Forgotten Dalhousie dream
Aid-school SOS to Salt Lake residents
Boy-next-door turns goon by dark
No colas, please, this is the seat of Bengali culture
Out of the mould

 
 
FORGOTTEN DALHOUSIE DREAM 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
5 am to 7.30 am: The still water of Lal Dighi mirrors joggers hitting the perimeter track with fringe landscaping.

9 am to 6 pm: Office-goers take over the area, with lunch at one of the many eateries bordering Lal Dighi being the high point. Multi-level car-parking ensures that the wheels turn smoothly.

7 pm to 11 pm: Bright lights and fountains, floating decks with eateries and flower stalls... Lal Dighi is the place to be.

This is what might have been, had architect Dulal Mukherjee’s dream project seen the light of day. Instead, all you have is people bathing or washing clothes and utensils, or even fishing, at Lal Dighi, while buses belch smoke amidst the bustle of BBD Bag. Mukherjee’s ‘millennium gift to the city’ now finds a place on the dubious list of high-profile, still-born design solutions conceptualised by Indian architects.

The Public Works Department (PWD), which had approached Mukherjee four years ago with the plea to “do something” about the chaotic hub of the city’s central business district, has now consigned the project to the back-burner.

PWD minister Kshiti Goswami, however, maintains that the Lal Dighi project hasn’t been shelved, just “pushed back” on the priority list. “I have instructed our chief engineer to conduct a feasibility study for a BOT (build, operate, transfer) pact with a private sector partner. If the scheme is found viable and can generate enough funds, we will consider reviving it,” added the minister.

But the architect who had wanted to turn Dalhousie Square into “the destination” in town, has all but given up the project as “a lost cause”. After all, it’s been three years since he last heard from the authorities.

The idea, recalls Mukherjee, was to find a way out of the perennial parking problem at the business and administrative nerve centre, without damaging the waterbody. “I had met the then municipal commissioner Asim Barman to obtain permission for the double-basement car-parking structure and also got the necessary clearances from the environment and enforcement departments and the Calcutta Tramways Corporation for the marginal realignment of tramlines. But ever since I submitted the design proposals and the model, there has been no feedback from the PWD,” laments Mukherjee, who stopped pursuing the project after 1998.

Finding the square in an advanced state of decay, Mukherjee, using the theory of “conservative surgery” pioneered by town-planning guru Patrick Geddes, had designed a complete redevelopment scheme revolving around Lal Dighi. This, he felt, was a “sensitive answer” to the needs of the area.

The design strategy drew inspiration from the lively Central Park in New York, Mayfair and Kew Gardens in London, and Tivoli Park in Copenhagen, “all examples of active urban areas offering round-the-clock activities”. Mukherjee wanted to create, in the BBD Bag area, “an urban place for family outings”, while providing the functional requirements of car-parking. The car-park structure would have been covered with verdure in the form of sloped and terrace gardens, so as to give the impression of a green mound.

The multi-level (two basement levels and one ground level) parking facility was designed to house a thousand cars, with space for 500 more, provided the minibus terminus was shifted out of the area. Food vendors from the Dalhousie Square pavements would have been rehabilitated in roof-top snack parlours above the car park.

“The intention was to provide a warm, vibrant atmosphere within a part of the rich colonial fabric of the city, transforming the downtrodden area into one worthy of being part of the City of Joy,” smiles Mukherjee.

An important feature of the scheme was a pedestrian plaza providing a transitory area between the Writers’ Buildings and Lal Dighi. A number of pedestrian promenades were to be created around Lal Dighi and the entire place was to be floodlit. A large Geneva fountain, surrounded by several smaller ones, was to occupy pride of place in the middle of the waterbody.

“It would have cost around Rs 10 crore then and, accounting for cost escalation, will cost around Rs 12 crore now. But the entire amount could have been recovered through lease-renting car-parking space and the tensile tents or umbrellas or kiosks to house the eateries. The captive funding mechanism makes the entire project self-sufficient,” concludes Mukherjee, poring over the design sketches of a Dalhousie Square dream that might never be.

