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 29, 2014

At the launch of "No Country"


With author Kalyan Ray
July 29, 2014: I visited the launch of author Kalyan Ray's book No Country at the Taj Bengal today evening. Prabha Khaitan Foundation is also collaborating with this along with Taj Group and the ITC Group of hotels for a six-city launch in India.
There was tea from 5 pm and the programme started around quarter to six. Kalyan Ray was in conversation with Rudrangshu Mukherjee and the event was attended by a mix of intellectuals, celebs and journalists.
With Priti Patel and Aparna Sen
No Country, published by Bloomsbury, is Ray's second novel which was first released in New York.
Today was the flag off from Kolkata and similar launches have been scheduled for the coming month with launches at the ITC Group hotels in Jaipur on August 7 and Delhi on August 10, 2014.

ess bee

Monday, July 28, 2014

Desert Storm, Write Circle and bad dining experience

With Padma Shri Shakir Ali, Jyoti Bharti Goswami, Pt Rajendra Gangani, dance guru Shashi Sankhla and danseuse Manjari Kiran Mahajani
28 July, 2014, Jaipur: The IFUNA meeting that was scheduled for yesterday morning in Delhi got cancelled at the last minute and I had to call off my trip to the capital and decided to be in Jaipur.
I attended the Desert Storm event organized by Rajasthan Forum at ITC Rajputana yesterday afternoon. This time the guest was kathak guru Pt Rajendra Gangani who was in conversation with Manjari Kiran Mahajani, herself a kathak danseuse. Pt Gangani shared experiences from his illustrious life – his childhood, his struggles and the highs and lows of his career.
With Pandit Rajendra Gangani
On Saturday evening, I attended another edition of the Write Circle after a long gap since I was on overseas trips for many weeks and also the summers in Jaipur isn't a good time for doing events.
This time the Write Circle guest author was Indrajit Hazra. Indrajit has written four books and the last one, Grand Delusions: A Short Biography of Kolkata was well received by the critics. His earlier work, The Bioscope Man, was also based on early 20th century cultural setting in Calcutta. 
With author Indrajit Hazra
His other two books include The Burnt Forehead of Max Saul and The Garden of Earthly Delights. All his works have been translated into French.
On Saturday night, I went to the Jai Mahal Palace hotel for dinner. Jai Mahal Palace is another property of the Taj Group of hotels apart from Taj Rambag Palace, Ramgarh Lodge and SMS Convention in the Pink City area. Jai Mahal is a lush green with a sprawling lawn which draw many to this hotel.
But it was quite a bad experience having a meal there. It is hard to believe that a Taj Palace property can be so short on the service front. The food was good but the quality of service was worse than bad and stuck out like a sore thumb.
The table for nine people was duly booked well in advance, some three days earlier. We started dinner at 9:30 pm and by 11 the service staff started disappearing. By the time we finished our dinner it was 12:30 am and there was only one person there to attend on us and the guests had to call him again and again or to wait to see his face. We were seated on an open area, which the hotel claims to be a 24-hour dining zone.
The service staff, in fact, were even reluctant to give us the menu for the dessert and wished to take orders without it.
The guests had to ask for the menu four times and got it only after we were frustrated enough to ask the staff if he had any problem if we had a look at the dessert menu.
We had more in store. A number of lights were turned off around midnight and it was quite a strain to see and choose food properly. After another series of requests, bordering on pleading, we got few candles to light up the place. And all this happened on the table where eminent persons from the city were seated.
Being a well-wisher of Taj, my humble advise to them is that if they cannot operate it for 24 hours they should close it or run it as per stipulated hours.
There are always apologies from the hotels when such instances are brought to their notice but that would hardly undo the sordid experience and bad taste the clients carry with them and tell others.
ess bee

Saturday, July 26, 2014

MUN Award ceremony in Jaipur

With Ayush Periwal, Jayshree Periwal, Madhav Juneja, student of SBSIS, Dr Shyam Agarwal and Dr Alka Goyal
26 July, Jaipur: I arrived here yesterday and this morning attended the MUN Award Ceremony in at the Step by Step International School (SBSIS) in which a 22-member young students' delegation was felicitated for bagging the prestigious Best Delegate award at the recently concluded WFUNA International Model United Nations (WIMUN) in Rome.
I, as the Treasurer of World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), also spoke on the occasion which was attended by Dr Shyam Agarwal, Additional Chief Secretary (Education), Government of Rajasthan, teachers, students and other dignitaries. The Academic Director of SBSIS, Mr Ayush Periwal, the Founder Director of SBSIS, Jayshree Periwal and Principal SBSIS, Dr Alka Goyal were also present on the occasion.
With Dr Agarwal giving certificate to a Student
The Best Delegate award was bagged by Madhav Juneja. Chandrika Bothra and Tanushree Goel were adjudged the Best Speakers. All the prizes were swept by these youngsters from Step by Step International School competing against other countries. Thus making it a historic moment for them .
MUN (Model United Nations) is a part of United Nation's efforts to engage the youth of the world to meet its primary global agenda. This objective comprises of World Peace; Resource & Environmental Management; Sustainable Growth & Development; Human Rights, among others.
At the WIMUN, which was attended by students from all over the world, these students had discussed and debated on various global issues like food and water security for the human race. They came up with plausible and practical solutions to solve these problems, earning glory and laurels for themselves and their country.
ess bee

