Eastern lifeline for blood blemish
Housewives killed as bus climbs pavement
Buses for Mamata, roads for rallies
Budding managers chant social mantra
STAR on, blackout fears persist
Crackdown threat on autos
Sumbrui fits Cong bill for CM’s post
Saffron allies have edge over rivals
Soren reiterates support to NDA govt
Spotlights dim on author

Calcutta, Aug. 8 
History was created on Tuesday when the first bone marrow transplant (BMT) patient was released from a Calcutta hospital after successful completion of the complex procedure.

The development is the first of its kind in the eastern region and provides hope to hundreds of thalassaemia, leukemia and aplastic anaemia patients, who have had to seek such treatment outside Calcutta and the region in the past.

The success has drawn the attention of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), whose director-general N.K. Ganguly came down from Delhi to encourage similar efforts and to advise streamlining of the intricate procedure by improving laboratory support and R&D structure.

The first and only BMT centre in the east was set up a few months ago at Kothari Medical Centre.

His weariness offset by the immense sense of relief that he had recovered, the patient, 41-year-old Shahun Zaman of Rampurhat, Birbhum, was smiling as he left after 45 days of confinement in a highly-filtered and sterilised room.

In April last year, Zaman was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, a condition in which a person’s bone marrow stops producing cells. His haemoglobin count was low, he tired easily, suffered from palpitations, and was prone to infections. “The choice before him was either take immuno-suppressive medication for as long as he lived, which has a 30 per cent success rate, or undergo marrow transplant, where chances were as high as 80 per cent,” said Ashish Mukherjee, haemato-oncologist who, along with his three-member team, carried out the transplant.

Mukherjee had conducted 52 BMTs at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai before he came to Kothari’s. “I was perturbed by the number of patients from Bengal and the trouble they went through to get treatment in Mumbai. I decided to go back to Calcutta.”

Zaman was admitted two weeks before the transplant took place on June 9, after it was decided that he would undergo allogeneic BMT. By this, the donor of the bone marrow is a relative of the patient whose blood DNA and serology matches that of the patient.

Zaman’s sister, Mashreque Begum, 46, was aspirated from the left and right posterior superior iliac spine (just above pelvic bone). Put under general anaesthesia, she was punctured five times from each of the two spots and a total of 1,050 cc of bone marrow was harvested.

Before that, Zaman underwent mild chemotherapy that brought down his white blood cell count to almost zero and, in the process, also shed his hair. Zero wbc was required to prevent rejection of the bone marrow that would be transplanted. “He had to be in a zero-bacteria room where the air particulate level was not more than two micrones. With low wbc, even the slightest germ could give him an infection,” said Prosanto Chowdhury, head of the blood bank.

Zaman himself had to wear a mask and his wife and family saw him through a small window and spoke to him on a phone for 45 days. The marrow was transplanted intravenously over a three-hour period and, six days later, the first new wbc manufactured by him with the new marrow was registered.

It will now take six months for his blood to reach the normal level. He will have to be on a boiled diet and movement outside his home will be restricted.

Sharmila Chandra, one of the three team members, said the centre had a waiting list of seven thalassaemia and leukemia patients seeking BMT.    

Calcutta, Aug. 8 
Two young housewives, on their way to a Kali temple at Thakurpukur, were run over by a speeding minibus which ploughed onto a pavement on Tuesday morning.

Eight others were injured in the accident. Eyewitnesses said Manju Mondal and Basanti Dhar were crushed under the wheels of the Esplanade-bound bus while waiting to cross the road opposite the Kali temple. The injured were taken to Vidyasagar Hospital and the condition of one of them is stated to be critical.

After the accident, residents of the area blocked Diamond Harbour Road for over an hour, demanding arrest of the driver and immediate repair of the road.

“The entire stretch from Behala to Joka is full of potholes. It has been this way for quite some time now and an accident was just waiting to happen here,” claimed an angry protester.

