Bengali first, beyond later
Witness in city nursing home
Hope for Pak talks
Home secy to probe mill killings
Miss World’s father faces abuse case
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BENGALI FIRST, BEYOND LATER 
 
 
BY CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
The only words missing on the gate of Singhi Palace were “Jhumpa weds Alberto”.

Jhumpa Lahiri got married to Alberto Vourvoulias tonight in an immaculate Bengali ceremony — without the hom. The groom was even threatened with dire consequences if he did not part with some money for the bride’s party.

Alberto didn’t mind. The deputy editor of Time looked quite pleased as he sat inside one of the halls, trying to repeat all the Sanskrit mantras haltingly, but religiously. He looked comfortable in a tasar punjabi embroidered around the neck, dhuti and topar, while Jhumpa was resplendent in a red benarasi and matching veil.

The New York-based writer of Interpreter of Maladies — stories on Bengal, Boston and beyond — wore a sitahar (a traditional Bengali gold necklace) which belonged to her mother and red and white flowers in her chignon.

She also wore mehndi on her hands — but Bengali brides can do worse.

The Pulitzer-winner was done up by Calcutta’s wedding artist for celebrities — Probir Kumar Dey.

However, as the mingled smell of machher paturi, fish fry and mutton curry wafted from the kitchen at the back of the lawn, Calcutta’s paparazzi raged outside. They even climbed on to the roof of a house nearby when a dog was let loose on them.

A frail-looking old gentleman defended the Singhi Palace gate, done up with cane filigree and clumps of flowers and clothed in green lights.

Inside, a tree was bathed in a violet glare. A foreign guest — part of Alberto’s entourage — roamed about in a mauve saree and matching ensemble, completing the picture.

Almost everyone from the groom’s 22-strong side — collected from Tokyo, Canada and the US — was dressed in dhutis and sarees, except the older persons who stuck to suits. Some took detailed notes of the rituals.

A pair of the overseas guests, who had ventured outside armed with a handicam, posed before television cameras and said in well-practised tones: “Kolkata, ami tomake bhalobasi.”

Jhumpa and Alberto were taken through every elaborate detail of the Bengali ceremony — well, almost.

There was no hom — the fire ritual. Neither was Jhumpa smeared with sindur, as that was considered too foreign for the groom. But the remaining rites were observed diligently.

Around 5.45 pm, the 33-year-old writer was smuggled in through the back gate. Hubby-to-be was brought in through the same door after half-an-hour, to be confronted by the boron party consisting of Jhumpa’s female relatives.

As they settled down to the real ceremony, Jhumpa, her face covered in betel leaves, was carried around Alberto seven times after which they exchanged shubhodrishti — the look.

Finally, Jhumpa was officially “gifted” to Alberto with the sampradan ceremony under the chhadnatola — wedding canopy, decorated with flower curtains on four sides.

The Vourvoulias family was glad of the addition. “I enjoyed every moment. The ceremony was so interesting,” said Alberto’s father. “I am very fond of Jhumpa,” he added.

The 550-odd guests gorged on kochuri, chholar daal, fish fry, mutton curry, papad, chatni, chhanar dalna (a sweet dish made with cottage cheese) and ice cream. There was a paan counter — another slightly un-Bengali feature, offering the paan of one’s choice.

But the newshounds still screamed outside. Jhumpa’s parents were apologetic. “It’s not as if we don’t want the press. But Jhumpa is a very shy person. She doesn’t want reporters inside,” her father said.

Not everyone was dying for a dekko though. A group of 20-something guests — of Indian origin — in crisp churidar kurtas were found outside, hanging around the phuchkawalah. “I didn’t know she was a celebrity. I just heard that she had written a novel,” said one, concentrating hard on his phuchkas.

   

 
 
WITNESS IN CITY NURSING HOME 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Abdur Rahman Mondal, the “missing” prime witness to the Chhoto Angaria incident, is undergoing treatment at a city nursing home and is “unfit” for police interrogation.

Ruling out questioning by the police for the next three days at least, the doctors treating Mondal — Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Riazul Karim and M.A. Kaseem — said he is suffering from severe psychological disorder and headache.

