Sell more than a ticket to survive
Stray-dog attacks hound Buddha backyard
Pop the pill to kick the puff
Rs 60-cr drainage plan gathers dust
Jagannath, siblings set to hit the road
Cradle of creative zeal
Fashion centre eyes Behala base
Ulfa strike stalls Sulfa political debut
Bullets shatter peace of heritage club
Frenchman seeks light at Kamakhya

Calcutta, June 22: 
Minutes before the matinee of Lagaan. The monsoon air’s abuzz as young girls and guys rush in past the exiting noon crowd. A brawl breaks out when a couple of ticketless men try their luck. A mother walks in with her daughter, still in school uniform...

It’s showtime, folks! This scene at Hind was replayed at many halls across the city welcoming audiences back after the three-month deadlock between the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association and the Bengal Motion Pictures Employees Union ended on Wednesday.

But the dark clouds over city cinemas haven’t quite lifted yet. Among the biggies, Globe is yet to open because of “labour trouble”, while Jamuna has decided to call it curtains. “Running a theatre here is not a financially feasible proposition any longer. And it’s just a matter of time before other halls take the same route,” feels Vishu Bahrus, owner of Jamuna, which has been “struggling to make ends meet for the past two years”. Only for blockbusters, few and far between, do crowds turn up at cinemas these days. And a hike in ticket rates has resulted in a further drop in turnout. “People would rather watch the small films in the comfort of their own homes,” adds Bahrus, waiting for a “good price” for his hall off Mirza Ghalib Street.

With the TV beam bigger than ever before, the latest blockbusters on cable and entertainment centres at every other street corner, audiences at cinemas are shrinking daily. Take Orient. Back in business with Gadar, the central Calcutta hall has seen footfall plummet from 920,000 in 1995-96 to 506,000 in 2000-01, according to owner Lalit Kankaria. “We would like to make tickets cheaper than they are now, but without the government’s cooperation, we cannot afford to,” says Kankaria.

Service charges were raised according to hall-owners’ demands to facilitate the 25 per cent wage hike for workers. But other demands, led by a curb on video piracy, have fallen on deaf ears.

The Calcutta cable operator pleads helplessness. “We have a constant demand for the latest releases. We have to screen pirated prints whenever possible,” admits a leading south Calcutta cablewallah. Entertainment tax has been reduced from 70 to 65 per cent on net proceeds by Friday’s budget, but hall-owners have been looking at a slash of “at least 30 per cent”.

The message in the movie slump: Cinemas can no longer simply sell celluloid. One-stop entertainment centres is the model of the millennium. Some hall-owners have been quick to push the “reinvent” button. A ‘multiplex’ is what John Mantosh, owner of Lighthouse and New Empire, has in mind. “It is hard to get a full house at Lighthouse, with a capacity of 1,400, leading to losses to the tune of Rs 20,000 a week. So, we want to restructure the building into four smaller halls, accommodating between 300 and 500 people each,” explains Mantosh. For teeny-boppers who want to lace up a pair of skating shoes before catching one of four flicks, roller-skating and ice skating rinks will be laid out on the ground floor of the 61-year-old building.

New Empire, now playing the Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt-starrer Pay It Forward, already has two eateries, a video parlour, pool parlour, bar, and cyber cafe. “When we opened the hall in 1940, going to the movies was the only thing to do. Now, films have to be just one of the options, because kids have many more interests,” adds Mantosh.

Priya went the value-addition way a couple of years ago, with fancy popcorn machines, glossy food counters and special shows. “Right now, Priya is wholly viable, but the profits definitely don’t come from ticket sales,” says Arijit Dutta, owner of Priya and Globe. Pepsi, Sony, Moustache, ABN Amro are just a few of the brands behind Priya’s ‘corporate’ look and success story.

But the management-employee stand-off at the New Market cinema has forced Dutta to put the gala new-look Globe release — mega restaurant, karaoke bar and all — on hold.


Calcutta, June 22: 
It’s a dog’s life on Palm Avenue, allege a section of residents. Two boys being attacked by a stray on Thursday evening, in front of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s residence, triggered howls of protest from local residents on Friday.

The chief minister’s security staff had to move in to rescue one of the boys. For a brief period, the hand-picked force was busy chasing the rogue dog and three of its canine friends away.

Caught unawares, Karaya thana sent an SOS to the Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA) and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). The matter appeared to have been resolved on Friday morning, when CSPCA staff, helped by CMC officials, picked up some of the strays for sterilisation and vaccination. “We have trapped three mad dogs and eight other strays from Palm Avenue, where the chief minister lives,” confirmed a senior police officer.