   

 
 
AID-SCHOOL SOS TO SALT LAKE RESIDENTS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
The cash-strapped state government has expressed its inability to provide funds for a school in Salt Lake it helped set up four years ago, forcing the school authorities to appeal for public donation.

Bidhannagar Municipal School was set up in July 1997, in Salt Lake’s FE block, near Karunamoyee, on land provided by the urban development department, which also granted a sum of Rs 2 crore for construction of the school building.

The education department granted recognition to the school last week, following Jyoti Basu’s intervention, on condition that it won’t receive a paisa from the government. With the funds flow from the education department drying up, officials of the Salt Lake Municipality, which runs the school, have turned to guardians and even residents of Salt Lake for help, keen to show the government that they can go it alone.

In an advertisement in a local publication, municipality chairman Dilip Gupta has appealed to “guardians” and “sympathetic residents” of the township to “donate generously.” “I have appealed to the people to help us either in cash or kind, like furniture, books, notebooks, blackboards, almirahs, fans, lights, or anything else,’’ Gupta said.

It is learnt that school education minister Kanti Biswas had stuck to his stand of refusing to fund the Salt Lake school as long as the teaching medium was English. This, despite intervention by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who have both been involved with the school from the outset. “The teaching methods adopted by the Salt Lake Municipality and some other matters do not conform to our rules,’’ maintained Biswas.

Municipality officials said they had kept English as the medium of teaching to cater to the large chunk of non-Bengali residents in Salt Lake. “We have told the government we don’t need any financial help from it. We will raise our own funds and make this a self-sufficient, model school,’’ Gupta stressed.

A.K. Chakraborty, president of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, said: “Normally, government-sponsored or aided schools get financial grants from the state, including staff salary. But, the school authorities must abide by the rules and guidelines. If a school follows our syllabus but ignores the other guidelines, we give it recognition, but not funds.’’

Gupta countered that the school follows the syllabus framed by the Secondary board. “We also have a Bengali-medium section, where students read and learn in Bengali. But, all the students follow the same syllabus,’’ he said.

Sikha Dasgupta, secretary of the school’s managing committee, said: “The amount we collect from the students is too inadequate to run a secondary school. But, we are sure we can manage without seeking government help.’’

   

 
 
BOY-NEXT-DOOR TURNS GOON BY DARK 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
During day, he was the boy-next-door — a commerce graduate looking for a job; frequenting the Lakes, Nandan... while romancing a girl studying in a reputed south Calcutta institution; helping out friends in the para.

At night, he was a dreaded goon — wanted for two murders and three kidnappings; slipping out of his Santoshpur home, armed with a six-shooter kept inside his almirah, after his parents went to bed; picking up John, a witness willing to testify in court, from his house in the Lake area and killing him, before returning home at the crack of dawn, when his mother would check on her son and find him fast asleep.

The dual role of Sanjiv Ghosh, alias Sanju, came to an abrupt end on Saturday evening, with the police arresting him, his ‘boss’ Rajesh Khan, and three other associates from near a south Calcutta cinema. Rajesh and gang were, allegedly, running the empire of imprisoned crimelord Sheikh Vinod’s in south, central and east Calcutta.

According to superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, D.K. Ganguly, Rajesh and his men are wanted in 32 cases, including 20 murders and seven kidnappings.

It was 25-year-old Sanju’s affairs of the heart that proved to be the Rajesh Khan gang’s undoing, the police said.

On Poila Boisakh, his girl friend insisted that they meet. But Rajesh had ordered all his men to meet near the cinema. To obey his boss’ orders and also keep his date, Sanju, whose father is a history teacher in a reputed institution in south Calcutta, rang up his friend from his cellphone and asked her to meet him near the same cinema in the evening.

Sanju didn’t have a clue that his mobile was being tapped by the police. This was just the break that a special task force of officers-in-charge of Jadavpur police station, Salil Bhattacharya, and Lake police station, Anil Jana, were waiting for. The police swung into action.

