Devotees’ dilemma: Yesterday or today?
The speciality lies in the spirit
Rush for video view of reel terror
The City Diary
Ashtami crowds surge past police predictions
Teenager shot dead after row
State moves apex court over bail in Das murder
Convicts leave cells to bow before Durga
Key to protect intellectual property rights
Teens score over elders in malaria quiz

Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
A return to the roots with a pastoral passion? Or a look back in horror at September 11, 2001? Pages from the past? Or a peek at the present? The split in the Puja committees is showing. One, in central Calcutta, has split itself. For others, it’s back to the distant past when it comes to the sanctum sanctorum but, at a distance from the pandal, it’s a depiction of the not-so-distant past. Calcutta, it seems, cannot make up its collective mind about Puja pop stakes — yesterday or today?

The Amherst Row puja, organised by the Alpha Athletic Association, perhaps, best represents this duality. One section wanted to go along with the current rage by deluding the Devi into believing that she was coming to rural Bengal. The other would not let go of ‘tradition’ in welcoming the goddess to the central Calcutta locality. So, they did what they thought best — the narrow lane, for the first time in over half a century, is playing host to two community pujas. “This was the best way to avoid bitterness,” Ashis Majumdar, spokesperson for the ‘urban’ group, explained.

The result: You walk into a lane that has all the trappings of rusticity; half-way down, you are suddenly greeted by the glare of bright lights — chain-bulbs, a revolving flower, the works — of a big city. From mud structures covered by a smattering of hay and small bulbs with inverted baskets as lights, this narrow lane exemplifies Calcutta’s undecidedness by trying to, in the words of the organisers, “accommodate everyone”.

The organisers of the puja at Jodhpur Park have not done anything as drastic as having two separate pujas. But here, too, the duality is dominant. The pandal, made mainly of thermocol, has tried successfully to recreate a crumbling building. Organisers say it’s the physical representation of the declining fortunes of the state’s landlords, who were famous for their barir pujos. The lighting along the road to the pandal, however, does not try to prepare the visitor for the landlords-in-decline metaphor. At its gaudy best, it looks like the regular Chandernagore fare.

“It is from Chandernagore,” confirms puja committee secretary Sumanta Ray. “We knew that it would jar with the theme of our pandal,” he admits. “That is why there is a certain distance between the lights and the pandal.”

Across the road is the 77 Palli puja. The pandal is a tastefully-done series of pats, pictorially narrating the life of Krishna and tales from the Ramayana, conceptualised by local boy Saptarshi Ray and given shape to by patuas, led by Yakub Chitrakar and Ranjit Chitrakar, from a village in Midnapore’s Pingla.

The lights have been kept deliberately muted, explains Ray, to gel with the traditional pat. But the “concessions” to modernity — like the yellow-covered bulb-chain on the building a few inches from the pandal — do jar, he admits. “We have tried our best not to destroy our tradition,” he says, a trifle apologetically.

The FD Block puja at Salt Lake may be far from the one at Jodhpur Park, but they have more than a little in common. Here, too, the effort has been to maintain a balance between the distant past and the demands of practicality — high-powered lamps to light up the park — by not allowing the modern too near the pandal ‘from the past’.

The pandal has paintings re-creating the rural-Bengal ambience — from Asharh’s Rathyatra and Rama’s akaal bodhon in Bhadro to electricity-run hurricanes — but the organisers could not do without lighting up the park, said Alokananda Dasgupta, one of the organisers.

The Suruchi Sangha puja at New Alipore — where organisers include Borough X chairman and Trinamul councillor Aroop Biswas — has re-created Baradi, a village in Bangladesh, home also to Jyoti Basu, and has run into similar problems. There’s a pond, and there are trees planted about a month back. But to light up the park, the organisers have been forced to fall back on the same bulbs, albeit covered by bluish plastic wrappings. “It’s the best we could do under the circumstances,” Biswas admitted. “And it seems to have worked.”


Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
Ever since our childhood, this time of the year has always been very special to us. Due to our close bonding with Calcutta and for the fact that our closest family friends also come from the City of Joy, the Pujas hold a special significance for us.

As we practise the religion of love and humanity at home, not just the Durga Puja celebrations, but all festivals and rituals are part and parcel of the family. Be it Diwali, Id or Christmas, we celebrate everything.

Our mother is from Assam and our father from North India. So, we have inherited a very balanced mix of both cultures.

We remember, as children, visiting Puja pandals and being fascinated by the amazing skill and craftsmanship of the artisans who created those structures. A replica of the Victoria Memorial is among numerous startlingly-creative pandals that come to mind immediately.

