Terror fallout on house of worship
A helping hand beyond barriers
Consuls seek more cover
Open skies, take me home
Marooned & miserable in Manhattan
Wipro-Webel computer pact
The City Diary
Old boys in Web hunt for alumni
Hanging verandahs under civic scanner
Food kiosks banned for Pujas

Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
The twin pillars of America’s economic power have been destroyed. The symbol of America’s military might has been damaged. Now, it’s time to protect all strategic targets. Among them is Divya Dham, the biggest Hindu temple in Woodside, New York. A special security ring has been thrown around the Bharat Sevashram Sangha temple — to protect it from vandals, not terrorists.

Word of the security threat — sparked by attacks on some places of worship in the past 48 hours — reached the Sangha headquarters in Ballygunge on Thursday.

Sangha spokesperson Swami Viswatmananda confirmed that the New York Police had stepped up security at the temple following reports of an attack on a gurdwara a few kilometres from Divya Dham. “They have posted guards outside the temple and narrowed down the entrance. Devotees going in are frisked before being allowed to enter,” said the Swami.

The three-storeyed temple, one of the largest Hindu religious establishments in America, is located about six kilometres from the World Trade Center. It is now run by the Sangha, after it took over the 90-year-old temple a few months ago from a sadhu belonging to a different order.

The temple, now refurbished, houses idols of every prominent Hindu god and goddess.

“We can’t yet figure out who carried out the attack on the gurdwara. But it’s apparent that the administration is taking no chances,” said Swami Prasantananda, who is in charge of Divya Dham, when contacted in New York.

“A few hours after the World Trade Center disaster, the police came here and asked us to close down the main gate as part of the security measure,” he said. “Now, a car fitted with the latest electronic surveillance gadgetry is stationed in front of Divya Dham round-the-clock. I fear that the conversation we are having over telephone is being recorded. The situation here is tense and sensitive.”

The temple, among 46 others in the city, is frequented by Indians, Americans and tourists from all over. “On an average, we get nearly 100 devotees every day. Besides devotees from Indians living in New York, local residents and tourists flock to the temple during Kali, Durga and Ganesh pujas.”

A prime attraction is the idol of Lord Shiva surrounded by 108 shivalingams. There is also a sprawling hall which can accommodate 7,000 people. The temple is manned by about half-a-dozen monks, several priests and other staff members.

As soon as the monks heard about the disaster on Tuesday morning, they rushed to the site with the one ambulance they had at their Jamaica Queens ashram, a 15-minute drive from Divya Dham.

“But our ambulance was stopped by the police as they had declared it a high-security area. The situation there was quite different from the Gujarat earthquake. The American administration seemed to be in control of the situation,” a Sevashram monk said.

According to Swami Viswatmananda, the Sangha monks in New York have offered a helping hand to the administration at this time of crisis. “We have contacted the civic authorities and informed them that the Sangha is ready to help whenever required. We have met civic officials at the local borough and told them we are ready with our contingencies and will extend our cooperation and support whenever and wherever it is needed.”


Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
Calcutta care-givers have extended a helping hand to their US counterparts on Thursday. India’s leading charitable and religious organisations with global networks headquartered in Calcutta have offered to supplement the efforts of US relief workers in any way possible, both material and spiritual.

The NGOs are in constant touch with their branches in New York and Washington after Tuesday’s attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

These organisations, known for their quick response to calamities in various countries, geared up to send any assistance that may be required. They include the Ramakrishna Mission, the Bharat Sevashram Sangha, Ananda Marga and the Missionaries of Charity.

A spokesperson at Belur Math, headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission world order, said senior monks had contacted their two centres in Manhattan as soon as they heard the news.

“We spoke to Swami Adishwarananda at the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Centre on 94th Street, asking them whether they were safe or not. We also spoke to Swami Tathagathananda at the Vedanta Society Centre on 71st Street,” the spokesperson said.

Somnath Maharaj also said that, if required, any type of help could be sent, provided the US rules governing NGO assistance were met. “We are giving them advice on what can be done, especially on spiritual affairs.”

Bharat Sevashram Sangha also has two ashrams and a large temple in New York. Swami Viswatmananda, a senior monk at the organisation’s Ballygunge headquarters, said they had spoken over the telephone on Wednesday and subsequently maintained contact via e-mail and voice mail. “Our organisation has done its best to provide relief all over India, be it the earthquake in Gujarat, the supercyclone in Orissa or the floods in north Bengal. We have also helped tackle calamities in some other countries, no matter what the caste or religion of the affected people,” Swami Viswatmananda said.

