Ragging returns to haunt hostels
Driving? Don’t take the wheel
Red tape ties up students’ big city tour
Mob attacks malaria staff
Tale of two cities & taxes people pay
The City Diary
Jamaica joy fused with Calcutta sunset
Mayor prods govt on old taxi ban
Silent voices, strong impact
Splash of Ray in riot of colour

Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
His “deep belief in god” and “faith in a religious cult” proved nearly fatal for a third-year B. Com student of City College, on Amherst Street, as ragging reared its ugly head in the heart of the city, yet again.

Three outgoing students of the same college cornered the boy from Midnapore. What started as “teasing” on Monday night, at Rammohun Hostel, turned into “brutal ragging” by dawn, leaving the victim “grievously wounded”.

On Tuesday morning, acting on a complaint from hostel superintendent Ananta Roy, the Amherst Street police rounded up all three accused of ragging, which has been banned by both the Central and state governments.

The three students, who had written their B.Com finals this year, were residents of neighbouring districts, police said. They were produced in the court of the additional chief metropolitan magistrate on Tuesday afternoon and released on bail.

The injured student was taken to Marwari Relief Society Hospital, from where he was sent back to the hostel after treatment on Tuesday.

Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, said trouble began late on Monday when the three accused started teasing the victim over his religious faith.

“According to other students, the boy is a silent, reserved youth, who was often made the butt of jokes for his habit of praying regularly in the hostel. On Monday evening, when the three seniors started abusing his religious belief, he initially took it silently. Then, something must have snapped and he protested,” said Basu.

Then, things took an ugly turn, with the trio starting to slap him around. This continued, sporadically, through the night. “Early in the morning, the three accused forced their way into the victim’s hostel room. They started thrashing him up with a vengeance. The poor boy was punched and kicked mercilessly,” added Basu.

The victim’s cries for help drew the attention of some other hostelites. They alerted the superintendent and rushed to the boy’s aid. Ananta Roy and some students went over to Amherst Street police station and informed the cops about the incident.

A section of the students took the victim, bleeding profusely from the face and almost senseless with pain, to Marwari Relief Society Hospital.

The police, meanwhile, stormed Rammohun Hostel and rounded up the three alleged assailants from their room.

The City College incident has once again exposed the perils of hostel ragging. According to an officer of the Amherst Street police station, the problem at Rammohun Hostel is created by a lot of “outgoing students and outsiders” camping there and breaking all rules. “If strict discipline is not imposed in hostels, such incidents are waiting to happen,” he observed.

This is the second case of ragging recorded with a local police station in the past two months. A student of Kolaghat Engineering College fled the hostel and returned to his Barasat residence after being “tortured by seniors”.


Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
Time: 6.30 pm; Place: The crowded Sarat Bose Road-AJC Bose Road crossing.

A white Maruti Zen screeches to a halt at the red light. Cursory glances turn to bewildered gapes – where’s the man at the wheel? In fact, where’s the wheel?

Before they can answer the questions “Is it a joke? Is it a ghost?”, the car, without a steering wheel or driver, speeds off as the lights change.

Anuj Agarwal has been driving his white Maruti Zen around town, sitting either to the left of the control panel or — for short, empty stretches — even in the backseat. He doesn’t need the steering wheel at all. All he uses is a “small, but smart” joystick to sail through city traffic.

For over two months, the 32-year-old owner of a steel rolling factory in Liluah, “with a dream to rewrite rules of driving”, has been depending on his invention, which may resemble a video-game tool, but can steer a car with effortless ease.

“The joystick sends proportional signals to a microprocessor unit fitted in the dashboard, which decodes the signal to a rotatory position and drives the servo motor, coupled with the steering mechanism of the car,” explains Agarwal, who is convinced that cars of the future will do without the steering wheel.

“This wire-less technology does not restrict the driver to the driver’s seat, eliminates the risk of the steering wheel slamming into your chest on impact and makes things like parking on a crowded street so simple,” announces Agarwal, who is busy upgrading the system to a “complete joystick control”, which will “eliminate the use of legs”.

