Rain god, awards go for north
Gueast Column/ A time for binding and bonding
New areas in Puja awards
Divided by religion, united by Durga
Speeding lorry crushes man, son to death
Mass leave hits garbage clearance
Outbreak of enteric at Garia claims first victim
Crackdown on shady beauty parlours
Govt rethink on Circuit House liquor laws
Basu piles pressure on PM for flood relief

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
The weather gods cast a benign spell on the south on Wednesday, Saptami, though the Asian Paints Sharad Samman all but ignored it in its shortlist of exclusive Pujas.

Heavy rain lashed north Calcutta between 3 and 4 pm, forcing pandal-hoppers to scurry for cover, while the southern parts of the city remained largely dry.

According to Alipore Met office chief R.N. Goldar, 15 mm of rain was recorded in north Calcutta and its suburbs, while in the south, it was “a trace”.

The skies cleared by 5 pm. “The monsoon has withdrawn from Bihar. Although it persists in Bengal, chances of prolonged heavy showers are remote.

However, there may be light to moderate rain accompanied by thunder,” Goldar added.

The sharp shower led to waterlogging in several low-lying areas in north Calcutta, including the Ultadanga-VIP Road crossing, Thanthania Kalibari, Amherst Street, College Street, Rabindra Sarani, Nimtala Ghat Street and Mahatma Gandhi Road.

People waded through knee-deep water to visit pandals. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation pressed its pumps into service and by 7 pm, the water had receded.

Waterlogging choked the main arterial roads, like Chittaranjan Avenue and APC Road, leading to severe traffic snarls.

South Calcutta was faced with a different problem. About a hundred autorickshaw-drivers blocked the intersection of Gariahat Road and Ballygunge Circular Road from 11 am for an hour to protest the restriction slapped on their movement in the city on Puja days.

The government has issued a directive barring auto-rickshaws from plying within the city between 4 pm and 3.30 am on Puja days.

At one point, the autorickshaw-drivers turned violent and started stoning passing vehicles. Three private buses were damaged in the missile-pelting.

A section of autorickshaw-drivers who operate between Garia and Gariahat and Jadavpur and Gariahat, meanwhile, gheraoed Lake police station for more than an hour.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya has asked the city police chief to enforce the ban on autorickshaws within city limits during the Pujas.

Senior police officials maintained that to keep the traffic in gear and allow pandal-hoppers to move freely, this restriction was necessary.

The demonstration severely disrupted the flow of traffic in south Calcutta throughout Saptami morning, causing immense harassment to the Puja revellers who had ventured out in large numbers.

In the city and its adjoining areas, the police have also restricted the movement of buses, minibuses and trucks to ensure smooth flow of traffic. In many areas, traffic has been diverted.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
When I talk about the Pujas, I definitely talk as an outsider who has become an insider because sometimes, when you are outside the chalk circle, you can actually view things differently than somebody who has been in it for too long and also in a different perspective.

I think the Pujas are a time for nostalgia, for reckoning, for introspection and more than ever, a time to reassure yourself that peace and brotherhood of man and that wonderful thing called para culture, which is not prevalent in any other part of the world, still exist. It’s something to be cherished and guarded and its sanctity never tampered with.

Durga Puja is a time for you to sit and enjoy memories. The spirit of the Pujas has this capacity to bring things together or people together or moments together which you never ever imagine would happen.

The thing I marvel about the whole spirit of the Pujas is you can actually feel it two-three weeks in advance. Sometimes, you feel you can even touch it. There is something about the Pujas which is binding as well as bonding.

For the past so many years, I have always been involved as a judge in one or the other of these organisations. The one not-so-nice thing about the Pujas basically is that such a lot of money is being wasted. I hate sounding like a preacher. But I do believe that if we tried to curtail the expenditure....You really don’t need to spend so much of money to make something beautiful.

Today, everything is about packaging, marketing and positioning. But, I feel that the music, the soul that is within you, doesn’t have to be packaged into something that is expensive. I don’t think it’s necessary, when there’s so much suffering, for us to push aside all that and perforce numb our feelings.

Yet, I do accept the other side of the argument when there have been people who have told me: “No, Usha, it’s not just that. The whole year through, there are these poor kids who wait to look up at these pandals and that is their only excitement in life.”

But I really don’t think that is an answer. Children have this wonderful resilience. They can adapt much faster. So I don’t think they will feel so miserable if suddenly they had to look into small pandals with small murtis, though many people think this is what Calcutta is all about.