“He had a psychological beakdown and breaks down in tears at the slightest provocation. It was a nightmarish experience for him and it keeps on coming back, affecting his mental stability. There will be danger to his life if he is subjected to police interrogation,” Kaseem said.

Mondal was whisked away from Chhoto Angaria village in Midnapore’s Garbeta and brought to the city on Saturday. He was admitted to Bellona Nursing Home in Ekbalpore that evening. Initially, he was under Ghosh Dastidar’s care. Karim, a psycho-analyst, and Kaseem, a general physician, joined the team later.

Mondal was shifted to Cabin 12B this morning.

The “VIP” patient was in a good mood but appeared a trifle disoriented when he met The Telegraph in the evening. Wearing a lungi and a shirt, Mondal recollected the chain of events in his house at Chhoto Angaria.

“I am not a criminal or a dacoit. I am innocent. They chopped Mukhter (a friend) in front of my eyes...I fainted...how did I survive...” Mondal could not finish the sentence and broke down.

“They killed five...five men dead, blood all over my courtyard...oh god...what will happen to me....”

Talking in fits and starts, Mondal said that he and some other villagers, who had taken shelter in a Trinamul Congress camp in Garbeta, had decided to return home.

The CPM leaders had assured us that “everything will be all right and we won’t be harmed”.

Mondal denied that arms were stockpiled in the house. “My brother has been purchased by the CPM (read: local leader Tapan Ghosh). Don’t believe him. My brother is a drunkard and beats up his wife. He turned against me after I protested three months ago.

“I have never heard of the PWG. In our area it is a battle for survival. It was a peaceful village till the CPM began their onslaught. They were not willing to accept any opposition and leaders demanded hefty sums of money from villagers for the party fund,” he said.

“I am being harassed by the CPM for standing up against the-ir diktats. I have never touched a gun in my life,” Mondal alleged.

   

 
 
HOPE FOR PAK TALKS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
A meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf may take a little longer, but the stalled foreign secretary-level dialogue between India and Pakistan could be revived in a month or two.

India has iterated it “rejects the notion” of tripartite talks on Kashmir, making it clear the All-Party Hurriyat Conference will have no role in the dialogue.

For the first time since taking over, Indian high commissioner in Islamabad Vijay Nambiar today met Musharraf and told him Delhi wanted to “establish a relationship of trust and confidence, put in place a stable structure of cooperation and address all outstanding issues between the two countries”.

   


 
 
HOME SECY TO PROBE MILL KILLINGS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee set about repairing Bengal’s image battered by the jute mill violence by appointing a one-man inquiry today.

Home secretary S.N. Roy will probe the Baranagar Jute Mills incident where a worker and two managers were killed on Saturday.

Describing the incident as ghastly, the chief minister said: “As far as I remember, such a horrible incident did not occur during Jyoti Basu’s 24-year tenure. It is most unfortunate that the incident took place under my regime.”

Basu had reportedly said yesterday: “I was in power for 24 years. Such an incident did not occur then.”

If there was an intended slight in this statement meant for the new chief minister, sources close to Basu today warned against jumping to such a conclusion. They said Basu did not use the singular “I” but the plural “our”.

Bhattacharjee said the committee would submit its findings and recommendations within 45 days. “We shall come to a conclusion and take our next step after obtaining the report,’’ he said.

The terms of reference of the committee are to find out what happened at the mill, assess the condition of the jute industry and the employer-employee relationship in other major industries.

The CID inquiry, already ordered, will also continue.

Trying to allay fresh fears in industry about labour militancy, the chief minister said: “The incident is an isolated one and one should not generalise. Industrialists know well the kind of law and order prevailing in the state. I believe the incident will in no way hamper investments here,” Bhattacharjee said.

The chief minister iterated that his government would not tolerate trade union militancy. “I have made this amply clear to all the trade union leaders, including those of the Citu,” he said.

On return from North Bengal, he held a series of discussions with labour minister Shanti Ghatak and minority affairs minister Mohammed Amin, both Citu leaders. He asked Ghatak to talk to the mill management and labour commissioner to reopen the factory, closed after the incident.

Ghatak and Amin visited the area today and met representatives of the seven unions that had helped reopen the mill on December 23 after a long closure.

