8 women die after childbirth
Arrests blow lid off extortion ring
Rock roadshow ready to roll
Rs 10-lakh ransom demand for trader
Man of nature
‘A good script leaps up and hits you’
Varsity to revise law course syllabi
Washermen in ghat clean-up outcry
NLFT shadow over Tripura council polls
MLAs seek probe into distress sale of paddy

Calcutta, March 13: 
At least eight women have died mysteriously after delivery in the past 14 days and another two are in a serious condition on Tuesday at the MR Bangur Hospital in Tollygunge. The babies of all the deceased are doing well.

Five of the deaths were after Caesarean sections were performed on the patients. Neither the hospital authorities nor the state health department have yet been able to pinpoint the reason for so many deaths immediately after delivery in such a short span of time. “This is definitely unusual,” a hospital official said. “It has never happened before here.”

Pending inquiries, the authorities of the hospital stopped conducting Caesarean sections since Tuesday afternoon and are referring such cases to teaching hospitals in the city. The gynaecological operation theatre, where the sections were conducted, is likely to be sealed to facilitate swab tests and fumigation, if necessary.

Two women, who delivered through surgery, were in a critical condition on Tuesday afternoon, leading to the authorities suspending the procedure.

In the absence of an intensive therapy unit at the 500-bed district hospital, the serious cases are treated in the same ward (Ward no. 5) as the normal delivery cases.

Relatives of patients were not allowed entry into the ward during visiting hours as doctors surrounded the two beds. Unit after unit of blood was brought in for transfusion as haemorrhaging of one of the patients who had undergone Caesarean section continued uninterrupted.

Hospital superintendent Dr Debashis Haldar, while admitting that some post-delivery deaths had occurred, did not offer any other details.

“The higher authorities have been given a preliminary report, pending a more detailed inquiry. Please find out from the Director of Health Services.”

When contacted, the DHS, Dr Sujoy Das, said the cause of the deaths was yet to be determined. “We have asked Dr Dipankar Mukherjee of NRS Medical College and Hospital to conduct an inquiry,” he said.

He added that most of the cases were brought to the hospital in emergency situations. “It could be that the deaths occurred after administration of a drug or injection, or a collapse after administering anaesthesia... We are making the necessary inquiries.”

Following the deaths, quite a few patients have left the hospital, signing “discharge on own risk bonds” (DORB). But a doctor associated with the hospital said: “There is no infectious outbreak in the wards. The casualties have occurred among patients who have undergone operations.”

Shilpi Saha, who was admitted on Tuesday for a Caesarean section, was referred to a teaching hospital after suspension of the procedure at MR Bangur.


Calcutta, March 13: 
UP mafia hitman Manjit Singh Mange, who escaped from police custody last year, has, for the past few months, been holding city businessmen to ransom and extracting protection money through henchmen .

This came to light on Tuesday afternoon, after the police laid a trap and arrested three associates of Mange from Theatre Road just as they were about to get away with “protection money” extorted from a garment trader.

According to the police, AC Market businessman Minoo Hiru received a call at his Middleton Street apartment on March 5 from a person who identified himself as Manjit Singh Mange. The caller asked him to “help out” some of his associates with Rs 2 lakh.

The next call came to Hiru at his AC Market shop. This time, the threat was clearly spelt out. Unless he got the money ready within the next two days, he would be killed.

Frightened at what he had heard, Hiru contacted the detective department of the city police. The sleuths told him to play along with the extortionists till they led the police to the kingpins.

On March 7, Mange called Hiru and told him to hand over the “first instalment” to another shopowner of the same market, Kripal Singh, alias Pali, who, he said, was his friend and would henceforth act as the “contact man”.

The next day, Hiru handed over Rs 25,000 to Pali and followed this up with a further Rs 1.75 lakh on March 10. All this while, policemen were keeping tabs on Pali’s activities, tailing him day and night.

On Tuesday morning, Pali set out of his house with a briefcase and stood at the crossing of Lord Sinha Road and Theatre Road, obviously waiting for someone.

