A new ‘old’ New Market
CPM leader attacked on Buddha doorstep
Cyclone set to skirt Bengal
After the deluge, the disease
Birthday dilemma for Bethune’s girls
Profession of piety
Hawkers’ show of strength to protest southern swoop
Trio arrested for abduction
State firm on Nov deadline for Euro II standards
Militants hack tribal civilians

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
First, a new wing of the New Market imilar to the market that Sir Stuart Hogg built in 1874 — is being constructed where a razed staff quarter once stood. The edifice had housed over a 100 employees.

Cramped for space, and with the fish, meat and vegetable stalls spilling on to the corridors of the rest of the market, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has decided it is time that the market not only underwent an extensive renovation but an extension as well.

“The eight cottahs of land were already with us after the staff quarters were demolished about four years ago,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “It was only a question of putting it to the best possible use.”

Situated next to the New Market on the Free School Street side, and separated from it by a narrow lane, the four-storeyed extension will come up more towards the rear of the market. It will be joined to the existing market by overhead bridges, which will allow vehicles below to pass unhindered.

“The lane dividing the existing market from the extension is the Fenwick Bazaar Street and the new structure will come up near the Market Street junction,” Mukherjee explained.

“But this is not the only thing that we are doing,” Mukherjee added. “This is only a part of the scheme we have undertaken to renovate the entire New Market on a larger scale. The project and development department are busy putting the finishing touches to the entire project.”

The cost of the extension project has been estimated at Rs 2 crore and will be raised from the CMC’s own coffers.

The top floor of the extension will be let out for office space and the civic body hopes to recover a substantial sum from there. Construction is expected to begin as early as next month.

Some of the other changes and additions being brought about are:

Phase-wise air-conditioning of the wing that had been built by Martin Burn after the fire. Later, even the original New Market will be air-conditioned. Shop-owners have been complaining that the premises are so stuffy, especially during the summer, that the number of customers come down to a trickle during the dry, hot spell.

New electrical wiring for the original market. The cause of the 1984 fire has been attributed to faulty and damaged wiring that had not been repaired for years. “After the fire, it had been a knee-jerk reaction,” commented a shopkeeper. “Some work had been done to prevent such fire hazards, but a lot remains to be done.”

Engineers are drawing up detailed plans for adding an extra floor to the market built by Hogg, or the “old” New Market.

“Since it is a heritage structure, we cannot demolish any part of it or change the character of its facade,” explained Mukherjee. “But inside, we can make changes to our benefit.”

He said the old structure has its roof high above the level of the shops, leaving ample scope for adding another floor. “Once it is air-conditioned, not only will this become feasible, but it will generate huge funds for the civic body,” Mukherjee said.

Content with the plans he has drawn up, Mukherjee said: “We cannot run a loss-making market, which is why it was so essential to do this. We have to keep in mind the demands of the new millennium.”    

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
A week after the fisheries fight in Dhapa claimed the life of a CPM branch committee secretary, the party’s Park Circus East local committee secretary was attacked by criminals after he tried to intervene in a clash between two suppliers of building materials.

Violence erupted late on Monday night, a stone’s throw away from deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s residence on Palm Avenue, when local goons lobbed bombs at CPM leader Mrinal Das. Sources said the blasts, at around 11.30 pm, woke up the minister. Police officers rushed to the spot and found Das lying in a pool of blood. He has been admitted to SSKM Hospital.

As word of the attack spread, tension gripped the area. CPM workers ransacked the den of Das’ assailants on Monday night. On Tuesday morning, local CPM supporters forced shopkeepers of Palm Avenue and Broad Street to down shutters. They also blocked traffic, squatting at the crossing of Broad Street and Palm Avenue, and on Bondel Road from 10 am till noon.

Das, a resident of 23, Palm Avenue, was in the party office on Monday night when a party worker and an alleged criminal, Azad, came to him to seek redress. Local residents, on condition of anonymity, said Azad is a building materials supplier. His rivals, Doma and Chinu, had won the contract of supplying materials to a new building coming up in the area. This had upset Azad, who rushed to the local leader.

Witnesses said Das, accompanied by Azad and his men, went to Doma’s den in the Palm Avenue-Broad Street area. Without a warning, Doma’s henchmen, Parvez and Asgar, lobbed five crude bombs at the group, injuring Das, Azad and two others. Locals claimed Palm Avenue, Broad Street and adjoining areas have become infested with criminals.    