I think much of it has to do with the fact that it has now become a competition and everybody has to prove he is better than the other. I would go so far as to say that being a judge at these shows, the parameters are totally different from what people think they are. It’s not that big is beautiful and razzle-dazzle is everything. The parameters are aesthetics, fire-fighting abilities, traditionality, safety and the likes. I am a compulsive optimist and I feel the threshold of pain and tolerance is so great with the basic Calcuttan and that comes to light more so during Puja time.

All the positive things about life is prevalent during the Pujas....the spirit of sharing, of wanting to be a part of the flock, wanting to belong. It is so beautiful. Calcutta affords this opportunity to people to experience this oneness.

You can never shed the Puja spirit once you have experienced it. I think the Pujas, per se, is this whole experience, this wonderful feeling of goosebumps, the waves of joy that flow through you, nostalgia that takes you back to a friend you had lost. Last year, I lost a very very dear friend, Sucheta. I lost her to cancer. It’s always nice when Puja comes along. It gives you a new lease of life and tells you it’s time to move on.

Today is Saptami and I am missing my mother terribly. I procured her favourite brand of dhoop from Chennai and lit it before her picture in the morning.

Puja is thinking about the past, not dwelling in the past. Use the past as a yardstick to make today more beautiful and meaningful so that tomorrow will be absolutely fantastic.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
The Snowcem Ananda Durgotsav Arghya, an award scheme for Puja organisers, has been extended to the Pujas in the Howrah and Dum Dum municipal areas, besides Calcutta and Salt Lake, this year.

A new award of Rs 21,000 for the best overall performance in the Howrah municipal area has also been introduced. The judges are Sailen Manna, Sutapa Talukdar, Nikhilesh Das and P. Sandhu.

The judges for Calcutta, Salt Lake and Dum Dum are Swatilekha Sengupta, Meenakshi Goswami, P.K. Banerjee, Rudrapasad Sengupta, Hossain-ur-Rahaman, Suman Chattopadhyay and D.M. Kar. Prizes worth Rs 11,000 will be given for the best idol, best lighting and best decoration. Awards will also be given for the best novel, short story, article published in Puja publications and the best Bengali cassette.The awards will be announced on November 9.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
Only a few steps from the Ekdalia Evergreen Sporting Club pandal, at 14, Suren Thakur Road, a family is in the midst of a hearty Puja celebration. The usual scene — a mad jumble of new shoes near the door; the smell of new saris; laughing, wailing children; heaped plates and gentle banter doing the rounds.

But there is a difference. This is where the Ghoshes and Ahmeds have converged for Durga Puja.

Meet Kunal Kishore Ghosh. A promising writer of Bengali fiction, Ghosh sometimes feels let down. “I thought our society had advanced but, apparently, I was wrong. Even today, we are having a hard time finding a bride for our son because my wife comes from a Muslim family” he says.

Ghosh was a student at Charu Chandra College when he met Tasbeer Ahmed of Lady Brabourne. They were in their early twenties when they tied the knot in 1966. Tasbeer’s was an affluent family of Ekbalpur. Her grandfather, a flourishing businessman, was known locally as Nawab Saab.

“My in-laws didn’t set foot in our house till after my son, Pullah, was born,” says Ghosh. “But now we celebrate our festivals together. My brothers and sisters in-law, their children and others all come to our house for Durga Puja. We visit pandals, eat out, have long ‘adda’ sessions right through the pujas. The same happens at Id. My wife leaves a few days earlier for her baaper bari to join in namaaz and other rituals and we all get together again and exchange gifts.”

“Durga Puja is more of a festive occasion than a religious one. That is what I like about it. Festivals bring people closer,” says Ghosh.

In 1993, another ‘unlikely’ pair tied the knot. Shakti Roy Chowdhury, a senior lecturer of Sanskrit in a reputed girl’s college, met Mohammed Nazmul Huda in the group theatre circuit. Their marriage sent shock waves through Shakti’s conservative Brahmin family and caused chaos in the Huda household.

“For the first three years, we had a rough time,” remembers Shakti. “Now, all that is past. Both our families have accepted us. We feast together and buy clothes for our in-laws and other relatives during both Id and Durga Puja... Expenses have doubled, but it’s double the fun,” she adds with a grin.

M.N. Huda, gearing up for his first solo at the Birla Academy next year, says, “As a painter, the Durga concept has often appealed to me. Back in my school and college days, I used to visit different pandals with my friends on Ashtami and Nabami, culminating in a big feast on Dashami. I don’t believe religion can be the basis of dividing people.”