The nine detectives in plainclothes, who had been tailing him, took up positions nearby, pretending to be busy haggling with some hawkers.

At around 9.30 am, two young men on a scooter stopped in front of Pali. They handed him a 10-rupee note —- it was a pre-arranged signal and contained a number which had been conveyed to Pali earlier.

After checking the number, Pali handed over the briefcase to them. Almost instantly, the policemen pounced on them and arrested all three.

Interrogation of the two henchmen, Munna and Suresh Sharma, revealed that Mange was operating through Manoj Singh, who was Mange’s cellmate in Presidency Jail and the local kingpin. They had extorted ransom from several city businessmen.

Pali also confessed that he had come to know Mange “fairly well” shortly before he was arrested following a shootout with the UP police on Park Street in 1998. Police raided Manoj’s residence on Tuesday, but he had fled after hearing of the arrests.


Calcutta, March 13: 
The sound of music is set to take to the streets. ‘Give and Let Live’, a unique gig to contribute towards rebuilding Gujarat, has been lined up to rock Park Street on Saturday morning. Rock group Krosswindz will join hands with Bangla band Fossils to make music on the lawns of Apeejay House, Park Street, to raise funds for the quake-hit. Organised by Oxfordbookstore.com, the novel concert aims to strike the right chord with office-goers.

“We believe the average office-goer has some money stashed away in his wallet which he can spare for Gujarat, but doesn’t know where or how to contribute. So, we will play during morning peak hours, from 9 am to 12 noon, for them to stop and linger for a while, listen to the music, and maybe chip in,” explained Neel Adhikari, lead vocalist, Krosswindz.

“They will be given permission, but told to adhere to the decibel norms stipulated by the high court, and not use mikes,” confirmed deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda.

But is Calcutta ready to swing? The response to the upcoming gig sure suggests it is. “It’s a wonderful effort by these youngsters to try and involve the man on the street. I have always maintained that a true musician has to come down from his ivory tower and sing for the masses,” said Suchitra Mitra, city sheriff and Rabindrasangeet exponent.

Park Street’s original melody-maker Usha Uthup, who started her enduring love story with the city just a few yards away from the concert site, at Trinca’s, more than three decades ago, blessed the roadshow from Kochi. “Singing on the streets has always part of para culture in Calcutta. So I think it’s a great idea if they are taking rock outdoors on Park Street. I would love to be at the show myself,” she said.

Both Krosswindz and Fossils feel they are not doing it “just to be radical”, but for “a purpose” and are confident Calcuttans will be there to “do their bit”.

The response should be “good”, agrees veteran rocker Nondon Bagchi, former drummer of High and now frontman of Hip Pocket. “There was a time when outside of Calcutta-16, we used to get bad vibes. But the scene has undergone a sea change over the years, with rock finding much greater acceptance now, and youngsters thinking of making music a living,” said Nondon.

Another pointer to the fact that music is ready to break free is Black Coffee, a “young artistes movement” brewing on campus. Having already performed an impromptu “jam” at Victoria Memorial last month and a 150-minute session at Presidency College, 23-year-old Mayookh Bhaumik and gang are ready to “take all kinds of art forms from classical music to film, to the campus first, then to Metro stations, and finally to the streets”.

Once you start me up, Calcutta might never stop.


Calcutta, March 13: 
A city leather exporter, Munna Sheikh, was kidnapped on Monday evening while walking down Narkeldanga bridge. Sheikh was on his way to his Topsia tannery.

The police said Munna’s family had received a call asking for Rs 10 lakh as ransom for his release.

Witnesses said around 5 pm on Monday, Munna was walking up the bridge along with one of his associates, Yusuf, when an Ambassador and a Maruti van stopped next to him. Six armed men stepped out and dragged Munna inside one of the vehicles. After this, the cars sped away. Yusuf rushed to the Narkeldanga police station and lodged a complaint.

However, late at night, Munna’s family received the ransom call which said that unless the money was handed over within two days, the leather exporter would be killed.

