Second hitman held, three flee
Interpreter’s baptism by Bengali
No-pay spectre over university
Police put races back on track
Starry-eyed, they strut for the stamp of the ramp
Medical checks for bus drivers, conductors
Infotech job drive in tune with Calcutta
Poor brakes to blame for most mishaps, says survey
Almanac down memory lane
Solidarity cry for Kamtapur

 
 
SECOND HITMAN HELD, THREE FLEE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
After arresting Abdul Rauf on Monday evening from central Calcutta, the police picked up Salauddin, another sharp-shooter of the Dawood Ibrahim gang, from the city’s outskirts on Wednesday morning.

But the breakthrough was clouded, somewhat, by the Mumbai Police allegations that three other hitmen of the D-company might have crossed over into Bangladesh or Nepal after being holed up in Calcutta for at least a month. Sources said the three who had managed to give the police the slip were Hanif Khan, 30, Aslam Contractor, 26, and Dadi, 25.

Speaking to The Telegraph from Mumbai, police commissioner M.N. Singh confirmed that many of Dawood’s men have abandoned Mumbai and spread out in search of “safer cities”.

“We have information that a few of them are taking shelter in Calcutta. Police have evidence of Dawood Ibrahim having some linkmen in Calcutta, who are in constant touch with him and his operators. They are providing protection, shelter and helping these hitmen to cross over to neighbouring countries,’’ Singh added.

Reacting to allegations that the city was turning into a haven for gangsters on the run, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said on Wednesday: “We will not allow Calcutta to be used as a shelter by subversive elements, the mafia and the ISI... Our state is more peaceful than the others and that is why they try to take shelter here. But if the criminals thought that the police here were inactive, they have been proved wrong. These arrests are proof enough that the police are alert, and all such elements that will try to enter the state or the city will be caught.”

Deputy commissioner of detective department Banibrata Basu said that Rauf, a prime accused in the Gulshan Kumar murder case, had put the police on the trail of 32-year-old Salauddin.

“We cross-checked the information with the Mumbai Police and then zeroed in on a Ghutiari Sharif house, in Budge Budge, early on Wednesday,’’ Basu added.

Salauddin is said to be a category-B sharp-shooter owing allegiance to Dawood and had been involved in “five major operations”. He was based in Mumbai from 1983 to 1997 and moved to Calcutta recently with the Mumbai Police crime branch hot on his heels.

Among other cases, Salauddin is wanted for his role in the kidnapping of Mahesh Chowdhury, a businessman in Mumbai, in 1996.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that Rauf had received several calls from Hanif, Aslam and Dadi on his cellphone during his stay in Calcutta, when the three gangsters were, like Rauf, shifting houses at regular intervals to throw the Mumbai Police off their trail. They must have fled Calcutta for Bangladesh or Nepal, where Dawood had set up base through a henchman, Qayum, police sources said.

While Chhota Shakeel is said to be overseeing the D-Company’s operations in Mumbai, Qayum, a Dubai-based goon has, apparently, been given charge of “the east and the Northeast”.

Salauddin, who had been recruited by Rauf in Calcutta, was taking orders from Qayum. He has, apparently, been to Dubai five times to meet Qayum and Chhota Shakeel.

Rauf, police said, had been to Calcutta four times while on his way to Bangkok and Bangladesh.

Salauddin had arranged for his stay in the city. But it’s not clear why Rauf had not put up with Salauddin in his three-month stay in Calcutta this time.

Instead, he kept on shifting base before putting up in a one-roomed house in the Topsia area.

Investigators are also baffled by the fact that Rauf took the help of Ghulam Ghouse, who he apparently only met while buying a cashcard for his cellphone in central Calcutta, to withdraw money being sent to him from Mumbai, when he could have easily done it through Salauddin.

Mumbai crime branch officers said Aslam was one of the hitmen involved in the attack on rival mafia don Chhota Rajan in an apartment in Bangkok last year. Rauf also played a part in the strike, but was, apparently, a “back-up”.

