Command revises rates, rentals
Newshounds hounded out
Taxis signal Wednesday strike over baton attack
Braveheart battles rare disease
If hobbies are colours, life’s a landscape
Tagore image for Lakes
Airport panic over threat calls
Booleo initiative from Boston
Pilot glides into windfall
Orissa declares dry spell

 
 
COMMAND REVISES RATES, RENTALS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Command, the city-based cellular service provider, has restructured its tariff structure to suit high-end users. The new rates will raise the monthly bills of low and medium-use subscribers by four to eight per cent but slash those of heavy users by almost five per cent.

The new tariff structure comes into effect from January 16. Officials of Spice Telecom, the other cellular operator in Calcutta, could not be contacted to confirm whether it would revise its rate structure, or rather, when it would do so.

Under Command’s new tariff regime, outgoing calls have been made cheaper and monthly rentals slashed, but monthly membership fees and incoming call charges have shot up. For Yes! (pre-paid) card users, outgoing calls have been lowered from Rs 9 to Rs 6 a minute, but incoming rates have been raised to Rs 3 from 80 paise.

Cellphone-users in the low-end and medium-end categories, Economy and Classic, will end up paying more per month. For those under the Magnum scheme, free airtime has been increased from Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 a month.

The discount on Command-to-Command call charges and Command to other cell services remains the same, at 50 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively. The service provider has also dispensed with different rates for peak hours and ‘off-peak’ hours, except for a Trai-ordained Standard package, where peak rates will drop from Rs 4 to Rs 3.80 during ‘off-peak’ hours.

Command claims to have a total subscriber base of around 76,000. Mitash Chatterjee, product manager of Usha Martin Telekom Limited, says subscribers in all categories will get “more free airtime” to compensate for the increase in monthly bills.

Chief operating officer Rajiv Sawhney said: “The new structure, which is customer-friendly, will help us expand market size.”

Command’s decision to raise monthly bills comes at a time when Airtel in Delhi and Hutchison in Mumbai have been slashing their rates in the face of competition from MTNL, which will start offering its GSM cellular services from January 26 in Delhi and end-February in Mumbai.

   

 
 
NEWSHOUNDS HOUNDED OUT 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Singhi Palace, Gariahat, Monday evening. A car chase. A dog let loose. Cops armed with walkie-talkies and securitymen toting guns. All to combat the charge of the paparazzi brigade.

Jhumpa Lahiri also got married...

The security was terribly tight, with Jhumpa refusing to allow “a private affair to turn public”. The seven private guards posted with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the duration of her stay were there, as was a posse of policemen including members of the Special Branch. They had one simple message from the “meyer bari” — keep the press out.

At 5:40 pm, Jhumpa is smuggled through the rear entrance to Singhi Palace. The cameras miss it, but they reposition themselves at the Gariahat entrance. Things still pleasant, jokes being cracked, the mood merry. The electronic and print media, both national and local, are ready to wait. “After all, they have to come out some time,” is still the feeling.

At around 6:15, a beige Ambassador with simple rajanigandha decor approaches the rear entrance to Singhi Palace. “Side deen, side deen,” the guards urge, ushering the waiting paparazzi out of the way. Reporters and photographers at the main gate charge down the street, cameras, mikes, notepads in hand. Following the car as far as they can, they pull off a coup of sorts — the retreating figure of Alberto Vourvoulias, in dhoti-kurta.

“Peyechish? First class”. All happy, because it’s as good as it gets. Then, back to the front gate.

A man emerges from the portals of the palace. Everyone flocks around. He is Her make-up man, Prabir Kumar Dey. “I did all of her make-up, chandan, her hair. She is wearing a red Benarasi... He is wearing a tussore dhoti-panjabi...,” he smiles. “Aapni boro help korlen, moshai,” say the relieved reporters. Some colour for their stories, at long last.

Next, two foreigners, cameras in hand, smiles on faces, come out to take pictures of the paparazzi trying to take their pictures.

Father Lahiri stands by. “Move over, please, our guests can’t come in.” The restlessness grows slowly but surely. “All we want is five minutes. If she would just let us in, we would get our job done and leave,” pleads a member of the electronic media. Meanwhile, the boron is on inside.