Senior Citu leaders added strength to the CID’s preliminary finding yesterday that the violence was organised. They said the “violence was the handiwork of some outsiders, who had gone inside the mill to fight rather than to place their demands.”

Separate teams of the CID and the state forensic department visited the site today. The forensic team recovered a bullet from the room of general manager J.P. Tiwari, who was beaten up and set afire along with personnel manager Gautam Ghosh that day. Tiwari was carrying a revolver and the worker, Bhola Das, is thought to have been killed when he opened fire.

The superintendent of police of North 24-Parganas, Kuldeep Singh, said the bullet found in the general manager’s room would be examined to see if it was fired from a .32 Webley Scot. “We will verify whether the bore number of the bullet matches with the number mentioned in the licence or not. It if matches, there will be no doubt Tiwari had fired,” Singh added.

   

 
 
MISS WORLD’S FATHER FACES ABUSE CASE 
 
 
BY SUMIT DAS GUPTA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Shivani Saxena, allegedly “molested” by Dr Ashok Chopra — father of Miss World Priyanka Chopra — when she was 12 years old, is ready to take the fight against the man, who, she says, “scarred me for life”, to court.

“I’ve come out with the truth (in an interview to Savvy), and now I’m just waiting to confront the man in court... I’ve won a personal battle by actually being able to tell the world what happened to me 24 years ago. But it’s more than just a personal crusade now. I want to show other women that the stigma must lie with the assailant, not the victim, and for that, the truth must be told,” 37-year-old Shivani said today from Dubai.

Her husband, Rajiv Saxena, added: “We are filing a civil suit in Bareilly by early next week demanding a compensation of Rs 25 lakh, as the law requires us to quantify it. We do not want any money... the amount decreed by the court will be paid directly to an NGO dealing with sexually-abused children, with us putting in an equal amount.”

In an affidavit faxed to The Telegraph, Shivani stated how Chopra, then junior officer to her father Dr Suresh Chandra Saksena in Ferozepur, had, in January 1976, “abused me sexually... terrorised me...”.

“He abused me the first time in the barracks in which I was living with my family...the second assault (was) in a room of the mess... I was terrified... I began to feel that if I did mention the assault on me, my parents would not be able to take the shock... My childhood was shattered...condemning me, a 12-year-old child, to a lifetime of grief.”

Shivani told Rajiv, a chartered accountant hailing from Bareilly, “everything” before their marriage in 1985. For the mother of two, “it all came rushing back” when her father informed her about “the daughter of his junior officer from Ferozepur” being nominated for Miss World.

Seeing pictures of “that man” splashed in the papers just made matters worse. “Seeing my wife reliving her nightmare and sobbing herself to sleep, I decided I would not allow the man to get away with this. She’s suffered enough...,” said Rajiv.

Dr Chopra refused to comment from his chamber in Bareilly. His legal counsel, S.K. Puri, however, said: “It’s all trash... This is nothing but a vilification campaign. Dr Chopra had been receiving anonymous threat calls from the time his daughter, Priyanka, went for the Miss World competition... He does remember Shivani as ‘a kid’ in Ferozepur, the daughter of his immediate commanding officer, and finds it difficult to understand why this is happening. We have sent a notice to the Saxenas, contradicting all their charges, and demanding an apology, failing which we will have to take the legal route.”

The Saxenas are yet to receive the “notice”. Advocate Gautam Kothari said from New Delhi: “There is no question of an apology. A civil suit demanding compensation for the tortuous acts of trespass to persons will be filed in the Bareilly lower court on Friday or Monday. We aren’t filing a criminal suit yet as it would require Shivani Saxena to be present in court for every hearing.”

Life at the Saxena and Saksena homes will never be the same again. “My mother is upset, my father angry that I never told them for so many years... we have started to tell our children who will understand gradually. But now there’s no question of stopping the fight,” said Shivani. Rajiv, who’s stood by her, declared: “We have won part of the battle because eight out of 10 people who’ll meet the man now will be suspicious. But this is just the beginning.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 24.7°C (-2)
Minimum: 12.5°C (-1)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum:88%,
Minimum: 39%

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 12°C
Sunrise: 6.25 am
Sunset: 5.08 pm
   
 

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