Hanif, Aslam and Dadi are carrying several passports among them. According to sources, police have tracked down three of the “fake passports” — OPD 612 5182, 612 4475 and 612 3398.

“They have travelled with these passports to Bangkok, Sharjah, Dubai, Lahore and Karachi,’’ said an officer of the detective department.

   

 
 
INTERPRETER’S BAPTISM BY BENGALI 
 
 
BY CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Jhumpa Lahiri was taken through a rigorous Bengali test today. She survived. In town for her marriage on January 15, Jhumpa met reporters at Park Hotel on Wednesday afternoon. The news conference began as a meet-the-groom show.

Her hubby-to-be, Alberto Vourvoulias, is a man with craggy features and mature good looks who never stops smiling, but will not say how he met Jhumpa. He looks slightly rugged — Alberto works as deputy editor with the Latin American edition of Time.

The Pulitzer winner is like her pictures — tall, beautiful, slender, and sporting a serene expression that stayed on through the 45 minutes of the How-Bengali-Are-You quiz. She also sported streaked hair, a black blouse with matching black skirt and a magenta jacket, her toe-nails painted red.

Calcutta’s paparazzi got a star. Jhumpa made writers who are solitary creatures best met alone look like things of the past.

But even as the city tried to claim the famous “Bengali” as its own, Jhumpa insisted that she belongs to no one place in particular, that she inhabits a perplexing bicultural universe.

The only Bengali words the soft-spoken author uttered were “Rabindranath” and “Ashapurna Debi”.

“I’m very fond of Calcutta. I’ve been coming here since I was two years old,” she said in a New Yorker’s accent over a sea of reporters. But coming to the city was not homecoming. Neither is Calcutta home for her parents, who have been living abroad for more than three decades. “It is one of their homes,” said the writer of Interpreter of Maladies.

A “the” at the beginning of the title was dropped at Alberto’s suggestion.

“The choice to get married here was a difficult one,” said the 33-year-old author, as so much of her life lies in another continent.

Bengal drew another blank in terms of literary influence. “My awareness of Bengali literature is through my mother’s understanding of it,” Jhumpa said.

After which there was a suggestion that Jhumpa should demonstrate her skill at spoken Bengali. Or better still, she and Alberto should exchange some Bengali words — a verbal equivalent of the mala badal which is going to take place on Monday at Singhi Palace in Gariahat. Jhumpa and Alberto politely declined.

The writer also denied having links with the Indo-Anglian school. “I do not read literature as a category,” she said, but confessed to liking Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children very much.

The couple will be staying in the city for about a week, after the marriage that will be conducted according to Hindu rites, said Alberto smilingly.

As Jhumpa has moved from Pulitzer to a White House date to matrimony, her book has also progressed by leaps and bounds. To be translated into numerous languages, including Dutch, Danish, Japanese and also Bengali, Interpreter is into its 14th edition now. The book has sold 200,000 copies in the US.

Jhumpa is also writing her next book, about which she is tight-lipped. It’s not an e-novel is all one can say, for the writer refuses to be on the Net.

But how different does she find Calcutta on this visit? Musing a little, she says: “This conference is new. This is the first news conference I am holding.”

No wonder, then, she was last seen sitting upright in a chair, face slightly tilted, as an army of flashbulbs closed in on her.

It was a photo-op to beat all photo-ops.

   

 
 
NO-PAY SPECTRE OVER UNIVERSITY 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Calcutta University has been plunged into a financial crisis, with the government suddenly stopping maintenance grants from November 2000.

The university authorities were forced to take a bank loan of Rs 4.5 crore to pay the salaries of the teaching and non-teaching staff last month. But uncertainty prevails over payment of salaries next month, as a substantial portion of the borrowed amount has already been spent on clearing dues.

