Sixty-plus, and years to go
Buddha balm for villagers in distress
Flourishing trade in fake computerware
Kolkata cuts no ice with three ace clubs
Fans await blood centre ‘lifeline’
Trains delayed by power cut
Gun-toting dacoits flee with cash, jewellery
Folklorist’s collection comes to rescue of researc
Hotelier’s neighbours demand arrest of killers
Tripura fest to preserve Hindu-Buddhist site

 
 
SIXTY-PLUS, AND YEARS TO GO 
 
 
BY DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
His stooping figure, wizened face and thinning hair suggest he has left his best years long behind. The slow, wobbly gait confirms that he is a member of the geriatric club, well past retirement age.

Right. And wrong. Kartick Ram is 66 years old and looks even older. Yet, he has nine full years to go before retirement. Ram is among the 20,000-odd “word-of-mouth appointees” in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) who entered the palatial red building on S.N. Banerjee Road in the 1960s and 70s, without any proper records of their age or qualification.

As a result, these employees, mostly sweepers, orderlies, peons, block sarkars, mazdoors and drivers, are working well beyond their actual retirement age in the Corporation. They continue to walk, or rather hobble, the corridors, with many years of service left.

To give the Corporation a youthful look and a bounce in its step, mayor Subrata Mukherjee has decided to identify and weed out over-aged employees. Medical tests will be conducted on all “suspect” staff, for which a six-member doctors’ panel will be formed.

“The Chennai civic body has already introduced such medical examination for over-aged employees. I think I will be able to reduce the redundant work-force of the civic body,” Mukherjee said.

Deputy chief municipal health officer R.N. Sanyal said the doctors’ panel will examine bones in the hip joint and palms to determine the approximate age of the employee concerned. “This is known as ossification test, and is considered to be fairly accurate in ascertaining the age,” he added.

These ‘suspect’ employees, almost all of them illiterate or school dropouts, have no birth certificate or documents from any recognised authority confirming their age. In their service books, too, there is no mention of the official document on the basis of which their age was recorded.

“I was given the job by Lengtibabu (the late Rabindranath Ghosh, then councillor of ward 56), in whose house I was a domestic help. I do not know what age he put against my name then,” said Kartick Ram.

On many occasions, employees like Ram have just submitted an affidavit from a notary public declaring their age. This has, historically, depended on the whims and fancies of the clerk at the counter. “For example, one of the employees in my department, Sanjiv Das, has three different dates of birth in his service book. One, when he joined as an unskilled labour in 1976, then, when he passed his Higher Secondary exams, and finally, when he was promoted to block sarkar,” said Swapan Mahapatra, assistant director, conservancy.

The Corporation’s accounts department said that about Rs 60 crore can be saved annually if the over-aged employees can be “identified and retired”.

“The CMC earns only Rs 170 crore in revenue every year. If we can save Rs 60 crore annually, then we can utilise this amount to develop the city further,” said chief of municipal finance and accounts, Shankar Dutta.

   

 
 
BUDDHA BALM FOR VILLAGERS IN DISTRESS 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
After dacoits went on a night-long looting spree on Monday, escaping with jewellery and other valuables worth about Rs 6 lakh from as many as 45 households, Maruiberia village, in Diamond Harbour, played host to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Bhattacharjee arrived at the village around 5.15 pm. His convoy could go only till Gurudasnagar railway station, three km away. But even the cycle-van he hopped on to did not cover the entire distance.

From a point about a km away from the village, he trudged through paddy fields. It did not take much persuasion for him to give in later to the villagers’ demand for a proper road from the station to Maruiberia.

Bhattacharjee’s mission was to find out from the villagers what exactly had happened that night and how much had been looted from how many households.

According to the police, nine households, and not 45, had been looted. The instructions that followed after gleaning all this information were predictable, but the villagers were overwhelmed.

On the van to the village with the chief minister was district magistrate Alapan Bandopadhyay. Inspector-general of police (south Bengal) Ajay Prasad, deputy inspector-general (Presidency range) Gautam Chakraborty and district superintendent of police Arvind Maliwal accompanied the van on foot.

Dusk was setting in as the VIP team finally arrived at the home of Mujibur Mullick, from where Rs 2.5 lakh in jewellery, the largest single booty of the 45 households, had been taken away. The other victims had also assembled there.

CPM district secretary Samir Putatunda, leader Anuradha Deb and Trinamul Congress panchayat samity member Abu Taher Mullick were already there. All three rushed up to Bhattacharjee to brief him. He silenced them perfunctorily: “I have not come here to listen to you. I want to hear what the victims have to say... Let them speak.”

