting Patna almost after 20 years. I was last here some time around 1993 or 94, I don't remember exactly. I left Patna after completing class 4 from St Karen’s School but continued to visit Patna once or twice a year till 1994.
I went to the Hira Palace market at Dak Bungalow Road where we once had our family business shop of suitings and shirtings called Chandan. It has now changed into a jewellery shop. I went inside the market looking for other shops of which I had faint memories. I stepped into a mens' wear shop and asked the person there if it used to be the Vatika Sari shop. The person, Savar Agrawal, looked at me and asked which year I was talking of since Vatika was closed many years ago.
When I asked him about another shop called Chola, he said that it had closed down some three or four years ago. I had fond memories of two shops in that market. One was the Wonderland which used to be a video game parlour and the other was the Sweet Home Confectionary shop which sold vegetable patties I used to madly crave for. I still remembered the exact location of both the shops.
When I reached where there used to be Wonderland, instead I saw another shop called Doma Saha Mohanlal Jewellers. But the Sweet Home Confectionery was still very much there. I stepped into the shop and hesitantly inquired, “Do you still keep vegetable patties!” And almost instantly I noticed a box of vegetable patties lying in the same corner where it used to during my childhood days. Later, I came to know that the Sweet Home Confectionary shop had done very well. They had made a very good name for themselves and have opened a few more outlets in the city.
I saw Kamani Beauty Parlour and on my way back from the market I also saw Sahib & Sahiba; the shop which used to keep Raymond suitings & shirtings and from where we used get our clothes stitched. I wanted to step in for a while but had no time. I told the driver to take the car to the Income Tax Chauraha where I used to live in the house of one Sumitra Devi.
It did not take me more than a minute to find my way straight to the house which still had that pinkish red colour and also the nala which we used to call ganda nala. Much to my surprise even afer three decades, that nala it is still open and lives up to its name.
With Dr Ajit Pradhan, Vikram Seth, Indoria ji and Vikram Sampath
There was a maid who came out of the garden and I asked her about Sumitra Devi. She looked quizzed and said that she had died more than eight years ago. Sumitra Devi’s family is into politics and one of their relatives, if I remember correctly, her daughter-in-law, is Meera Kumar – the current Speaker of the Lok Sabha. I asked the maid several questions and she kept telling me that she did not know much about the house. I will have to speak to Sumitra Devi’s daughter next week. The maid probably thought that I had gone there to look for flats available on rent in the house.
From there, I went to the railway station opposite Hotel Samrat to look out for shops called Mehman and Mayfair. From the road I could spot the sports shoes and equipment shop.
After I left Patna on completing class four, I still visited the city and used to sit in the shop Mehman which belonged to our extended family till 1993-94. I asked about Mayfair which used to be a very famous restaurant selling vegetarian and non-vegetarian rolls which they used to serve outside to customers on their bikes and cars.
With Pavan Verma and Gulzar Sahab
After a quick trip, I returned to the Patna Museum and had lunch with many of the authors. I had a chat with Pavan Verma and Gulzar about the Fest.
There was some respite from the rains today and the weather had cleared up though it wasn't sunny yet. While going through these old places, I found it somewhat hard to believe that I was visiting Patna after 20 years.
ess bee

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Meeting the family behind Patna Litfest

Patna, Feb 15, 2014: Yesterday evening after the Patna Literature Festival 2014 I skipped the cultural programme but went for dinner at Dr Ajit Pradhan's house. Dr Pradhan, a heart surgeon at Jeevak Heart Hospital, is the main brain behind the NGO founded in 2009 called Navras School of Performing Arts (NSPA) which promotes art and culture. I also met his wife Anvita Pradhan who is equally involved in promoting Patna Literature Festival and works tirelessly supported by Aradhna Pradhan.
He is also its director. Navras is the main organizing body of Patna Litfest.
The who's who of Patna were there at the dinner including Shatrughan Sinha and many others.
With Ravish, Shrikant, Shravan Garg and Raghavendra Dubey 
I had one morning session at the PLF today on “Media and Markets” (Samaaj aur Bazaar ke Beech Media) with senior journalist and author, Shravan Garg, and Ravish Kumar, an NDTV anchor, associated with popular programmes like Prime Time, Ravish ki Report and Hum Log.
With HE Governor of Bihar D Y Patil at Raj Bhavan
After my session, I went to the Raj Bhavan to meet His Excellency, Governor of Bihar, Sri Dnyandeo Yashwantrao Patil, and presented him with a copy of my book The Safari: A Diary on Ranthambore. I invited him to visit Kolkata which he very graciously accepted.
In the evening, I attended a dinner at the Maurya which was hosted by the Youth Affairs wing of the department of the state's Cultural Affairs Ministry. Throughout the day the weather was heavy and gloomy with rains. I hope there would be some respite tomorrow.
ess bee