Calcutta University is supposed to receive maintenance grants of Rs 63 crore from the government during the current financial year, in a phased manner. Of this, approximately Rs 2.5 crore every month goes into payment of salaries for 3,100 employees — 600 teachers and 2,500 non-teaching staff.

“We contacted senior officials of the government last week. They have given us an assurance to clear some funds so that we can pay the salaries on time in February,” said Hiron Kumar Banerjee, pro-vice chancellor (finance).

“We had no option but to take a hefty loan from the State Bank of India to pay our employees. We are also urging the government to clear the interest that we will have to start paying back,” he added.

The university has been struggling ever since the Centre decided to cut down funds for higher education a few years ago. “Now, the sudden suspension of maintenance grants by the state government has made it impossible for us to function,” admitted a senior official of the university’s finance section.

A senior official of the state finance department said that adequate funds will be released soon to enable the university to tide over the crisis.

“We will ensure that the staff are paid their salaries on time,” he added. “Calcutta University is not the only government-run university facing a cash crunch. The government has been unable to release maintenance grants to other universities, like Burdwan, Kalyani and North Bengal as well,” the official admitted.

The present crisis, he said, has been caused by the huge drain of funds in flood relief. “The situation will gradually normalise,” he said.

But the present crisis has sparked alarm on the campus, with the CPM-dominated teachers’ body, Calcutta University Teachers’ Association (CUTA), and employee’s unions submitting a memorandum to the university authorities, requesting them to sort out matters with the government.

Swapan Pramanik, a senior teacher of the University and CUTA leader, said: “The university has never experienced such a financial crisis before. We hope the university authorities will respond to our appeals and urge the government to take necessary measures.”

Buddhadeb Chattopadhay of the Calcutta University Employees’ Unity Centre alleged that the fund crunch had also affected disbursement of post-retirement benefits to former employees.

   

 
 
POLICE PUT RACES BACK ON TRACK 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
With syces deciding to call off their agitation, the rhythm of hoofbeats can be heard again on the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) grounds from Saturday. Wednesday’s racing fixture was cancelled by the turf authorities following the syces’ refusal to take horses out for their morning work-outs.

The syces were protesting the arrest of a fellow-worker in a case related to the stabbing of a Derby runner last Saturday. The syce was granted bail on Tuesday.

The police played a major role in resolving the impasse. A tripartite meeting on Wednesday, with leaders of the syces’ unions and trainers, led to suspension of the protest.

“I am happy that better sense has prevailed. Every one must appreciate that we are not here to victimise or harm any individual,” said Vineet Verma, CEO and secretary, RCTC.

   

 
 
STARRY-EYED, THEY STRUT FOR THE STAMP OF THE RAMP 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Dark suits peppered by the odd plaid shirt line up on one side of the room. Standing to attention, they respond to their numbers... Eight, Arvind Singh... nine, Anirban Das... number 11 is absent...

This is no classroom roll call. While Arvind, Anirban and over 40 other guys were waiting in one room on Wednesday afternoon, in the next, 15 girls, equally jittery, sat dressed in their Saturday night best. One by one, they were called upon to walk their walk, and talk their talk...

It was the Gladrags Manhunt and Mega Model contest on Wednesday. Being held in the eastern region for the first time, this was just the first hurdle. While some people had already sent their applications to Gladrags in Mumbai, others just walked in to try their luck at being the next Dino or Lara.

“The response has been great and applications are still open until January 29,” said Maureen Wadia, editor of Gladrags, who had come down to scan the candidates personally. “I was told that the men in Bengal would be disappointing. But from what I have seen so far, that will not be the case at all,” she added.

Three times more men than women showed up — from chefs to executives in MNCs to management students, from Calcutta to Guwahati to Imphal. They all had one thing to say: “I want to be famous, and I think I have what it takes to be a successful model”. The girls, on the other hand, were mainly student-models. The rest of the “gang”, they said, was busy preparing for exams.