“Now we are ready to offer whatever help we can, in the face of devastation, damage and suffering of a yet unfathomable scale. We know the offer may seem redundant, for the US is well-equipped to handle such disasters. But our mission is to always reach out to those in distress, no matter where they are in the world.”

The Missionaries of Charity has three homes in New York. On Thursday, after attending special prayers to commemorate Mother Teresa’s internment four years ago, Sister Nirmala said: “We have been speaking with the homes whenever we can get through. Some persons coming from the World Trade Center area were given shelter for some time at our home in Manhattan, which is not very far away.”

The sisters at the home, which assists persons with AIDS, offered whatever relief they could. “But in this situation, they could not do much except provide shelter to a few persons walking around the streets after the tragedy. What we can do is pray for the American people, who are passing through troubled times. We are praying for peace and normalcy.”


Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
The locked gates, the high walls, the barbed-wire fencing and the posse of policemen have suddenly stopped evoking that sense of security. Calcutta’s diplomatic corps went to the government on Thursday, less than 48 hours after the attack on America. Their plea: More security for their missions.

There were four other points on the agenda for the meeting between the team led by Amiya Gooptu, honorary head of the city’s consular corps, and chief secretary Manish Gupta. But senior diplomats confirmed that security concerns did take up “most of the time”.

Security has been beefed up at most of the missions from Wednesday. “But we felt we should keep in touch with the local administration, especially after the heightened threat perception,” said the head of a Calcutta-based mission. The government was “generally very responsive” to their needs, a consular corps document said. “But there remains a scope for improvement in providing security cover.”

A cause for consular concern was the car-parking space in front of a deputy high commission in the Park Circus area, a senior diplomat observed. “The numerous incidents of car blasts around the world can’t be ignored.”

German acting consul-general U. Mayer confirmed that “security concerns” were discussed at Thursday’s meeting. Security has been beefed up outside the German mission and the Calcutta base of the Russian Federation. Senior Russian officials had recently met Security Branch officers to discuss tightening of security around the mission, even before Tuesday’s attack. “The state government has always been very responsive to our security concerns,” said Russian Federation consul-general Alexei Zolotukhin.

An immediate outcome of Thursday’s meeting was the decision to restrict movement of vehicles around the missions. Checking of visitors – and even consular staff – would also be made more stringent, a senior government official added..


Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
Sarah Lance of Los Angeles was supposed to be roaming around Calcutta on Thursday, soaking up “as much as possible” of the city before leaving for home next Monday. Instead, she spent most of the day cooped up in a cramped Internet parlour on Sudder Street.

Alone, thousands of kilometres from home and glued to the unpleasant images on television of the most devastating attack on her homeland, she pored over the Thai Airways website, hoping flights would resume by Monday, the day of her scheduled departure. “I must leave by Monday,” she said. “My brother’s getting married in Indiana and I have to be there after touching base in Los Angeles first.”

Sarah was in luck. The site informed her that the American skies would open up to civilian aircraft from Thursday — still a few hours away because of the time difference between here and her homeland — but the anxiety remained. “What happens if something else crops us?” mused a nervous Sarah, still finding it difficult to come to terms with the television images of terror.

For Jeremiah Kuhn from Pennsylvania, scheduled to be here till December, the prospect of staying on in Calcutta has suddenly become nightmarish. “Every second person I bump into is a reporter looking for a ‘human-interest story’ on an American far from home,” he exclaimed. “It’s time people understood we need a break.”

The media phobia was shared by three other American tourists holed up in Hotel Maria, on Sudder Street. Instructions were given to hotel staff not to send “anyone” to their room and, instead of touring the city, they confined themselves to their rooms.

But there is one city street that most American tourists will now be headed: Ho Chi Minh Sarani.

After shutting its doors to its citizens and travellers for 24 hours, the American Consulate opened on Thursday morning.

Anxious faces — especially those with visas about to expire and schedules gone haywire because of the tragedy back home — waited patiently to enquire about how soon they could get back home.


Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
New Yorker Tad Ottman may be an uncertain tourist in Calcutta. But, like him, there are many Calcuttans roaming the streets of New York, waiting for a ticket to ride back home. For whom a holiday has turned into hell.

After enduring the trauma of a devastated New York for two days, 60-year-old Monica Misra from Golf Green, who is in New York on a visit to her daughter, is now desperate to get back home. But all avenues are closed to her.

“My mother is ailing and New York today is becoming a bit too much for her to endure,” said her son Rahul Misra. “I spoke to her on Thursday and all she can talk about is how homesick she is and how she is missing us all. But till the flights resume, no one can say how long she will have to put up with the tension.”

Monica may just be homesick, but many, who have pressing work back home, but find themselves stranded in the Big Apple. Take the case of Prabodh Sinha, West Bengal’s minister for parliamentary affairs.