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Bengal Governor takes charge

With Consul members from different countries at the Raj Bhawan, Kolkata
24 July, 2014, Kolkata: this morning I left ITC Sonar around 12 noon for Raj Bhawan to attend the swearing in ceremony of new Governor of West Bengal, Shri Keshari Nath Tripathi.
It took inordinately long time to reach the venue as the traffic was bad due to rains and I just managed to get in by 1:25 pm.
At the Throne Room, Raj Bhawan, also in the picture, Chief Secretary, Sanjay Mitra, and Rosemarie of German Consulate
As I got into the Throne Room of Raj Bhawan and the moment I took my seat the day's programme started with the National Anthem.

There were many known persons especially politicians and diplomats. In fact, by the time the rains stopped, the diplomats went out to see the lush green grass of the historic Raj Bhawan and few of them even clicked pictures. 
I had organized many events with the Governors in past and look forward to continue with new cultural events.
ess bee

Friday, July 18, 2014

Jaipur preparations

18 July, 2014, Kolkata: I landed in Kolkata last night from Jaipur. I undertook this trip to Jaipur for a couple of days soon after returning to Kolkata from my overseas trip. I have a series of events lined up in Jaipur in the coming months and it was necessary to visit the Pink City.
On 27 August, 2014, there will be the Desert Storm series with Rajendra Gangani, the renowned kathak dancer of Jaipur gharana. On 8 and 9 September, my good friends, leading film maker-director-actor Aparna Sen and her husband Kalyan Ray would be visiting Jaipur. Aparna is promoting her husband's second book No Country. Kalyan Ray teaches literature in some of the elite colleges in US.
I plan to host a dinner on 8 August and on 9th Prabha Khaitan Foundation would be the host for Kalyan's book release at the ITC Rajputana.
Then on 20 August there will be a lecture by Urvashi Butalia who has accepted my request to be in Jaipur for the first Laxmibai Chundawat Memorial Lecture which I have initiated with Ficci FLO. 
Then, on 26 September evening the next series of Write Circle is scheduled and the Rajasthan Forum meeting will be on 9 August as well. For all this, much planning was required and I thought of making a two-night trip to Jaipur. 
In Jaipur there was this event in which former US President Bill Clinton visited India's biggest kitchen Akshay Patra.
On the morning of 15 July, 2014, Rajasthan Forum initiated another series called Sanskar. The first of the series took off in collaboration with Step By Step International School at its premises. The idea of this whole series is to spread awareness and understanding of various Indian art forms to the new generation of school children.
With David Lelliott, British Deputy
High Commissioner Northwest, India
In the first of the series, renowned kathak dancers of Jaipur gharana Ruchika Sogani and Tanya Agarwal performed for the students. Eminent kathak danseuse and member of Rajasthan Forum, Manjari Mahajan, lent her voice to the performance. This was followed by a question and answer session with the students.
I also attended the iftaar party hosted by the British Deputy High Commissioner Northwest India, David Lelliott, who is based in Chandigarh.
I briefly talked to him and broached the possibility of bringing more British Council activities to Jaipur since the city comes under his operations.
ess bee

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

World Cup at German Mission

15 July, Kolkata: On Sunday, late at night, I went to the German Mission in Kolkata to see the World Cup Final match.
With Elizabeth, Scott Furssedonn Wood, Atul Bhalla (GM ITC Sonar)
Though I am not a soccer or sports fan, I went there to catch up with my diplomat friends after a considerable spell. It was a great moment for the German team to wind the Cup and the atmosphere at the German Mission was electrifying.
Mahendra K Jalan and Fabrice Etienne at Hyatt Regency
Yesterday I went to the French National Day celebrations at Hotel Hyatt Regency. I always make it a point to try my best to attend these National Day celebrations.
Today I leave for Jaipur once again.
ess bee