Maureen felt that many Calcutta faces have “tremendous potential” and a chance to make it to the big league. “But one thing I tell all contestants is that modelling should only be a second career option... I discourage youngsters from draining their parents’ resources... Not everyone can be a supermodel.”

But for 15-year-old Sonali, Class IX student of St. Thomas’, this was not a concern. Because her mother was there to watch every step she took.

“Her ambition is to become Miss Universe, and my dream is to see her achieve it,” smiled Sonali’s mother.

   

 
 
MEDICAL CHECKS FOR BUS DRIVERS, CONDUCTORS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Drivers and conductors of state-run buses in and around the city will have to undergo a health check before taking the wheel from February 1. The state transport department has decided to conduct health checks of all employees engaged in passenger duty.

The government also plans to cover drivers, conductors and others on field duty under health insurance schemes like Mediclaim. The transport department will bear a part of the premium.

The decision comes in the wake of several complaints that a number of employees drive buses despite their old age and poor vision, resulting in accidents. The transport department will organise a week-long health camp at Salt Lake stadium from January 27. A medical team, comprising eminent physicians and specialists, has been formed for the purpose.

“Any employee found unfit or suffering from a major ailment will not be allowed on passenger duty. He will be assigned some other job in the department or any other corporation,” said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

About 4,000 employees will face the medical team. “Duties will be re-allocated after vetting the certificate given by the medical team,’’said a senior official of the transport department.

Apart from usual health checks, the tests will cover blood pressure and sugar, cardiac problems, vision, the respiratory organs, hearing problems, chest and the nervous system. “We have arranged all the tests under one roof and the report will be given immediately. The entire cost will be borne by the transport department,’’ Chakraborty said.

Nearly 1,800 state buses ply to and from the city, run by different state transport corporations, involving 4,500 employees (drivers and conductors). Almost 1,200 buses ply in and around the city, run by the Calcutta State Transport Corporation, South Bengal State Transport Corporation and Surface Transport Corporation. Nearly 600 buses are long-distance.

Transport department officials admitted that accidents are often caused by unfit and inefficient drivers. Many of them wear high-power spectacles, suffer from hearing problems and some even have respiratory diseases.

   

 
 
INFOTECH JOB DRIVE IN TUNE WITH CALCUTTA 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Giving a boost to the government’s efforts to promote West Bengal as an IT hub, Salt Lake-based software major Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS) has kicked off its recruitment drive this year by branding the company with Calcutta.

Cognizant now employs 550 people in four city offices. It aims to augment the staff strength by around 60 per cent by the next quarter. “We need more than 300 techhies in the middle-management level with some hands-on experience in the industry,” said vice-president Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Cognizant has, this month, picked up 35 students without any software background from campuses like Presidency College and the Rajabazar Science College. “With proper training, I am sure these young talents will make it big in the field of software,” said Mukherjee.

The company, which has touched US $ 96 million in the nine months of the current financial year, has already entered into tie-ups with premier academic institutions like the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and Indian Statistical Institute. It’s also ready to associate itself with some mega events in the city.

Besides scouting for local talent, the company has launched an advertisement campaign with a collage on the city, with the message ‘Come, celebrate, work in Calcutta’. “The idea is to spread the word that things are happening in Calcutta, and attract talent from outside the state by telling them we can provide the opportunities they are looking for,” explained Mukherjee. The response has been “positive”.

Cognizant, a 100 per cent export-oriented unit, specialises in providing e-business and application management solutions. The clientele comes primarily from the US and European markets. The company has recorded an annual growth rate of over 45 per cent in the last couple of years and has fixed a 70 per cent target for the next year.

   

 
 
POOR BRAKES TO BLAME FOR MOST MISHAPS, SAYS SURVEY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
A study by a private company has shown that eight out of 10 cars on Calcutta’s roads have poor brakes because of moisture in the hydraulic system. The revelation is being made public during the on-going road safety week, being conducted by the traffic department of the city police in collaboration with various organisations.