Sinha had travelled to New York to participate in a meeting of the executive committee of the World Federation of United Nations Association, but the crash of the World Trade Center changed all that. There is no meeting to attend any more. There is pressing work back here. But there is no flight to bring him back home. So he is stuck, at the Millennium Hotel, unable to leave Manhattan, let alone the country.

“My father-in-law called us up to say that he is fed up of doing nothing in New York; he is tense about all the commitments he has to meet in Calcutta and frustrated at not being able to come back,” said a distressed Moushumi Sinha. “In fact, the entire day of the tragedy, we were trying to reach him over the phone, but in vain. All the lines were down, and we had no idea how he was doing. We finally got through to him on Wednesday.”

If Sinha wants to return to his work, there are others stuck in the US with compelling reasons to get back home. Sarita Roy is not on the East coast, but in Los Angeles. However, she too is waiting for the flights to resume.

On a month-long holiday to the US, Sarita was scheduled to take a flight out on the day after the terrorists struck. In fact, it is imperative that she gets back by Monday. For, that is the day her brother is getting married.

“As it is, the New York tragedy is making her miserable; on top of that, if she misses the wedding, she will be devastated,” said her cousin Reena. “When she called, she was on the verge of tears, and all she could talk about was the wedding preparations.”

Saikat Sen, a corporate executive on a visit to his company’s headquarters in London, was luckier. He was scheduled to return to Calcutta on the day that the US hijackings took place. And, as in the US, flights out of London were also cancelled.

But, after a few days’ wait, he managed to return to the city on Thursday. “It is great to be back home,” is all that he could say on his return.


Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
Information technology major Wipro is set to intensify its presence in West Bengal. Suresh Vaswani, president, Wipro Infotech, met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings on Thursday to discuss the company’s plans.

“It was a checklist-kind of a call, where we informed Bhattacharjee of the progress of our plans in West Bengal,” said Vaswani, on his way to airport. Denying reports that Wipro had shelved its plan of setting up a software development centre in Calcutta, he said: “We are very much on schedule with the development centre and work will start in the middle of next year.”

Wipro is also entering into an agreement with Webel, the state’s nodal IT agency, for support and maintenance of its equipment. “Given Webel’s vast pool of skilled manpower, it’s a perfect choice for us,” said Vaswani.

Besides, Wipro will enter into a partnership with Webel for its personal computer-assembling unit in the state. According to a Webel official, 4,000 sq ft in the new Webel Technologies Ltd building has been earmarked for the proposed unit.

“We are discussing the possibility of manufacturing PCs jointly with Webel. This will make logistics and delivery easier and we will be able to serve eastern India better.”

During the meeting, the chief minister spoke of enhancing Wipro’s role in the state’s e-governance initiatives. He also instructed the IT minister to involve Wipro in the second phase of the computer literacy programme in 200 more schools.



Market closure order

The civic market authority has decided to close down parts of New Market, College Street Market and Lansdowne Market because of the unsafe condition of the buildings. Member, mayor-in-council, market, Samsuzzaman Ansari said he had sought the mayor’s permission to repair the unsafe market buildings.

Cinema takeover

n the aftermath of the collapse of the porch at Society cinema, mayor Subrata Mukherjee has constituted a committee to run Society cinema on behalf of the CMC. The Corporation took over the hall on Tuesday.”We are preparing to take over Roxy cinema, too,” said the mayor. Manager of Society Zahiruddin Ahmed said: “We are still in possession as the CMC’s lessee. The takeover notice is illegal.” The hall management has filed a writ petition against the CMC in the high court.

New Jersey note

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has sent a letter to his counterpart in New Jersey, expressing Calcutta’s sympathy for the relatives of the victims killed in attack on the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon. New Jersey recently entered into a sister city tie-up with Calcutta.

Doctor arrested

52-year-old doctor was arrested from Taltala on Wednesday night for allegedly raping a 30-year-old woman. Police said the woman had alleged that the doctor raped her in his chamber when she went to him for treatment. He was produced in court on Thursday and remanded in police custody till September 21.

Puja specials

South Eastern Railway will run six more pairs of superfast Puja Specials to Puri from October 21 to November 18 to cope with the rush of passengers. The superfast trains will leave Howrah at 10.45 pm on October 21, 23 and 26 and November 2, 9 and 16, to reach Puri at 11 am on the following days. The return trains will leave Puri at 11.05 am on October 22, 24 and 28, and November 4, 11 and 18, to reach Howrah at 11.50 am on the following days.    

Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
This is one problem the Jadavpur University Alumni Association has, perhaps, never faced before.

