Mayor leads in war of walls
Shot, stabbed on the street
School for all, all in school
Death sparks ransack of nursing home
Postal ballot for busmen
Locals join firemen to douse truck blaze
THE REAL FAKES
Two NLFT militants shot dead
Myanmar shadow on villagers
Youth gets death term for murder

 
 
MAYOR LEADS IN WAR OF WALLS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, April 8: 
‘Vote for Subrata Mukherjee’.

The graffiti war is hotting up, and leading the charge of the brushstroke brigade are all the mayor’s men. Despite the clean-wall guidelines laid down by the Election Commission, Mukherjee, Trinamul Congress candidate from Chowringhee, has done nothing to stop his name from being scrawled on many a south Calcutta wall.

“Leaders from all political parties had promised that they would wipe the graffiti off public buildings. It is unfortunate that none of them has kept their promise,” observed chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen.

“We can only take action when the authority concerned, say a house-owner, lodges a complaint with us against parties defacing the walls with poll graffiti... But it really should be up to the leaders to set an example. No candidate, mayor or otherwise, should deface walls,” he added.

This is not the first time that the mayor has flouted civic rules. During Durga Puja, Ekdalia Evergreen Club, of which Mukherjee is president, had constructed a huge pandal blocking the busy Suren Tagore Road and contributing to traffic snarls at Gariahat.

On the graffiti issue, Mukherjee refused to be the first to wipe the walls clean. “This matter cannot be resolved unless a unanimous political decision is arrived at,” he argued. “I have not given my supporters any special instructions. It’s the normal pre-poll practice for supporters of all political parties and it cannot be stopped overnight,” he added.

But grumbles of discontent over graffiti are rising by the day, or night. “Supporters of political parties are defacing the walls in the dead of the night. If they were doing it during the day, we might have tried stopping them. But we can’t stay awake all night to keep a watch on the miscreants,” said a resident of Gurusaday Road. Pointing to a 15-ft-long graffiti urging people to vote for Mukherjee, he added: “See how they have ruined the building which was whitewashed just last week. This is not conduct becoming of the mayor.” he added.

It’s the same story at Rainey Park, Loudon Street, Park Street, Lower Range, Hazra Road and several other pockets of south Calcutta. At Lower Range, Mukherjee’s name is plastered all over the place. “Who will dare to stop these partymen? It’s up to the Election Commission to play a more active role in putting an end to this nuisance,” observed a resident of the area.

On Hazra Road, several building walls are now covered by colourful blotches of the flowers-and-grass symbol of the Trinamul Congress. A state government employee, residing in Hazra Road for years, also felt that it was the Election Commission’s responsibility to stop walls from being defaced before every election. “What’s the point of laying down rules if you cannot ensure they are complied with?” he demanded. “It’s all such a farce. Every time, the Election Commission creates a huge fuss over poll writings on private walls, but then it never takes any action against those responsible for creating the mess. And the graffiti remains on the walls for months, if not years.”

Recognising the growing public resentment against such rampant defacement of city walls, Kajal Dutta, Trinamul Youth Congress chief of ward 69, in south Calcutta, said: “We request the people to bear with us for some time. We are ready to give a written undertaking to the people that we will clean all the walls once the elections are over.”

   

 
 
SHOT, STABBED ON THE STREET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 8: 
Bullets flew, knives flashed and a bomb exploded as gangwar spilled on to the streets of south Calcutta early on Sunday, leaving a youth dead.

Just after 1 am, Aswini Dutta Lane, near Triangular Park, awoke to the sounds of gunshots and shouts. Four hooded criminals were chasing a rival, Sujit Mondal, 20, down the street, firing at him. Mondol took out his one-shooter and fired back but missed.

The three goons then trapped him and pumped three bullets into him. Fatally wounded, Mondal still tried to scramble away. His assailants then knifed him and hurled a bomb before fleeing the spot.

Residents of the area rang up Lake police station and the Lalbazar police control room. Officer-in-charge of Lake police station, Anil Jana, went to the spot with a large force and cordoned off the area. Mondol was taken to the nearest hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

“I was woken up by the sound of gunfire. We came out on the balcony of our house to see four hooded men firing at a fleeing youth,’’ a local resident said.

According to preliminary investigations, the shootout was a case of inter-gang rivalry.

“Mondal, whose family lives in Bishnupur, was a petty criminal,’’ Jana said. His aunt, who had brought him to Calcutta three years ago, apparently runs an illegal country liquor unit in the Tollygunge police station area. Police said this liquor den was frequented by local crimelords and goons.

