destination india

Sunday, May 29, 2005

the birth of writers

God created this World and Man created visions of how to survive in its cruel surroundings. The beautiful trouble free world with a wonderful variety of offerings, courtesy Mother Nature has, over a period of time, receded into the background. In fact, they have disappeared. They have been replaced by misplaced priorities. Those who run the mile to the minute, trying to prove that they exist, perish on the wayside, unsung. In spite of that they must run because that is what everyone else is doing and no one wants to be singled out for criticism.

All this is true for ninety point nine percent of the masses. It is the remaining zero point five percent that makes all the difference. How? Because they are that miniscule percentage who paint pictures on canvas of what we all try not to acknowledge; they are the people who believe that the pen, rather than the sword, still remains the mightiest weapon in anyone’s armory; they are the ones who weave the magic of song and music to prove to us again and again that the early morning is the most beautiful moment to live for, that the moon has not lost an iota of her charm.

They are the creators of visions.

I remember the story of a young boy who wants to be a writer. A renowned writer lives in the vicinity. The boy continuously pesters his mother to introduce him to the writer so that he can become his student. The mother keeps on putting it off thinking that, over a period of time, the desire will vanish just like any other whim of a child. But, that does not happen. Finally, one day, the woman takes her son to the writer and prays that he be accepted as a student.

The writer looks over the boy, smiles and hands him a book.

‘Learn this off by heart and come back to me,’ he says.

The boy takes the book, thanks him and leaves. The mother, gradually, forgets all about the incident. But, the boy does not. After some time, he goes to meet the writer. This time, he is alone. He returns the book, thanks the old man and sits down at his feet.

‘Please accept me now as your student,’ he implores.

The old man smiles.

‘Yes,’ he replies. ‘You have it in you. One who has learnt off the dictionary by heart does deserve to enter the portals of writers. But, before I proceed, I want you to look down below you and describe to me what you perceive.’

The boy looks down from the hilltop. He sees a range of mountain, lines of trees, a few cottages, and some cows grazing in the fields. He, accordingly, narrates all this to the old man.

He pulls the child close to him and says – ‘don’t you see the smoke coming out from the chimney of that cottage, or the dog lying at the its doorstep or the river meandering lazily in the valley or the birds flitting from branch to branch or the squirrel scampering about gathering nuts or the clouds in the sky? My child – you have to observe every little thing around you. Then only can you create that which will hold others spell bound. It takes patience, dedication and perseverance to become a writer.’

The old man, if I remember correctly, was Leo Tolstoy.

(to be continued…)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

death of the joke

It seems that a research of sorts is being undertaken to find out what resulted in the death of jokes. It is believed to be a global phenomenon, gone are the times when a slight dose of humor was considered necessary to liven up serious discussions. One of the management principles was to encourage humor in order to gain the attention of the audience to what one is speaking about. This culture was all pervasive – even serious reading matter enclosed within the covers of Reader’s Digest had its own shares of ‘Humor in Uniform’, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ and ‘Life’s like that.’ They have survived the tests of time, unfortunately, that tang of old is missing.

A similar trend was visible in cinemas of yore. There were some cinemas made around characters who, by virtue of their actions and dialogue deliveries, evoked spontaneous laughter that occasionally went to extremes where one literally had to hold on to his sides to control the bubbling effervescence. Best examples are the duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Bhanu Bandopadhaya and Jahar Roy; alongside them we had sterling performances of the inimitable Mehmood, Keshto Mukherji, Johnny Walker and Robi Ghosh. The big ‘B’, Amitabh Bachhan has also lent his share of humor in some unique roles like the brothers Ashok, Anup and Kishore in that super duper hit ‘Chalti ka naam gaadi’. It is a sad state of affairs that the subtle form of humor is really and truly dead. What we get are loud versions of ‘when I laugh, you also must join in’ type, an extremely poor version of the slap-stick comedy. Those most suited to this role are Kader Khan, Johnny Lever, and Govinda.

Similar fate has befallen the comedy serials that once used to be popular and were enjoyed by one and all. Remember the ‘Ghar Jamai’, ‘Mungheri Lal ki haseen sapney’, ‘Wagle ki duniya’, ‘Hum Paanch’ and actors like Ananta Mahadevan, Ashok Saraf, Satish Shah, Raghubir Yadav and Anjan Srivastava among others? In the ladies group, only Sushmita Mukherjee made an impact of sorts.