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
There’s good news for Calcuttans. The cyclonic storm, which lay centred 400 km east of Nellore, in Andhra Pradesh, is unlikely to hit the city or other areas of Gangetic West Bengal, said R.N. Goldar, Alipore Met office director, on Tuesday.

The storm is set to move further west and cross the Andhra coast between Nellore and Machilipatnam by Wednesday night.

In Calcutta, the sky will remain partly cloudy and there will be scattered light to moderate rain in the next 24 hours. The cyclonic storm will not affect the Calcutta weather, Goldar added.

Wind from north-easterly direction will blow along and off the West Bengal coast at 50 to 60 kmph. In the city, the day temperature will be around 34°C and the night temperature around 26°C during the next 24 hours.    

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
With a high incidence of enteric diseases in the flood-hit districts adjoining the city, admissions to the Infectious Diseases Hospital at Beleghata have been rising by the day.

Doctors at the hospital said many flood victims had sought refuge with relatives and friends in the city, from where they have had to be shifted to the hospital after the symptoms became pronounced.

“We have been admitting between 80 and 100 patients every day this month, which is much more than the number of people admitted in the preceding months of the infection season or the corresponding period last year,” said hospital superintendent K.P. Das.

The main flow of patients are from North and South 24-Parganas and Midnapore, as well as areas on the eastern fringe of the city, like Tangra, Dhapa, Tiljala and Topsia.

“It is highly likely that the patients being admitted are persons affected by the deluge who have taken shelter in the city,” Das said.

A visit to a ward revealed that at least two patients admitted over the past two days were flood victims. At the time of admission, they had given their relatives’ address in Calcutta.

Doctors of the Medical Service Centre who have visited six of the nine districts with relief and medicine warn of a severe outbreak of diarrhoea, skin infections and worm infestations as the flood waters recede and if no proper measures are taken.

“North 24-Parganas, Nadia and Murshidabad are vulnerable to such outbreak of disease,” said Bijan Bera, the centre’s secretary. “There is no drinking water and no disinfecting measures. Stagnating water contributes to the putrefaction of carcasses and other bio-degradable matter.”

The centre’s teams have been able to visit only a fraction of the affected areas.

“Some places in the interiors have not received any relief as yet. There is a high possibility that the district hospitals and hospitals in Calcutta will be flooded with patients within the next 15 days,” Bera feared.    

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
Students and teachers, both past and present, of the 150-year-old Bethune Collegiate School in north Calcutta are keen to pay tribute to founder John Eliot Drinkwater Bethune on his 200th birthday next year.

But they’ve failed to finalise the b’day plans. The reason: there’s no confirmation yet about Bethune’s date of birth.

That’s precisely why the school, set up in 1849, has been unable to observe the birthday of its founder, who died in 1851. His death anniversary is observed on August 12 every year.

Bethune was born in Scotland in 1801 and came to Calcutta as the legal secretary of the then Governor-General in India in 1848. Now, with the bicentennial year just a couple of months away, students and teachers connected with the school, presently run by the state school education department, have been running from pillar to post, from Delhi to London, trying in vain to trace the birth date.

“We are extremely pained at not being able to show our respect to the great reformer, who dedicated his life for the development of women’s education in Bengal, on his birthday,” says Chhaya Sengupta, principal of the school opposite Hedua. “We definitely hope that something positive will emerge out of the efforts being made by students and teachers to find out the birthday of Bethune Saheb.”

Ex-students of the institution, which had started with 11 girls and now has a student strength of over 2,000, have recently set up a reunion committee.

They have sought the help of the state government, the Central government, the British government, and the authorities of various museums in the UK. The committee has now decided to approach the India Office Library in London.

According to Kum Kum Chattopadhyay, a teacher of Bethune and a former student of the school, the reunion committee had urged ex-students settled in the UK to get in touch with the local church where Bethune was born, but “unfortunately, no such record was available”.

“Less concerted attempts to find out the founder’s birthday were made by the school when it celebrated its 50th, 75th, 100th and 150th anniversaries,” recalled Sunanda Ghosh, a retired teacher of Bethune College and a former student of the school.    