Mondol soon formed his own gang. Tollygunge police station confirmed that the youth was wanted on charges of extortion, attempt to murder and two robberies.

Trouble started when Mondol clashed with rivals Pintu and Langra over extortion at a construction site in Bhowanipore. In a showdown on Monoharpukur Road last fortnight, Mondol and his men were beaten back. Late on Saturday, Mondol might have come to the area to strike back at one of Pintu’s associates, who lives on Aswini Dutta Lane.

“We have identified the culprits,” confirmed OC Anil Jana.

   

 
 
SCHOOL FOR ALL, ALL IN SCHOOL 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, April 8: 
The magic number: 44,646. The magic mantra: A school for every child, every child in school. The formidable figure is the number of children out of school in Calcutta. But if Shikshalaya Prakalpa goes according to plan, that number should read zero by the end of the year.

The ‘biggest and most comprehensive primary education project for Calcutta’s deprived urban children’ is the result of a joint venture between government agencies, NGOs and industry, which have formed the State Resource Group for Education of Deprived Urban Children. To be inaugurated at Raj Bhavan by Viren J. Shah on April 18, over 600 Shikshalayas will start functioning by June.

The West Bengal District Primary Education Programme, Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Calcutta Police, Railways, Indian Chamber of Commerce, Unicef, CINI-Asha and the City Level Plan of Action (CLPOA), are some of the participating bodies, with Sister Cyril of Loreto Day School, Sealdah, as the convener.

The first task of the Group, set up 1999, was to conduct a survey in all 141 city wards to identify how many children were out of school because of “high hidden costs of school, lack of facilities, schools being far away, school environment not being child-friendly, pressures of sibling care, school timing not being suitable”.

Children below seven years will be put directly into schools in their areas or Shikshalayas. Those between seven and 11, who need training, have been admitted to 200 bridge course centres, in operation since November 2000. Each centre has an instructor trained at Loreto Day School. By the next academic year, these children should gain admission to public schools.

The 600 Shikshalayas will come up in zones where there are either no schools, or no vacancies. Each will accommodate 50 children, and be run by over 40 NGOs. Two ‘sevaks’ or ‘sevikas’, unemployed but educated people of the area, will be trained to teach the students. The state syllabus will be followed, but the teaching style will be quite different. “We call it 3 X: explore, experience and experiment,” smiles Sister Cyril. “We want to expand the text-book training to include child-centred activities.” Song, dance, sport, will all play a part. All centres will function from existing buildings, such as para clubs and community centres.

The project will cost an estimated Rs 10 crore. Unicef, the state and Central governments, and corporate sponsors will all help foot the Rs-37,000 annual bill for each centre. Children’s expenses, such as books and stationery, which amount to Rs 160 per child for a year, are being raised through donations.

“We have identified six resource groups which will coordinate with the Shikshalayas... Around 500 venues for classes have been marked already,” explains Achintya Bhattacharya, secretary, CLPOA.

   

 
 
DEATH SPARKS RANSACK OF NURSING HOME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 8: 
A 500-strong mob ransacked a Sonarpur nursing home following the death of a 40-year-old patient on Sunday, beating up attending doctors and nurses and setting fire to four vehicles, including an ambulance. Five arrests were made.

Trouble erupted after Sheikh Nassir Hussain, a resident of Narendrapur, who was admitted to Life Line Nursing Home with acute chest pain on Wednesday, expired. His relatives stormed the nursing home, charging the doctors with negligence. Jayanta Chakraborty, administrator of the nursing home, said: “They came back in a few hours with more people from Park Circus, all armed with lathis, pipeguns and bombs, and started beating up doctors, nurses and other staff who tried to stop them.”

The rowdies smashed window panes and glass doors of the nursing home with iron rods and damaged doctors’ cars, as well as an ambulance parked outside. They also set fire to four other vehicles, including an ambulance. Four fire engines struggled for two hours to douse the fire.

Chakraborty complained: “The situation could have been contained if Sonarpur police had reached the spot on time. But they came at least two hours after being informed.”

Denying the allegation, superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly said: “The police reached the nursing home immediately after the thana was informed.”

