Calcutta knee-deep in bone ache
Twin fires leave 3000 homeless
Kasba accused remanded
Casualty list
Bard and Basu: Memories of another day
Roadhog’s Haven
Private guards at disputed sites
Colours in common, and India as palette
Defection jolt for Nipamacha
Centre rushes more forces to stem killings

 
 
CALCUTTA KNEE-DEEP IN BONE ACHE 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Limping men, women bent double, and even wobbly children — all haunting images that doctors say could become more common in Calcutta unless measures are taken in time.

On the concluding day of a national conference on rheumatology, which also coincided with World Disabled Day, doctors said up to 60 per cent of the city’s population over 55 years of age suffers from one form of joint or muscle disorder or the other.

And one of the worst disabilities that can happen to a person is the inability to move. Sometimes, the pain from these disorders is so excruciating that movement becomes impossible.

The city has witnessed a a two to four-fold increase in cases seeking treatment at hospitals, said doctors at the conference, organised by the Indian Rheumatology Association.

“The most common of the ailments that are occurring in the rheumatology group are soft tissue rheumatism, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout,” said Dr Sukumar Mukherjee, president of the association.

A unique aspect of the meet, attended by about 320 specialists from India and abroad, was an interactive session with patients.

A 62-year-old retired executive from Ballygunge was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when he was 47. Following medication, which mainly controls but does not cure, his condition improved. But when he was diagnosed and treated for TB some years later, the pains came back and today, he activities are severely affected. He was advised physiotherapy to complement his medication. Quite a number of elderly people, women more than men, suffer from remissions of earlier pains.

“A disease increasingly becoming common is osteoporosis, mainly among women after menopause,” said Dr Alakendu Ghosh, one of the conference organisers. “In fact, this has assumed epidemic proportions, with 30 per cent of post-menopausal women having clinical osteoporosis.” This occurs because bones become brittle after a loss of boney tissue. “Some cases are so severe that the spine cannot be straightened.”

The condition can be prevented by increasing calcium intake (milk) and vitamin D. Plenty of walking helps as well, the consultant said. Hormone replacement therapy could be a cure.

Rheumatic disorders are not restricted to the aged alone. Quite a few children are crippled by joint and muscle problems, because of genetics and/or because they are immuno-defficient.

Sudip, a 14-year-old student, found that he could not take part in sports as it was painful when he ran. He was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. He was told to exercise as much as possible and was assured that his diet and studies would not be affected.

“Remember, the patient should not become a consumer of the doctor and medicine,” said Dr Jan Dequekar of Belgium and president of the International League of Associations for Rheumatology. Rheumatism, he said, was “not a disease but a diagnostic problem.”

Considering the high prevalence, rheumatic disorders are not reflected in medical curriculum. “Doctors have begun to rely more on diagnostic tests before they have carried out a full clinical examination of the joints. The diagnosis should be early so that there is less pain and the prognosis is better.”

Remedies using a combination of painkilling medicine and blockers, modified acupuncture, manipulation, advanced physiotherapy, behaviour and diet modification, aromatherapy and even hypnosis have yielded results.    


 
 
TWIN FIRES LEAVE 3000 HOMELESS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Twin fires at Topsia on Sunday afternoon razed more than 500 shanties and rendered over 3,000 residents homeless. No injuries were reported. The cause of the fires could not be ascertained. Eighteen fire engines were called upon to battle the blaze.

This comes a week after a blaze had reduced more than 500 shanties at Tangra to ashes.

The fires at G.J. Khan Road, on the west bank of the Corporation’s storm water drainage canal, and Dilkhusa Street, under Bridge no. 4, started almost simultaneously. The G.J. Khan Road blaze was more devastating and before the first fire engine could arrive, hundreds of shanties had gone up in smoke. Hutments at the same spot had been gutted in a major fire in 1993.