Police investigations reveal that the kidnapping was the handiwork of a gang led by a local extortionist called Gudda, who had been arrested earlier on similar charges. Since the arrest, several raids have been carried out at Gudda’s hideouts, but the criminal has fled the area, the police stated.

Gudda had kidnapped another businessman last December, but he had managed to escape before the ransom was paid.

DC, DD, Banibrata Basu, said that Munna also had a stake in the local construction business. “We are investigating whether there is any business rivalry involved,” Basu said.

Munna’s family members, however, claimed that the leather exporter did not know Gudda.


Calcutta, March 13: 
A tiny old man sits alone in a grubby hotel room. The TV blares. There is a paintbox on the table. The man’s smooth head extends almost to the point where his short neck starts. Tufts of white have survived there. His neatly-trimmed facial hair seems to be a logical extension of those straggling clumps. He has large, soulful eyes, and his movements are slow and cautious. So his natty suit and gold chain with a small pendant sit somewhat incongruously on him. An eminent art critic says Francis Newton Souza has lost his sting. Perhaps. He has mellowed. But he hasn’t lost his touch. He admits he doesn’t paint daily as he used to earlier, but there are no “dry patches”. He paints in fits and starts and sees his girl friend too.

For evidence of his fecundity, one has to visit the exhibition of his latest works now on at Galerie 88.

Futuristic shapes

Nudes with ballooning mammaries, landscapes, still life and flowers in molten colours, and heads, battered out of shape and savagely distorted — he calls them Futuristic Heads — Christ on the cross and saints have recurred in his works, and they surface here too. Only here they have developed even further.

His art has been a “continuous thing”, Souza had said in an earlier interview. “Time causes the changes. A drawing I did yesterday is bound to differ from a drawing I do today”.

It is easy to detect the impress of Picasso and Dufy and other modern masters in his work, but then he has admitted that art is a mishmash of experiences. And he is quick to stress that after he and his contemporaries formed the Progressive Artists Group, modernism in India began, but “without seeing much of Western art. It was all innate. Not everything is influenced. There is some originality”.

There are two things that stimulate Souza. He receives impulses from environment. “Nature with a capital N. The impulses come from the air, cosmos — external sources. And secondly, from within myself — my intellect. I have been absorbing inputs of Nature intellectually. One takes what one sees from environment, sifts it with one’s brain and proceeds with one’s work. So a work of art is a combination of environment plus the painter’s intelligence. This is a formula which even any writer uses,” he says.

When Souza speaks, he speaks in beautifully composed sentences where each word is carefully chosen. Souza may have become frail. But his mental faculties remain unimpaired. He seems to have decided to speak only in sentences worth quoting. This is the Souza who was a regular contributor to the Illustrated Weekly. And when Stephen Spender used to edit Encounter, in 1952 Souza wrote his autobiographical essay Nirvana of a Maggot for the journal. The artist had moved to London from Bombay in 1949.

In spite of the tremendous impact that the city made on him (“It hits you by its magnificence”), over 30 years in New York have not garbled his accent. No trace of Americanisms in his speech either. As he explains: “My personality, character and singlemindedness are not affected by changes.”

Besides his drawings and acrylics on canvas, Souza has introduced his “chemical” works here. He begins with pages cut out from glossies, deletes the original pictures from them with this solvent leaving behind the portions he feels are relevant to his vision, and creates original images of his own using the same printer’s ink. We see printed images peeking, sometimes with uncanny effect, from behind his swift and deft strokes. In Panjim Card-Players, Goa, only the rows of houses remain intact. The rest of the space is occupied by the figures huddled over the card table in the square. The entire face of a beautiful model, perhaps in a toothpaste advert, has been blotted out, save the lipsticked mouth and the pearly teeth. Souza gives us an updated version of trompe-l’oeil.

Why is woman — as fertility goddess or Virgin Mary — a constant presence in his works? Coming from a man not exactly in the first flush of youth, Souza’s reply is a surprise. “For a virile man a woman is the most beautiful creature in universe. The artist takes the beauty of woman, and the profligate takes the erotic side of woman to the extent that she has been messed up in many minds, being damned as a receptacle of sin”.