   

 
 
POSTAL BALLOT FOR BUSMEN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 8: 
Bus and minibus workers and taxi-drivers whose vehicles will be requisitioned for election duty will be allowed to cast their votes by postal ballot. Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said on Sunday that the hundreds of bus and minibus workers deployed on poll duty would not be able to exercise their franchise otherwise, and it was the duty of the Election Commission to ensure that they could cast their votes.

The decision follows in the wake of demands from workers’ unions in this regard. The unions, including Bengal Bus Syndicate, Joint Council of Bus Operators, Bengal Taxi Association and Minibus Workers’ Union, have submitted memoranda demanding protection of their voting rights. The chief electoral officer said applications for postal ballot would be handed over to the vehicles’ owners, who would forward it to the workers engaged in election duty. The forms will be supplied along with the booking order.

The move will benefit nearly 20,000 bus and minibus workers requisitioned for duty. Sen said the transport department would book vehicles and fix the hiring charges and the Election Commission would bear the entire cost.

   

 
 
LOCALS JOIN FIREMEN TO DOUSE TRUCK BLAZE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 8: 
Nearly 100 local people joined firemen in fighting the flames on a truck on B.T. Road on Sunday noon. The Punjab-bound truck (HR-46 5760) was transporting over a tonne of raw jute and household goods.

Seven fire engines were rushed to Tobin Road, in front of Ananya cinema, from the neighbouring Cossipore, Canal West, C.R. Avenue and Dum Dum stations.

Truck-driver Rajendra Singh said a scooterist first spotted smoke billowing from the vehicle’s roof when he had stopped at a junction. “I immediately parked the vehicle and found that the raw jute loaded in the back of the truck was ablaze.”

Local people rushed to the spot and splashed buckets of water on the truck. When the blaze was brought in control after about an hour, local boys and firemen unloaded the goods from the vehicle, which were still intact.

“No one has been injured. It is difficult to say what caused the blaze at this stage,” said officer-in-charge N.C. Dey. “It seems the raw jute stacked in the back of the vehicle, exposed to the mid-day sun, had caught fire,” said owner of the truck, Daljit Singh, who had rushed to the scene.

Traffic on B.T. Road was disrupted for over an hour after it was blocked with hundreds of passersby, fire officials and fire engines. Baranagar police station officials rushed to the spot to restore the normal flow of vehicles.

   

 
 
THE REAL FAKES 
 
 
BY RITA BHIMANI
 
Calcutta, April 8: 
Some hearts leap up as they behold
The masters old in modern mould
They re-live art
That’s turned street smart
And herd them into homely fold

The copycat and the art connoisseur can never agree on this new age form of bringing masters to the masses. Not through expensively reproduced prints as you would get in the Athena stores in London, but through a more expansive kitsch route of copied canvasses. For the former, the copy-specialist, it has now become a novel means of livelihood, which is being capitalised on by the market-savvy ones. As for the genuine art buff, who would never deck his walls with anything other than an original, this is considered a fad fit for those who value decor over decorum.

Spandan Art Gallery, where art displayed is termed “art for giving” and a part of the take goes to local charities, had as its most recent exposition, a number of famous European artists copied meticulously for a Masters Collection. I found some visitors staring in wonderment at what they thought were “originals”, but there were others who lapped up these old masters, priced as they were at an affordable Rs 6,000 to Rs 18,500. To possess an oil that is a copy of a favourite painting, with a fancy frame and to be able to enjoy it in the ambience of your home or office is not something that is being shunned any more.

To enjoy Van Gogh’s numerous versions of Sunflowers today, you could either click into barewalls.com to get a 30-inch by 23-inch poster for $ 26 or you could order an original size of Fourteen Sunflowers in a Vase done in oils for $ 475. Alternately, of course, you could gawk at Van Gogh originals in Amsterdam or in the Seiji Togo Memorial Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art in Tokyo, for the Yesuda acquisition of Sunflowers did generate some controversy about being the real McCoy, but was absolved of it.

There was no escaping the sheer pictorial value of hanging at home the landscapes of Romanello and Albert Bierstadt; or the better-known familiar works of Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Kandinsky and Salvador Dali. All of them executed through what the Masters Collection director Sahil Desai calls “a chemical-transfer process on to high quality canvas, which, is then brushstroked in oil by experts”. And then framed to enhance value and appeal. Ready to go works of art for the dilettante, or just for someone wanting to augment an interior. Affordable, affable art.