Local councillor and member mayor-in-council (health) Javed Ahmed Khan said residents of the area have been shifted to a nearby CMC school building and to tents set up on the school grounds. “The late arrival of the fire brigade allowed the flames to reach the storeroom on the second floor of a tannery located near the shanties,” said a local resident.

Javed Khan alleged that, at first, no one was picking up the phone at the fire brigade office, and even after they were informed, it took the first engine 40 minutes to reach the spot. Then, 10 more minutes were wasted waiting for the arrival of a second engine, as the first one’s water tank ran dry.

Officers from the nearby Topsia police station arrived on the spot to keep the irate crowd in check.

Organisations like the Bharat Sevashram Sangha and Ramakrishna Mission and Anandlok have been contacted to help in the rehabilitation of the slum dwellers.

Member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), Mala Roy said work on clearing the debris would begin from Monday.    


 
 
KASBA ACCUSED REMANDED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Sunday afternoon produced at Alipore court five young men accused of the twin dacoities and murder at Kasba.

The five, all in their 30s, were identified as Gopal Karmakar, Jotin Bala, alias Tapas, Siraj Haq Mollah, alias Sirajul, Pradip Chakraborty, alias Khokhan, and Raju Biswas, alias Sonu. They were remanded in police custody till December 15.

The police threw a tight security cordon around the courtroom as the crowds kept swelling. At around 2 pm, a white Tata Sumo screeched to halt, followed by three police vans. The crowd surged forward and the police had a tough time pushing them back.

The five accused, in torn shirts and lungis, sat in the Sumo, their faces covered with white cloth. Karmakar and Chakraborty mumbled that they were “innocent” and were being victimised.

Suddenly, there was a surge towards a taxi which had entered the court complex. Inside sat a dark, thick-set man with no uniformed policeman guarding him.

“I am Tarak Mondal. I was not involved in the Uttar Purbachal dacoity and murder. But my boss, Debu, and his associates were involved and so the police have picked me up,’’ he said, when asked what he was doing there.

As word spread, and the centre of attention shifted from the Tata Sumo to the taxi, policemen rushed to form a ring around Tarak Mondal.

All six criminals were produced in the court of acting sub-divisional judicial magistrate, Alipore, Q.A.M. Feroz. Gopal, Tapas, Sirajul, Khokhan and Sonu have been charged with dacoity and murder in the Uttar Purbachal case. But in the court records, there is no reference to the recovery of stolen ornaments and valuables.

The police had, on Friday, claimed a breakthrough in the case with the arrest of Debu with part of the loot.

Tarak has been charged with the dacoity in Rajdanga and remanded in judicial custody till December 16. CID officers said he will be ‘paraded’ for identification by the Rajdanga victims.    


 
 
CASUALTY LIST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
A day after the Amritsar Mail met with an accident near Ambala, the two special enquiry counters at Howrah station wore a deserted look on Sunday, with no fresh queries coming in. At Howrah on Sunday evening, an “updated” list of casualties was hung in front of the special counters. Eastern Railway general manager I.I.M.S. Rana said: “I am yet to receive the complete list. I have heard from colleagues in the Northern Railway that a few people from Bengal were on the train.”    

 
 
BARD AND BASU: MEMORIES OF ANOTHER DAY 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Memories and messages. The Bard and Basu. That’s what the opening of the World Shakespeare Conference on Sunday was all about.

Sharing the dais at Rabindra Sadan with giant portraits of Tagore and Shakespeare, Jyoti Basu took a trip back to class. “What I know of Shakespeare is what I was taught by Subodh Chandra Sengupta and Prafulla Chandra Ghosh at St Xavier’s and Presidency College. I remember how we were in awe of the power of the dramatist.”

And when Stephen Spender asked Basu during the poet’s visit to the city about the “status of English studies” in Bengal, Basu “proudly told him that Shakespeare was a part of the literary and cultural ethos here.” (English or no English at the primary level!)