The joystick is not just about making driving easier and effortless. The Science graduate from St Xavier’s College claims it could significantly reduce the risk of road accidents. The mechanism can be programmed to “limit the steering response” at high speeds and “stop the car from spinning out of control”.

The small device also holds out hope for the physically-challenged. “By using just a small bar, people without legs, or even without one hand, can drive without a problem,” promises Agarwal.

The tool looks simple, but the technology is far from it. Agarwal, an aviation enthusiast, and Prakash Kaluka, an automobile parts dealer, have devoted several months and over a lakh of rupees to their dream.

“The idea of the joystick was inspired by the ‘fly-by-wire’ technology used in aircraft and fighter jets,” admits Agarwal, who has bagged prizes in various model-aeroplane competitions.

“I started working on joysticks with the belief that if an aircraft can be flown effortlessly with a joystick, aided by computer instructions and programmed intelligence, why can’t we drive a car with similar technology?” he recounts.

Now, with his first mission accomplished, Agarwal is keen on taking his technology to the people. “I am yet to discuss my technology with car makers. I will sound some of them out and will apply for a patent shortly,” he concludes, before zooming off into the darkness, giving backseat driving a whole new dimension.


Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education is ready; a school with a mission has responded; but the state tourism department maintains a studied silence. As a result, the proposed free annual trips to Calcutta for “poor and meritorious students from rural Bengal” has hit an administrative roadblock.

It had started with a plea and a promise. “My friends and I dream of visiting Calcutta, but we don’t know how to go about it. Please help us,” a boy from the Sunderbans had pleaded with the chief minister of Bengal, during a teleconference between Writers’ Buildings and the districts.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee promised to take up the matter and make their dreams come true. That he did, by having a whole gang over after the Pujas.

“We were moved by the chief minister’s gesture and chalked out a system for offering such facilities to poor and meritorious students throughout the state every summer,” said Board president Haraprasad Samaddar.

“Loreto Sealdah offered free accommodation for students as soon as we placed the proposal before the institution. But, unfortunately, the tourism department has not responded to our request to sponsor the children’s trip from the districts. I am surprised to find that the department is silent, even though the scheme involves the interests of poor and meritorious students,” added Samaddar.

Sister Cyril, principal, Loreto Sealdah, affirmed that her school “would not have any problem” putting up the touring students. “But the Board should ensure that too many students don’t turn up at one go and we should not be expected to put up their parents,” she clarified.

Barin Basu, director, state tourism department, said that the Board’s proposal was still under consideration. “We will soon hold a meeting to discuss the matter,” he added. According to sources in the Board, with the state tourism department drifting in slow motion, the entire scheme is now in jeopardy.


Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
Angry over delay in malaria-control measures, residents of Dhiren Ghosh Road, in ward 71, Bhowanipore, where four people died of malaria in the past 10 days, attacked Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s (CMC) vector control department staff on Tuesday. The workers had gone to spray larvicide in the area.

Terming the attack unfortunate, local councillor Ratan Malakar said it was politically motivated. “Not all the deaths have been due to malaria,” he said.

Another controversy brewed at Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday, where minister of state for health Pratyush Mukherjee declared that 40 people had died of malaria between January and October. The CMC records, however, say there have been only 16 deaths, 10 of them after the Pujas.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said the state figures were inflated since patients from the districts were included too. Officer on special duty (health) Atanu Mukherjee put the blame on private doctors, saying they were not following a “unified drug schedule”.


Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
Karachi and Calcutta have so much in common… “Both are congested port cities. Both have malaria and open drains on the outskirts. Both are poised to introduce low-cost housing for city slum dwellers.”

The one major civic difference between Karachi and Calcutta: “Residents of Karachi have been paying water, fire and conservancy taxes from the very beginning.”

The observations came from a man who matters — Muhammad Tariq Hasan, deputy lord mayor of Karachi City Government. “I was taken by surprise when mayor Subrata Mukherjee told me that Calcuttans do not have to pay even water tax, leave alone a levy on fire and conservancy services,” said Hasan, in the city on a three-day trip to attend the seminar on ‘Urban Environment Management: Local Government and Community Action’.