The mouth-watering foodstalls which come up around the pandals are another major attraction of the Pujas in Calcutta. Till late at night, everybody seems to be on the streets, stopping at some pandal or the other to grab a bite or catch a breather.

In 1995, we were in Calcutta for the Pujas. It was an experience very difficult to put down on paper. The whole city looked like a bride, dressed up for her wedding. The pandals, lighting, fireworks were just super. Apart from the obvious visual pleasures, we also sensed the feeling of happiness and warmth in the hearts of the people.

It felt as though this was a time when good really takes over evil and differences and misunderstandings take a backseat. The spirit of the Pujas, we realised, is what makes the Pujas so special in Calcutta.

The families we know in Calcutta always send us overwhelming gifts and good wishes at this time. Gifts, however, are only a small part of the Puja spirit. This is a time when we should do good for others — the under-privileged, who are unable to participate in the festivities, the orphans, who have no one to turn to… Not just monetary aid, but even little things like lending a helping hand to people makes so much sense.

We both have always tried to help such people by giving them money or by giving them clothes. If nothing else, it’s a time to pray for the peace of the world.

The spirit of the Pujas is the one thing that has not diminished even with changing times. We hope and pray that the magic of Indian classical music endures and the traditions and cultures of this historic land stay on forever and ever.

If we both have a dream, it is that the whole of India celebrates such festivals with more joy and togetherness, for this feeling of love and brotherhood is disappearing from our country.


Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
“A handful of last-minute Christmas Eve passengers are boarding a flight from New York to Los Angeles that will change their lives forever.” The fine print goes on to mention that among the passengers are an armed robber and a serial killer.

The extract is from the dust-jacket of Turbulence, a Hollywood thriller that has had two sequels. “They could have brought out a few more,” Anil Kumar Dewan, one of the partners of Raja Electronics, one of the city’s biggest lending libraries, said. “The demand for all three movies in the series has to be seen to be believed,” he added.

The September 11 terrorist strikes on US buildings may mean bad business for the airline industry but, for the city’s CD and video cassette lending libraries, the strikes have now come to mean a huge money-spinner. Top of the heap are movies like Turbulence, which has a storyline that would be remarkably similar to that of the hijacked planes that struck at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon headquarters, and, surprisingly, a documentary on Nostradamus’ prophecies.

Raja Electronics has five copies of the 83-minute documentary titled The Man Who Saw Tomorrow. Very few people had heard of it before September 11 and there were “very few, if any” demand-slips since 1985 when they were procured, Dewan said. “But the attacks have changed all the equations,” he added.

One of the prophecies that the documentary highlights are the attack on “high installations” planned by a man wearing a blue turban. “There’s a queue for the five CDs,” Dewan said.

Besides prophecies, movies like Turbulence with hijacked aircraft and a lot of action and drama are vanishing off the shelves as well. Passenger 57, another movie narrating a hijack drama, is high on the list of current favourites. So are the two in the Speed series where the action takes place in a bus but has a lot of drama, action and — above all, as the title suggests — a lot of speed and the Harrison Ford-starrer, Airforce One.

Few lending libraries in the city are as well-stocked as Raja when it comes to Hollywood offerings and their owners are ruing that fact.

Staff at both Gupta’s at Gol Park and Electrovision on Chakraberia Road say their clientele is still into the staple Hindi and Bengali fare but that could be because they don’t have too much else to offer.

None of them is, however, willing to make the investment now. The demand-graph will automatically come down once the hijack attacks give precedence to more recent events, they explain. For the same reason, Raja has decided against procuring more copies of the CDs that are doing well. “This is a passing phase,” Dewan reasoned.



Results of puja excellence awards

Pop pick: Bosepukur Sitala Mandir. Picture by Pradip Sanyal The results of a number of puja awards were announced on Ashtami:—

Snowcem Ananda Durgotsav Arghya

Barisha Sristi won the first prize for overall performance. The second prize went to Badamtala Ashar Sangha, with Hatibagan Sarbojonin taking the third place. The top two pujas in Howrah were organised by Ramkrishna Athletic Club and Arupara Sarbojonin Durgotsav Committee.

Asian Paints Sharad Shamman

Bosepukur Sitala Mandir, Lake Town Adhibasi Brinda and the Shristi pujas have been named the three best pujas. The Discovery of the Year award went to Young Star Club of Kankurgachhi. Darpanarayan Tagore Street Pally Samity received the Innovative Excellence award, while Upendra Nath Pal was named Artisan of the Year.