The police, it seems, had advised Jhumpa’s family to follow a similar course of action. “Everyone, including the commisssioner of police, had asked the Lahiris to give the press 10 minutes, but they refused,” admit cops on the scene. The “main woman”, they said, was “too shy”.

By this time, the reporters had just about had enough of waiting outside the biye bari. “We all come from respected media houses,” thunders one. “This is not done. You are treating us like dogs,” shouts another, tempers beginning to fray.

“I just asked one gentleman whether it would be possible to call Jhelum (Jhumpa’s sister) out for a few minutes. ‘Will that put an end to your drama?’ is what he asked me. As if I am here to create a scene! I am here to do my job!” shrieks a mediaperson.

Decorum is giving way to desperation. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose. Calcutta’s paparazzi — which have failed to get a single shot of the screen goddess Suchitra Sen for years — decide “enough is enough”.

Where there is a will, they say, there is a way. And this one seems to lead through a dark under-construction building beside Singhi Palace. It provides a vantage point for telephoto lenses and, maybe, even a sneak peak at the bride and groom. But the masterplan is abandoned faster than it was hatched. A huge labrador comes bounding out of the building, barking at the trespassers. Peeve turns to pounce. The paparazzi panic — “Ei pala, pala!”

Hassled securitymen jostle journalists. “You let dogs loose on us, but we are still behaving decently with you,” points out one photographer. A sudden surge of raised voices and angry faces nearly breaches the security cordon. Nearly.

Finally, better sense prevails. Around 9.20 pm, the newlyweds emerge from the fortress. No Q&A, just a photo-op — the paparazzi say ‘pleeease’, the celeb couple says ‘cheese’.

   

 
 
TAXIS SIGNAL WEDNESDAY STRIKE OVER BATON ATTACK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
About 25,000 taxi operators in Calcutta will observe a strike from 11.30 am to 1 pm on Wednesday to protest the “sudden and whimsical attack” on taxi-drivers by the police, led by deputy commissioner (traffic) K. Harirajan on Monday morning.

Kalyan Bhadra, president of Bengal Taxi Association, a taxi-operators’ body, said that around 11 am, a team of policemen on Sarat Bose Road started hitting the bonnets of several waiting taxis with batons.

“The DC (Harirajan) used abusive language and behaved in a most unseemly manner. So we have called this partial strike on Wednesday,” said Bhadra.

He said that if the police continued to harass the city’s taxi-drivers, the operators would be forced to think in terms of an indefinite strike.

A senior police officer, however, said the taxi-drivers had parked illegally on Sarat Bose Road, despite warnings, and a drive was carried out to prevent the practice. Harirajan was not available for comment.

The police drive against illegally-parked taxis on Sarat Bose Road and the subsequent commotion led to a traffic snarl in the area in rush hour.

Sunil Ranjan Das, general secretary of the Calcutta Metropolitan Taxi Drivers’ Union, said that the decision on a partial strike was taken at an emergency meeting with representatives of the Bengal Taxi Association and Calcutta Taxi Association.

The operators’ meeting also demanded that the government provide parking space for 25,000 taxis in the city.

   

 
 
BRAVEHEART BATTLES RARE DISEASE 
 
 
BY SOUMYADIPTA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
She is a bubbly 25-year-old from Rourkela, a final-year student of Nil Ratan Sarkar Medical College. She also has a rare heart anomaly which is, perhaps, the first recorded case in India. And she has become a subject of research for cardiologists. Yet, she has vowed to carry on with her studies and “not stop till the goal of being a medical practitioner is achieved”.

Meet Mousumi Baruah, who was detected with Postural Orthostatic Tachychardia Syndrome, or POTS, in April 1999 by Dr Robin Chakraborty at Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad. But this has not stopped her from carrying on with her studies, undeterred by the fact that she had to lose an academic year due to her illness.

Mousumi’s heart-beat rate increases abnormally if she stands for more than 15 minutes at a stretch. The heart-beat goes up to 388 per minute at the highest, against a normal of 72 per minute, leading to a blackout.

“It feels like you are travelling on a superfast train at top speed and there’s someone trying to push you out,” is how Mousumi describes the trauma before the blackout.

“In January this year, I fell on the tramlines while crossing the road in front of NRS Hospital. I was lucky that people around were quick to pick me up,” she adds.