The former chief minister lit the inaugural lamp at the conference, being held for the first time in Asia. Organised by the Shakespeare Society of Eastern India, it is on at the St Xavier’s, Loreto and Rabindra Bharati auditoriums till December 6.

The opening, too, had elements of drama — merry wit and ‘dark’ humour. Director of British Council in Western India Paul Smith, a “boy from Warwickshire” like Shakespeare, recounted how at the end of a King Lear production in Czechoslovakia during the height of the Violet revolution, a man suddenly clambered on stage. “The head of the state was in attendance and we were shocked at this breach of security. But when the guards did not move, we realised it was Vaclav Havel himself, who had grabbed the mike. ‘Let us throw away the pamphlets, Shakespeare will guide us,’ he said, in a voice choked with emotion.”

Given a choice, the Bard would have staged many of his plays in Calcutta, claimed Smith. “Our productions in other parts of India, too, are replete with Banerjees, Chatterjees and Bhattacharyas in the cast,” he added.

David Evans, the Council’s Eastern India chief, spoke of organisational gaffes he had to make up for over the years — delayed flights, lost baggage, and even absent speakers.

“Once, at a seminar in Dar-es-Salaam, the chairperson did not turn up. It was announced that he had been shot on the way to the function. I have never heard papers read so hurriedly or a function end so fast ever since,” he recalled.

At this point, as if on cue, the lights went off, leaving the auditorium lit only by the inauguration lamp.

When the lights came back, Evans went on about how a power-cut at a seminar in Nigeria had cut a local dignitary short, just as he was about to quote “some unforgettable lines” from Shakespeare.

By the time the generators chugged to life, the speaker had forgotten his lines.

There were more words in store.

Educationist Pabitra Sarkar said he was no scholar of English literature, but recited “from memory” as if to prove “I have every right to be here, because I am a lover of Shakespeare.”

Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty, too, played the memory game before running out of lines.    


 
 
ROADHOG’S HAVEN 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Difficult though it is to believe today, long before the country gained independence, Lord Sinha Road could boast only 11 houses. Peace must have reigned supreme and the street must have been lined with even more greenery than it is today. Very aptly it used to be called Elysium Row. It is not difficult to imagine today why the residents signed a petition against a Corporation resolution in 1930, to rename the thoroughfare after Satyendra Prasad Sinha, who used to live there in 1912. Perhaps they did not want to deprive the road of its association with a state of ideal happiness, or may be they had auguries of its chaotic future.

Had Noshir Mehta been around when the road was rechristened, he would definitely have been up in arms against the move. He is a dainty young man in his early thirties, and though he has lived here at a stretch only for the last 17 months, he is already exasperated with the noise, disorder and the frenetic pace at which the area is being developed, old houses torn down to construct concrete upwardly-mobile matchboxes. New money has played havoc with what used to be a sleepy road.

For now, Noshir Mehta lives with his father in one of those few gracious houses that have survived. It was built in 1928 and now it is Birla property. His father has lived in this flat since 1960, when he himself was a youth, and Noshir has settled down in America. But he has grown up here and his memory has not faded. It is a sprawling flat, beautifully accessorised with faded Renoir prints, a miniature Rodin and a marble goddess of Hellenic origin.

Has he noticed any changes in the road? No, he says at first, but on second thought adds: “There are more pariah dogs, more beggars, the garbage dump has moved next to the health food shop Gokul Vatika.” He remembers the time when Ankur, the largest apartment block on this street, was built and the dust it raised.

Then he touches a tender spot — “The death of a girl (when she was run over by a bus in her own school, Shri Shikshayatan) has made a minor difference. Vendors have been evicted from sidewalks and policemen are on guard. But sooner or later, they will come back,” stresses Mehta.

But as Shiu Lal Mathur, a toothless but not necessarily old man who sells chai on the pavement opposite Shri Shikshayatan, rightly points out, the traffic goes haywire only at certain hours of the day: when the two schools — the second being Sakhawat Memorial Government Girls’ High School — give over, ie. periodically from around 10.30 to about four in the evening. Around three in the afternoon, rows of schoolbuses line the road on the Sakhawat side. They stand docile, these potential killing machines.