The use of brake fluid that has a low boiling point leads to the formation of water vapour in the brake cylinder and drums and, after frequent use, can result in the formation of a vapour lock in the cylinder and a false play of the brake when applied.

The study has been conducted over the last two years in four metros by the R&D wing of Castrol. It was conducted in cities because the frequency of braking is higher, owing to congestion and high levels of traffic on the roads, company officials said on Tuesday.

“It is true that 75 per cent of brake problems, when they occur, are due to faults in the brake shoe. But below-specification brake fluid also causes a delay in braking in 25 per cent of the cases,” the officials said.

In a city like Calcutta, where sudden obstructions in traffic by pedestrians, lane-changing two-wheelers, autos and vehicles, occur very frequently, brakes have to be applied around every 60 seconds, on an average. This frequent use of the brakes heats up the brake shoes and, subsequently, the brake fluid in the hydraulic system.

“If the reflex boiling point of the fluid is low, vapour forms and gets lodged at the top of the brake cylinder. The brake pedal then feels loose and spongy,” a company official said. Brake fluid is hygroscopic in nature and, thus, absorbs moisture. This happens more during the monsoons.

When the temperature of the fluid rises, evaporation takes place and results in a vapour lock. Since water vapour is compressible, the entire force of a driver’s braking action is not transmitted to the fluid and the brakes do not work instantaneously. And the delay could prove very costly.

Deputy commissioner traffic K. Harirajan recalled two recent cases where accidents have occurred due to brake failure. One happened last month right in front of Lalbazar when a Matador ploughed through the footpath, killing three pedestrians.

He, however, could not comment on the findings of the study, as this would have to be examined by a technical person. But he backed the drive by the company to hold brake-fluid check-up camps at the 12 kiosks set up at different points of the city during the road safety week.

“One aspect that the pedestrian should learn to gauge is the braking distance that a vehicle travelling at a particular speed can have. Quite often, we see pedestrians crossing the road raising their hands for the vehicle to slow down when there is hardly any distance for the driver to apply brakes effectively. The week should help in building some awareness.”

   

 
 
ALMANAC DOWN MEMORY LANE 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, Jan. 10: 
Think of the fascinating stories they could tell if streets had tongues. Short of that, perhaps a listing of each house-owner on every street of a city, with details of his/her respective profession, too, could be exciting, if not equally so. That is what Kishori Mohan Bagchi of P.M. Bagchi Private Limited (established 1888-89) fame had done at the turn of the 20th Century in his famous Directory Panjika, or Bengali almanac.

His grandson, Jayanta Bagchi, is all set to reprint this invaluable document. Work on it will begin soon after the Calcutta Book Fair, but it will take quite some time before the project is over, given the overwhelming amount of material that will have to be sorted out.

Although earlier editions of the almanac had been published, the 1912 issue is the oldest extant one available at the P.M. Bagchi office in Gulu Ostagar Lane.

Jayanta Bagchi wants to reprint it because he has only one copy of the almanac, which, since it was printed on newsprint, is quite brittle and ready to fall to pieces. Says the director of the publishing house: “You will never find the information available in this book elsewhere. The book won’t last forever. Besides the streets and house-owners, it is a listing of every single park, pond, water tap, stable, bustee, place of worship and mess that used to exist in the city then.”

Upper Chitpur Road, in the native section of the city, makes a mention of all the sellers of kites, fireworks, attars, rose-water, sitar and esraj, mosquito nets, an Oriya mess, as well as of Nabin Chandra Das, who reputedly invented the rosogolla, of a “native Christian,” midwife Pankajini Debi and the kirtanwalis. There are oblique references to houses of ill repute — the madams have telltale names.

Park Street, which was very pucca then, not only boasted of Thacker, Spink and Company and the Bengal Freemason’s Trust Association, but also native businessmen like Satramdass Dhulamal as well as local royalty — Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad, Maharajah and Feudatory Chief of Sonpur, Orissa, and the Raja and Feudatory Chief of Bamra State.