The 29-year-old deputy lord mayor of the 650 sq-km port city said every year, residents have to “pay a package” — Rs 1,000 and upwards, according to the size of the plot and house — for water supply, fire and conservancy services. “We have been paying water tax ever since we can remember. The attitude of the people in Karachi towards the civic body is : Tax lo, hamare upar lagao, lekin chori mat karo (Levy tax, spend the money on us but don’t steal public money),” said Hasan.

Calcutta’s mayor certainly picked up a civic tax tip or two from the Karachi deputy lord mayor. “I never knew that the people of Karachi had to pay so many civic taxes. I hope to visit the city soon and take a closer look at their system of governance, which is so different from ours,” said Mukherjee, who has been struggling to convince Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee about the need to impose a tax on filtered-water supply in the city.

Hasan said he had “invited Mukherjee and his family” to Karachi and promised him a trip to the ruins of the ancient civilisations of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. “I did not know that the Calcutta mayor was a post-graduate in archaeology. He has shown keen interest in coming to Karachi. There are many things in Calcutta I had studied in history but saw for the first time.”

The young deputy lord mayor visited Victoria Memorial, the Indian Museum and Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral house in Jorasanko during his whirlwind tour. He was “thrilled” by a Metro ride and “most impressed” by the just-unveiled Parkomat on Rawdon Street.

“After returning to Karachi, I will be working on our proposed underground rail system and modern parking plazas,” said Hasan, who pointed out another “vital difference” between the two civic bodies.

“In Calcutta, the civic board is elected from representatives of political parties, but in Karachi, the civic board is non-political... If I attend any political meeting or rally while in office, I will lose my job,” admitted Hasan.

It must have been Mukherjee’s turn to be “taken by surprise”.



Police confirm Biswaroopa arson

fair deal: Actress Rituparna Sengupta signs a promotional poster at the Emami Landmark store on Tuesday. She has been roped in as the brand ambassador for a range of cosmetic products. Picture by Aranya Sen The Biswaroopa Theatre was set on fire on November 14, deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Soumen Mitra confirmed on Tuesday. Quoting forensic reports which were made available to the sleuths on Tuesday, Mitra said it was a clear case of arson. “The fire was planned for more than a month. It seems that petrol and kerosene were used,’’ Mitra said. Some suspects have been identified. Malchand Giria and Sree Chand Baid of Giridharilal Baid Trust Estate had handed over the theatre to the Sarkar brothers on May 5, 1973, on a 51-year lease. After the death of Rashbehari Sarkar, one of the brothers, the onus of maintenance fell on his daughter, Jayashree Mishra. Faced with mounting losses, Jayashree decided to demolish the structure and build a multiplex theatre. Detectives said a coterie was reportedly opposed to her plans. Jayashree had retrenched 55 staff members.

Ailing Somen leaves for Delhi

Former state Congress president and MLA Somen Mitra left for Delhi on Tuesday for a bypass surgery. Mitra was admitted to a south Calcutta nursing home on November 13, following a heart attack. Sources in the party said the surgery would take place at Escorts Hospital in Delhi. Mitra was accompanied to the capital by state Congress leaders, including Pradip Bhattacharya, Manas Bhuniya, Badal Bhattacharya and Subimal Mitra.


A 65-year-old man, Chittaranjan Sinha, hanged himself from the ceiling of his relative’s apartment in Phoolbagan. Police said Sinha was suffering from liver and heart disorders and was depressive.

Maidan bar protest

At least 200 slogan-shouting officials, supporters and members of Mohun Bagan on Tuesday staged a demonstration in front of the tent of the neighbouring Calcutta Football Club (CFC), protesting the opening of a bar on the club premises. “This area in the Maidan is the hub of sporting activity in the city. The opening of a bar will pollute the atmosphere in the vicinity,” Mohun Bagan general secretary Anjan Mitra said. According to Mitra, the CFC authorities should abandon their plans to open the bar. “If they do not, we will move the appropriate authorities and scuttle their bid,” he warned.