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Home sweet Kolkata

13 July, 2014, Kolkata: I am back in Kolkata from a long trip to London and Greece. This trip was in close succession to my New York trip which added to my absence from Kolkata. In contrast to Kolkata and other Indian metros, London summer is very pleasant as was my stay at the St James Court Hotel which is run by the Taj Group
In front of St James Court Hotel which was earlier called The Crown Plaza
Earlier this hotel was called The Crown Plaza.
I, however, kept very busy in London visiting friends and places followed by lunches and dinners. I did a lot of catching up with old chums and acquaintances there. 
With David Burner (File Picture)
This time, the only thing that I missed in the entire UK trip was the absence of Mr David Burner at St James Court. During my earlier visits to London, I always used to stay at the then Crown Plaza and Mr Burner would, invariably, be the first person to welcome me into the Hotel. He had passed away last October.
David was a true hotelier and had been loyal to the hotel for 41 years having joined in 1972. He had previously worked as a theatre attendant at the Royal Seabathing Hospital in Margate and then as a guard at the London Underground. He joined St James Court as a hall porter and went on to become the Chief Concierge in 1989. A post he was in since then.
He had welcomed many guests and would remember their names and details. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2011 from the Society of Golden Keys. He leaves behind a legacy for others to emulate. May his soul rest in peace. I shall always think of him and miss him, when I think of London.
Yesterday I went to the Birla Sabhaghar to see a stand up comedy which I didn't like.
ess bee

Thursday, July 10, 2014

At Prince's School and khana at Gymkhana

10 July, 2014, Dubai: I am at the Dubai airport en route to Kolkata from London. The last few days in London were very busy. On 7 July (Monday) I went for a dinner at Mr Om Chohan's residence in London.
The next day I visited The Prince's School of Traditional Arts (PSTA) which is a very unique institution founded in 2004 by His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales.
I was invited by Sir David Green to the School which runs educational programmes to rekindle awareness in the traditional arts and aims to encourage appreciation of the universal values that are fundamental to the great traditions of the world.
I was really impressed by the work in progress and came to know that 10 students from across the globe are given a chance to enroll for a two year course. Two of these seats are reserved for students from Brunei. I wonder if it is possible to work out a similar arrangement for an Indian student.
I went to another Indian restaurant in London called Dishoom with Sir David Green. It was a very nostalgic experience amid fantastic ambience that recreated the old world charm of Parsi restaurants of Mumbai. The dishes were truly from the old Bombay days. 
On 8 July I met Sharmila Tagore over a cup of coffee. Later, I went to the Gymkhana restaurant which was reported in one of the leading Indian newspapers of having bagged the top position, beating the best UK restaurants, in the latest National Restaurant Award list. Since this was the first time an Indian restaurant had achieved such a feat, I decided to pay a visit. It was tough getting a reservation and I had to make few phone calls to get one done.
The khana (food) at Gymkhana was not up to my liking. I went there with great expectations but it was a let down. Though an Indian restaurant, the food was not at all cut out for the Indian palate. 
The restaurant manager informed me that their chef was someone who had taught the craft to the chefs of Banaras restaurant in London. My earlier dining experience at Banaras was not so pleasant with hardly any choice for Indian vegetarian food. I feel they are more geared up to cater to the non-Indian palate.
I am out of Kolkata for quite some time now and am beginning to miss the city.
ess bee