He turned to Mujibur Mullick and asked him to narrate the incident. “That night, about 25 to 30 masked men, armed with all sorts of weapons, arrived at my home. They broke open the grilled gate and entered. They took the almirah keys from my wife, Sakina Bibi, and looted everything.”

Then, as soon as Mullick stopped speaking, young Zarina Bibi, wife of Asnat Ali Mullick, fell at Bhattacharjee’s feet and sobbed: “They threatened to kill my three-month-old baby if I did not give them the keys.”

Karima Bibi cried out: “They kicked my handicapped daughter-in-law Nunne Hara after they forced their way in. They then looted everything in the house.”

More such tales followed... Rakina Bibi, Sakina Begum, and also two women suffering from TB and appendicitis. Bhattacharjee heard them out and said the patients’ expenses would be met from his welfare fund.

He then asked the villagers to prepare a list of the victims and the items looted and submit it to the police. The villagers immediately protested, saying the cops were hand-in-glove with the dacoits. “We had called the policemen from a camp a km away. They came but did not fire as they were afraid the dacoits would throw bombs,” they alleged.

Bhattacharjee sanctioned Rs 5,000 as immediate relief to the 10 worst-hit households. He also asked the district magistrate to sanction Rs 2 lakh for constructing the road. Before leaving after a 50-minute stay, Bhattacharjee told all party leaders to work unitedly “and not play politics.”

   

 
 
FLOURISHING TRADE IN FAKE COMPUTERWARE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
The computer market in the city is flooded with clever fakes of mouse and keyboard.

To make matters worse, there is a sizeable grey market dealing in sophisticated hardware like processors, rapid access memory (RAM) and motherboards.

Deputy commissioner of police, enforcement department, D.K. Ganguly said a cartel “assembling and importing” duplicates of computer hardware and selling them in the market at rock-bottom prices has been busted.

Five persons were picked up recently and “438 computer mouses, worth more than Rs. 2.5 lakh, recovered” from them.

“These were smart remakes of Logitech, the Swiss multinational and market leader. It is practically impossible for the consumer to detect the difference,’’ Ganguly added.

A special investigative team interrogated Benoy Dugar, Rajendra Daga, Omar Alam, Sanjoy Dud and Benoy Sethia.

Preliminary investigation revealed that the duplicates are manufactured in Bangkok, Taiwan and Thailand. The racket involves a chain of traders which buys and smuggles in the equipment through the airport and port by under-invoicing.

According to the accused, there are five assembling units in the city. The material is stocked in Burrabazar, Hatibagan, Central Avenue and Santoshpur. These are then distributed to whole-salers and computer shops.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Banibrata Basu said: “When the company seals are put on the assembled items, it is very difficult to tell the fake from the original... We have arrested some of the major operators and hope to bust the entire racket very soon.”

R. Ghosh, a computer expert, explains: “In the Calcutta market, even a difference of a few hundred makes a huge difference. People want to go for the cheapest possible PC. It’s only when the computer starts malfunctioning and the assembler fails to set things right that they get in touch with the ‘company’. By then, it’s too late.”

Sources in the computer bazaar added that while the mouse and the keyboard, which require low-end technology, are being assembled here and then slapped with seals of established brands, rejected processors, motherboards and RAM from America and Europe are being smuggled into the circuit.

They are being sold at low rates without relevant papers or a guarantee period.

“Among all these, the grey market for the RAM is the most volatile. Prices fluctuate like the stock market and the maximum guarantee period ranges between seven and 14 days... You don’t even get a bill unless you pay 20 per cent more,” said an assembler.

Processors, which don’t come in box packs, cost Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 less in the grey market than the originals.

Rough estimates peg the number of assemblers in the city and its suburbs at around a lakh.

They cater to the growing market for personal computers in the home and small-business segments and are “completely dependent on” low-priced hardware for their profits.

“As the branded personal computers carry a mark up of around 25 to 30 per cent due to different taxes, the demand for the assembled ones is on the rise resulting in a boom in the grey market,” explained an assembler.

   

 
 
KOLKATA CUTS NO ICE WITH THREE ACE CLUBS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Some things must change. Some must remain the same.

As the government goes about altering every Calcutta to Kolkata, there are some institutions integral to the city that will cling on to the original.

It was more than 200 years ago that the British founded the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club. Today, the CC&FC has decided to go on with its old name.