With at least 2,000 engineering graduates from the university working in New York and Washington D.C. — the New York chapters are the largest — and many of them still untraceable, the old boys’ network is working overtime to know what happened to their friends when the hijacked planes crashed into the New York-based World Trade Center and Washington’s Pentagon headquarters.

Of the 2,000, many worked in offices at the World Trade Center, which bore the brunt of the attack. “I was beside myself with shock when I first heard of the incidents on television,” said general secretary of the Calcutta Chapter of the alumni association Bidyut Baran Chattopadhyay. “Many of those who have not yet been traced work in World Trade Center-based offices,” he added.

The news brought old boys in the city together. The alumni association office telephone has not stopped ringing since Tuesday’s accident, Chattopadhyay said. “All of them want to know about their batchmates.”

Calls are also poring in from relatives of Jadavpur University engineers settled in New York and Washington D.C.

“They are approaching us after individual efforts have failed. But it is becoming very difficult to explain to them that we won’t be able to get any better if they failed,” an alumnus said.

The alumni, however, fails to understand why e-mails are not being answered.

“From private Internet service-providers to the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, we have not left any stone unturned,” Chattopadhyay said. But nothing much has come out of the efforts.

Unlike Jadavpur University, the B.E. College Deemed University does not have any centralised alumni association. Yet it has several smaller associations spread across the United States, where a few thousand B.E. College pass-outs work.

The college is trying its best to contact its old boys.

“The alumni provides a lot of help and keeps in touch throughout the year,” registrar P.K. Ray said. “It is now our duty to stand by them.”

The efforts, however, have yielded only mixed results till now. “Some have been contacted, while others are still untraceable,” Ray added.


Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
The Society cinema collapse has put the city civic authorities on the alert.

In a bid to avert more such disasters, the Corporation has decided to pull down all decrepit cantilever balconies in central Calcutta, unless the house-owners take steps to restore the structures.

Other areas of the city will be looked into later, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee will ask the Public Works Department (PWD) to demolish a precarious structure, owned by the PWD’s electrical wing, on the Maidan, close to the north-east corner of Manohar Das Tarag.

Old buildings in the BBD Bag, Esplanade, Park Street and Bidhan Sarani areas have been shortlisted first, as a large number of people take shelter under the cantilevers of these buildings during showers, said Mukherjee.

Besides, several such balconies in Esplanade, BBD Bag, Burrabazar, Bowbazar and Hatibagan house markets, he added.

The mayor has ordered member, mayor-in-council (building), Swapan Samaddar and director-general of building Ashok Roychaudhury to inspect the balconies which projected onto the pavements without the support of pillars.

According to an estimate by the civic building department, the number of risky balconies has shot up to several hundreds.

The Corporation will identify the decrepit balconies and serve a month’s notice to the house- owners to reinforce the structures, failing which the civic building wing will demolish them, Samaddar said.


Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and Calcutta Police want more discipline among community pujas and puja-hoppers this year. In a joint pre-Puja meeting at Lalbazar, commissioner of police Sujay Chakraborty asked officials of the CMC and the PWD to make arrangements to keep the carriageways free for vehicles, particularly near the big pujas.

The commissioner expressed his displeasure over flyover contractor Senbo’s tardy progress of restoring the road between Dover Lane and Gariahat Road.

Chakraborty showed the civic and PWD officials a letter from Senbo, requesting the police to allow closure of the road for three days for repairs. Seven days had elapsed, and Senbo sent in a fresh request to the police to keep the road closed for another three days.

The commissioner asked civic officials to take up the issue with the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners and Senbo for early restoration of roads leading to Ekdalia Evergreen and Singhi Park pandals.

He also urged chief engineer (roads) Sajal Banerjee to repair some thoroughfares that needed immediate attention.

At another meeting with mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Tuesday, officials of Calcutta Tram Company made it clear that it would not be possible to repair the roads with tram tracks as the company was in dire straits.

To make the disciplined-puja drive a success, the police have asked the PWD to barricade all pavements leading to the big pujas. The CMC has been advised not to allow a single foodstall on the pavements.

About 10,000 makeshift food stalls spring up on the pavements and beside the carriageways during the Puja days in the city.

Assistant director conservancy Swapan Mahapatra said the CMC had decided to relocate these temporary stalls in nearby parks at a fee to be realised from them to clean up the park daily during the Pujas. Besides, Mahapatra has requested the CMC not to allow any puja committee to erect billboards within 50 metres of a road crossing. In case a puja committee flouted this norm, he has asked the civic authorities to contact the police immediately to have the billboard pulled down.

Three days — October 26 to 28 — have been fixed for immersion of the 1,200 images to be worshipped at community puja pandals in the city. Special arrangements have been made for lighting and cleaning the ghats on these days.


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