In a dramatic twist to the tale, it was discovered that the canine which had attacked the boys — Suraj Das and Bhutan — had died before the dog squad arrived.

Seven-year-old Suraj was riding a cycle with his four-and-half-year-old sister, Sangita, near the chief minister’s residence on Thursday evening when a dog chased them and bit him on his right leg. The two kids live at 73/15, Palm Avenue, a stone’s throw away from Bhattacharjee’s ground-floor flat.

Alerted by the boy’s cries, officials on duty at the Bhattacharjee residence rushed in. They chased away the rogue dog — and three others which had appeared on the scene — said Suraj’s grandfather, Hiralal Das. “Two of the policemen carried Suraj home,” said mother Sabitri. Father Roopchand, along with some neighbours and friends, then took the boy to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital.

On its way out of the locality, the same dog “scratched” 15-year-old Bhutan. Both Suraj and Bhutan’s condition was stated to be “safe”, though the seven-year-old had to be taken to the hospital on Friday for a check-up.

Angry residents rang up the officer-in-charge of Karaya police station, Subrata Ghosh, immediately after the incident, demanding that the cops help remove the dogs from the locality.

Residents of Palm Avenue and Broad Street claimed that the strays were a “real menace” in the area. “There are more than a dozen dogs which move around freely in the Palm Avenue-Broad Street stretch,’’ complained Sunita Halder. “The pack of dogs poses a threat to every passerby,” adds Madhu Das.

The matter has been brought to the notice of the local councillor and the police “several times” in the recent past, residents said. But no one seemed to be bothered till Thursday’s twin ‘attack’ occurred in front of the chief minister’s residence. “Why can’t these strays be taken to a dog pound?” demanded angry residents.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation does not have the infrastructure to maintain a dog pound, admitted member, mayor-in-council, Javed Ahmed Khan. “We usually trap these dogs, send them to NGOs or government-aided bodies who sterilise and vaccinate the strays, before setting them free again,” he added.


Calcutta, June 22: 
From Satyajit Ray to Feluda, from the master to the myth, nicotine has been a common catalyst triggering the creative juices of The Bengali. Smoking, according to those now offering “an exit route” to the puff brigade in metros, has traditionally been “more acceptable” in Calcutta as it has been “associated with intellectualism” here.

“According to estimates, almost 70 per cent of the city’s adult male population smokes, which is way above the national average of around 52 per cent,” says Dr S.M. Chandrashekhar, medical adviser, Glaxo India Limited, an affiliate of GlaxoSmithLine plc.

That might change now, with the advent of Zyban, “the first oral treatment for smoking cessation”, launched in the city on Friday. According to Glaxo projections, more than 5,000 Calcuttans will pop the pill to beat the puff within a year. “Three years down the line, more than 20,000 city smokers will have beaten their nicotine addiction,” says Kalyanasundaram, director, pharmaceuticals, Glaxo India Limited. “But given the social psyche here, cessation treatment in Calcutta is that much more challenging than in Delhi or Mumbai. The role of patient counselling and the need to demystify the social image of a smoker as a more creative person will be critical to the process here,” he feels.

Zyban, the trade name for bupropion hydrochloride sustained release tablets, is the first nicotine-free prescription medication indicated for use as an aid in quit-smoking treatment. It acts via the “addiction pathways in the brain to release norepinephrine and elevate dopamine levels”. The aim: Reduce withdrawal symptoms and the craving to smoke.

“It substitutes the biological effect of smoking without the puff and can give the same pleasure as nicotine does,” explains Dr Parthasarathi Bhattacharyya, pulmonary medicine specialist and director, Institute of Pulmocare & Research.

Zyban, which has a worldwide success rate of more than 30 per cent, can have a significant impact in Calcutta “if doctors can show enough zeal and choose their patients carefully for administering the neurobiological drug”, warns Dr Bhattacharyya. Dr Sukumar Mukerjee, former head of the department of medicine, Calcutta Medical College, agrees that “deft handling” of the drug and “proper selection of patients” will be the key to the success of Zyban.

“It is not a general panacea to smoking addiction. It is a viable option for educated upper middle-class people with high motivation levels,” he adds. Doctors also feel that “a support system of behavioural therapy and psychotherapy is a must”.