Besides vehicles going helter skelter, Lord Sinha Road is also associated with fresh fruits and nuts from exotic locales like Thailand, Australia and New Zealand along with Rajasthani food. Ironically, the three shops which stock them have AJC Bose Road addresses because they stand at the intersection of the two roads.

Gokul is the first of these. Encased in grubby mirrors, it displays sweets which resemble puff pastry and even patently Bengali mishti like nalen gurer sandesh, which the young owner, Laxmikant Balasaria, would have me believe are their own concoctions. One notices such cultural cooption at the other end of Lord Sinha Road too. There, at Mayaram, an eatery a few yards away from Shakespeare Sarani, one gets pau bhaji (the tava has a diameter of three feet), chats and kulfi served up by a restaurateur from Orissa.

At Gokul, rosogollas are giftpacked in plastic jars resembling the mangal ghat and badam barfi in thermocol cases resembling cash boxes. Busy on the phone, Pappa Balsaria wears a spotless, white kurta, sparklers flashing in the buttonholes. On the floor above, is the restaurant famed for its Marwari cuisine. But today, a couple are its only occupants. “Saturdays and Sundays are our days,” explains a helpful waiter.

Vijay Lakshmi next to it is a veritable cornucopia of the luscious produce of plants and trees imported from the four corners of the earth. Kiwi, pears, honeydew, melon, grapefruit, apricots, sweet tamarind, figs, mangoes ...the list is endless. Neighbouring Gokul Vatika is more of the same.

Opposite the trio is an intriguing building, perhaps the most ancient here. It has sloughed off the plaster but someone has daubed a yellow wash on it. Which looks dun-coloured on naked brick. A durwan claims this used to be Lord Sinha’s residence. Was it once No 17, Elysium Row, where the first Indian to enter the Governor-General’s Executive Council used to live in 1912 ?

A longwinded drive leads to the 16-storey apartment block that is Ankur. G.K. Bhaia occupies one of the large flats along with his two sons, their wives and children. He moved into it in 1980 from Kalakar Street. He blames the maddening crowd on the schools and the glittering shopping plaza, a recent addition. “We have to live with the situation,” he says resignedly.

But Emami Shopping City is bereft of crowds in the afternoon. The shopfront of Creativity grabs your eyeballs. Ragini Harmilapi, an artist trained in Chandigarh, is the muse here. With its plastic sphinx, plastic centre table-cum-purling fountain, plastic necking cranes, plastic foliage and plastic fruits popping out of a canvas she has painted herself, this boutique is an amazing celebration of the bizarre.

At this hour, even the pool and snooker parlour here on the ground floor is deserted. Its caretaker, Sunil Khaitan, admits there is too much competition nowadays.

This Landmark stands cheek-by-jowl with the headquarters of the Border Security Force, South Bengal Frontier, the legend emblazoned on a huge plastic archway. A handsome moustachioed jawan stands guard. The office is housed in a mansion of no recent vintage. It is handsome and of noble proportions, but nobody can tell how long BSF has been occupying it.

The Intelligence Branch of West Bengal is supposedly the best kept secret of this road, or at least the mandarins here think so. This is another of those stately old buildings. But did you say history? Nobody has time for such trifles.    


 
 
PRIVATE GUARDS AT DISPUTED SITES 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s building department plans to deploy private security agencies to prevent illegal construction in the city.

The civic authorities have also started a process to raise the daily rate for posting a guard at the site of disputed construction from Rs 250 to Rs 1,000.

According to the CMC’s estimates, at least 300 illegal constructions are taking place at any point of time in the city.

Member, mayor-in-council (building), Swapan Samaddar, said it was not possible for the civic body to post guards at all the sites as the building department had hardly 50 sergeants on its rolls.

“To circumvent this manpower shortage, we issue stop-work notices in some cases,” said an executive engineer.