But while we can admire the delicate dappling and the fine pointillism achieved, even if man and machine have connived to revive, the question of copyright comes immediately to mind. Are adequate steps being taken to guard against piracy laws? With commercial digitalisation and photographic and other printing technology having made high-quality reproductions cheaper, easier, faster, what governs such derivative work? The visible regeneration of the old masters can be tricky stuff, unless you have covered yourself with the relevant permissions. Once again, my enquiries revealed that the set-up in Calcutta is a subsidiary of Masters Collection, USA, who have various reproduction rights.

All this made me rewind to something that the art world will remember with some amusement — the story of Elmyr de Hory, who made over 1,000 copies of his favourite artists ranging from Monet to Matisse and Modigliani.

Copycat tales

Born in 1905, de Hory prolifically, and profligately, copied to his heart’s content, and galleries and museums lapped up these works believing them to be originals. He amassed, it is said, a fortune of over $ 100 million (US). Alas, he was found out in 1968; eight years later he mysteriously “disappeared”.

De Hory used to fake his own identity too, travelling through Europe and mixing with high society. A great tribute to de Hory was the fact that copies of his fakes — fakes of fakes that is, also sold for as much as $ 20,000!

But wait. This is just the tip of the paintbrush. There is more masala and romance to the tale of the copycat. Clifford Irving wrote a book titled Fake: The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the greatest Art Forger of Our Time on his friend de Hory and the very same Irving topped up his own fakedom with the biography of Howard Hughes, where he claimed to have met this recluse in impossible situations. Clifford Irving was a prolific writer, but couldn’t resist this deceptive biography and was actually given an advance in those days of $ 750,000 for it. It provided grand material for Stephen Fay to write his book Hoax: The Inside Story of the Howard Hughes-Clifford Irving Affair. Time magazine couldn’t resist the titillation either and ran a cover story emblazoned Con Man of the Year, a copy of which I possess to this day with its phenomenal revelations of the tale of the Prisoner of Ibiza, de Hory. (This artist was imprisoned by the Spaniards and then let off and subsequently deported because they hated, amongst other things, his homosexuality.)

So very charming and conspiratorial was all this that a one-hour film was made on it as well, directed by Orson Welles, who plays master of ceremonies and the content is all about legal deceptions, fraud and forgeries. Writing on this whole devilish deception, Robert Wilson commented, “to post-modernism, all art constitutes fake, or mask, in the Aristotelian sense of an imitation, or counterfeit of something else”.

So when we view the copied creations, upfront as they are, the vicarious reality of it all makes you look at all artistic creation in a surreal light. Or in a market-led one, for those who have succumbed to the charms of commercialisation. And why not. Every time I visit Thailand, part of a day is always spent going in and out of roadside studios with industrious artists replicating the popular Impressionists.

Tourists lap them up, and there is no more joyous scene than to see artists reproducing well-known works for every passer-by to see. Nothing hidden, a lot gained from putting your art under surveillance. Something for many of our struggling artists to take note of. If you can’t sell your own work, at least for the moment, reproduce! Only make sure that you acknowledge yourself as a copycat. Thus, a Sengupta need not masquerade as a Seurat. Just simply put your own signature on it “as a measure of abundant caution” as our red-tapists would have it.

Simulation and replication are forms not just of flattery, but also of the need to get the awareness of the masters into the psyche of those without previous exposure. And the commercial benefits accruing to the artist and to the techno-savvy merchants who have dreamed up this form of artistic atavism could be well deserved. No hoax this; there is something official about it. If art can imitate life, then art duplicating art is no duplicity, but just another process of renewal of a thing of beauty.

   

 
 
TWO NLFT MILITANTS SHOT DEAD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, April 8: 
Two militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura and a “collaborator” of the outfit were killed in separate incidents in Tripura over the past 24 hours.

One of the NLFT militants was killed in an encounter with Assam Rifles personnel at Helenbari in North Tripura’s Kanchanpur subdivision, sources said.

The slain militant was part of a large group of NLFT activists taking shelter in Helenbari. An Assam Rifles team had raided the hideout on the basis of information provided by Reang tribals living in the area.

The Assam Rifles personnel, led by Capt. Niraj Banyal, surrounded the hideout early yesterday, but were greeted by a volley of bullets. The jawans retaliated immediately, killing one of the militants. However, his comrades escaped.

A sophisticated Chinese rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition were seized from the hideout.