It seems that the consensus all around is – why break our heads and sink our finance into repetitions? There is no dearth of jokers all around us, especially in the political arena. News channels vie with one another to highlight the funniest of the lot, who make a statement in one city and fly to another to retract it.

The joke is finally on us. It is certainly not dead, only – everything today is considered to be a joke of sorts.

As a character in one of the movies keeps repeating – ‘what a joke!’

Friday, May 20, 2005

mechanisms of self defence

Our cities have been converted into jungles, we have animals prowling the streets, lanes and by lanes. They roam in air conditioned comforts and lift unwary delicate samples just to taste new types of bloods. They do not have any regrets because they bask in the knowledge that they can come to no harm, that no one can touch them, and that they have adequate patronage to remain free despite the atrocities they continue to commit.

Our educational institutions take pride in making good, responsible citizens out of us. The schools bring up the children to grow up and take over the reins of the country. Their knowledge gets continuously upgraded. Whenever the political climate changes, the syllabi are modified to accommodate newer concepts. But, sadly, there does not appear to be any serious thought given to teach the burning subject of the day – ‘how to protect oneself from the clutches of the well dressed animals that view a member of the fairer sex as one more tasty morsel. These animals could be college goers, could be guardians of the law, and could also be the spoilt brats of high placed officials. Yes, there are karate and judo classes, but when the attacks are sudden and when one is denied any elbow space to exercise the punches that come so easily on the stage, the victim is at a serious disadvantage. She has to suffer the indignation of unwanted specimens of humans invading her privacy.

The only defense these poor souls can think of is probably putting their nails into use or the pouch of red chili powder. But, when there is more than one attacker, she has to look elsewhere.

That is what this piece is all about – with so much advances in science and technology, is it not feasible to devise a sort of warning system whereby the victim can alert the local police station as well as her relatives and family that she is in trouble and needs immediate help? The device could be located in her ring or her locket or her wristwatch or some such object that every girl carries with her. The alert could be to not more than five telephone numbers.

Simultaneously, there could be one more weapon – that of marking the attacker by squirting some sort of indelible liquid on his exposed portions. That will certainly help track down the miscreants.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

lone men beware

Until now, it was the woman who was in danger, now it is the turn of the men. Women, being the weaker of the species and the more vulnerable due to obvious reasons, were more prone to dangers of various types, hence they were always advised by their elders to be in the company of known persons when ever moving out a night, to try and avoid deserted roads, lanes and by lanes, to never accept lifts from strangers and so on.

It has now been revealed that men, who travel alone, and over long distances in trains, are also in the danger of losing their belongings.

It seems that groups of tricksters board the train at the originating station itself and identify the probable victim from the reservation list – they search for single men, of 30 – 35 age brackets who will travel upto its destination. The tricksters keep their ears open to pick up tit-bits of information that invariably pour out from such travelers in the company of friends and relatives who come to the station to see them off.

The group usually targets the trains to Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. On an average, they carry out four to five such operations every month and carry away booty worth several lakhs of rupees. After distribution of this loot, they are quite well off. In fact, they are known in their neighborhood as affluent persons who love to come to birthday parties with gifts for the kids!

The racket has come to light in Kolkata.

The mode of operation is simple – once the victim is identified, they prevail upon the TTE to relocate their berths as near to the victim as possible. Then they start chatting him up. Most of the long distance trains leave Howrah station in the night. Hence, by the time dawn breaks, it is a new day. The victim, like other travelers, is in a relaxed mood. The ‘group of four’ gradually start tightening the noose around his neck. One of them lets out, accidentally sort of, that at one of the stations that will be coming up shortly, they serve special tea. It has a unique taste unmatched in any other part of the country! The victim agrees to taste this special brand of tea. The ‘group of four’ exchange glances. When the next station (which ever one that may be!) arrives, one of the four alights, buys tea cups from one of the vendors, and surreptiously mixes a few drops of a liquid sedative in the cup meant for the victim.

Soon after the train leaves the station, the victim begins to feel drowsy. The ‘group of four’ goad him on to relax in the upper berth. They even help him climb the steps. When the victim wakes up he discovers the truth.