Shakti uses her theatre to question the limits set by society and religion. Her recent play, Krishna Jatra, focused on a pair of lovers, both lepers, one Hindu and the other Muslim.

Shakti reads the chandi at home during Durga Puja and takes an active interest in namaaz. “One line from the Vedic scriptures stays with me — Samanjthe vishwa devaha,” she says.

The couple faced fresh dispute over naming of their son, now one year and nine months old. “I left it entirely to my wife,” says Huda. So Shakti selected two names. Their boy is registered as Nobankur Huda. His pet name is Nawraz, meaning new day. And he is having a blast these pujas.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
A tragic accident on Saptami claimed two lives in Tangra. Mahendra Ram, 51 and Suresh, 12, residents of Tangra Lane, were crushed to death by a truck on Govinda Khatik Road.

Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters), Nazrul Islam, said the accident occurred around 1.45 pm when Mahendra was taking his son for treatment to a local clinic on a bicycle.

They were knocked down by a speeding truck which lost control after springing a flat tyre. Both died on the spot.

Locals blocked the road for an hour and stoned private buses. The blockade was lifted only after police arrived on the spot. The truck was impounded, but the driver managed to flee.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
The city conservancy department is finding it difficult to keep Calcutta clean during the Pujas due to a shortage of manpower. Of the 12,000 regular conservancy workers, more than 30 per cent has gone on leave.

“For the first tim, the conservancy department will have to dispose of 2,500 tons of garbage during the Pujas without having the vacancies filled,” said a worried mayor-in-council Mala Roy.

Alarmed at the high rate of absenteeism among conservancy workers (mazdoors), Roy held an emergency meeting with the 15 assistant directors of conservancy on Tuesday to chalk out strategies to tackle the situation. Despite an acute funds crunch, mayor Subrata Mukherjee raised the daily wages of temporary workers from Rs 40 to Rs 56.

Earlier, a conservancy worker would be replaced by a nominee while on leave. The nominee was subsequently absorbed after the nominator’s retirement. This practice was scrapped as unconstitutional by Calcutta High Court last year.

“Most of the nominees, or badli workers, returned to their native villages in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa soon after the verdict,” said assistant director (conservancy), Swapan Mahapatra.

The high tide last week and large-scale trimming of road-side trees have increased the workload of the conservancy department. About 100 truckloads of mud had to be removed from the roads between Kalighat and Behala after the tide.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
A 16-year-old boy has died and 500 persons have been afflicted in an outbreak of gastro-enteritis over the past two days at Patuli, in Garia.

Civic officials said water contaminated by the overflow from Tolly’s Nullah last week was the cause of this outbreak. “Dirty water from Tolly’s Nullah has contaminated the sources of potable water, including tubewells, to a great extent,” said mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan. The CMC has set up two medical camps in this area to check the disease, he said.

Fifty people have so far been transferred to Infectious Diseases Hospital, Beleghata, from Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s (CMC) medical camps, as their condition deteriorated. Many people from Kalighat, Chetla and Tollygunge have visited M.R. Bangur Hospital with complaints of skin irritation.

Civic authorities had apprehended an outbreak of enteric diseases in the areas on either side of Tolly’s Nullah and fear a bigger one in some city pockets.

In a move to combat the outbreak, CMC’s health wing has requested the department concerned to place tankers of drinking water in all the flood affected areas of the city. The water supply department has also tested samples of tubewell water in these areas.

Chief municipal health officer Sujit Ghosh said the disease has spread only in wards 101 and 102. More than 250 people of this area have attended the CMC medical camps at Mahendralal Girls’ School and Santidoot Sporting Club, said Khan.

The 16-year-old boy victim succumbed before the camps could be set up. The state health department on Wednesday supplied medicines to these camps.

Mobile clinics and five CMC health centres will remain open during the Pujas as part of the malaria control programme, Khan said. People suffering from fever can get their blood tested there for free.    

Calcutta. Oct. 4: 
Alarmed over reports of a flesh-trade racket flourishing from some ‘illegal’ beauty parlours in the city, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has asked the police to launch a clean-up drive. Three parlours in New Alipore have already been forced to shut down.

Deputy commissioner of police (south) R.K. Pachnanda has written to municipal commissioner Debasis Som, requesting him to cancel the trade licences of three parlours — Beauty Inn, Elegance Beauty Parlour and Moon — in New Alipore, following information of “immoral” activities being carried out there. “I, in turn, told Pachnanda that he was free to take action against these beauty parlours, as the CMC had not issued any licence to them,” said Som.