MP Birla Foundation Puja Utkarsh 2001

The ‘Best Image’ award went to the Adi Ballygunge Sarbojonin Durgotsav, the ‘Best Pandal’ to Lake Town Adhibasibrinda and the ‘Best Ambience’ to Taltala Children’s Park (14 Palli).

IBP Red Shreshtha Singha Purashkar

Bosepukur Sitalamandir won. The second and third prizes went to Bagbazar Sarbojonin Durgotsav and Mudiali Club .

Calcutta Municipal Corporation Puja Awards

Bosepukur Sitala Mandir was declared the winner, followed by Mudiali Club and Nearabagan in north Calcutta

Drug addict dies in custody

Arun Agarwal, a teenage drug addict, died in the custody of Jorabagan police on Wednesday morning. Police said the victim was beaten up by local residents on Tuesday night who caught him stealing goods from a godown. Police said Arun used to steal even from his own house. He was caught on Maharshi Debendra Nath Road around 2 am. Some magnetic tapes, stolen from the godown of Girish Pandey, were found in his possession. Police rescued Arun and admitted him to RG Kar Hospital, where the doctor released him after administering first-aid, said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department. He was then arrested and brought to the police station. Arun also lodged a counter-complaint against those who beat him up. “Around 6.30 am, Arun fell ill. There were signs of withdrawal symptoms in his behaviour. He was rushed to RG Kar Hospital where doctors pronounced him dead,” said an officer of Jorabagan police station.

Guard injured

The security guard of the deputy commissioner, special branch, was injured when a state bus knocked him down in front of the Hudco office in Ultadanga on Wednesday morning. Mintu Das was first taken to ESI Hospital, but was later shifted to SSKM Hospital, where his condition was stated to be critical.

Hacked to death

A 35-year-old securityguard, Ekraj Gautam, was hacked to death at Alipore Park late on Tuesday. Police said Ekraj, an employee of Gorkha Security Agency, had a quarrel with his friends. According to the police, the killing was pre-meditated. The incident occurred at the servants’ quarter of a house on Alipore Park Road. Police said Ekraj, along with his friends Ashoke Thapa and Dilip Thapa, was sleeping in a room after a late-night drinking session. “Early on Wednesday, the sweeper entered the room and found Ekraj lying on the bed soaked in blood. He had been stabbed,” police said. Ashoke had reportedly given Rs 5,000 to Ekraj to be sent to his family in Nepal. When Ashoke came to know that the money did not reach, he blamed Ekraj for cheating him. “As Ekraj refused to return the money, Ashoke chalked a plan to kill him,” police said. Both Ashoke and Dilip are absconding.

Painter feted

Noted painter and former principal of Santiniketan Kala Bhavan Jogen Chowdhury has been awarded the Kalidas Samman, a prestigious recognition instituted by the Madhya Pradesh government. Chowdhury will be given a citation and Rs 1.5 lakh as prize money at a function in Bhopal on November 1. The award is considered among the highest national honours for an artist. Thumbs Up TO salt Lake medical forum for deciding to organise free health check-up camps in each block. The service will be extended to other parts on the city’s eastern fringes    

Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
Calcutta and the districts came together on Mahashtami to dwarf Saptami’s ‘record-breaking’ turnout at the pandals and ensure that the police would have to use Wednesday’s crowd as the benchmark of what a late-October puja could do to the crowd-graph.

The police — fresh from Tuesday’s experience, when traffic managers were taken by surprise by the pandal-mania that gripped the city before dusk — tried to match the crowd with a whopping 17,000 personnel on the streets by the evening, ensuring that the traffic flow remained normal.

“After Tuesday, we know what to expect,” said deputy commissioner (traffic) M.K. Singh.

The crowd in south Calcutta on Wednesday was “at least double” Tuesday’s turnout, he estimated. “Overall, the crowd on Wednesday throughout the city was around 10 per cent more than Tuesday’s crowd,” Singh added.

Calcuttans, keeping the Saptami experience in mind, when a surge from the districts made pandal-hopping a distinctly uncomfortable experience in the evening, made slight adjustments to their Ashtami time-table on Wednesday.

The crowd from the districts, which thronged the pandals on Tuesday, pushed Calcuttans out of their homes during the day itself. “It appears that a large section of Calcuttans, wary of the surge from the districts, came out early to finish visiting the must-see pandals,” Singh said.

Despite the massive traffic bandobast, he admitted things could still go haywire. “The evening crowd comprises a large section, which comes from outside Calcutta and is not used to the streets, nor does it have any clue of traffic and pedestrian movement,” was how Singh explained his department’s worries.