What he calls his Futuristic Heads are depictions of the “Nietzschean Superperson”. “I have been observing men and women and I have gone beyond.”

The biblical imagery that keeps returning is a throwback to his childhood days in Goa where he was born in 1924. The icons and statues in his paintings are remembrances of his frequent visits to church as a boy.

Faith and creativity

In spite of his Roman Catholic upbringing (when he was in his third year at the J.J. School of Arts in Bombay, and had started doing nude studies, he used to go to church and confess to the priest that he was drawing naked women) Souza is no believer. “I don’t believe there is a God who is the creator. Nature is the sole principle. Going by the premise that Nature is absolute, it follows that God is a creation of Nature in man’s mind.”

Souza is not content with a single Godhead either. He could do with Trinities and a myriad of gods, goddesses, spirits, devils, and angels, all of which are creations of Nature in the human mind.

Since Nature operates through “conflict and competition” these creations of Nature appear in different shapes, forms and beliefs. And “beliefs are products of Nature in order to create conflict”.

After 20 years in London (1949-67) and in New York thereafter, does he consider himself an Indian artist?

Souza utters commonplaces about globalisation having wiped out territorial boundaries. What he says about his place in creation is, however, startling. “I don’t belong to the human race. They are lumped together even when they are not compatible. I have nothing in common with a pygmy”.

Souza never disappoints.


Calcutta, March 13: 
Even 14 years later, Sevilla Delofski remembers the day Last Emperor won the Oscar. The announcement was to be made at 2.30 am London time. Although the producer’s outfit, Recorded Picture Company, knew for sure that the Bertolucci film was a sure winner, they still had butterflies in the stomach. Then at 2.31 am sharp all the telephones jangled in unison and every single fax and telex machine became active. “It’s just like the movies, we thought. It was a combination of a silly and a gratifying experience. People you didn’t know coming up and talking to you,” remembers Delofski, who was assistant producer of the film. Delofski was on a private visit to Calcutta.

Though Delofski has been a Londoner for the past 30 years, she is originally from Melbourne. She began her career in showbiz at age six as a performer in a pantomime. She still does roles but only to please friends. After university she joined an acting company that went bankrupt. In the late 60s there was very little TV industry in Australia. But in 1972 the Australian film industry boomed.

Delofski says her career in London began “totally by accident.” In 1975, a friend persuaded her to work with Jeremy Thomas, who is the producer. Thomas loves world films and he had begun as an editor. The company started in 1971, and after a period of lull, began anew in 1975 with a film titled The Short (starring Alan Bates and John Hurt) which got chosen for Cannes.

Unlike the producer, who is the “enabler”, an assistant producer helps run the company. She is a “backroom person who has seen everything and participated in everything.” Delofski makes a frank admission: “I don’t know if I have the ability to produce a film all by myself” because it involves tremendous work. She loves to do research and delve into things. Like she had to when Last Emperor was made.

When she joined Recorded Picture Company it was tiny with only three persons. That was one of its strengths. Last Emperor changed all that. The company may have expanded but it still operates out of London, and not Hollywood, to remain independent. Among the instantly-recognisable titles, Delofski was involved in the production of Little Buddha.

At one time, Delofski used to read 30 to 40 scripts a week. If it is a good script “it leaps up and hits you.” Now she has withdrawn herself and is more involved in individual pursuits, such as writing. She is still on the board of the company and still sits in judgment on scripts, but she is “too tired” to do anything more.


Calcutta, March 13: 
Calcutta University on Wednesday decided to introduce major changes in its L.lB and L.lM courses, following a series of agitations by law students to update the syllabi.

At a meeting on Monday, CU law faculty members and students’ representatives discussed ways of updating the content of the undergraduate and post-graduate law courses. State Human Rights Commission chairman and CU law faculty council member Justice Mukul Gopal Mukherjee was also present.

“A committee will soon be formed to examine the proposals,” said M.K. Nag, head of the CU law faculty.