So has Calcutta Club, at least for the time being. The 93-year-old elite institution and its committee is yet to mull over the decision to change Calcutta Club to Kolkata Club. “Personally, I am in favour of continuing with the original name,” said Madhav Goenka, club president.

CC&FC secretary Ravi Kidwai is finding it difficult to reconcile himself to the change of name.

“In Mumbai and Chennai, the Bombay Gymkhana and the Madras Cricket Club are carrying on with their old names... We are talking about historical institutions with very distinctive flavours that just cannot be changed overnight,” said Kidwai.

Neeraj Bhalla, chief executive officer of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, said the matter would be discussed at the committee meeting. “But I am sure most members will not be in favour of changing the name,” he said.

While a Calcutta Port Trust spokesperson confirmed that the name would soon be changed to Kolkata Port Trust, an Indian Airlines official said on Wednesday that the name-change process was yet to begin.

   

 
 
FANS AWAIT BLOOD CENTRE ‘LIFELINE’ 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
He comes into our drawing rooms every weekday, booming voice, towering presence, et al. He holds the household,para, city in thrall from 9 pm to 10 pm, Monday through Friday, firing questions, throwing lifelines, doling out cheques, and making many a dream come true.

But all that’s just not good enough for one devoted bunch of fans of the Biggest B. “We believe in the BEST. We believe in BACHCHAN,” goes their motto. They are the Amitabh Bachchan Fans’ Association, West Bengal.

Numbering no less than 6,000 in the city, they are waiting for their personal ‘god’ to show up and cut the ribbon of a thalassaemia detection centre at Dum Dum. Ready to roll for the past two years, they have been holding out, until Bachchan gives them his “blessing” in person. After all, the ‘star of the millennium’ has always been keen to lend a helping hand to kids, especially those afflicted with thalassaemia.

But how can the fan brigade be so sure he will make it, one day? They head for Mumbai every October to wish their Shahenshah‘happy birthday’ and extract a promise from him that the next time he’s in town, he’ll be Dum Dum-bound. On their last trip, he promised to come down in April 2001 to do the honours.

“We just can’t start work at the centre until he visits. He is our inspiration, and this is something we feel very strongly about,” said S.P. Kamat, state secretary of the fan club. But though this promise has stopped them from starting work at the thalassaemia centre, they are not wasting their time with the waiting game.

Last month, to commemorate Mohabbatein’s first 50-day spell in city halls, the association hosted a blood donation camp for thalassaemic kids and a sit-and-draw competition. That was the official launch of their ‘daughter organisation’ — Prayaas, a child guidance society. Functioning from the same premises in Dum Dum, Prayaas hopes to host weekly guidance workshops for mentally challenged children and their parents.

“Amitji has been helping the cause for years,” explains Kamat. Four years ago, when Bachchan gave a grant to another city organisation working with thalassaemia, the fan club had the idea to start something themselves. The last few visits to the city have been “so rushed” for the superstar that he’s failed to squeeze out any time for the boys and girls with a cause. But disheartened they are not. “His word is as solid as a rock. When he has promised us that he will inaugurate the centre, he will,” they chorus.

   

 
 
TRAINS DELAYED BY POWER CUT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
The massive power cuts in north India took their toll on train services, with Calcutta-bound long-distance trains reaching Howrah late by several hours on Wednesday.

The Kalka Mail from Howrah had been rescheduled. It left the station at 11 pm, instead of its scheduled departure time at 7.15 pm. Services were affected in all places beyond Mughalsarai, an Eastern Railway official said.

Railway authorities had to provide an extra meal to passengers on the Delhi-Howrah Rajdhani Express as it was running late by over four hours. According to railway rules, passengers on Rajdhani Express are entitled to an additional meal free if the train is late for four hours or more.

The Amritsar Mail ran late by 13 hours. The other long-distance trains hit by the north India power grid collapse included the Kalka Mail, Deluxe, Himgiri Express, Jammu-Tawi Express and the Bombay Mail.

Though South Eastern Railway’s long-distance trains remained unaffected by the power failure, most mail, express and suburban trains were late, following derailment of a goods train near Andul on Wednesday morning.

Besides, railway services between Howrah and Puri-Bhubaneswar remained suspended all day as hawkers squatted on the tracks at Khurda Road station to protest their eviction.

Suburban train services on the Howrah-Burdwan section, too, were affected due to technical problems.