In two other road accidents, one person was killed and three others were injured. Pranab Chakraborty, 40, an employee of the state audit and accounts department at Writers’ Buildings, was run over by a private bus on route 18A.

The accident occurred right in front of Writers’ Buildings. Chakraborty was taken to SSKM Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

Two schoolgirls and a rickshaw-puller were injured in an accident at the junction of Harish Mukherjee Road and South Suburban School Road. All three were taken to SSKM Hospital after a taxi rammed into the rickshaw.

The local Trinamul Congress put up roadblock, disrupting traffic in the area.    

Calcutta, Aug. 8 
A string of political rallies all over the city and the absence of private and luxury buses are likely to make life even more difficult than usual for commuters on Wednesday. The rallies are being held in the heart of the city without any permission from the police. Officials said the transport system may be strained as supporters of Trinamul Congress leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee have requisitioned nearly 1,500 private and luxury buses and a considerable number of Matador vans to ferry activists to Chamkaitala, in Midnapore, for Wednesday’s much-hyped rally there. On Tuesday evening itself, homeward-bound commuters had a taste of what was in store for them the next day — there were few buses on the road. Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said the vehicles were requisitioned under pressure from enthusiastic party activists. Ajit Saha, president of Bengal Bus Syndicate, confirmed that many private buses will be off the road on Wednesday. Sheikh Rizaul Karim, spokesman of the Progressive Taximen’s Union, said Trinamul had also hired a number of Matador vans and tourist buses. Former Youth Congress chief Paresh Pal, too, is holding a martyrs’ rally on Rani Rashmoni Road the same day. This is expected to throw traffic out of gear in large parts of central Calcutta. Pal said on Tuesday that several thousand Youth Congress activists will court arrest to protest the “reign of terror” unleashed by the ruling CPM in West Bengal. Sukumar Panja, Youth Congress secretary, said they had planned to hold the rally opposite Metro cinema but had to shift the venue under police pressure. A law-violation programme by the Forward Bloc at Subodh Mullick Square, only half a kilometre from Esplanade, will compound commuters’ woes. The Forward Bloc, a constituent of the Left Front, is organising the programme as part of its countrywide stir to mount pressure on the BJP-led coalition at the Centre to change its “faulty economic policies”. State Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh said party members would assemble at Subodh Mullick Square, to proceed towards Lalbazar police headquarters, via Mission Row, C.R. Avenue and B.B. Ganguly Street. “As the police have not given us permission to march to Lalbazar from Subodh Mullick Square, we have decided to court arrest wherever the police stop us,” said Ghosh. Deputy commissioner, headquarters, Nazrul Islam, said political parties were not given permission to hold rallies at Esplanade and the B.B.Ganguly junction as it would inconvenience commuters. Street-corner meetings by students and the youth wings of the CPM and the RSP on “Anti-Imperialism Day” are also expected to cause traffic snarls on Wednesday.    

Calcutta, Aug. 8 
Some non-government organisations (NGOs) in the city have finally found a way to pick up the finer points of modern management, all thanks to a bunch of budding managers with a mission.

Amidst the madness of term papers and countless projects, a small but dedicated group of students on the Indian Institute of Management campus in Joka has united under the banner of Initiative for Community Action (INCA) to “help out those who are helping others”. “We’ve seen most NGOs being run by highly motivated people who lack the managerial skills to operate efficiently and make optimum use of available resources. So, we try to help them with our management skills to achieve their social goals,” says Nidhi, a second-year student and an organising committee member of INCA.

“As we owe a lot to our society, we feel the urge and responsibility to give our best back to the fraternity to make a perceptible change in the living conditions of many,” she adds. With faculty members, led by Professor Surendra Munshi, also lending a helping hand to the students, INCA — which has no parallel in other IIMs — is ready to make a real difference in the social sector.