Officials put the number of people going around pandals in the city on Wednesday at “a minimum of 14 lakh”. But there was no drastic increase in the number of vehicles. “The extra crowd that we are seeing this year is from the districts,” a traffic department official said. “Very few of them are coming to the city in cars,” he said, adding that the train remained the most-used mode of transport.

News that the Bosepukur Shetla Puja was being shortlisted as a winner in one of the awards started sending the crowd towards Kasba from early afternoon. A part of the Bypass on the Rashbehari connector, especially near the Gariahat crossing and Ballygunge railway station, were choked. Gariahat Road (South), which has quite a few major draws along on both sides, was another casualty.

Though traffic was much better managed on Wednesday, the police seemed to have learnt from Tuesday’s snarls, when the day-time crowds turned their best-laid plans go awry — parts of north and central Calcutta, too, suffered.

Central Avenue, especially the stretch north of Colootola till the crossing with Vivekananda Road near Girish Park, was crowded since noon. Pujas at Md Ali Park and Simla Byayam Samiti were the reasons, the police said.

Another source of worry for the traffic department was Maniktala Main Road, near the Kankurgachhi crossing. One of the major hurdles for people wanting to see the quake-ravaged temple of Sealdah Railway Athletic Club was the traffic snarls near the station.


Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
Subhendu Malakar, 19, was gunned down on Ganesh Chandra Avenue, in the Bowbazar police station area, early on Ashtami morning. Police said the attack was a fall-out of a clash that broke out in front of the Subodh Mullick Square puja pandal.

Trouble started after Subhendu and his friends had an altercation with another group from the area behind the Bowbazar police quarters. “They started scuffling in the queue in front of the pandal around 1 am. Soon, policemen intervened and arrested one of them. Two of Subhendu’s friends, Shibu and Dipak, were also arrested,” police said.

hen Subhendu, a resident of Robert Street, was returning to inform his friends, youths from the rival groupintercepted him in front of Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan. “They first beat him up. Suddenly, one of them whipped out a country-made revolver and shot Subhendu at point-blank range. He died on the spot,” said an officer of Bowbazar police station.

No one was arrested in connection with the murder.


Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
The state government has filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court, seeking cancellation of bail to Sudhir Bhattacharya, alleged mastermind in the Sailen Das murder case.

Bhattacharya was granted bail by Calcutta High Court on October 9 as the police failed to produce sufficient documentary evidence in support of its allegation against the accused.

State public prosecutor Kazi Safiullah told Metro that after Bhattacharya was granted bail by the high court, another accused, Biswajit, who was arrested in the same case, made a confessional statement before the sub-divisional judicial magistrate, Barrackpore, which backed the stand of the investigating authorities.

“I am sure that if we can produce the statement of Biswajit, the high court will rescind the bail prayer of Sudhir Bhattacharya ,” Safiullah claimed.

Police have recovered a photograph of Sailen Das from the possession of Kamat, one of the main accused of the case. Kamat admitted that the picture was given to him by Bhattacharya to forward to the professional killers hired to eliminate Das. “Biswajit supported the statement by Kamat,” Safiullah said.

Dum Dum municipality chairman Sailen Das was shot dead by some miscreants at the doorstep of his residence on August 13 this year. Sudhir Das, former chairman of the same municipality, was arrested for his alleged involvement in the case. Investigating officers were of the view that Bhattacharya had appointed Kamat and others to kill Das so he could return as chairman of the municipality.

According to state government sources, the petition will be heard next week, after the court reopens.


Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
Seven years are enough to bring in a sea-change in their lives. Talat Sultana, who had conspired with paramour Nurul Islam to murder her husband and Forward Bloc legislator Ramzan Ali in 1994, is a different woman today.

Lodged in Presidency Jail as a lifer, Talat was busy on Wednesday, escorting inmates from their cells to the makeshift pandal in the jail. She, too, knelt down before Durga, along with Surita Bhattacharya, Moon Moon Bose, Sanjukta Basu Roy— all life convicts — to offer anjali on Ashtami.

But Swati Pal, a new entrant after the Khadim’s abduction case, was conspicuous by her absence.

Jail officials admitted that Swati had expressed her desire to come over to the pandal but was not allowed on security reasons.

Nurul Islam, lodged in the same jail as a life convict, was busy overseeing breakfast and lunch for nearly 1,000-odd convicts and undertrials in the male ward.

Life for nearly 5,000-odd life convicts and undertrials lodged in Dum Dum, Presidency and Alipore Central jails is free from anxiety, at least for the Puja days.

With no khaki-clad wardens and senior officials eyeing them, prisoners have the opportunity to turn revellers during the period.