Students said that the content of the CU law courses, especially at the undergraduate level, was “outdated” and should have been changed much earlier.

“While most universities in other states have revised their law syllabi a long time ago, CU is still lagging with an age-old content. As a result, CU graduates fail to compete with their counterparts from other states,” said a student of the CU law college on Hazra Road, in south Calcutta.

Students have also urged the authorities to change the university’s system of evaluating answer scripts of law students. Moreover, the syllabi, besides being extremely lengthy, do not specify the areas to be covered under a particular topic, they complained.

“The sub-headings of the topics should be specified in the syllabi,” the students demanded.

“Since we have to cover such a huge syllabus, we can’t score very high marks. This puts us in a tight spot in the long run when we have to sit for the national-level competitive examinations,” said Arun Dey, a law student.

According to a senior official, the university authorities were aware of the students’ grievances, but it is mandatory for CU to follow the guidelines of the Bar Council in framing the law course syllabi.

The existing CU law syllabi are also based on the Bar Council guidelines. The university will soon contact the state Bar Council to consider the students’ demands, the official said.


Calcutta, March 13: 
Clean up the mess in the ghats in the city and in Howrah or face the music in the coming Assembly polls. That’s the message from the washermen to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Neglected by the government and the civic authorities, washermen of the All-India Washermens’ Federation have informed the chief minister’s office on Tuesday that Calcuttans will have to do without clean clothes if their demands were not met within a month.

The washermen have also asked for a plot in the city to set up a community centre and a hostel for outstation students.

“The dhobi ghat on Ritchie Road is in a mess. Anti-socials with political backing have a free run of the place and often beat us up,” said Prashnath Rajak, general secretary of the state washermens’ organisation.

Of the four-lakh-strong dhobi community, over a lakh work at the century-old Ritchie Road dhobi ghat and in the wetlands of Ultadanga, Tangra and Tiljala.

The washermen have long been complaining about stone slabs at the ghats, necessary for washing, being damaged or stolen. “These are seldom replaced,” Rajak complained.

“As washermen have to stay back till the evening to complete their work, they are easy prey for drunken hooligans,” he said.

Three arrested: Three youth, including a taxi-driver, were arrested at Beleghata on Saturday on charges of raping and killing 19-year-old Soma Mandal last month.


Agartala, March 13: 
The crisis in the Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura over the election of a new executive council and member has taken a turn for the worse with the murder of a party worker and direct interference by a militant outfit in the election process.

The ousted chief executive member, Debabrata Koloi, who had been planning a revolt, was called by the “invisible allies” to the remote Vaishyamonipara and warned against defecting from the IPFT.

Police sources said clashes broke out between rival groups owing allegiance to ousted chief Koloi and aspirant Sridam Debbarma after 23 party offices in the interior areas were shut down.

The sources said 10 youth were injured as two rival groups of IPFT workers and supporters clashed in the Tulasikhar area under Khowai subdivision last evening.

After a lull, the fighting intensified when one group ambushed and killed a rival supporter identified as Rabindra Debbarma. Another worker, Dayananda Debbarma, was seriously injured and admitted to Khowai hospital. Two persons have been arrested in this connection.

The sources said tension was simmering in other parts of the state as the clashes threatened to deepen the ethnic chasm between the majority Tripuri and several minority tribal groups.

With only six days left for the special session of the Autonomous District Council on March 19, the question of electing a new executive council and member remained unresolved.

Highly-placed sources in the IPFT said their “invisible allies” (the National Liberation Front of Tripura) was taking a keen interest in forcing a solution to the crisis.

The sources said Koloi was warned by the NLFT’s area commander against deserting the party and joining hands with the CPM.

Shortly after his ouster, Koloi had a meeting with state education minister Anil Sarkar. However, Koloi dismissed speculation that he, along with his seven followers, might join hands with the 10 Left Front district council members to form an alternative 17-member executive council in the 28-member House.

The sources said the “invisible allies” had issued strict instructions to all the 18 elected IPFT members of the council to stay put at the headquarters at Khumlung under Jirania police station till March 19.