Monday, July 7, 2014

A visit to Canterbury


7 July, 2014, London: The name Canterbury was introduced early in life thanks to Chaucers's Canterbury Tales. Canterbury is a historic English cathedral city in south east England, some 87 kilometres from London, in Kent district close to river Stour. Canterbury is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inside Canterbury Cathedral
We decided to go to Canterbury on Sunday the 6th of July. During my earlier trips to London the idea of visiting Canterbury was always there in my mind but it somehow never happened. This time it was my resolve to end the jinx. Thanks to Rinku Dutt and her husband Rane who made our Canterbury trip a memorable one. Rane aka Nilan is a doctor in Canterbury and Rinku invited us to Canterbury when we met her at Dartington a week or two back.
We took to the road and drove from London to Canterbury. It was pouring when we got down at Canterbury and had to buy an umbrella just before entering the church.
I visited the Canterbury Cathedral which is one of the oldest and most famous Christian edifices in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site
It is the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, and the symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The formal title is Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury.
Founded in 597 AD when St Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great, as a missionary, established his seat (Cathedra) in Canterbury. 
In front of the famous candle that burns perpetually
The Cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077. In 1170, Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral and ever since, the Cathedral has attracted thousands of pilgrims, as told famously in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
In late fourteenth century, parts were demolished to make way for the present structures.
A major conservation effort has been on to maintain the cathedral in its pristine form. The cathedral is full of history and fascinating stories abound. 
In 2000 an International Study Centre was opened in the precincts. The cathedral has over 2000 square metres of stained glass and also houses a stained glass studio. There is a candle that burns perpetually as "A reminder of prisoners of conscience and all those who suffer unjustly for their beliefs and and action."
In front of Five Bells Inn
A library with huge collection of books on church history, theology and other old Christian publications. Canterbury Cathedral Archives holds a wealth of manuscripts, photographs, maps and other records dating back to the late 8th century. These make up an extraordinarily rich resource.
After the visit to the church we went for a half-an-hour drive into the rural interiors and to a small village in a remote hillside location called Brabourne.  
We had lunch in a pub called Five Bells Inn. The place epitomises the old-world charm of English country side folk culture and living i.e., fire place, wood-fired baking, local village produce and so on.
Pub of the year
This pub, despite being so much in the interiors, received the Pub of the Year Award 2013 by Kent Life. When we entered, the pub was full to its capacity. The menu was also very nicely designed. Meanwhile, the weather forecast came true and there was clear sunshine.
The Wimbledon fever was on and a television had its share of viewers inside the pub. So we decided to sit outside. The food served was excellent and made our day. The menu was also very unique.
While returning, I was thinking about the ghost stories linked to this old church town. There aren't many Indians in Canterbury, but thanks to Rinku and Rane and to Soumilya and Sangeeta Datta who not only drove us from London to Canterbury but were also instrumental in initiating the trip that was long due.
ess bee

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Rare books dealer and Lebanese joint


July 6, 2014, London: Its past midnight, I returned to my hotel late. In matter of few hours I have to get ready to leave for Canterbury.
The past few days were a mix of different activities and meetings. On July 31, I met John Randall, a collector and dealer or rare books on Asia and a very interesting man indeed. I got his reference from British writer Patrick French.
Mr Randall has an amazing collection of 125 works spanning the history of print in India and exemplifying the vast range of published material produced over 250 years. He has been collecting these antiquarian, rare and out-of-print books over 30 years. I also met Randall's partner, Graham Shaw.
On the evening of July 3, I went to the residence of kathak dancer and teacher, Shivani Sethia, for dinner. Lord Meghnad Desai and his wife Kishwar also joined in. It was nice of Shivani to organize a dinner for me and call over few of our friends.
On July 4, I again went to the Bombay Brasserie with few diplomats for dinner. On July 5 (yesterday), Lord Paul (Swraj) invited me to his country house estate for lunch which was an hour-and-half drive from London. It was nice of him to invite me for the third time. I am, as always charmed by his hospitality and warmth.
Later in the evening, around 7:30 pm, I went to the famous Victoria Theatre to see the play “Wicked”. It was housefull, but I wasn't impressed by it. I had liked Mama Mia and Singing in The Rain a lot more. By the time the play ended it was 10:30 pm.
I booked a table at Maroush, the famous Lebanese restaurant in London's on Edgware Road started by Marouf Abouzaki in 1981.
It took me nearly one-and-half hours to reach the restaurant due to a major snarl caused by annual British Summer Time open air concert at Hyde Park. I was the only person at the restaurant when I checked in around 11:45 pm. Surprisingly, the service was very bad, may be because of Ramzan the restaurant was short of staff. By the time I left the restaurant it was just short of 1 am.
ess bee

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

At the CPA HQs in London and Oxford



With Kunal Basu in front of Oxford Library
2 July, 2014, London: Yesterday I went to Oxford to meet Kunal Basu and his wife Susmita. Among other places that we visited, we also went to the Oxford Public Library, one of the oldest in UK. What else do you need when you have a seasoned author like Kunal Basu showing you around Oxford.

It is said that the Oxford library tries to procure a copy of every English book published in the world.

Today morning I went to the India House in Aldwych to meet the High Commissioner of India in London, His Excellency, Mr Ranjan Mathai. India House, which houses the Indian diplomatic mission in UK, is a iconic building designed by Sir Herber Baker in 1930 and formally inaugurated by King George V on July 8 same year. It faces the London School of Economics and King's College London.

Though I had met the Indian High Commissioner over the past two weeks in various events, I formally met him at his office this morning only. 
From there I I went to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), London, headquarters to meet William Ferdinand Shija, Secretary General of CPA.

With William Shija
He has kindly invited me to the next Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPA) – the 60th CPA - at Yaounde in Cameroon from October 2 to 10, 2014, which I plan to attend.

ess bee