For this, Glaxo plans to set up five or six “dedicated cessation clinics” in various parts of Calcutta where chest physicians, cardiologists, oncologists and diabetologists will work in conjunction with psychiatrists and counsellors.

Zyban comes in a ‘value pack’ that includes three strips of the 150 mg tablets, a booklet on everyday tips to fight the addiction, a quit diary, a CD with soothing music and a stress buster.


Calcutta, June 22: 
The civic authorities don’t seem to have anything to offer Calcuttans looking forward to a monsoon minus waterlogging, as their much-hyped Rs 60-crore drainage-revamp scheme hasn’t proceeded beyond the paper it was drawn up on four years ago.

Following municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya’s advice to the CMC to generate its own resources to share expenditure on the scheme, the civic authorities had even imposed a drainage tax, fixed at 80 per cent of the water tax that commercial establishments had to pay. The tax has allowed the CMC earn over Rs 30 crore, though the promised drainage and sewerage revamping scheme hasn’t taken off.

Severe waterlogging in the city in 1997 forced Bhattacharya to convene a meeting with the CMC and the CMDA to draw up a plan to combat chronic waterlogging in various city pockets.

Following the meeting at Writers’ Buildings, the CMC and the state government jointly announced the Rs 60-crore scheme on September 2, 1997, with a pledge to complete it by 2000.

The scheme to revamp the city’s drainage and sewerage network included augmentation of the Palmerbazar pumping station, repair of brick sewers and desilting of the sewer lines. Desiltation and repairs of the underground and brick sewers was slated to start with Shakespeare Sarani and Camac Street soon after the monsoon in 1997 and the state government agreed to offer funds for the scheme.

But the scheme never saw the light of day, said member, mayor-in-council (drainage and sewerage), Rajiv Deb. If it were in place now, the civic authorities would have had something else other than mere promises to combat the waterlogging menace this year, he added.

Deb said the CMC had so far received from the state government through Hudco a sum of Rs 6.5 crore in three instalments — for procuring pumps — and the last instalment of Rs 2.5 crore reached the CMC only 10 days ago. According to him, at least 30 km of the city’s 175-km-long brick sewer lines are broken. Moreover, heavy siltation has taken care of half of the sewer-arteries’ capacity.

So, Calcuttans need not think the situation this year will be any better than earlier, warned Deb. Waterlogging is inevitable if it rains more than quarter of an inch an hour, which is the city’s drainage capacity, he added.


Calcutta, June 22: 
The city is gearing up to celebrate Rathyatra on Saturday. A number of organisations will take out processions on the occasion.

After a prolonged power struggle which ended in a courtroom, all’s well at Iskcon’s Calcutta office and its rath will hit the road on Saturday. The yatra will start from Metro Railway’s Central station at 1 pm and end on the Maidan.

Jaypataka Swami of Iskcon said on Friday: “At the end of the journey, Lord Jagannath, brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra will stay in a newly-built temple on the Maidan for seven days. From there, the Ultarath will start on July 1 and reach our Albert Road temple. During the seven days, various religious functions will be held, including lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, video shows and dramas,” he said.

The rathyatra utsav of BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, organisers of the second largest festival in the city, will begin with a special prayer for the Gujarat earthquake victims. The prayer will be led by saints from Gujarat from 3.30 pm. According to Sadhu Divyamurtidas of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, Lord Jagannath will be worshipped after Vedic prayers.

This will be followed by the traditional sweeping of the road with a golden broom. The Lord will remain at BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir for seven days.

At Thakurpukur, on the southern fringes of the city, the Sabarna Ray Choudhury Paribar Parishad will observe the festival for the 283rd year. Ray Krishnadev Mazumdar Chowdhury had initiated the festival in 1719.

Probal Ray Choudhury, a member of the utsav committee, said: “The original rath was as high as a three-storeyed building. In 1911, a new rath and deities were made of neem wood by carpenters from Orissa. The festival suffered a break for four years. From 1975, it has continued uninterrupted. The present rath was built in 1984 with public funds.”

This year, the festival will be inaugurated by Justice Kalyanmoy Gangopadhyay (retired) at Bara Bari at 4.30 pm.


Calcutta, June 22: 
Aksasutra is a school for children. But one thing sets it apart. At the helm of affairs is a woman, who is physically handicapped herself.

Set to open its doors in July, the school bears testimony to the creative zeal of 27-year-old Gunjan Tibrawalla. She lost the use of her legs when she was just a month old, due to a doctor’s blunder. Confined in a wheelchair since infancy, Gunjan has come a long way, driven by her determination to surmount the odds. In January 1995, she started Innocent Smiles, a Montessori school, on Gurusaday Road. But she was bent on doing something more.