Vikramshila, which has been working in the educational sector in eight Indian states, has benefited greatly from its association with the future managers. “The young management students come up with innovative ideas as they look at the problems from a different perspective. This has helped us break out of the stereotype of NGO work and address issues more effectively.” says Subhra Chatterjee, director of the Calcutta-based NGO. INCA has provided “valuable inputs” in formulating Vikramshila’s vocational training programme for men at the grassroots level.

What exactly is INCA doing to help NGOs manage themselves better? “We help them formulate effective fund-raising strategies. We also make recommendations for performance improvement in on-going projects and do the cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment of different programmes,” explains Padmanabham, another member of the INCA organising committee.

Consultancy services from INCA come for free and the operational expenses incurred are borne by the B-school. And the projects benefit the students in more ways than one. “The exposure gives us a first-hand feel of the real India and makes us sensitive to critical social issues. For many of us, the involvement in INCA is a real eye-opener,” says Nidhi.

INCA, the largest voluntary body on campus, has set a target of 15 to 18 projects this year. “The group boasts of a membership of around 100 students and 10 faculty members,” says Santosh, the third committee member. The desire “do their bit for society” has drawn students from all streams. And there are no full stops at INCA. “We have involved ourselves in projects ranging from child education and women empowerment through income-generating activities to a sexual health programme for street children,” says Nidhi.

The B-school students with a serious social commitment are drawing up ambitious plans to reach out to NGOs on a national scale. “We are working on a database of projects handled by us, which will be available on the Net. This will benefit NGOs based in other parts of the country as well,” points out Padmanabham.    

Calcutta, Aug. 8 
Couch potatoes returned home from work on a sultry mid-June evening, only to find the plug had been pulled on their favourite STAR shows and the evenings were not the same again.

About a month on, riding the mammoth popularity of its sizzling Kaun Banega Crorepati?, STAR was twinkling again in large sections of the city’s cable and satellite homes.

Well into August and with more and more operators reaching for the package, the protracted battle between cable operators under RPG Netcom and STAR is all but over.

Still, the subscribers, held to ransom in a face-off they had no clue about, are not convinced there won’t be a recurrence of the sordid scenario.

A new technology enabling RPG Netcom to switch on the channels in certain areas selectively, following the acceptance of the STAR package in those pockets, has clearly wrested the advantage from the agitating unions.

“Our resistance has, no doubt, diluted somewhat, with some areas accepting the package,” admitted Cable Television Operators’ Association (CTOA) secretary Supratim Halder. “But in principle, we are still opposing the clubbing together of slow-moving channels with the popular ones,” Halder added.

Thus, end of the STAR wars may seem but a temporary truce, particularly with Zee also coming up with its own package soon. While STAR sources and market forces maintained that 70 to 80 per cent of the RPG cable homes in the city proper have reconnected, Halder, whose union holds sway over major nodes in the heart of the city, felt those who have bought the package “can’t be more than 30 to 35 per cent”.

STAR officials are, however, convinced that cablemen still opposing the package are fighting a losing battle. “They (the operators) never bothered to check with viewers whether they had any problem paying a few rupees more for the five channels,” said Rajeev Sharma, area sales manager, distribution and marketing, News Television (India) Ltd.

With pay channels mushrooming by the day and transmission costs soaring, the cablemen are in business, thanks to the under-declaration factor (the multi-system operator gets paid for roughly one-fourth of the total connections). Subscriptions will surely go up and a realistic immediate rise in tariff should be Rs 25-30 a point, including the STAR package, the Zee package and other new pay channels like HBO, SetMax, etc.    

Calcutta, Aug. 8 
In a drive to clear the streets of traffic snarls, the police have decided to crack down on auto-rickshaws and even their passengers if they violate rules from Wednesday.

Lalbazar sources said local police stations will impound all autos plying with fake number-plates or without documents. There are 10,000 autos plying in the city, of which 8,000 have no proper documents.

Deputy commissioner, traffic, K. Harirajan, has warned passengers against sitting on either side of the driver. “Police will arrest the passengers under Sections 41 of the Calcutta Police Act and Section 68 of the Calcutta Suburban Police Act,’ Harirajan said.