Running staff of the Burdwan section refused to work as four travelling ticket-checkers were assaulted by students of MPC Polytechnic at Burdwan station. Two ticket-checkers, Subrata Mukherjee and Mithu Mukherjee, had to be admitted to hospital.

The students attacked the ticket-checkers as the latter realised a fine from a student travelling without ticket.

   

 
 
GUN-TOTING DACOITS FLEE WITH CASH, JEWELLERY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Three armed dacoits raided a house at Ashwini Nagar, in Baguiati, early on Wednesday and fled with cash and jewellery.

They stabbed a member of the family who tried to ward them off. Police said the youth, all in their late twenties, crept into the Poddar residence from the terrace. They had scaled up a drainpipe and prised open the terrace door.

On entering the house, they threatened the residents at gunpoint. The family was already awake after hearing the crash of the terrace door being broken. The dacoits then snatched the keys of the cupboards and ransacked them. They managed to lay their hands on gold ornaments and Rs.20,000 in cash.

Members of the family said the jewellery, worth about Rs.30,000, had been brought home from a bank vault recently as they were to attend a marriage in a couple of days. After about an hour, the intruders prepared to leave through the rear door of the house. Just then, the eldest son of the family, aged about 20, grabbed one of the dacoits by his arm and started shouting for help. The dacoit whipped out a dagger and slashed the youth’s right arm. He was rushed to hospital.

Residents of the area claimed that in spite of repeated appeals, the police are yet to take action though the crime graph of the area is soaring by the day.

Officers at Rajarhat police station, however, played down the incident, saying it was a case of “snatching at gunpoint” and not a dacoity. “We will conduct raids soon to nab the culprits,” said S. Ghorui, officer-in-charge. He said it was just a matter of time before the three youths were nabbed.

A similar incident took place in the area last Sunday. The police are yet to identify the culprits in that case. Local residents have formed a resistance group to ward off dacoities in the area .

   

 
 
FOLKLORIST’S COLLECTION COMES TO RESCUE OF RESEARC 
 
 
BY SOUMYADIPTA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Academicians are pitching in to save a rare collection of Indian folklore gathered over the years by Sankar Sengupta, a folklorist who died unsung at age 56.

They are planning to open a study centre at Sengupta’s residence at 74, Mahatma Gandhi Road. Sengupta, who was not even a graduate, spent the best part of his life studying Bengali and Indian folklore. He died on October 15, 1989.

Sengupta received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bucharest, in Romania, in 1969 and the Rabindra Smriti Purashkar in 1971. He was editor of Folklore, the only English monthly devoted to Indian folklore. He was the only full-time Indian folklorist and was honorary general secretary and director of research of the Indian Folklore Society. He was also director of the Monograph Association of India, and was honorary general secretary of the Rashtrabhasha Prachar Samity, West Bengal.

He organised the All India Folklore Conference in Calcutta in 1964, in which national and international scholars participated. He authored about 25 books on the subject, all of which are rarities. Sengupta’s collection includes about 1,500 journals and about 2,500 books exclusively on the subject.

All these are crammed in his eight-ft-by-ten-ft study, where the centre will open.

Earlier, few students chose to research folklore because of the dearth of material.

The enthusiastic ones would hunt out Sengupta’s address and managed to smuggle out some of his books for research work. Sadly, they never returned the books and, thereby, many rare books have been lost.

In 1990, when a group of Indology students went to Sengupta’s residence, they were amazed to see his huge collection of material on Indian folklore. They studied them and copied some of the rare books on microfilm. They gave a copy to Sengupta’s wife, Geeta. The film, covered with fungi, now lies in a corner of the library.

Academicians started taking an interest in his collection after a special paper was introduced on ‘oral tradition and folk literature’ in MA Part-II in Bengali at Jadavpur University. As a special paper, it was optional, but it generated a lot of interest among students, who opted for the paper in large numbers. Teachers awoke to the fact that material on the subject was unavailable and decided to launch a hunt.

University teachers opened a study centre — the Folklorist Education and Research Institute — at the university on August 3 last year, to study Indian folklore, with particular emphasis on Bengali folklore.

“But we soon realised that mere discourses and lectures on the subject were not enough”, said Achintya Biswas, a professor of Bengali at Jadavpur University, who heads the university study centre.

“I realised there was not enough study material and I also needed some original works”, added Biswas.

While he looked around, one of his students told him about Sankar Sengupta. “I jumped at the idea and contacted Sengupta’s wife, who was extremely caring and cooperative”, he added.