Rajesh, Sanjay Singh and Pijush Mondol arrived near the cinema on Saturday evening. Sanju, meanwhile, went looking for his girlfriend. A policeman posted near a tea-stall next to the cinema spotted the four goons.

He signalled to his colleagues and moments later, Jana, Bhattacharya and their team swooped down on the criminals and rounded them up.

The four goons were huddled into a taxi and taken to Jadavpur police station. Five sophisticated firearms and several rounds of ammunition were recovered from them. After hours of interrogation, the arrested youth named another associate, Rambabu Naskar, who was waiting for them at Salt Lake. A police team left for Salt Lake late on Saturday and picked up Rambabu.

According to deputy commissioner, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, the swoop proved extremely well-timed, as Rajesh and his men had met on Saturday to chalk out plans of killing a rival and looting a south Calcutta house.

   

 
 
NO COLAS, PLEASE, THIS IS THE SEAT OF BENGALI CULTURE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
Yeh dil maange no more — that seems to be the anthem of the Bhasha O Chetona Samiti, a leftist group fighting for the “preservation of Bengali language and culture”, which called for a “boycott” of Pepsi and Coke — first from the Rabindra Sadan-Nandan complex, and then from the rest of the state — on Sunday.

The decision to ban “foreign” soft drinks from the “seat of Bengali culture” came a day after members of the Samiti clashed with some youth on the Nandan premises during a Poila Boisakh function. When Samiti members tried to stop some stalls from selling Coke and Pepsi while the cultural programme was in progress, they ran into a group of youth opposed to this “fascist” move. It was left to the police to restore order.

The Samiti, which had earlier carried out a campaign against the government’s decision to reintroduce English in primary classes, has declared war on the colas “promoting an alien culture” through their advertising and sponsorship policies.

“Coke and Pepsi do not go with Bengali culture at all. We will not allow the stalls here to sell these soft drinks,” declared Emanul Haque, general secretary of the Samiti, on Sunday. “These colas have become extremely popular among children, but they have been proved to be highly injurious to health. The government should act immediately. The companies must be told to stop selling the soft drinks in our state,” added Haque.

The Samiti’s anti-cola crusade has found takers among members of the CPM-controlled union of employees at Rabindra Sadan and Nandan. “We are opposed to the government’s decision to allow stalls selling Coke and Pepsi in this complex. We will raise the issue at a meeting of state-level leaders of the coordination committee on Tuesday and urge the government to take the matter seriously,” said Subol Saha, an employee of Rabindra Sadan and leader of the coordination committee of state government employees.

Haque claimed that he would rope in like-minded people and NGOs to add fizz to the campaign. Sister Cyril of Loreto Sealdah, whom the Samiti is planning to approach, admitted that “personally” she preferred serving kids “nimbu pani or lassi” over the colas, purely on health grounds.

Reacting to the Samiti move, Subir Chakraborty, depot manager of Coca-Cola in Calcutta, said: “I really do not understand how drinking Coke or Pepsi can be linked to culture... And while we do sponsor youth events like pop shows, we are also involved in promoting classical music and traditional art forms.”

   

 
 
OUT OF THE MOULD 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
This is the third final section of the exhibition, Art of Bengal: Past and Present, organised by the Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA) on view now. This section presents artists, who, with a single notable exception, were born after Independence.

Some are still in their salad days, and what they have in common with their seniors is their willingness to break out of the mould, even when it involves taking the ultimate risk of creating art that would not find a ready market.

Artists being constantly under pressure from commercial art galleries to churn out saleable commodities, it is not easy task for them to shun their USP and retain their integrity.

The first part of the show, highlighting the art of 19th Century Bengal, gained in significance and brilliance because of its rigid documentation. The works, ferreted out of the collections of government institutions, brought alive not only the past but also the artists who could be identified with that period. The exhibition, thereby, served history and will become a future point of reference.