This has been reported in the leading Bengali daily of today!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

dinner with the supernaturals

With cut throat competition all around us, it is extremely difficult to state with confidence what holds the attention of the viewer or the listener as the case may be. Once upon a time it was the story line that mattered – whether it was the Hindi film or the regional one or even the English movies, it was always the story supported by acting and accompanied by appropriate background music. Usually, films would be based on proven writings of well known authors like Gulshan Nanda (Kati Patang) or R. K. Narayan (Guide) – naturally, viewers went to the hall knowing what to expect. It was up to the actors to ensure that the expectations of the viewers were not shattered and that they carried back with them a reasonably good impression of the combined efforts of the team who struggled for months on end to deliver the final product.

Subsequently, with the advent of televisions, people discovered that instead of physically going to the cinema hall, it was more convenient to bring a video cassette and see the movie at leisure in the comforts of your home. Naturally, the cinema owners were not pleased. Neither were the film producers because video cassettes started being cloned left and right. Therefore, the movie makers hit upon the brilliant idea of introducing special effects in a large scale. Remember the Todd-Ao effect introduced in the movie South Pacific way back in the sixties? That was probably the beginning of experimentation which led to chart busters like Jurassic Park, Titanic, Men in Black and Star Wars. Similarly, fully animated films like Lion King, Who Killed Jack Rabbit etc.. ensured that viewers did not totally stay away from movie houses. These films proved that the attraction of the huge 70 millimeter screens remains because such films lose their charm if not viewed in a surrounding of proper acoustics.

This is, probably, one of the reasons why horror movies and movies dealing with ghosts and the supernatural have found footholds in the terribly competitive world of popular cinema. Like main stream and parallel cinema, the genre of the supernatural cinema deserves to be noticed. Here again, Psycho was possibly the path breaker followed by Exorcist. We have had half hearted attempts by Bollywood people – the latest in the series being Naina. I saw its teaser trailer in Kolkata and, except for ear splitting clash of cymbals and grotesque faces (supposed to depict fear!), I was not impressed. Of course, Urmila Matondkar, who plays the lead, is a versatile actress and hopefully she has done justice to her role. But the fact remains that anybody and everybody cannot make horror movies. They require a totally different mind set. I wonder how many Indians fit the bill!!

Monday, May 16, 2005

coach coach hota hai

Once a cricketer, always a cricketer goes a famous saying. After all, to enter the elite ‘Club of Eleven’ requires plenty of grit, determination and hard work. In days of yore there used to be only the aristocratic form of the game, with players in white flannels who loved to strike poses, after sending the ball to the ropes, for the benefit of the photographer. There used to be bonhomie all round and, tempers were never ruffled unless, of course, it was body line.

Old timers retired with dignity whenever they felt that the rigors of the game were taking their toll, un-noticed. In those days, a full day’s play seldom generated more than a hundred or so runs. The on-field umpires had to take decisions based on whatever they saw – the ultimate in the WYSIWYG philosophy. They did not have the advantage of replays from different angles to judge whether the bowler really over-stepped or whether the batsman was ‘plumb in front’ for the LBW decision or whether the bat was still a few centimeters in the air at the precise moment the bails fell off.

Obviously, with a few countries playing Test matches, the retirements of the players were gradual. Those who left the game took up interesting pastimes and could be seen watching their next generation take up the challenges. Old timers never considered returning to the 22 yards strip to become coaches for others.

Frankly speaking, coaches should be in a different league altogether. Coach coach hota hai, a coach is after all a coach. He acts as a friend, philosopher and guide to those whom he coaches. His knowledge must obviously be more; he must possess a larger vision. At times he has to rely on his sixth sense, his past experience and ‘gut’ feeling to discover solutions. In the extreme, he has to invent them!!

We have coaches in coaching classes who coach our children in their school subjects; a belief has crept into our lives that, in view of upward revision of the syllabus, parents of today find themselves severely handicapped while trying to explain to their wards how to tackle modern generation of questions.

In the same vein, we have cultivated the habit of handing over our team building exercises also to coaches. If they were from our own country, it would have been passé – after all we would then be helping out someone who is talented and, at the same time, needy. We do conduct benefit matches once in a while for ex-players and present a ‘purse’ to them as a token of remembrance.