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
This is their season. Yet, we hardly notice them. Sometimes, on a shopping spree, you spot them on the bus or passing by on a bicycle. Dhoti-clad men with sacred thread, chandan tilak, lumpy shoulder bags, and, today, a cellphone — the Bangali thakurmoshai, who thankfully takes care of the long line-up during the puja season.

Meet Tarak of Kalika Bhandar. Throughout the year, you find him handing out musoor daal and Colgate toothpaste in sweaty T-shirt and jeans while his transistor crackles with cricket commentary or filmi geet. But come autumn, and Tarak undergoes a transformation, much like the straw-and-clay Kumartuli images. Donning a mantle of piety, he becomes Tarakeswar Bandopadhyay, jotting down assignments for Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja...

Today’s purohits have obviously come a long way from their forefathers. Our own attitude, too, has changed. “Traditionally, purohits were scholars or philosophers,” says 62-year-old Pulinbihari Banerjee. Pulinbihari comes from a long line of Sanskrit enthusiasts and purohits who have been ‘kulpurohits’ of many aristocratic and affluent families, like the descendants of Rana Pratapaditya of Jessore, Sir Romesh Mitter and Ashutosh Mukherjee.

He finds the contemporary scene “disheartening”, as “99 per cent of all purohits today are amateurs. Most cannot even read the Sanskrit script, let alone deliberate on the Scriptures.”

Gone are the days when the kulpurohit’s opinion was necessary for all major decisions in family matters. Today, he is called in only for “special occasions”.

The likes of thakurmoshai Subir Bhattacharjee have no illusion whatsoever about their contemporary role : “In the shastras, it is advised that pujas be conducted by the devotees themselves. But today, no one has the time or knowledge. So, for any special puja, we are hired to act as representatives.”

But even when it comes to auspicious dates or the naming of a child, people are all too eager to keep it short and swift these days. “Everyone is looking for the easy way out. People are often unable to provide all puja items. Sometimes, they want dates and timings adjusted according to other engagements. We often have to suggest cleansing rituals, by which they can subsequently make up for taking such religious liberties,” explains Chandra Chatterjee, who supplements his government job with annaprasan, sraddh and puja assignments.

‘Short cut’ does seem to be the order of the day, especially at community pujas. “Today, people have very little time on their hands,” says 76-year-old Narayan Chakravarty. “People stay on only as long as the decor of the pandal engages their attention. Religious feelings are minimal. I get absurd requests from puja organisers to shorten proceedings.”

Getting the right puja items together is also a real problem these days. “Thakur moshai, chaliye nin, seems to be a stock phrase with these barowari puja organisers,” complains Pulinbihari Banerjee.

The Brihat Nandikeshwar Purana, which lays down rituals that can stretch to five or six hours, is a strict no-no with puja organisers. Says Subir Bhattacharjee: “So, the shorter Kalika Purana is preferred. Shoroshopochar, Dikpal puja, Chaushotti yogini puja... are often cut down to just a couple of minutes these days.”

While barir puja does afford greater “job satisfaction” for senior purohits like Pulinbihari, he admits that “in public pujas, one can reach out to a far greater number of people and they are obviously more paying”.

While a medium-sized puja like that at Ruby Park, Kasba, brings in Rs 5,000 for purohit Sachindramohan Chowdhury, veterans, according to Pulinbihari, can earn “up to Rs 15,000 in cash and kind from a puja”. The purohit conducting the Bakulbagan pujo, for example, “gets around 200 saris (including Benarasis), gold ornaments and cash as pronami and parishramik”.

The pujas are what the purohits continue to depend on. According to one estimate, marriages may at the most bring a purohit Rs 500-800. And for S. Bhattacharjee, one good day (read: six Lakshmi Pujas in seven hours) rakes in more than Rs 4,000.

But all these figures fade in the face of the generosity of past yajmaans. Remembers Pulinbihari: “I was a Class I gazetted officer of a West Bengal government planning and development department, but that alone would have got me nowhere. Gifts from traditional patrons have enabled me to lead a comfortable life.”

But is generatioNext prepared to walk the purohit’s path? Scientific progress, admit most old-timers, has had a tremendous impact on the young ones, many of whom choose to give rituals a wide berth.

So, while Pulinbihari’s son is a doctor, Narayan Chakravarty is the father of an engineer and two teachers. Some who have been drawn to the ‘family profession’ are “those who can find no other source of employment”, says Chakravarty.