“When they approached me for the books and told me that they wanted to start a study centre in his study, I agreed immediately”, said Geeta.

She vacated the study, and students of Jadavpur University sorted, labelled and numbered the books. A photocopying machine will be installed in the room.

Sengupta’s son, Mayukh, who is a final-year student at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, seems to be excited about the project.

“Its wonderful!”, exclaimed Mayukh. He does not seem to mind the fact that university students will keep knocking at their door.

“I feel proud about my father. It’s a wonderful feeling when I see students of my age handling my father’s books so carefully, though I neglected his collection for so long”, Mayukh said.

Most of the books and journals are in a bad shape and some of them have already been destroyed by borers. But, most academicians feel the collection is invaluable for research scholars.

“Now I can at least refer my students to the study centre”, said Ratnabali Chatterjee, a professor of History at Calcutta University.

“I am now encouraging my students to do research work on the subject because more material is available,” added Chatterjee.

   

 
 
HOTELIER’S NEIGHBOURS DEMAND ARREST OF KILLERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Residents of Harin Bari Lane, in central Calcutta, blocked the crossing of Colootola Street and Rabindra Sarani on Wednesday for more than an hour from 9.30 am, demanding the arrest of those who had gunned down 18-year-old hotel-owner Naseer Imam on Tuesday night.

The blockade was lifted after deputy commissioner of police (central) Raj Kanojia intervened and assured the agitators of arresting those behind the murder soon. Shops and other business establishments of the area remained closed.

Police said the prime accused in the murder, Mohammad Tasleem, alias Taskin, and his father, used to run a bhujia shop opposite the hotel.

“Both Tasleem and his father are absconding after the murder. Locals say that Tasleem hadn’t paid the bill after a dinner at the restaurant some days ago. This might have resulted in a tiff between them,” the police said.

“The hotel was owned by three brothers. Naseer’s deceased father also had a share. Besides, Naseer was in the hotel on Tuesday as his uncle, Firdaus Imam, was reportedly sick. His uncles will be interrogated too,” the police added.

The Imams live in a flat above the hotel.

Contract lead: In another development, the police have discovered that Krishna Rao, gunned down at point-blank range at Orphangunge bazaar on Tuesday night, had received a lucrative contract of more than a crore from the railways for construction work at Santragachi railway station, in Howrah.

   

 
 
TRIPURA FEST TO PRESERVE HINDU-BUDDHIST SITE 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DUTTA
 
Agartala, Jan. 3: 
A three-day Pilak festival is being held in the Pilak area under south Tripura’s Jolaibari block to focus on Tripura’s rich cultural heritage and the need for its preservation.

Inaugurating the festival yesterday, information and cultural affairs minister Jiten Chowdhury urged all to help preserve the archaeological site. He also appealed to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to initiate steps to provide full-fledged protection to the site.

The Pilak area, spread over uplands and lush green valleys in the south-western part of Belonia subdivision, has emerged as a treasure house of archaeological finds.

It was in the early Sixties that people from nearby areas found underground layers of bricks, larger in size that the modern bricks, in Pilak.

While many local residents carted them away for domestic purpose, some contractors used the bricks for construction work. None, however, noted the carvings on them.

The local people got a jolt when they found a huge 14-foot stone image of the Sun God in the Thakurani tilla area of Pilak.

The news spread like wildfire and several interested people, including leading numismatist and private antique collector Jawhar Lal Acharjee, came to Pilak. They highlighted the importance of its archaeological treasures.

Despite repeated appeals from the government, the ASI took inordinately long to take up the site for preservation.

Digging at the local level led to the discovery of a surfeits of Hindu gods and goddesses carved on stone in the Buddhist style.

Later, research by Ratna Das who has authored a valuable book on Pilak, said Pilak had emerged as a major Hindu-Buddhist site in the Eighth century. The terracotta found there lent proof to the idea.

“Basically Pilak had been a temple town on the trijunction of East Bengal, Tripura and Arakkan region, extending well into the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh,” Acharjee said.

After conducting a survey in the area over a few years, Acharjee said Pilak formed part of a long chain of Hindu-Buddhist sites from Mainamati region of Bangladesh’s Comilla district, south-western Tripura and Arakkan.

Acharjee believes that the site is yet to be fully excavated. Once this is done, a lot of Tripura’s early medieval history and archaeology will be revealed.

The government’s information department has involved the ASI for preservation of the Pilak site and has also taken measures to build it as a tourist resort.

   
 

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