Mousumi had been consulting numerous doctors since 1995. She decided to go for a thorough check-up after November 1998, when she experienced multiple cases of palpitation, followed by collapse.

“My classmates would repeatedly coax me to go for a check-up. I did not do it because I knew that my studies would suffer,” Mousumi said. “After visiting at least 10 cardiologists in Calcutta, I had 10 different opinions on my condition. I then decided to go to Hyderabad to get examined by Dr Robin Chakraborty. It was he who diagnosed that I suffer from this rare heart anomaly.”

According to Dr. Debashis Saha, leading cardiologist, the cause and treatment of this problem is unknown. “We have done a lot of research on Dysautonomia, but no one has particularly worked on POTS because no case studies were available,” Saha said.

According to him, there is no case of POTS recorded in India. “This disease is extremely rare. I have read about it in medical journals.” He said the only recommended drug in this case may be beta-blockers, which cause beta receptor blocks and are mainly used in heart disorders.

   

 
 
IF HOBBIES ARE COLOURS, LIFE’S A LANDSCAPE 
 
 
MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
It was a ‘Candival’, the likes of which the city has never seen. Over 15,000 pictures were on display at the St Thomas Boys’ School on Monday. This was the the Nestle Milkybar Colour Adventure, which saw rows and rows watercolours, crayon drawings and and pencil sketches of of penguins, landscapes, Durga puja bhashans...

The non-competitive exhibition was organised by Somnath Roy Choudhury of Bakul Art Memorial, a small art school for 70 children, and sponsored by Nestle. Students from over 5,000 art schools in the city took part.

Drawing is “a favourite hobby” for 14-year-old Bhadrali and her two 12-year- old friends, Priyanka and Parboni, from Sangeetam Art School in Dum Dum. “We sent our pictures in around a month ago. We all drew landscapes,” they grinned.

Group A comprised children between four and eight, while Group B included children from eight to 14. “All children will be given certificates of participation. But I wanted to give art-lovers a chance to take part in a non-competitive art event. Usually, there is always a winner, which discourages some children from coming forward,” according to Roy Choudhury.

All 15,000 children have been invited, with their parents, to the daylong fun-fest at the Kidderpore school grounds.

Food stalls, clowns, a ‘Crazy Castle’ and a playpen for toddlers — there was something for everyone. Games for both parents and their children were being organised on the spur of the moment. Like a chocolate-eating competition, which saw four fathers lining up, with their kids watching on, to gobble down as many chocolates as they could in a minute, without using their hands.

The fete drew children who had not participated in the Colour Adventure as well. Twelve-year-old Pooja, student of St Thomas for Girls, was busy browsing through pictures with her 10-year-old brother Rohit. Pooja did not participate, “just like that only”. But they didn’t want to miss the fun on campus.

The budding artists love to draw, but most didn’t seem to want to be the next Ganesh Pyne or M.F. Husain. “Sometimes I want to be a painter, but I also want to be an actress, dancer and a teacher,” gushed seven-year-old Megha.

   

 
 
TAGORE IMAGE FOR LAKES 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Sportspersons, morning walkers and, of course, passers-by will soon have a new edifice to look up to at Rabindra Sarobar. A life-size statue of Rabindranath Tagore, after whom the south Calcutta stadium has been named, will adorn a prominent corner off Southern Avenue in a few months.

Provided, however, the Rs 15 lakh required for the 12-ft-tall bronze statue can be raised. AAMRA, a welfare organisation founded by actor-philanthropist Mithun Chakraborty, is behind the initiative as one of the organisation’s efforts to contribute to the beautification of Calcutta.

“Rabindra Sarobar, since its inception about 40 years ago, has had no plaque or statue erected in memory of Rabindranath,” said AAMRA executive chairman Tushar Talukdar, former city police chief. “We thought it was time that a memorial worth its name should be erected.”

Rabindrasangeet exponent Suchitra Mitra, recently appointed Sheriff and who has been associated with AAMRA for some time, is taking a leading role in the initiative. A two-day ‘festival’ of music is being organised at nearby Nazrul Mancha on January 27 and 28 to raise a part of the funds.