Those actually studying for the ‘job’ hardly add up to 500 in West Bengal. They sign up for classes conducted by some experienced purohits or enrol for courses run by the Sanskrit Shiksha Parishad and culminating in certificates known as ‘Pourohitto Tirtho’ and ‘Ritwik Tirtho’.

But Chakravarty is quick to point out that “those purohits who turn to the pujas for some extra income rarely take any kind of training”. Banerjee’s take on the subject is, however, different. “Certificates and degrees amount to nothing in this profession. We still depend on largely on verbal references, passed down from one generation to the next.”

For the non-Bengali counterpart of the thakurmoshai, too, this is prime time. Common rituals, like opening of shops and namkaran, pale into insignificance besides a Navratri dakshina. They, too, reflect a change of attire and attitude.

On a crowded Metro, I meet Pandit Dinesh Chandra Shastri from Varanasi. Paan-chewing astrologer and “Ma Durga upasak”, he hands me a calling card with his mobile number on it and expresses eagerness to help with Navaratri or “any personal problem”. He has been in Calcutta for over 10 years.

Most of these pandits hail from Jaipur or Jodhpur and many live in Brahman Bari, a building over 80 years old at 15/1/1, Syed Salley Road. This Burrabazar building, with graceful Corinthian pillars, was built by Sarala Birla’s grandfather. Today, it provides shelter to over 90 pandits who are always on standby to perform pujas at Marwari households, offices and temples.

Not all of them come directly from pandit families. Naresh Sharma, 24, is the son of a Hindustan Motors worker hailing from Rajasthan. Says Naresh: “Three years ago, I came to Calcutta looking for a job. Here, I found my guru, trained under him and now I do the Navaratri pujas for Sarala Birlaji.”

The festival of lights next week will see the pandits and the purohits engage in a fresh, frenetic bout of religious activity.

While Subir Bhattacharjee will perform two ‘domestic’ Kali Pujas, pandit Rajkumar is looking forward to conducting seven or eight Lakshmi Pujas at various gaddis and offices in Burrabazar on Diwali.    

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
Traffic was thrown out of gear in south Calcutta on Tuesday afternoon when hawkers resorted to wildcat demonstrations to protest the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s decision to evict them from the pavements during the festive season.

In a joint drive by the police and the civic authorities, hawkers were evicted from main thoroughfares in Kalighat, Gariahat, Gol Park and other areas in south Calcutta on Tuesday. The drive was the follow-up of a recent meeting between police commissioner D.C. Vajpai and mayor Subrata Mukherjee, at which a decision was taken to keep pavements adjoining major thoroughfares free from hawkers to ensure smooth movement of traffic.

The hawkers later took out a procession along S.P. Mukherjee Road, Rashbehari Avenue and the Gariahat four-point crossing against the police and civic authorities’ efforts to evict them before Kali Puja, Lalbazar police control room sources said.

There was tension in the Gariahat and Rashbehari Avenue area in the afternoon when policemen and civic officials converged there, catching the hawkers unawares. Fifteen trucks were sent to carry the wares seized during the eviction. The hawkers ran helter-skelter into lanes and bylanes, collecting whatever they could before the police swooped on them.

After the team left, some of the hawkers put up roadblocks on S.P. Mukherjee Road, Rashbehari Avenue and Sarat Bose Road. Parts of south Calcutta were cut off, with hawkers blocking the streets. Commuters, on their way home, were stranded in buses and taxis for hours as there were not enough policemen to remove the demonstrators from the roads.

The Gariahat four-point crossing, Rashbehari Avenue, Kalighat and other arterial roads remained clogged for about an hour from 4 pm. Later, a strong police contingent reached the spot and directed the demonstrators to move away from the roads. Traffic movement limped back to normal later in the evening.    

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
Three youth were arrested on charges of kidnapping a contractor’s wife on Monday night. The trio — Buddhadev Barik, Amal Roy and Bapi Halder — were remanded in police custody for seven days.

The police said Arindam Sengupta, the contractor, had bought building materials from the trio, but left the Rs-30,000 bill unpaid. The youth planned to kidnap Sengupta’s wife, Susmita, to realise the dues. Around 5 pm, they reached Susmita’s office in a taxi. Buddhadev asked her to accompany him to a restaurant, where Sengupta, he said, was waiting.