Converting them into coaches is probably one more step towards making life that much easier for the selected few. In the final reckoning, we need to have scapegoats since it is convenient to dump the failures of the team squarely on their shoulders.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

the french connections

The Cannes Film Festivals 2005 has once again highlighted our inherent desire to be seen in the company of foreigners. We love to mingle with foreign Celebes in the fond hope that we will get noticed, one of them will come forward to recognize us in the crowd and acknowledge our miniscule presence by offering us tiny roles in some obscurely known producer/director combine. Like the kid in school – when asked what role he played in the school’s Annual function he replies beamingly ‘did you not see me? I was the corpse!’

This trait of ours is nothing new.

We believe that anything not Indian is good enough for us. We love to borrow their stories, their fashions, and their culture. Even though we may speak about propagating the causes of all that is Indian, we do just the opposite. We do not practice what we preach. Our Indian universities do not attract the students any longer; they prefer to go overseas to complete their college educations. Our cricket Bosses are looking for foreign coaches, we regularly induct foreigners into our football teams – we want to ride piggy back on their achievements.

Over the years, some of our really talented actors have performed remarkably well in foreign films. For that, they never had to go around begging for favors. The film makers recognized their potentials and offered them chances to prove themselves. Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri belong to that genre. Simultaneously, there were films like ‘Bend it like Beckham’, a product that was very much Indian. For our actors to act in such films makes sense.

To be frank, Indian films seldom deal with real life situations; they are artificial depictions, far removed from reality. All its characters are, like the story lines, contrived and do not do justice to the intelligence of the average foreign viewer. During the song and dance sequences, shot on foreign locations, we can see the locals staring in disbelief at the tom fooleries. We cannot listen to their comments but it is certain to be about the hypocrisy that is India – on the one hand we squander money on such silly ventures and, on the other, we go around with begging bowls, begging for funds to look after our hungry kids or to educate our illiterate womenfolk the majority of who, even today, hide their faces behind huge pallus rather than dance around trees.
In this context, the following quotes are relevant: the great SRK … ‘I’d rather be the best James Bond in an Indian film … Let them come to me with a role that isn’t the seventh villain or a cook in a Bond film …’. The inimitable Amitabh continues in the same vein … ‘The Oscars is for the British. Why are we even trying to compete there? Let Tom Cruise come to the Filmfare awards instead.’

If at all we want to attract foreigners to our style of movies, I would suggest a package of some select films like Shiva, Sathya, Sadak, Sarfarosh, Saudagar(Amitabh-Nutan), Maachis, Roja, Ghulam and Gangajal be screened in the land of the Oscars and in Cannes. These are much more true to life presentations of our country and have certain statements to make. These could really be used to win over the foreigners.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

wooing the tourist

It was heartening to see Renuka Choudhury and Prafful Patel talk on TV about the proposal of introducing new services in airports to welcome foreign tourists. The proposal aims at extending greater courtesy to tourists by way of removing the innumerable hassles they have to face on landing up in our country with regard to immigration formalities, arranging transportation out of the airport, identifying suitable hotels and so on and so forth. It was also good to learn that these will not be handled by the Government but will be outsourced, thereby increasing efficiency.
Noble thoughts indeed.

Let us only hope that the exercise does not leave a bad taste in the mouth.

On the flip side, such decisions of the Government will be certain to encourage service providers to smack their lips in joy because, it can be safely assumed that those who will bag the contracts will be extremely well connected with the corridors of power. There will be lobbies to espouse their cause and they will get the authority to undertake such work – in all probability, people and agencies who have their own axes to grind, have already been identified. They may be local muscle men of political leaders or relatives of beauraucrats, or even off shore allies of local goons!

It is common knowledge that there exists rampant corruption in all our walks of life, we are accustomed to scams of immense magnitudes and unheard of proportions, those who are supposed to uphold the Law are often found to be on the wrong side of the Law. Therefore, a nexus is bound to emerge of hotel chains and transporters pooling their resources to fleece the unwary traveler.

This is not to belittle the efforts of the Government; but to put on record the fact that such situations have cropped up in the past and there is every likelihood of them reappearing. In the end, the authorities are forced to relent. It is for us to ensure that, the foreign tourists, who are supposed to carry back good impressions of our country, do not grind their teeth in anger and anguish and vow never to return.