There have been instances when the civic authorities charged offenders for guards without actually sending anyone to the disputed sites, he said.

“Since there is a restriction on recruitment, I have decided to post private agencies at some sites of illegal construction”, Samaddar said.

It will not involve any expenditure from civic exchequer, as the charge for posting guards will be realised from the offenders.

Chief engineer (building) Ashok Roychaudhury said the primary punitive action against an illegal construction involved the posting a CMC sergeant at the disputed site.

The sergeant keeps a vigil on whether the construction is carried out even after the serving of a ‘stop-work’ notice.

But the punitive action had lost its bite as the daily charges had not been revised for two decades, though the price of land and construction had skyrocketed over the period..

“Raising the daily rate for a guard from Rs 250 to Rs 1,000 will act as deterrent against illegal construction,” Samaddar felt.

The new policy needs to be endorsed by members of the mayor-in-council before it is enforced from the next financial year.    


 
 
COLOURS IN COMMON, AND INDIA AS PALETTE 
 
 
BY SEBANTI SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Meet Mary Webster, a 53-year-young blond, wearing a bright smile and a garland of flowers round her neck. Sculptor and conceptual artist working with paint, video and computer. One of the 21 artists from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) who are in Calcutta for a historic art exchange programme — the ‘Art Gaffin’.

Standing in the chiaroscuro created within the ornate rotunda of Victoria Memorial last Saturday, Webster wondered how the viewers would respond to a video projection of a contemporary Calcutta street in the historic whorl. When told that Vivan Sundaram had, indeed, tried something like it a few years back, she responded: “See how much we have in common!”

Margy Boyd, programme director, SFMOMA, who has conducted 18 art tours to India, explained: “I try to give as many people a chance to visit the place I love.” For members of the team (artists, writers, art dealers and curators) though, it was all too hurried — touching Delhi, Varanasi, Agra and Khajuraho in seven days. But as artist Howard Fried put it: “India turned us on.”

At Victoria, the group assembled to meet the artists of Bengal. Unfortunately, only Suvaprasanna, Katayun Saklat, Niranjan Pradhan and some younger artists turned up. Sandip Sarkar managed to get in a brief speech and slide show to give an overview of the history of art in Bengal. “Wish there was more scope for individual interaction,” observed sculptor Pradhan.

At the Taj Bengal on Sunday, there was more scope for tete-a-tete. “Can you explain why the tank in front of the Taj Mahal is so filthy?” asked Howard Junker over coffee and scones. Junker, founder of a West coast journal, was also interested in Netaji and the caste system.

Katherine (Kit) Pravda, a senior avant-garde artist (computer-generated art), was busily moving from table to table with a handycam.

While some artists felt that the concept of gallery and museum display was outdated because of newer art forms, others were not so certain. Like artist William Wiley. Older art techniques fascinate Kathan Brown but Mary Webster feels that our ideas of what art represents is in for a massive change. “I can’t see what it is but our belief in received reality has cracked.”

Later, the artists were conducted to various art galleries, the Indian Museum, Raj Bhavan, Mother House... though quite a few stole a private jaunt to Kalighat temple and craft emporiums. Chetna Jalan and Margy Boyd hope to repeat the experience in next September’s tour.    


 
 
DEFECTION JOLT FOR NIPAMACHA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, Dec. 3: 
The W. Nipamacha Singh-led United Front of Manipur (UFM) received a jolt today when three of its members defected to the Opposition camp. The jubilant Opposition described the development as “beginning of the end of Nipamacha”.

The three UFM members who switched sides are Hills Area committee chairman C. Doungel, transport minister Haokholet Kipgen and minister of state for higher education L. Jayantakumar.

While Doungel is one of the nine members facing disqualification charges, the other two belong to the Federal Party of Manipur (FPM).

The FPM and Nipamacha’s Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) comprise the ruling UFM coalition.