But instead, they directed the taxi to Kalighat Road. The kidnappers then contacted Sengupta and gave him their address. A team from Hare Street police station reached Kalighat and picked up the trio.    

Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
The state government is firm on implementing the Euro II auto emission norms in Calcutta from November 1. At a meeting on Tuesday with representatives of Indian automobile manufacturers at Writers’ Buildings, the government informed them that there is no question of extending the November 1 deadline if the required fuel with a sulphur content of not more than .05 per cent of sulphur is available.

At present, there is about .25 per cent of sulphur in petrol and diesel and the lower percentage of sulphur will ensure lesser pollution from automobile emissions.

Vehicle manufacturers urged the government to extend the deadline.The meeting, chaired by chief secretary Manish Gupta, was attended by environment secretary Kalyan Bagchi and transport secretary D.M. Kanwar.

Official sources said the environment department had already contacted Indian Oil Corporation, inquiring whether it would be able to supply petrol with a .05 per cent sulphur content.

Sources said Bagchi told the automobile manufacturers that the IOC had assured the government that there would be no problem in supplying the requisite fuel. “If the required fuel is available, there is no reason why Euro II norms will not be made applicable for Calcutta from November 1,” said Kanwar.

Sources in the automobile industry said that there would be a problem of disposing the existing stock of unsold cars, which do not conform to the Euro II auto emission standards. Moreover, sales tax on vehicles stocked in different city showrooms had already been paid, they added.

“Also, to instal equipment to conform to Euro II standards, the prices of cars will go up by at least Rs 15,000. This will have an adverse impact on buyers,” an automobile dealer said.

Calcutta is the second metro after New Delhi to implement Euro II norms. After Calcutta, the standards will be made compulsory in Mumbai and then in Chennai in 2001.    

Agartala, Oct. 17: 
Four persons were killed in separate incidents in the state during the past 24 hours. Two militants were also arrested.

At least three tribal civilians, including a woman, were first attacked with a bomb and then hacked to death by suspected United Bengali Liberation Front militants in Maharanipur area under Udaipur subdivision of South Tripura last night. Another tribal youth, who was seriously injured in the unprovoked attack, is battling for life in the district hospital at Udaipur.

In a separate incident, militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura murdered a tribal youth in Takarjala police station area, suspecting him to be a police informer. The police found his body yesterday.

Police sources said a group of tribal residents of remote Kuaimura village had come to Maharanipur market for shopping.

As the group reached the desolate Boroipara area on their way back home at 7 pm last night, suspected UBLF militants, hiding in the roadside teakwood garden, hurled a powerful bomb and then attacked them with sharp weapons. As a result three tribals, Mahim Jamatya, Mangal Jamatya and his wife Hiraboti died on the spot. Another youth, Nabajay Jamatya, was seriously injured and rushed to the district hospital at Udaipur.

On receiving information about the attack, a large contingent of policemen from Udaipur, led by superintendent of police (south) T.B. Roy and additional superintendent of police (south) Arindam Nath, rushed to the spot and launched combing operations. However, they could not track down the militants.

The injured Nabajay later told policemen in hospital that some other tribals in the same group were still missing. Police sources said the identity of the assailants was not confirmed though the “UBLF could be involved” .

Both the CPM and the Congress described the killing as a “heinous crime.” The CPM party organ Daily Desherkatha quoted party leaders as saying that “at a time when normalcy is steadily returning to the state because of the valiant role of the police and security forces, it is a heinous crime to target innocent tribals without any provocation.”

Former chief minister and sitting Congress MLA Samir Ranjan Barman also strongly condemned the killing and demanded drastic action against the culprits.

In a separate incident, a tribal youth, Nitai Debbarma, was killed by NLFT rebels in Beguniabari village under Takarjala police station. Police sources said Nitai was missing since Saturday and could have been abducted by the NLFT. He was also suspected to be a police informer responsible for operations in nearby Shyamnagar village, where the NLFT’s self-styled “area commander” Uttam alias Wangchak Debbarma was shot dead in an encounter.

In yet another incident, two hardcore NLFT rebels, Aghore Debbarma and Shanti Debbarma, were arrested yesterday from Dhanbilas village.    


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