Her search led to Aksasutra, meaning ‘the bearer of knowledge’. At the school, boys and girls in the 3-12 year age-group will be taught subjects that do not fall in the curriculum but will help them build a future. Says the gutsy young woman: “Education is not something which the teacher imparts. It is a natural process, acquired through experiences which the child gathers through exposure to his environment.”

Aksasutra will introduce the child to a host of areas — art and craft, western dance, synthesiser, stained glass, candle-making, computers, pot-painting, calligraphy, glass -etching and frosting. To make them mentally strong, they will be exposed to the teachings of the Gita. Each class will have 20 students, and classes will be held from 3 to 6 pm daily.

“Here, children will produce items on their own. This will give them the joy of achievement, in addition to the satisfaction of learning something new,” says Gunjan.


Calcutta, June 22: 
South by south-west. That’s the route to success chalked out by the National Institute of Fashion Design (NiFD), which is set to open new branches in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal.

The aim: To cash in on the craze for formal training in fashion designing.

According to Shaibal Ghosh, NiFD general manager in charge of eastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal, as far as Calcutta is concerned, the focal point will be Behala.

Even though the Chandigarh-based institute has its zonal office and major campus in Humayun Court, and a branch in Salt Lake, the NiFD authorities feel south Calcutta is where the action now lies.

“If we open up a centre in Behala, we can reach out to all aspiring fashion designers in that part of the city. These areas are coming up real fast, with the middle-class youth ready to spend on such specialised courses. For them, our centres in Lindsay Street and Salt Lake will be a little too far off,” says Ghosh.

The NiFD authorities feel this is just the right time to expand in the city. “In Calcutta, and Bengal as a whole, fashion has become a great success story, with models from here making a mark on the national and international stage. So, we have decided to take fashion to the doorsteps,” explains Ghosh.

Plans are on to open centres at Kharagpur and Durgapur, to add to those in Asansol, Siliguri and Malda.

The NiFD centre in Calcutta, which started off on Camac Street in 1998, shifted to its new spacious campus on the second floor of Humayun Court in March this year. The Salt Lake centre, a franchisee, has been running since 1998. According to Ghosh, the Humayun Court centre has about 600 students pursuing courses in fashion, textiles and interior designing. A hundred more students from the NiFD’s centre in Howrah, which is being shut down “due to technical reasons”, will also be shifted to the Lighthouse centre. The combined student strength of the Institute’s Malda, Siliguri and Asansol centres stands at around 300.

NiFD has 14 centres in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and the Northeast. “We plan to launch 20 more centres in the eastern region. All will, off course, be franchisees,” adds Ghosh.


Guwahati, June 22: 
The Ulfa strike on surrendered rebels in the Upper Assam town of Moran yesterday may well have scuttled the Asom Jatiya Mahasabha’s reported move to float a political front.

Sasanka Sarma, publicity secretary the mahasabha, told The Telegraph here that the governing body meeting scheduled to be held at the Rabindra Bhawan here on July 4 was “likely” to be postponed due to “certain” organisational hiccups. “It will now, in all probability, be held after an executive body meeting, the venue and date for which is yet to be decided,” he added.

The “hiccups” referred to by Sarma include the resignation of two senior members of the mahasabha, an apolitical organisation comprising former militants of the Ulfa and the National Democratic Front of Boroland. Both Sunil Nath and Jugal Kishore Mahanta quit the mahasabha early this week.

Sarma said non-receipt of quarterly reports from the district units of the mahasabha was another issue that had to be resolved.

However, the publicity secretary insisted that the likely postponement of the July 4 meeting should not be linked with the Ulfa attack on surrendered militants. Twelve former militants were killed in the attack.

“The executive committee will review the overall situation before reconvening the general body meeting,” Sarma said.

The former Ulfa leader said the mahasabha had no plan to float a political platform immediately. “When we last held a meeting, we only discussed the feasibility of reviewing our constitution in the context of recent political developments. This was misconstrued by a section of the media as deciding to float a political platform,” he added.

Sarma said the proposed governing body meeting would examine the possibility of “reaccommodating” Jiten Gogoi and Jayanta Hazarika, both of whom had to quit the mahasabha after deciding to contest the Assembly elections.

“We want to examine the pros and cons of such a move. We would like these two members and others like Sunil Nath and Jugal Kishore Mahanta to be actively involved in the affairs of our organisation. We will invite all of them,” he said.