Friday, February 14, 2014

Patna Litfest 2014 takes off

With Kunal Basu at the inaugural session of Patna Literature Festival 2014
Patna, Feb 14, 2014: The rain gods have been merciless and seemed to have followed me from where I had left – the Jaipur Litfest last month.
The Patna Literature Festival 2014, which is in its second year, began some 40 minutes late today amid heavy downpour with some changes in the itinerary. But torrential rains could not dampen the spirits of the participants and visitors who turned up in strength. It was decided that the programmes would be held at the auditorium and the Buddha Lawns which were particularly prepared for this eventuality.
The inaugural session was shifted to 1:30 pm in the afternoon as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had to attend the assembly session. The result of this was that my session with Kunal Basu turned out to be the first session of the Patna Literature Festival (PLF).
This change suited me because I got a break for my second session “World in Arts: Art & Literature in an Unequal Society which was originally scheduled to start immediately after my first session “Fiction and Films” with Kunal Basu the author of The Japanese Wife. I asked him his views on what he thought was the best work of fiction that has been filmed. He said Satyajit Ray's Pather Pachali.
With Dayanita Singh, Subodh Gupta and Aradhna Pradhan at one of the Patna Literature Festival 2014 sessions on day one
In the second session, Ashok Vajpayee, Vikram Seth, Gulzar, Om Thanvi, Pawan Verma and others were among the audience. Ashok Vajpayee and Om Thanvi asked questions during the interactive session, making it all the more lively.
ess bee

Thursday, February 13, 2014

In Patna for the Litfest

Patna, Feb 13, 2014: I reached Patna today and was in for a surprise. Despite being a big city and a state capital, Patna does not have a single big brand chain of star hotels as on date.
I checked in at Hotel Maurya which once used to be managed by the ITC Group if I remember correctly. I am in the city almost after two decades and just waiting to set out on a memory trek.
It seems Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has done quite a lot to salvage Patna's lost glory. Patna was one of the oldest cities and a top centre of learning in India during its Pataliputra days. Patna ranks among the oldest of cities and has the rare distinction of being one of the few continuously inhabited places in the world spanning over three millennia dating back to the days of the Mauryas and Guptas. The city is also associated with two of the oldest religions in the world Buddhism and Jainism.
In the evening I went to the Patna Museum - the venue of the Patna Literature Festival 2014 – which is also popular as Jadu Ghar. I found the final leg of the preparation for the Litfest was in full swing. This Museum was built in 1917 during the British Raj to house the historical artefacts found in the region. The imposing building is built in Mughal and Rajput architectural style.
The weatherman has predicted heavy and incessant rains in the next few days as a result the organizers have kept three venues for the Patna Literature Festival 2014 namely The Auditorium, one outer area for parallel sessions called the Buddha Lawns and one more bigger outer area for the evening cultural functions. The Buddha Lawns have been decked up and made rainproof. Another open area will house the press corner and authors' lounge.
The Patna Literature Festival 2014 begins tomorrow. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would inaugurate it.
ess bee

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Author's Afternoon with Bittu Sahgal

With Bittu Sahgal at the Author's Afternoon
February 12, 2014: On Monday February 10, there was another edition of Author’s Afternoon with wildlife expert and activist, Bittu Sahgal, at The Taj Bengal. The subject tigers and wildlife is very close to my heart and the session went off very well.
Bittu Sahgal is an environmental activist and writer and the founding editor of Sanctuary Asia which is a leading wildlife and ecology magazine of India. He is also a member of the National Board of Wildlife, Government of India. The Author's Afternoon session went off very well and at the end of which Bittu signed copies of his book for the eager guests.
Yesterday I went to the annual birthday party of t2. I always look forward to this annual birthday party of t2 like many others do, I am sure. The warmth of t2 team always makes me feel at home.
t2 party picture taken on the spot and framed
Tomorrow I leave for Patna to attend the Patna Literature Festival 2014. This is the second year of the Litfest and I am participating for the first time in three of the sessions spread over two days.
I have been attending most of the big literary events in the sub-continent including Jaipur Litfest, Mountain Echoes Litfest in Bhutan and am looking forward to Patna the city where I did my schooling in the formative years of life.
ess bee