Pachnanda then instructed the officer-in-charge of New Alipore police station, Subrata Ghosh, to keep a close watch on these parlours. All three parlours have been shut since Sunday. The police are trying to track down their owners.

“We thank the police for the closure of these three parlours. It has come as a huge relief to the local people,” said Trinamul Congress leader and chairman of borough X, Arup Biswas.

Seven shady beauty parlours had been operating in the area for about three years, Biswas said. Six of them shut shop following a crackdown by the police and locals earlier this year. But Elegance resumed business a few months ago and soon two new parlours, Moon and Beauty Inn, opened up. The owners, allegedly, had “close links” with some local politicians and goons from Behala.

“The area had earned such a bad name because of these few shops which were being used for all sorts of illegal activities,” said a shopkeeper in New Alipore.

Police said the earlier drive had netted more than 40 men and women involved with the parlours. Most of the women were from the Behala, Bongaon and Kidderpore areas.

A police officer said cases had been filed under sections of the Immoral Traffic Act, but it would be difficult to prove the charges in a court of law.

He said “alertness of the local people” and “police vigil” could ensure that such parlours would not make a comeback.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
The government intends to enforce the ban on consumption of liquor in the Circuit House on Hungerford Street after a drunk IAS officer was arrested on the premises on Sunday night.

Bimal Pande, an IAS officer of the 1974 batch and secretary to the state election commission, was arrested for allegedly assaulting some Circuit House staff under the influence of liquor.

The employees later lodged a complaint with Shakespeare Sarani police station, saying that Pande had abused and beaten up three of them up when they refused to oblige him with liquor. He also broke furniture and ripped up telephone wires.

State PWD minister Kshiti Goswami said on Wednesday that the department would enforce the ban “more strictly” on consumption of liquor in government-run circuit and guest houses. “The Circuit House is a transit-camp for outstation government officials and any nuisance in it will be firmly dealt with,” he said.

In a move to tone up the Circuit House administration, Goswami said action will be taken against outstation government officials found overstaying in the Circuit House. The Circuit House, with a capacity of 28 beds, offers accommodation only to state and Central government officers visiting the city on duty.

A report from a PWD joint secretary said Pande had overstayed at the Circuit House. “I have sought to know how an officer based in Calcutta gets accommodation in the Circuit House, when it is primarily meant for outstation officers,” Goswami said.

However, PWD sources blamed some staff for allotting Circuit House rooms to city-based officials and denying those from the districts with genuine accommodation problems

Safety plea: In another development, Circuit House employees said on Wednesday they would launch a movement urging the government to ensure their safety. They said a similar incident with Pande took place in 1999.

“We are surprised to find that Pande was allowed to stay at the Circuit House even though he had a record of having broken the rules before,” said an employee.

Tapan Bhattacharya, Circuit House caretaker, said accommodation is granted only by senior PWD officers. “We are bound to allot rooms to any official bearing an order from the authorities concerned,” said Bhattacharya.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4: 
Jyoti Basu today wrote to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee about the all-party meeting on the flood situation and the unanimous demand for the Rs 962-crore Central aid.

Basu’s heir-apparent and deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said the letter was drafted on the basis of the discussions. The meeting was attended by representatives of the Congress, the Trinamul, the BJP and other Left parties.

“We have all agreed that the current devastation is a national calamity and the Centre should provide succour to millions of destitutes as it did in Orissa when a super-cyclone hit the state last year,’’ Bhattacharya said.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta will place the demand for assistance in relief and rehabilitation when he meets agriculture minister Nitish Kumar and Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha in Delhi on October 9. He is likely to meet Vajpayee after that.

After a fortnight of unbroken misery,life in deluge-hit Birbhum, Burdwan, Hooghly and Murshidabad started limping back to normal as the accumulated water slowly drained out of most areas.

No heavy rainfall was reported in the state over the past one week. Low tide and the relatively clear weather also helped reduce water levels in all major rivers of south Bengal. However, the situation remained grim in North 24-Parganas, where flooded areas stood four feet under water.

Bhattacharya said 62 mechanised boats and 152 country vessels had been pressed into service to rescue marooned residents in Swaroopnagar, Baduria, Maslandapur and Basirhat areas of the district.

“We have withdrawn army personnel engaged in rescue and relief operation from Hooghly and Murshidabad as the situation has improved there and redeployed them in Nadia and North 24-Parganas,” he said. “The situation in these two districts is still worrying us.”

The flood toll climbed to 943 today from yesterday’s 914 as more bodies were recovered in Kandi and adjoining areas in Murshidabad, where the casualty figure of 520 is the highest so far.    


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