None of us would like to see the maxim ‘if satisfied, tell others; if not tell us’ being booted out of the window and being rephrased with ‘if not satisfied, tell others; if satisfied, consider yourself an exception.’

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

power cuts and blame games

A recent news item mentions that, in order to tackle the power shortages, the Shanghai Electric Power Co. has imposed restrictions on the use of air conditioners. The proposals include shut down of air conditioners in office buildings and departmental stores; entertainment venues to use the air conditioners only in the evenings, all buildings will set the air conditioners to a temperature not lower than 26 degrees Celsius and factories to halt work at the hottest part of the day and change their timings to nights.

The motto is – face the problem head-on, solutions will appear.

To tackle the problem effectively, those in power can formulate guidelines similar to those outlined above and spread the message that saving electricity is everybody’s business. Additionally, restrictions can be imposed on movie halls, games parlors and shopping malls to down shutters during daytime peak periods. Also, government organizations should restrict over stays of their staff up to the late hours in the night where the consumption of power is totally disproportionate to the outputs such overstays achieves. Once we are able to eliminate waste, the gains will increase multifold. ‘Waste not, want not’ goes one of the time tested proverbs.

In the context of the power crisis being faced by Maharastra, the financial capital of India, fingers are being pointed. Politicians are shouting themselves hoarse adding newer dimensions to the blame game. Load shedding has shed all inhibitions, sale of diesel and other generators have sky rocketed. In order to please the farmer’s lobby, the pre poll promise (of making available ‘free electricity’ to encourage them to produce more and better quality products), has boomeranged. The decision has turned out to be a frighteningly wrong one, because even though it was aimed at the poorest of the lot, the benefit was lapped up by those who could afford to pay.

When in trouble, follow the line of least resistance, so the learned say.

At election time, it is but natural that Political parties promise the Moon to the electorate so that the scales tilt in their favor. The objective is to retain the balance of power at whatever cost. Politicians are, basically, a whimsical lot and strongly believe in taking compulsive decisions. They are motivated by considerations of popularity. That is probably one of the reasons why they make statements and withdraw them in the same breath, just to remain in the limelight. With so many channels to choose from, they are always ready to face the camera. In the background, their PR men advise on the dress code, designers create something unique to the occasion and, viewers are treated to theatrical presentations that, at best, act as fillers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

the colors of life

A yellow livered ‘creep’ employed as a white collar man in a blue chip company makes one go green with envy, yell blue murder and cause a red flush to creep up on unsuspecting souls of those in the pink of health. A multitude of colors in just one sentence, the colors of life!

‘Whenever you see color, think of us’ – goes the famous punch line of a leading paint manufacturer. Others of the same cult organize cultural shows to identify and reward the up and coming stars of the silver screen as also the soaps on view in the umpteen plus one TV channels that cater to the fantasies of the commoner. The world of make believe is colorful indeed. The make up of the heroine remains intact even when tears roll down her cheeks. We all know that these are imaginary situations, far removed from actual, but still we lap it all up and, whenever called upon to do so, we cast our votes via the SMS route to select the best of the best – whatever that may be!

It is most unfortunate that Indian widows are debarred from displaying color in any form whatsoever. Even though widow remarriage in not uncommon in our Society it is strange that those who fight for the causes of women’s lib have not yet thought it fit to take up cudgels against such depictions on screens of whatever size.

Death in an Indian family is depicted by mourners trooping into the drawing room of the deceased clad in spotless white clothes. In this context it will not be out of place to mention that white is, in fact, a mixture of all the seven colors of the rainbow – remember VIBGYOR and the experiment we conducted in our Physics classes to prove the point? Take a stiff white colored cardboard, divide it into seven segments, color each segment with the individual color of the rainbow and then spin the cardboard holding it on the tip of some sharp device. What one saw was white color!

White signifies peace; the white flag is waved to call for a truce. In contrast, a bull gets mad when it sees the red flag – the bull fighter waving a red flag to make the bull charge at him is a scene one cannot forget easily.