The first evening has classical singers Shipra Basu and Gobinda Basu, Shaheed Parvez and Ustad Rashid Khan. The second will feature Rabindrasangeet and recitation by Dwijen Mukherjee, Geeta Ghatak, Mohan Sinha, Bratati Bandopadhyay, Soumitra Chatterjee, Mamata Shankar and others, besides Suchitra Mitra herself.

“The CIT, which maintains and develops the Lake area and the stadium, has allotted us a small plot at the corner of the stadium facing Southern Avenue,” said P.K. Mookerjee, the organisation’s honorary secretary. The sculptor appointed to recreate Tagore’s life-size image is Sarbari Roychoudhury, professor at Kala Bhavan, in Santiniketan. She has already started work on it.

   

 
 
AIRPORT PANIC OVER THREAT CALLS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Two successive anonymous telephone calls to airlines offices at the airport threw security personnel into a flurry of activity on Monday morning.

The first call came at 10.45 am at the Indian Airlines office. The person said that a flight of either Indian Airlines or Air-India would be hijacked during the day.

The second call came five minutes later, this time at the Air-India office. The caller conveyed the same threat. Both calls were immediately reported to the security wing of the airport, which then sounded an alert.

Measures were taken to tighten the vigil on passengers and baggage, both at the national and domestic terminals. Freight bookings were checked twice but till the evening, nothing suspicious was found. The vigil will continue, a security spokesperson said. The airport police later said that the calls had been traced. The first had been made from Deshbandhu Nagar, and the other from a place in Sodepur, in North 24 Parganas.

Trinamul sit-in

The Trinamul Congress will launch an indefinite dharna at the foot of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue on Mayo Road from Tuesday to demand a CBI probe into the Chhoto Angaria incident and imposition of President’s rule in Bengal. BJP leaders, including state president Asim Ghosh, vice-president Muzaffar Khan and P.D. Chitlangia, left for Delhi on Monday to join hands with Trinamul leaders in the capital to submit memoranda to the Prime Minister and the President on Bengal’s “deteriorating” law and order situation.

   

 
 
BOOLEO INITIATIVE FROM BOSTON 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
Before boarding the flight from Boston to India, Sunanda Narayanan of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, had little idea that the two-day trip to Calcutta, on a 24-hour notice, would offer her “so much”. It was, indeed, vini vidi vici for the lady in her late 20s, representing Booleo (‘I decide’, in Greek), the start-up company from MIT.

The girls — Hala Fadel, Melinda Rothstein and Sunanda — bagged the first prize at i2i, the B-Plan contest organised by the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and the Astral Group on Sunday. The lady from Chennai, looking after the technical side of the project, led Booleo to victory and bagged Rs 10 lakh. “It’s a great honour and getting it in India makes it much more special,” said Sunanda, looking at the trophy.

Booleo has won more than just the crown. The fledgling company looking for a funding of $ 3 million, has also won appreciation from the panel of judges, comprising some of the leading venture capitalists from India and abroad.

The Booleo initiative, started in February 2000, was incorporated in July and then the company acquired angel funding to build on the product prototype.

Explaining her project, Sunanda said: “Unlike India, the US telecom industry is deregulated and the companies spend enough time and resources sorting through the maze of services and providers. Through our web-based solution, we hope to change it by enabling businesses to make the best telecommunications decisions and optimise resources.”

Sunanda added: “We think that the issues related to funding will be resolved by April, and we plan to hit the market with our software by September this year.”

Dave Mukherjee, CEO of the Astral Group, has already shown his interest in funding their dream project.

“He has invited us to California next month to work out the modalities,” said Sunanda. The team has already roped in two beta customers and their prototype site, booleo.com, is on the net.

Sunanda, moved to the US in 1996 and handled telecom clients for consultants Renaissance for over two years. Her husband, V.G. Narayanan, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, inspired Sunanda to join MIT, where she chose to hone her skills in the field of telecommunications.

Referring to the future plans of their company, she mentioned: “Already we have received numerous offers of selling the idea, but we want to build on our product and we are surely looking at the longer run.”