In another incident, a joint team of police and Tripura State Rifles personnel raided an NLFT hideout at Koangmogpara under Natun Bazar police station of South Tripura last night. The militants holed up in the hideout opened fire, forcing the security personnel to retaliate. One of the rebels, 25-year-old Ajit Reang, was killed in the firing. The others escaped under cover of darkness. Apart from the slain rebel’s body, a countrymade gun was recovered. An NLFT “collaborator” was also killed by All-Tripura Tiger Force militants yesterday.

   

 
 
MYANMAR SHADOW ON VILLAGERS 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, April 8: 
With no help from the state government and the Centre, the residents of Molcham, Khayansssssg and Yangoulein villages on the Indo-Myanmar border are living under the shadow of threats from the Myanmarese Army.

Their immediate concern is the absence of any Indian security forces in the area.

Manipur’s Molcham valley, which has been embroiled in controversy for the past four decades, was in the news again after the Manipur Human Rights Commission took up a case of alleged torture of Indian villagers by the Myanmarese Army.

Situated in Chandel district, Molcham had always been eyed by the Myanmar military junta since 1961 with view to “grab a part of it” for the construction of a road, sources said.

In a bid to stop such incidents, the state government had planned to establish a police post a few years ago. The Manipur Police Housing Corporation has already completed the construction of a police station. However, nothing has been done so far.

Following the rights commission’s directive to the government for a report on the issue before April 14, officials have taken up the matter again. The Myanmarese authorities have even removed the border post number 60 to facilitate the encroachment. This was brought to the government’s notice in 1981, sources said. There is however a technical problem with border post number 66. The Survey of India maps printed after 1975 mark the stretch between post number 65 and 67 as the “de facto boundary”. The missing post does not seem to bother survey officials.

Official sources here said the survey along the Indo-Myanmar border last month could not be effectively conducted because of lack of adequate security.

The survey officials had demanded about 400 armed security personnel but the government managed to provide only 80, sources said.

State law minister O. Joy Singh told The Telegraph that the government had heard the complaint on Myanmarese encroachment.

It would raise the issue with the Centre as it involved the international boundary, he said. Joy Singh said Manipur had lost about 28 square km of land to Myanmar in the last 50 years.

He added that the Centre was informed about the seriousness of the issue.

Sources from Manipur Cultural Integration Conference (which raised the Molcham issue for the first time in 1981) said the Myanmarese military had approached New Delhi in 1985 for exchange of a village called Choro in return for Molcham.

   

 
 
YOUTH GETS DEATH TERM FOR MURDER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, April 8: 
Additional district and sessions judge (West Tripura) Swapan Das on Friday sentenced to death 22-year-old Khokan Sarkar, charged with hacking his mother Sumita Sarkar to death on October 2, 1999.

Sarkar, a resident of Kamalnagar village under Kalyanpur police station, was abnormal from his early childhood, sources said. His father had died early and was he brought up with great difficulty by his widowed mother.

Sarkar had married minor Swapna Das, (15), and lived in penury. He often exhibited violent behaviour. On that fateful day, Sarkar pounced on his mother and killed her with an axe after an altercation. A case was registered by police and it dragged on for more than a year before the verdict was finally passed yesterday.

Sources said Sarkar was handed out sentence on the basis of eye-witness accounts of his wife and their neighbour’s son.

This is the third death sentence meted out by the judiciary in Tripura during the past two decades. The High Court had commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment terms in the two earlier cases.

In another bizarre incident, a teenaged girl hacked to death her elder sister in Laxmandhepa village under Melaghar police station of West Tripura yesterday. Police sources said two teenaged daughters of farmer Narayan Debnath — Jamuna and Ganga — entered into a quarrel on the courtyard of their residence. An enraged Jamuna struck Ganga with a chopper. She was arrested by the Melaghar police.

Heat wave

A severe heat wave sweeping through the state over the past two months has created drought conditions. The state is also reeling under drinking-water crisis and there are apprehensions of outbreak of enteric diseases. The situation has been aggravated by little or no rain in recent months.

According to official records, eight persons, including children, have already died of enteric disease in Dhalai district.

Official sources here said the pre-monsoon season set in on from March 1 and will continue till May 31. “During this period, an average of 300 millimetre of rainfall are normal but over the past one month, only 21.6 millimetre have been recorded,” an official said quoting data given by the weather office.

Besides, post-monsoon rainfall in Tripura since November last year was also “negligible”. This has resulted in depletion of ground water level.

It has gone down by three to four metres in West and South Tripura and by seven to eight metres in North Tripura district. More then 10 per cent “Boro” crop has already been destroyed.

   
 

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