At the other extreme, we have black. It is mostly associated with all that is evil starting from the witch to her broom stick and her cat. If a black cat crosses one’s path, it is recommended that he retrace his steps and take a detour. It is worthwhile considering the fact that ghosts prefer dark nights, especially after midnight. Seldom has anyone met a ghost in a moonlit night or during daytime.

Of course, black denotes mourning in the Christian culture – the close family members wear black arm bands to denote that there has been a death in the family.

education for all

The decision of the police of Hyderabad deserves praise – those who dislike metal headgears are made to participate in compulsory classes conducted by the uniformed custodians of the Law. Each such session reportedly goes on for the better part of two hours, therefore a perceptible change has been observed in the attitude of the public, and there has been an increase in demand of these headgears, fondly called helmets!

I think this strategy could be extended to cover other areas, areas that are normally neglected by most of us. We take it for granted that certain basic norms of decency need not be taught – they should come naturally. Unfortunately, such seldom happens. A few examples will elaborate my point and throw some light on some of these obnoxious behaviors of ours.

Let us take our excellent pastime of spitting anywhere and everywhere. It could be just plain spit; it could be a concoction of saliva with tobacco juice or the chemical compound created by munching betel leaves stuffed with a variety of ingredients. The results are the spread of filth, creating environments conducive to the increase in population of mosquitoes, flies and generating innumerable opportunities for the medics to thrive by acting as catalysts for the propagation of disease. The surprising part is that this dirty habit is not restricted to illiterates but also to the educated.

As kids, we were taught something called table manners - that one does not rattle knives, spoons or forks, that one does not make noises while munching the food, that one does not slurp liquids, that one does not belch at the table etc.. Of course, in most of our homes, we are not accustomed to take our meals at the table. Even if we do, we find it more convenient to use our hands. Fine, but when we dine out we have to follow these basic norms of good table manners. Especially, in today’s fast world, when most youngsters have innumerable opportunities to leave the country for better prospects abroad, non adherence to these basic norms of decency create negative impressions in the minds of people.

Taking cue from the police of Hyderabad, let us hope some other official agency or NGO comes to the forefront to tackle these and other such evils.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

the man for all seasons

As an Indian, I am grateful to the Swedish authorities for handing over replicas of the Nobel medallion that was stolen last year from Vishwabharati. Hopefully, the Law will catch up with the person(s) responsible for such a heinous crime. This is not about that affair. This is about the man for all seasons.

Yes, to any Bengali, the man for all seasons is none other than the Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore himself. Born into the princely Tagore family of Jorasanko, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. Shantiniketan, the abode of peace, where students become one with Nature is something that only Tagore could gave thought of. A classroom where boundaries did not exist, where students can smell the fragrance of flowers, where they can see butterflies flitting from flower to flower. Rabindra Nath was a genius in his own right, a phenomenon some say. There is no other person who has given to mankind so much in all walks of life. Just imagine a child fascinated by raindrops falling on leaves and rhyming ‘jal parey’ with ‘pata narey’ or assuring his mother - ‘do not be afraid of dacoits because they cannot harm you as long as I am with you’. Tagore’s eyes for details were extraordinary, they picked up even the tiniest of objects – the poem ‘kumor parar gorur garhi…’ is a wonderful example. It gives a running commentary on a bullock cart carrying earthen vessels to the market. Or the poem ‘dui bigha jami’ where the poor farmer discovers, on return to his village, that the zaminder has snatched his two bighas of land.

Not just poetry, but Tagore’s novels, short stories, travelogues and memoirs are all store houses of knowledge. They keep cropping up in all the activities of Bengalis who just cannot visualize a World minus the charms of Tagore’s creations. He was an artist par excellence – his dance dramas have not lost an iota of their original charm even today. His play on words and the vivid descriptions of places, of situations, of emotions, convey one to a different plane altogether – Tagore has penned a poem for practically every occasion. His couplets are famous and are used extensively in communications between friends.

An example will illustrate – ‘Sundari chhayar paane toru cheye thake / shey taar aapan, tobu paya na tahakey.’ (The tree gazes in love at the beautiful shadow/who is his own and yet whom he never can grasp.) The translation is his own.