Bengali issue

The Left Front appears lukewarm to the idea of enforcing the use of Bengali, first official language in Tripura, in administrative and judicial work.

The ambivalent attitude of the government towards this sensitive issue came to the fore from a reply by Anil Sarkar who was officiating as leader of the House in the Assembly yesterday in the absence of the chief minister.

Congress MLA Ratan Lal Nath asked whether the government has made use of Bengali in administrative work compulsory. In reply, Sarkar said the government had recognised the need for using the language.

Nath, having raised a number of supplementary questions, said in reply to his earlier letter, the chief minister had promised to look into the matter but no follow-up action had been taken.

He also pointed out how the poor and uneducated people were suffering because of the use of English in administrative and judicial work. This led to a heated exchange between members of the Opposition and the treasury benches.

Finally, Sarkar said the government did not differ with Nath’s basic contention but deviated from the main issue to indicate that English could not be dropped at this stage.

Sarkar’s lack of enthusiasm on the issue surprised many as he was the mastermind behind the celebration of February 21 as Bhasha Divas.


Bhubaneswar, March 13: 
Cutting across party lines, Orissa legislators today demanded a CBI probe into the unholy nexus between rice mill owners, storage agents for below-the-poverty-line rice and officials of the Food Corporation of India for their role in distress sale of paddy in the state.

Bringing an adjournment motion on the issue of distress sale, Opposition members, led by Janata Dal (Secular) leader Ashok Das, alleged that BPL storage agents were busy diverting rice meant for the poor to FCI godowns.

Since FCI godowns are full of BPL rice and rice from states like Punjab, the FCI-licensed rice mill owners across the state are forcing the farmers to sell paddy at a price far below the minimum support price.

Das and Congress legislator Umesh Swain alleged that the farmers were being forced to sell paddy at Rs 270 a quintal, much below the minimum support price of Rs 540 a quintal of paddy.

These legislators demanded that the government order a CBI probe into how much paddy has been bought by the rice mill owners from the farmers in the state.

“A peculiar situation has arisen. The district collectors are saying that more rice cannot be bought due to lack of money. There is no place to store rice in the godowns. In the process, it is the farmers who are being taken for a ride,’’ the Opposition members said.

Participating in a call attention motion on the subject, BJP legislator from Bolangir, Balgopal Mishra, said as a farmer he himself had sold paddy between Rs 150 and Rs 200 per quintal. He said distress sale of rice was nothing new in Orissa. “No political party wants to improve the lot of farmers in the state. They don’t want the farmers to remain united,’’ he alleged.

Mishra said the government should increase the storage space for rice in godowns and provide long-term loans to farmers.

BJD legislator from Balasore, Raghunath Mohanty, said there were few procurement centres for paddy in the state.

As the FCI does not buy paddy directly from the farmers, the farmers are being shortchanged by the rice-mill owners, he alleged.

Mohanty also alleged that storage agents were diverting BPL rice to FCI godowns and demanded a CBI probe into the nexus.

Deputy chief whip of the ruling party Jaynarayan Mishra urged the government to apply the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against millowners who were buying paddy from the farmers at a price below the minimum support price.

Ruling party chief whip Pradip Maharathy alleged that the civil supplies department, agriculture department and the co-operative department were hand-in-glove in cheating the poor farmers of their rightful dues. Maharathy also joined the chorus for a CBI probe into the nexus.

Replying to the motion, civil supplies minister Bedprakash Agarwalla said the government had ordered all the rice-mill owners to buy paddy at the minimum support price.

Agarwalla said the government was aware of farmers being forced to sell their paddy at a very low price. The district collectors have been asked to keep a watch over the recurrence of such distress sale in their respective districts.

Agarwalla, however, rejected the demand for a CBI probe into the nexus between rice mill owners, storage agents for BPL rice and FCI officials. He said the government had already ordered vigilance probe into two such cases. If the vigilance probe is found unsatisfactory, then the government may go in for a CBI probe, he added.


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