Some landmarks have been erased from the face of the city — as Bagchi points out — Kohinoor Theatre, owned by Manmohan Pande was demolished when Chittaranjan Avenue was being constructed.

The directory provides a complete picture of undivided India, which included Burma. Thus it includes the nitty-gritty about the judiciary, educational institutions, hospitals, business, government offices and zamindaries, the personnel involved, their designations, and in many cases their salaries. It also happens to be a compendium of information on home remedies, how to begin a small business of one’s own, cookery, patriotic songs and writing legal documents — everything that people living in small towns or remote villages would want to know.

The new edition will be supplemented with additional information and footnotes on the famous people who lived in the city then along with photographs. This information will be provided by Haripada Bhowmik, who has two books on Calcutta, Sekaler Sambadpatre Kolkata and Kalir Shahar Kolkata to his credit. Bhowmik says while there is a wealth of material on white Calcutta, this directory is invaluable because it provides a rare glimpse of “Bangalitolla.”

   

 
 
SOLIDARITY CRY FOR KAMTAPUR 
 
 
BY PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Jan. 10: 
Promising AK-47s by the “thousands”, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) today said it would extend all help and support to the agitation for a separate state of Kamtapur.

Addressing a rally organised by the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) here, JMM president Shibu Soren — who spoke in fluent Bengali — said: “The Kamtapuri demand for a separate state for themselves is the outcome of total neglect and the imposition of an alien culture on the Rajbanshi sons-of-the-soil in north Bengal. Sons of the soil across the country have realised that they have been deprived for too long. The Kamtapuris, too, are justified in raising the demand for a separate state.

“The CPM rulers will not be able to stop the Kamtapuris from fulfilling their aspirations. The Left Front government cannot suppress such a genuine demand by calling it a separatist and anti-national movement.”

Whipping up passions in an already surcharged atmosphere at the Medical More grounds, JMM state president Ajit Prasad Mahato pledged armed support to the Kamtapuris, if need be. “The ruling front in Bengal has often accused the JMM of supplying arms to the KPP. We are indeed ready to supply AK-47 rifles in thousands in case the need arises for an armed struggle,” Mahato told the crowd which had waited for nearly four hours on a wintry afternoon for the JMM leaders to arrive.

Mahato urged the younger generation of Rajbanshis to lead a revolution. “What is better than AK-47s is that every Kamtapuri youth becomes a revolutionary. These youths can be more effective then a thousand AK-47s. We are ready to provide moral and physical support to our Rajbanshi brothers and sisters in their fight against the colonial rulers of Bengal (read CPM),” the JMM leader said.

Mahato warned the CPM against opposing the statehood demand. “North Bengal is not Jyoti Basu’s ancestral property that he will not allow its division. Neither is West Bengal his personal land holding. These people who sit in Calcutta should beware if they dare oppose the Kamtapuri movement,” the firebrand JMM leader thundered.

Taking up from where Mahato left off, the KPP leadership lashed out at the ruling communists for trying to destroy the society and culture of the Rajbanshis.

Describing the CPM leadership as a “Bengali dinosaur”, KPP central committee president Atul Roy said: “This Bengali dinosaur has gobbled up the Kamtapuri culture and is trying to thrust an alien one on the Rajbanshis. We will no longer bow to the Bengali colonialists. Kamtapuris will no longer be servants of the Bengali babus. Instead, the time has come for the Rajbanshi people to be the babus of their own land.”

Speaking to reporters earlier, Soren scoffed at allegations of animosity between the Jharkhandis and the Rajbanshis living in north Bengal. “The Jharkhandi Adivasis and the Rajbanshis in north Bengal have been co-existing peacefully for decades. The Jharkhandis in the region fully support the KPP demand for a separate state as they did for Jharkhand,” the JMM chief said.

   
 

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