Like any Bengali, I am fond of Rabindra sangeet. I prefer cassettes where I get multiple singers in one volume. That gives variety to the collection. I give details of three of them here:

12 Gems from Tagore – HMV Sr. No STHV 24129 May-1989. Singers include Dwijen Mukhopadhaya, Sumitra Sen, Shyamal Mitra, Konika Bandopadhaya, Sagar Sen, Purba Dam, Suchitra Mitra, Chinmoy Chattopadhaya, Ritu Guha, Sailen Das, Sandhaya Mukhopadhaya and Hemanta Mukherji

More Gems from Tagore – Two volumes HMV Sr. No. STHV 842300 and 842301 Year 1992. Singers include Pankaj Mallik, Hemanta Mukherji, Santosh Sengupta, Suchitra Mitra, Subinoy Roy, Ritu Guha, Debabroto Biswas, Konika Bandopadhaya, Dwijen Mukhopadhaya and Sumitra Sen.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

new look for old kolkata

The beautification process of Kolkata continues unabated. The century old Talla jheel in North Kolkata is being renovated. It is an unforgettable landmark; it houses the reservoir that supplies water (nearly 90 million liters every day) to the metropolis. Its new look envisages an accessible island in the middle of an aquatic body. The huge park (second only to the famous Eden gardens) has a pagoda, a gym, a swimming club, an angler’s corner and a special area earmarked for children. It is patronized by morning walkers. The island will house large varieties of cacti and bonsai plants.

Residents of Kolkata will soon be able to enjoy a new waterfront hangout. A boat aptly christened the Cuisine Cruise will be anchored at the Outram Ghat from 10 am to 8 pm. It will have food and beverage stalls, music and games. An entry fee of Rs 50 only will be levied. On Sundays, this boat will take off from the Sutanati Ghat of Baghbazar at 6am and will take a trip upto Belur temple and back. The package will be Rs 300 per person. This will cater to the Bengalis who want to get away from the mundane life once in a while.

One thing that caught my fancy was the fish vendors – they descale and deshell the fish that one purchases and even cuts them to required sizes, if one so desires! Whether the fish are four inch size tangra or bata or parshey or prawns or small lobsters, the customer need not worry. So much less work for the housewives who do not have the time or the inclination to carry out these activities. Charges for this additional work are probably inbuilt into the basic cost.

On my return journey, I chose to travel by the Gitanjali Express. It enjoys super fast status and, due to less halts en-route, the pantry car is responsible to provide food and beverages to the travelers. Since this is summer, bottled drinking water was a product in tremendous demand. At ten rupees per bottle, it saved one the trouble of running to water taps to top-up empty water containers whenever the train halted at a station. Pay a token amount of ten rupees, have your fill, throw out the empty bottle and get a new one. The label on the bottles caught my eyes. The words ‘Rail Neer’ were displayed prominently. I presumed it to be a product of one of the Southern states because ‘neer’ in Kannada means water. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it is manufactured in Danapur in Bihar! (The complete address - the Rail Neer Plant, Loco colony, South of RPF barrack, Khagaul, Danapur, Bihar- 801105). Obviously, one of our Railway ministers must have been instrumental in setting up this plant to quench the thirst of the millions of rail passengers. One more thing I noticed is that serving tea in earthen containers by the official caterers has yet to take off – probably another unit is being set up in close proximity of the existing water plant! More feathers in the cap of you-know-who!! In addition, it will be one more cause for celebration of the Government of the day because it is committed to generate employment potentials in all parts of the country.

There are already plans to sell bottled coconut water.

I wonder when some bright leader will start selling ‘pure ganga jal’ (waters of the holy river Ganges) in pouches! It is a really sad state of affairs that, in spite of large scale attempts to clean the Ganges, the GAP (acronym for Ganga Action Plan) is unable to bridge the gap between actuals and expectations. We are still forced to accept the fact that ‘ram, teri ganga abhi bhi mailee’.

route to the roots

(Some readers have voiced different opinions on ’a dream called kolkata’. This is to be expected. I have only penned my observations and the impressions that I have gathered in my brief stay of a couple of weeks. It may please be noted that I am not sitting in judgment on any person….)