Talking to newsmen, Doungel, who had been elected on a Nationalist Congress Party ticket, said he had joined the MSCP because of the “circumstances prevailing at that point of time”. He said Nipamacha Singh’s administration was hurtling the state towards a disaster.

Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy is now expected to allow Doungel to revert to the NCP, to which he originally belonged.

With the latest defection, the FPM is also on the verge of a split. The Opposition tally, with the three new entrants, has gone up to 24. However, the ruling coalition still has 35 members.

Opposition spokesman O. Joy Singh claimed the numbers were likely to increase further. “More members will join us in the next few days,” he told newsmen at the Speaker’s residence.

In the wake of the latest development, many members felt that President’s rule was a possibility. However, since most of them are against central rule, the situation favours the Opposition.

The NDA government’s observer, Union water resources minister Bijoya Chakraborty today wound up her visit to the state.

She is expected to submit her report on the political situation here to Union home minister L.K. Advani tonight.

Chakraborty met members of the ruling and Opposition camps as well as the Governor. Though she was denied an appointment with Nipamacha Singh yesterday, she met the chief minister this morning.

The central observer was rushed to take stock of the situation following Friday’s violence in the Assembly. Sources said Governor Ved Marwah was also unhappy over violence inside the House.

The state Congress and the BJP favoured imposition of President’s rule in the state and have reached an understanding in this regard, the sources added.

The odds are now heavily stacked against Nipamacha Singh with even Union minister of state for food processing Thounaojam Chaoba Singh, who belongs to Nipamacha Singh’s MSCP, favouring a brief spell of central rule.    


 
 
CENTRE RUSHES MORE FORCES TO STEM KILLINGS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Dec. 3: 
The Centre will send 30 additional paramilitary companies to Assam to help the unified command launch “proactive operations with greater visible presence of security forces” in the violence-prone areas of the state.

G.K. Pillai, joint secretary (Northeast) in the Union home ministry, today informed the unified command’s strategy group about the Centre’s decision.

However, the strategy group, which reviewed the law and order situation, decided not to bring about any change in the basic pattern of the ongoing “people- friendly” counter-insurgency operations.

Four Corps general-officer-commanding, Lt Gen. Mahesh Vij, told newspersons after the meeting that the unified command’s counter-insurgency strategy would be merely modified to include “confidence-building measures” aimed at easing tension among the communities affected by the Ulfa’s ethnic cleansing exercise. The Army official, however, said that “magic results cannot be expected in a day or two”.

The Centre’s decision to send additional paramilitary forces to the state has been prompted by a series of attacks on non-Assamese people. No less than 55 non-Assamese people have been gunned down in different parts of the state since late October.

Union home minister L.K. Advani is scheduled to make a statement on the killings in Parliament tomorrow. The unified command’s strategy group today observed that insurgency in Assam has degenerated into terrorism devoid of any ideology, Lt. Gen. Vij said.

The Army official said the command’s operational strategy would be to “combat the twin problems of terrorism and law and order and not insurgency”.

He underscored the need for greater involvement of village defence committees and other civilian agencies in the fight against terrorism.

Notwithstanding the failure of the security forces to prevent recurrence of massacres, the unified command complimented itself for adopting the right strategy.

Claiming that the command’s strategy had “paid rich dividends”, Lt. Gen. Vij said, “The casualties suffered by militant outfits have touched an all-time high. The figures reflect an increase of 100 per cent over the average casualties inflicted on the militant outfits in the last three years.”

Lt. Gen. Vij also claimed that the Ulfa had lost the people’s support and allowed itself to become a “hostage” of the ISI. “The Ulfa has now taken recourse to seeking the ISI’s advice and striking at soft targets to prove its existence. This follows the pattern in Kashmir and other states where the ISI has been backing militant outfits,” he said. Denying that the Army, police and paramilitary forces were not working in tandem, Lt. Gen. Vij said the unified command was a cohesive unit committed to restoring the rule of law in Assam.    

 

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