Gogoi was elected to the Assembly from Bokakhat constituency, but Hazarika lost the polls. Nath and Mahanta quit the mahasabha early this week, citing personal reasons. It is presumed that the mahasabha reviewed its strategy after Nath and Mahanta’s resignation.

Urging all members of the mahasabha to exercise restraint, Sarma said, “We would not like our members to be provoked by yesterday’s incident, which, going by reports, was the Ulfa’s handiwork. Retaliation will only aggravate the situation.”

The Sulfa leader also asked surrendered militants to be “alert” to the possibility of attacks. Sarma denied that the incident in Moran was the fallout of infighting in the Sulfa ranks.


Moran, June 22: 
It would have been a usual “club day” at the Moran Polo Club in Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district — site of yesterday’s carnage in which 12 surrendered Ulfa men fell to staccato bullets of their former comrades.

Hemmed in by miles of greenery and tea shrubs, over 100-year-old club would have witnessed a fete by the afternoon. Tea planters from adjoining gardens were scheduled to trickle in by 2.30 pm for the “club day”. Some would have made a dash for the swimming pool. Others would have taken to the tennis courts.

But “unwanted visitors” —nearly 70 Sulfa men from the neighbouring Sivasagar district — stormed the club for a meeting. Their conversation was cut short by disaster. For a change, the heritage club came alive with the sound of bullets.

Around 11.15 am, several armed men alighted from a blue Maruti Zen, which entered the club premises from the eastern side. They fired on five Sulfa members who were sitting on the railings of the club veranda. Three fell on the spot while two others managed to escape.

The marauders then headed for the club room where about 20 Sulfa activists were preparing for the meeting scheduled for 11.30 am. The killers hurled a grenade and opened fire. Three Sulfa men died on the dance floor while others scrambled for cover.

Two more were shot dead inside the ladies’ room while two others fell inside the toilet.

One of the Sulfa men tried to scale the roof but was killed when he stepped on a loose asbestos sheet and fell in front of the killers.

Their job done, the killers left the way they came. On their way back, they fired several rounds at vehicles parked nearby.

They left behind a macabre scene the British-era club has never witnessed.

“I am at a loss for words to explain what happened. I have not seen something like this in my life. So much blood...there are no words...,” a shaken J. Bezbaruah, president of the club said.

Bezbaruah, also the manager of the nearby Moran tea estate, said the Sulfa men did not take permission from the club authorities to hold the meeting.

“The club is a private property. We do not lend it other organisations. But they (Sulfa men) come at will. Who can stop them?” the tea executive asked.

The Moran Polo Club is the property of the Moran tea estate, which celebrated 125 years three years ago.


Guwahati, June 22: 
From the French riviera to the Kamakhya temple, it has been a long journey for “Francisi Baba”, alias Brahmanath Yogi.

Disenchanted with the West, the French sadhu is on his third visit to one of India’s holiest shrines in search of “brahmagyan”, or self-realisation.

Brahmanath was today the cynosure of all eyes at Kamakhya, where the Ambubachi Mela began amid traditional pomp and gaiety. The Frenchman did not mind the attention at all, having got a taste of it during his previous two visits to the mela.

“The West is about maya (illusion). There is knowledge, but no wisdom. Westerners were flocking to India for spiritual awakening,” the 38-year-old sadhu told The Telegraph.

Brahmanath does not attach much importance to the rapid advancement of communication technology. “All this talk of a communication breakthrough in the West is bunkum. It is of no use as nobody knows who stays next door,” he said, coming out of his room in the makeshift camp at Kamakhya to interact with fellow-sadhus.

Though in awe of India, the Frenchman is critical of the rigidity of the country’s caste system, one he held in high esteem some years ago. “It has become decadent,” he said.

Brahmanath said the reason he had come to Kamakhya for the third time was a spiritual calling that was hard to explain. “The Mother Goddess called me here. There was no external force involved. It is she who directs me all the time,” he added.

Leaving high school after realising that the things he was being taught were “not useful and practical”, Brahmanath began his quest for answers to the questions in his mind. He said becoming a sadhu was a better option than continuing with formal education.

“Instead of being a seat of learning, the classroom became a good place to sleep in. So I quit school for good,” Brahmanath said.

The Frenchman, who initially wanted to go to the US, claims he landed up in Pakistan quite by chance. He knew nothing about India at that time, except for “having heard a little about Buddha.”


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