This, however, could not be said about the last two sections, for here, documentation is apparently not the priority. The accent seems to have shifted to highlighting artists the curators felt were significant.

Experimentation by artists, who have already made a name for themselves, is the strongpoint of the current exhibition. Which is a rare happening, because in our country artists tend to get into a rut once they make a name for themselves. Veena Bhargava is certainly an exception to the rule. She is the most senior artist here, but she is willing to take chances.

Urban experience

Like most other artists here, Bhargava builds up her works around the urban experience. A concept she may have thought up acts as the stimulant and her paintings become accretions of her reflections and memories which overlap and coalesce.

In her series Cities Ideas & Icons, she uses acrylic and photoscreen. Several layers of history coexist here, and various planes of reality clash with each other. It throws up a gallimaufry of images jostling with each other.

At one level there exist memories of a rambling old bungalow where the artist used to live once. The building could be clad in scaffolding. But juxtaposed with it is a 21st Century image — a virtual robot newscaster (whose face is replicated on a large area of a canvas) — that is happy to be standing next to a kitschy deity or the date card from a Bengali calendar. Yet it is as enigmatic as the Sphinx.

Aditya Basak is virtually unrecognisable. Gone are the painstakingly-delineated images enveloped in darkness on sheets of Nepalese rice paper.

Basak paints on large boards and his palette is the reverse of darkness. The artist’s last exhibition of works showing Rajasthan turned into a dreamland gave some indication of what he had in store. But in about a year’s time, he has changed quite radically.

The three works hung next to each other — only the one in the middle has black for a background — could be seen as a triptych. He conjures up apocalyptic visions by throwing together images, which have become part of our collective imagination, in unfamiliar conjunctions.

A stooping primitive man lumbers next to astronauts suspended in space. Twins in a womb float past. A man on a charger holding a sword rides past. In one corner is the familiar image of a Yakshi.

Agony or distress

The backdrop is black and against it is fearsome Kali, who has decapitated herself. Two of the goddess’ handmaidens drink up the ruby fountain gushing from her neck, while a couple is in coition beneath them. Kali is suspended above the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. In spite of the violence inherent in human beings, are we evolving to a higher plane of being?

Jaya Ganguly has painted several large images of human beings, perhaps of the feminine kind, with limbs that seem to have been violently distorted out of shape. They emerge like huge serpents from the stomach or are splayed out like entrails.

These are images of human beings in agony or distress, when your limbs seem to be contorted in pain. Their predicament having got the better of them they are reduced to helpless puppets.

Ganguly’s palette is very limited and black is the dominant mood. There seem to be occasional flashes of humour but only of the darkest kind. It’s a pity that Jayashree Chakravarty, one of our most creative artists, has exhibited one of her old canvases.

Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s large and striking work has stark black and white planes with the monochromatic photograph of an ornate frame inset in one corner. This is another manifestation of the games the artist plays with illusion and reality.

In a playful mood, Parthapratim Deb has displayed colourful art works produced from workaday objects, like a lantern or soft drink bottles. Human heads pop out of a shirt and figures form a chain. It is surprising that an artist as senior as him retains a sense of humour which stuffed shirts would not have dared to display.

Suhasini Kejriwal, who has just about made it to the wrong side of 20, has delicately evoked flowers that seem to be made of lace with only a pencil. She has blown up these images on canvas. In the larger format too they retain their sensitivity.

The exhibition has a rich collection of prints, the most striking of which are Siddhartha Ghosh’s etchings and Suranjan Basu’s bold woodcuts. Ghosh’s familiar grey works reflect urban despair, while Basu’s strong figures make a wry political statement.

Aku experiments with leather, wood and readymade objects. A visit to the tanneries in Calcutta provided the impetus for recreating in leather the sight of raw hide hanging in those factories. Trussed with thongs, they are like carcasses in a meat shop or a bhisti’s water-bag.

When several of these objects are displayed together, the familiar is transported to a different dimension altogether. This is Aku’s significant contribution to the sculpture of our times.

   
 

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