   

 
 
PILOT GLIDES INTO WINDFALL 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 15: 
He had been the butt of jokes in the family for all these years. But, Captain Chandan Gupta just brushed off the taunts and went about his business of taking part in various GK-based corporate contests nonchalantly (“I have been taking part in such contests since I was in Class VIII, starting off with Binaca”). A few ‘consolation prizes’ accrued from time to time. Wife Anju and son Akash still couldn’t hide their sniggers.

But, the BPL Famili 2001 offer changed it all and the glider pilot — Gupta has a flying licence and claims to be the second hobby flier in the country after JRD Tata — made the perfect landing he had been looking for all these years. The 55-year-old Calcuttan has won the first prize of Rs 10 lakh in the BPL contest, which involved “answering a few simple questions on BPL products and penning a slogan”, said S.K. Gadgil, regional head, West Bengal and the North-east, BPL Limited.

Gupta, who purchased a BPL refrigerator from his neighbourhood outlet Genesis in September last year, filled up the accompanying form to enter the contest. “I think our son Akash brought us luck, as the fridge was bought in his name,” felt wife Anju, admitting that they used to laugh at Gupta for his fetish for such contests.

The winner himself, who is keenly awaiting a call from KBC, is relieved to have “broken the jinx”. Gupta had actually won another booty last year when he successfully cracked a quiz on diamonds to win an international contest organised by a Swiss company. “I was informed by the Swiss company that I had won $ 27,500 in prize money, but despite repeated fax messages, the cheque hasn’t been sent and they just refuse to respond. I think the money is entangled in red tape,” Gupta lamented.

But, this is for real and the bearded Gupta just couldn’t stop beaming away while receiving the cheque from Gadgil. “I will donate large sums to a blind school and an old age home I have been associated with. We haven’t decided what to do with the rest,” he smiled. “Don’t forget we need to spend quite a lot on doing up the place for our Narayan shila (the home deity),” reminded his wife, screaming to be heard above the din of the get-together organised by BPL on board the M.V. Ahalya on Monday to felicitate Gupta.

   

 
 
ORISSA DECLARES DRY SPELL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Jan. 15: 
The Orissa government today declared a drought in 11,800 villages and 107 wards spread across 19 districts. Revenue minister Biswabhusan Harichandan told newspersons here that over 75 per cent of kharif crops in 6,000 of these villages had been damaged due to inadequate rainfall.

He said the Biju Janata Dal-led government declared a drought in accordance with the provisions of the Orissa Relief Code.

“The whole of western Orissa is in the grip of a severe drought. We will know the rate of crop loss in the remaining 11 districts after the special relief commissioner submits his report,” he said. Statistics released by the state government indicate that Bolangir has been affected the most by the drought. In Bolangir, 1,772 villages and 12 wards have suffered crop loss above 50 per cent. The situation is much the same in 1,566 villages and 11 wards in Angul. Sambalpur has 1,201 villages and 24 wards where the rate of crop loss is over 50 per cent.

The revenue minister said 1,451 gram panchayats in 126 blocks had been affected by the drought. All 14 blocks of Bolangir, including Tureikela, Bangomunda, Khaprakhol, Patnagarh, Muribahal and Taitlagarh, have been hit by the drought.

Harichandan said the state government had released Rs 42.30 crore for various drought-control schemes, including protective irrigation, repair of lift irrigation points and labour-intensive work.

While Rs 3 crore from the Calamity Relief Fund has been sanctioned for protective irrigation, Rs 29 crore has been sanctioned for labour-intensive work in the affected districts.

The state government has sanctioned Rs 3 crore to make lift irrigation points functional. Over 4,700 such irrigation points have been made operational to irrigate 22,613 hectares of land.

To avert a possible drinking water crisis, Rs 4.5 crore has been sanctioned to the rural development department to install 1,000 new tubewells. Another Rs 50 lakh has been released to the rural development department for installation of riser pipes in tubewells.

At least Rs 2 crore has been released for improvement of the urban water supply network and supply of drinking water through tankers. An amount of Rs 30 lakh has been sanctioned to the collectors of all the affected districts for relief work in the areas under their jurisdiction. The Centre has also offered an additional monthly allotment of 29,230 metric tonnes of subsidised rice and 7,310 metric tonnes of subsidised wheat for 18.27 lakh families. As many as 20,692 senior citizens in 21 districts will be provided 10 kg of rice free of cost for five months.

   
 

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