After the shooting of the film Yuva starring Vivek Oberoi and Abhishek Bachhan atop the Vidyasagar setu (also known as the second Howrah bridge), it is now the turn of Aamir Khan to capture more cinematographic locales of Kolkata. He has chosen the steps of the heritage building, the National Library, to be precise. It is going to be the backdrop of Aamir’s movie on Mangal Pandey complete with sahibs, memsahibs and horse carriages. Let us hope the film will revive memories of the sepoy mutiny days.
Nico Park, like Swabhumi, has, for quite some time now, been an ideal getaway for families on weekends or on short holidays. An addition is on the anvil to make it even more attractive. The House of Horrors is being opened shortly. It is a light and sound show – the story revolves around a colonel, his witch of a wife, a couple of handicapped children and a brother. The hideous entrance is made of fiber glass.
Swabhumi itself is a wonderful retreat in the evenings. Just strolling up and down its stairs and sitting, once in a while, amongst nature upgrades ones energy levels. Whoever dreamt up such landscapes deserves praise.
The oldest living being can be found in Kolkata. A Galapagos tortoise, that has been around in the Alipore Zoo gardens for the last 175 years is about to celebrate its 300th birthday shortly. Before coming to the Alipore Zoo, it was in the Barrack pore Zoo for the first 125 years!
And then there is this movie house in Swabhumi called ‘89’!! All its tickets are priced at Rs 89.00 only. While going for a movie to Priya, I discovered a new look Gariahat – wide roads, tram lines uprooted on Rash Behari Road (for relaying after concretization). The board of the restaurant Hatari was visible from the road – I had to give it a miss for lack of time.
The Park Mansions, situated in the corner of the crossing of Park Street, Free School Street and Royd Street, was built by the Armenian Jute merchant Thaddeus Mesrope Thaddeus in 1910. It is presently lying in a state of decay. After a fire gutted the Alliance Francaise, the French Cultural Center and Sky Room downed its shutters; the landmark is fading from memories. In order to prevent such a catastrophe, plans are being worked out to renovate the complete set up, give it a totally modern look and throw it open to the public in another eighteen months time.
(to be continued …)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

a dream called kolkata

(I have just returned from a visit to the wonderful city called Kolkata. I have observed that it is surely but certainly shedding its old identity – it wants to get noticed and, no matter how others may interpret this, my personal feeling is that politics has, for once, taken a back seat …)

Buddha is synonymous with sacrifice, with denouncement of the good things of life, with an oneness surrounding all those around you. There have been a number of Buddhas in the life of the Bengalis – Buddhadeb Bose and Buddhadeb Guha are writers, Buddhadeb Dasgupta is a famous film director who loves sailing in uncharted waters and now we have Buddhadeb Bhattacharji, the Chief Minister who is sparing no efforts to turn Kolkata into a dream destination for intellectuals, for business tycoons, and for software giants. In a very short time, he has sent out a clear message that turning over a new leaf is one of his primary objectives. In the initial stages, his mentors might have had reservations but, as time passed, he proved that his selection to the hot seat was not such a bad decision after all.
Yes, Kolkata is gradually easing itself into the high speed lifestyle; the flyovers complemented by one-way streets are proof enough. These add-ons have reduced traffic congestion considerably. Buses in the ‘S’ and ‘C’ category (of the State Transport and the Tramways respectively) offer a reasonably comfortable journey to those who do not mind shelling out a few extra rupees. When compared to the fares one pays in Maharastra, this is very much on the lower side: one option to increase revenue from the public transport system is to increase fares on such routes. This should be explored!
The environments of the Netaji Subhas International airport, however, need to be spruced up. The airport is the entry point for foreigners into the dreamland called Kolkata – the administration should ensure a certain minimum standard of vehicles is available to the outsider. A fleet of taxis in need of repairs with drivers sporting unshaven stubbles and munching paan in between puffing at beedis does not present a good picture. The drivers who intend to ply from the airport should preferably be in uniforms, be clean shaven and be more presentable. These minor things impress the visitor.
Of course, roads that do not fall in areas that require red carpet treatments continue to be hell holes. Any Kolkattan will agree that improvements in the roads were primarily forced upon the authorities due to the underground metro rail system. Obviously, all arterial roads connecting to the route of the metro rail reaped benefits. The prices of land soared; opportunists descended on the scene and brought to the forefront the culture of shopping malls like the City Centers.
One thing that has yet to catch up on Kolkattans is ‘blogs’! Yes, English language newspapers that are available on the net do not have this popular corner!
(to be continued…)