Uncle Kap dead

Jehanbax Aderji Kapadia, known in the city’s sporting circles as Uncle Kap, passed away early on Tuesday. The 95-year-old sprinter, who bagged twin golds in the World Veteran’s Athletics Championship in Brisbane in July, had contracted malignant malaria last week. He was admitted to a nursing home on Monday evening and was diagnosed with left ventricular failure.

Cell thief caught

Two persons were arrested for cellphone theft on Tuesday. Rajatsubhro Sil, a resident of Phoolbagan, used to swipe mobile phones from shops and sell them at cheaper rates. Police said Sil was caught when he tried to sell a mobile phone worth Rs 20,000 for Rs 4,000. Later, a person called Rajiv Chakraborty, who bought the phone from Sil, was also rounded up.

Torture charge

The Tiljala police arrested a bank manager on charges of torturing his domestic help. The maid had committed suicide at the manager’s residence on Monday night.    

Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
Sunset in Calcutta was one of the more soulful numbers in their last studio recording, Don Drummond, which embodied a sense of “melancholy and helplessness”. On Wednesday, when Maroon Town, the nine-piece fusion band from the UK touring the country for the British Council, unleashes its “funky ska” repertoire on the Calcutta audience for the first time, it wants to make “high-energy, joyful music”.

“We know a lot of good music is born out of sadness and I remember conjuring up that piece while in a particularly sorrowful mood, haunted by a vague memory of being stuck in a Calcutta flat with my mom and the stifling heat outside,” recounts keyboardist Rajan Datar, who along with childhood pal Deuan German (manager and guitarist), formed the band in 1987.

Rajan, the multi-ethnic band’s Indian connection, remembers living in Calcutta “for a few months” as a four-year-old and then “struggling to cope with a strange culture conflict” while growing up in London. “But when we take the stage tomorrow, we will wipe the slate clean and start anew, drawing from the strong pockets of creativity all around,” he smiles.

The band, one of the best live acts on the global fusion circuit known for its “sheer variety and vibrancy”, attaches great importance to its Calcutta gig (at Nazrul Mancha, Wednesday 7 pm, supported by The Telegraph and Oberoi Grand). “Even before we boarded the plane at Heathrow, we knew Calcutta will be a significant stop as it is the cultural capital of India, with a rich tradition in music and arts,” observes Deuan.

Rajan is keen to pick up essentially Bengali elements while in the city, including Tagore and baul gaan, on mini-discs and “inside our head”, and fuse those into their texture once they get back to the mixing monitors back home.

Maroon Town had kicked off as a “homage to ska”, the precursor to reggae and a big movement in Jamaica in the 50s and 60s, incorporating contemporary stuff on the way. “You just can’t pigeonhole our music. It has a loose shape and we take a lot of risks within that,” explains lyricist-vocalist Lenval Brown, reclining on a deckchair by the hotel poolside on Tuesday afternoon.

“Everybody has inputs and we have woven in stuff from Latin to rock, funk to hip-hop, jazz to Indian classical, to reach our signature tune, which is essentially groovy, dance music,” he adds.

Even though the band has done four studio albums, Maroon Town is known more for its live concerts. “Our joy is in playing all over the world, before diverse audiences,” says Rajan.

The group’s best moment on the road perhaps came during their gig at the Alpha Boys School near Kingston, Jamaica, “the home of ska”. “We did a workshop there for the local boys who could relate to the sound of an almost forgotten genre that was close to their heart,” recalls Rajan. Both Rajan and Deuan would like to shed the “typical image of Calcutta burnt into the head of an Englishman, one of poverty and chaos” before they fly out of this city which has “so much emotion that can be channelled into creativity”.


Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee thinks that the state government should take taxis that are more than 15 years old off the city streets ‘in a single stroke’.

Mukherjee’s statement on Monday came in the face of Trinamul Congress’ opposition to the implementation of Euro-II in Calcutta “in the interest of taxi operators”.