Police chief D.C. Vajpai directed officers to swoop on errant autos. Sources said the government will be petitioned to ban autos on major thoroughfares.    

Jamshedpur, Aug 8 
Leader of the Congress Legislature Party in Bihar, Furkan Ansari today said the Congress would like to project state minister for welfare Bagum Sumbrui as the chief minister of Jharkhand.

However, the party was willing to accept Shibu Soren in order to keep non-secular forces at bay, he added.

“Sumbrui is an uncontroversial figure and also the oldest tribal leader in the state.

He fits the bill for the CM’s post perfectly. But to keep BJP away we are willing accept even Shibu Soren as the CM,” said Ansari, who was addressing newsmen along with Sumbrui.

Sumbrui said he was willing to sacrifice the CM’s post to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha(JMM) supremo Shibu Soren for the sake of the new state.    

Dhanbad, Aug. 8 
The National Democratic Alliance has an edge over its rivals in terms of numbers of elected representatives to form the first government in the new Jharkhand state.

The BJP has 32 members, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha 12, the Samata Party five and the Janata Dal (United) has three members in the 81-member House taking the total strength of the alliance to 52.

On the other hand, the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led alliance has 23 seats with Congress 11, RJD nine, the UGDP two and the Marxist Co-ordination Committee one. The CPI has three seats, the CPI(M-L) one and Independents two. While the BJP is yet to come out with an official statement announcing its candidate for the chief minister’s post, Union minister for environment and forest Babu Lal Marandi’s name is doing the rounds in the party.

Party workers hailed Marandi as the future chief minister on his arrival to the city.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which has been supporting the National Democratic Alliance, is was not happy with recent developments. Party chief Shibu Soren has already staked his claim to the chief minister’s post.

“We had supported the NDA in the state Assembly on condition that we would get NDA’s support in Jharkhand”, the district president of the JMM told The Telegraph today.

But senior BJP leaders are not comfortable with the proposal and are awaiting the high command’s decision in the matter. Babulal Marandi dodged queries from newspersons on the matter and said, “It is too early to say who would be the chief minister of Jharkhand. The candidate will have to be a consensus one.’’

But during the Lok Sabha and the Assembly polls, the BJP had projected Marandi as the future chief minister as the JMM had contested the parliamentary and Assembly polls on its own.

However, even if the JMM and the NDA part ways over the issue of chief ministership, the National Democratic Alliance would have 40 seats, remaining short of one seat for the required majority. But with 40 seats already in its kitty, the NDA is confident of dictating terms to the JMM.

Even if the JMM crosses over to the RJD, the alliance will have 35 seats, remaining six short of majority. Under the circumstances, the CPI, the CPI(M-L) and the two Independents would have a greater role to play.    

Ranchi, Aug. 8 
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Shibu Soren today reiterated that he was still a part of the National Democratic Alliance and he had set no pre-conditions to continue support to the alliance.

Soren’s statements jolted the Congress as the state PCC chief Chandan Bagchi said last week that they would stake claim to form the government in the new Jharkhand state.

Bagchi said the Congress would form the government would be formed in alliance with the JMM and RJD and “expressed his party’s willingness to offer the chief minister’s post to JMM chief Shibu Soren in return for the crucial support of 12 JMM legislators.’’

Talking to newsmen at Ranchi after arriving from New Delhi to a rousing reception by hundreds of JMM cadre, Soren said he had no intentions of quitting the NDA.

Dismissing reports that he had demanded the chief minister’s post to stay on in the NDA, Soren said no pre-conditions were been set by him and all matters relating to Cabinet formation and distribution of portfolios would be decided jointly by the NDA constituents.

Parrying questions on whether he would join the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal if he was denied the chief minister’s post by the NDA, Soren said the post was “not important to him” and all these issues would be decided by his party at the “appropriate time.”