Sunday, February 9, 2014

At the Royal Calcutta Turf Club

With Locket Chatterjee, Victor Bannerjee and Maya
I missed out the cocktails & dinner evening on Friday at the member's enclosure in the lawns of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) on the eve of the 63rd Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
Queen Elizabeth II Cup has a history that can be traced to the origin of Derby in India. Calcutta, as it was known then, was the first centre in the Indian sub-continent to stage a Derby race called Calcutta Derby Stakes in 1842 with a faboulous prize money of Rs 5000 for the winner. In 1856 it was discontinued and its place was taken by the Viceroy's Cup and was later called Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
The dinner was hosted by British Deputy High Commissioner, Mr Scott Fursedonn Woods, and The Stewards, RCTC. I could not attend as I was busy giving few interviews to journalists.
With UK Minister Gregory Barker and Scott Fursedonn Wood
On Saturday I went to the Race Course for the 63rd Queen Elizabeth II Cup. I invited the French Consul General Fabrice Etienne, Victor Bannerjee and his wife Maya, Ananya Chatterjee and Locket Chatterjee to come along with me to watch the races from my box. The box on the mezzanine floor of the Turf Club is comfortable and has great view.
I was surprised that the standard of the food served for the guests of the boxes was much better than expected.
It was fun to watch the races in the company of Victor who is much informed. He won in all the races and so did our group members by following him. But I never gamble and kept myself out of it.
At the RCTC with Scott and 
Yesterday night I attended two social functions and by the time I reached home was past midnight. I skipped Dadul's party as it was very late by the time my social engagements ended and perhaps everyone had called it a day. But today morning Tony, Raima and others who were there told me that the party was on till 3 am and I felt a sense of regret as I could have dropped in on my way back home.
Tomorrow is another series of Author's Afternooon with Bittu Sahgal which I shall attend. Today evening there is a dinner at the Tolly Club hosted by Anik and Sondhy Dutta to celebrate their 25th Anniversary.
ess bee

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Back from Delhi, ready for Deli

February 6, 2014: I arrived Kolkata yesterday night. The flight was delayed. By the time I reached home it was past midnight.
In Delhi, after attending a private function on Sunday evening, I had a lot of meetings on Monday and Tuesday at the India International Centre, Taj, Maurya and so on. I also heard the sad news about the demise of Jagdish Sharma, ex-ambassador of India to Vietnam, and Kavita Sharma’s husband. More sad news followed with the death of Puneet, son of Congress politician, Santosh Bagrodia. I visited their residences and paid my condolences.
Today evening I had committed for four functions, including the opening of Smoke House Deli chain of restaurants run by my friends Manjri Agarwal and Abhilasha Sethia at the Quest Mall.
Smoke House Deli comes to Kolkata after launches in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Though I do not take alcohol, I had read in some review and was curious about this restaurant's signature cocktails with “floral inclusion” because the idea of sipping flowers in cocktails is little out of the way and I would be more interested in seeing how it is prepared with fruits, flowers and herbs.
ess bee

Monday, February 3, 2014

From Windsor to Maurya

February 3, 2014: Last week I was in the Garden City, Bangalore, for some family commitment. In Bangalore I stayed at my all-time favourite property Windsor Manor which is one of the ITC properties that take care of their guests and the service is superb.
I give this property the same marks as Rajputana in terms of catering to the guests' needs, efficiency and services. My good old friend Virendra Razdan is the General Manager of Windsor and his polished and amiable nature is reflected in the rank and file of the hotel staff.
Apart from family commitments, met up with few friends at Sunny’s, I went to dinner at the Taj Western with Zubin Songadwala who just took over as the General Manager of ITC Gardenia, Bangalore from ITC Sonar, Kolkata.
Maurya is as busy as ever and my old friend Anil Chadda, who I think is one of the sharpest general managers that ITC has at present, is currently the General Manager at Maurya. As always, Maurya is completely sold out, in fact I think the first two weeks of February is a good time for hotels in India with the weddings and conferences at its peak. Hotels in Kolkata, Bangalore and Delhi are all having very high occupancy. But Maurya, as usual, is more or less always sold out. Sachin Tendulkar is staying here for his Bharat Ratna and another sports legend of the world, Tiger Woods, is also here.
With my frequency of travel increasing, the number of nights in ITC hotels has also increased. In the past two months I spent one-and-half months in hotels across India.
ess bee