“For these five days, we allow the inmates to enjoy themselves in their own way. Besides, we provide them with sumptuous lunch, dinner and breakfast for the festival,” said additional inspector-general of prisons, Dilip Chowdhury, now the acting IG, prisons.

In Alipore Central Jail, Puja is more colourful, as a lifer is not only heading a panel formed to oversee the arrangements, but even takes on the role of the priest.

Jail sources said Chandan Chatterjee, who has been serving a life sentence in the jail for over 10 years, is a purohit of no less importance.

“For the past three months, he has practised slokas from Sri Sri Chandi so that he could perform the Pujas well,” they said.

There were minor ripples in the jail during the day when Mohammed Taslim, alias Chunnu, Naba Kumar Mondal, the Khadim’s shoe magnate’s driver, and two new entrants, Happy Singh and Abdul Rashid, demanded that they be allowed to go to the makeshift pandal. The jail authorities did not allow them to attend the rituals for security reasons.

In Dum Dum Central Jail, Prasanta Ghosh, alias Bapi, whose death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment, appears more enthusiastic than others.

“Prasanta, along with a few others, like Santu Das, Asghar Ali and Tapan Singh, is taking the lead in managing the Puja this time,” said chief discipline officer (CDO), Anil Das.

Das, who has been camping in the jail since Monday, said the convicts are being fed with a special menu during the Pujas.


Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
In the run up to the post-WTO era of business beyond boundaries, a Calcutta-based company has come up with a product to empower the knowledge industry. The Salt Lake headquartered Aesthetic Technologies, in association with the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC), has hit the market with a multi-media-based interactive guide on “Intellectual Property Rights — Key to New Wealth”.

The guide includes a CD-ROM with hours of rich media, video, audio, graphics and animation and 10,000 pages of reference information, containing a gamut of intellectual property rights-related issues. The CD is presented as a dialogue between two characters.

Rohit Agarwal, chief of business creation at the fledgling company set up by professionals from premier institutes like IITs and IIMs, said: “Knowledge of IPR-related issues is an absolute necessity in today’s business world. Our product is created keeping in mind the interest of the creators of intellectual property, who must be protected from the onslaught of international majors.”

The comprehensive package includes separate chapters on basics of IPR, patents, other intellectual properties like copyrights, design, trademark and ‘IPR for you’, which talks about IP in various industrial and government sectors. It took Aesthetic around a year to complete the Rs 40-lakh project, funded by the government’s department of scientific and industrial research. For Sourabh J. Sarkar, Sanjay Sanyal and Rohit Agarwal — the three-member core team — creating the product was a “challenge”, as it was not in the line of company’s original business domain of software application and content for corporate clients.

According to Agarwal, developing the product involved a “lot of research” and discussion with people from business and industry, government and the legal community. “We wanted to customise the product so that it can be used by anybody,” he added. Launched in July 2001 for Rs 20,000, the product has created a demand and Aesthetic has plans of a sequel.


Calcutta, Oct. 24 : 
Teenagers of the city are more concerned about malaria than their seniors. This is the finding of a Calcutta Municipal Corporation pandal quiz on malaria awareness, organised with Coca-Cola and an organisation called Engio.

The civic health department conducted a sample survey in seven pandals — including Santosh Mitra Square, Ekdalia Evergreen, Maddox Square, Deshapriya Park and Park Circus — and found that teenagers responded more spontaneously to questions on malaria. The response from housewives and the elderly was disappointing too, according to member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan.

Altogether 500 pandal-hoppers were rewarded by Coca-Cola with glasses of free soft drinks and the winners tossed them down with a chorus of “Toofani Chumuk , Malaria Komuk”.

The questions were selected by Jayanta Basu of Engio. Participants were asked ‘Who discovered the man-malaria-mosquito chain: Ronald Reagan or Ronald Ross?’, ‘What is the easiest way to ward off mosquitoes — mats, coils or mosquito nets?’, ‘Which mosquitoes are blood suckers — male or female?’ and so on. Of 10 questions, more than 70 per cent of the teenagers answered eight questions correctly. Only 40 per cent of the grown- ups answered most of the questions.

“The response we received was overwhelming and we have a plan to boost the CMC’s anti-malaria campaign in a bigger way in future,” said Sushen Das, manager, fountain service, of Diamond Beverages, official bottler of Coca-Cola.

“The CMC has asked us to help set up the first malaria hospital in the country at Kalighat and we are considering the proposal,” he added. Besides, Coca-Cola has decided to refurbish the CMC canteen into a model refreshment centre in the New Market area.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee himself was present at the Ekdalia Evergreen pandal when the malaria quiz was being conducted.


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