However, he stressed that he had no intentions of quitting the NDA in immediate future.

The media was earlier rife with speculation that Soren would seek RJD’s support to form and had even said “denying him the post would tantamount to betraying popular Jharkhandi sentiments.’’

Soren added that the “primary task ahead of him was to save the forests which was still the major source of livelihood for majority of tribals.”

He said he would accord top “priority to end the jungle raj which had been prevailing in the region for over five decades and win back the confidence of the people, entrepreneurs and industrialists, who had either fled the region or were planning to quit.’’

He said industries and mining activities would be protected and designs to “create rifts among the tribals and non-tribals would be be crushed.”

The JMM chief said he had no intention to derail development of the region and thwart popular aspirations by “staking” personal claims.

Soren left for Jamshedpur to attend the death anniversary of slain JMM leader Nirmal Mahato.    

Guwahati, Aug. 8 
The loneliness of Chameli Memsaab has returned to haunt the creator of one of the most tragic characters in Indian literature.

For five months now, acclaimed author Nirod Choudhury has been bedridden in cabin number 3 of the Gauhati Medical College Hospital’s urology department. Afflicted with multiple ailments and rendered immobile by a broken hip bone, the 63-year-old writer stares blankly at the ceiling, his failing eyesight and memory adding to his helplessness.

Except for his working wife, who comes to the hospital every evening, there is seldom any visitor. Relatives drop in once in a while, friends rarely.

Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta did visit the hospital to enquire about Choudhury’s health, but the rest of Assam seems to have forgotten the man who was once the toast of bibliophiles — a young, debonair writer with a flair for authoring classic love stories.

Hordes of college students used to crowd the pavement in front of Delight Restaurant at Panbazar — Choudhury’s favourite haunt — for a glimpse of the once-handsome writer in spotless white kurta-pyjamas, often with a cigarette dangling between two fingers.

“We used to talk about Jibanananda Das’ Banalata Sen and Eichman till late in the evening. Norma Jean Baker — what did they call her? Yes, Marilyn Monroe — also figured in our discussions...She was quite a lady,” Choudhury recalls, straining himself to recollect everything in detail.

“The cups of coffee in front of me would go cold as new story ideas and words played in my mind,” he adds. Choudhury was a master writer, a story-teller with a style that was his own. One of his trademarks was putting his signature instead of getting his name printed at the end of each of his works, be it a short story in a magazine or a weekly newspaper column. His stint as a journalist — he went on to become the editor of the weekly Asom Bani — gave him an insight into the human psyche and also helped him gather material for his short-stories and novels. But it was the award-winning film Chameli Memsaab — adapted from the short-story of the same name — that was Choudhury’s crowning glory.

“Remember the young man pushing a cycle and following Barkley in the story? That’s me,” he says. Choudhury is, however, not entirely satisfied with the cinematic version of his story. “The film-maker failed to bring out the true meaning of my story. It is my best love story, but Chameli Memsaab became almost a horror movie,” he says.

Though it rankles that Chameli Memsaab could have been a better film, Choudhury is not complaining. He never has.

Says Nokul, the ailing writer’s constant companion for over 15 years now, “Despite being bedridden, dada will not even ask for a glass of water. He does not like to bother anyone. That is how he broke his hip. I had gone out of the room when he went to the bathroom all by himself, slipped and fell.”

It is probably because Choudhury takes disappointments in his stride that he has never uttered a word about not being conferred any award, while lesser writers have been honoured several times. “The real award is love and acceptance by the people, isn’t it?” he asks.

As various ailments take their toll on his body, each physical movement is painful for Choudhury. But Nirod da, as he is addressed by many, manages a smile as a relative offers a piece of cake. He can hardly chew, but still mumbles, “Bor sundar, bor meetha (Very nice, very sweet).”

The word “sweet” is apparently Choudhury’s favourite, for he tastes sweetness in everything life has to offer him. Perhaps the same word best describes the man himself and his writings.    


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