“The city belongs to millions of tax-payers and not to a handful of taxi-operators who send remittances elsewhere, causing irreparable health hazard for people living in Calcutta,” Mukherjee pointed out. He said if the state government did not take action immediately, auto-pollution would soon turn Calcutta into a choking city like Delhi.

A taxi is almost constantly on the move. Hence after running for 15 years its engine wears out, Mukherjee explained. In 15 years, a taxi generates enough income to fund its replacement, he said.


Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
They represented the millions of Indians sharing the same fate for years. Though they are unable to speak, they spoke out and demanded their rights, making a national and international impact that they fervently hope will lead to growth.

They are the like-minded, who, either from birth or because of an illness, cannot speak but can control their limb movements. Blessed with intelligence and sensitivity, these persons afflicted with cerebral palsy gathered for a three-day international conference in Calcutta at which they were able to present their papers.

The first-ever international meet on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), disability and human rights in the country had delegates from Canada, Australia, the UK, Sweden, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, besides India.

Among the delegates were renowned speech pathologists, who shared the latest know-how in equipment and gadgets that would enable the physically-challenged to communicate.

One of the major outcomes of the conference was the decision to set up a national forum of “AAC users”, or people who use some special techniques to communicate. “Such a forum will help in pursuing their cause and lead to the development and adoption of low-technology and inexpensive methods for the affected in rural areas,” said Sudha Kaul, executive director of the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy and co-chairperson of the conference.

It was a rare and eventful three days. As many as nine “silent voices” were heard, demanding equal rights to education, access to public places (most of them are wheelchair-bound), jobs and scope to contribute to society.

Using a laptop with software called EZ Keys (similar to the one used by physicist Stephen Hawking), Sayomdeb Mukherjee, 21, operates the keyboard with his tongue. He urged the gathering to develop affordable versions, so that more people can avail of it.

Other speakers urged that public buildings like Nandan build ramps so that the physically-challenged could have access. A call was made in the presence of government representatives, minister Manab Mukherjee and senior bureaucrats, to implement the provisions of the five-year-old People with Disabilities Act.

New marksheets: Alarmed at the rise in forged marksheets, the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has decided to display the hologram prominently on them. Over six lakh examinees of Madhyamik 2002 will get the new marksheets, officials said. Pradyut Halder, Board secretary, said on Tuesday the decision followed an Enforcement Branch report on the recovery of forged marksheets bearing the Board’s seal.


Calcutta, Nov. 27 : 
It’s going to be an affair in black-and-white. It’s also going to be an addition to a ritual that is full of colour. The annual flower show at Vidhan Sabha, one of the showpieces of Calcutta’s winterscape, is set to yield pride of place to a black-and-white photographic exhibition on one of the city’s most famous sons — Satyajit Ray.

The first exhibition within the Vidhan Sabha, it will trace two decades of the maestro’s career, from 1973 till his death in 1992.

The exhibition, to run concurrently with the flower show from December 22 to December 25, will be part of the year-long celebrations to mark Ray’s 80th birth anniversary, Vidhan Sabha Speaker H. A. Halim told Metro.

The 40-odd photographs to be exhibited will follow his professional career from Sonar Kella to Agantuk via Ghare Baire, Hirak Rajar Deshey and Ganashatru; all shot by Hirak Sen, the photographer, who has spent much of his professional career, following his ‘master’s career through the lens.

The earliest photograph in the exhibit catches the director with another landmark — Howrah station and part of the bridge — as the backdrop. “Actor Soumitra Chattopadhyay was facing the camera that day,” Sen reminisced on Tuesday. “The shot was a sequence for Sonar Kella,” he added.

The last of the frames showing Ray shooting a film is from Agantuk. Taken in 1992, it shows Ray directing a host of Santhal artistes for a dance sequence shot in Bolpur. But Ray is obviously in failing health. “The shot is one of the few outdoor shots,” Sen said. “It shows how he changed his schedule to conform to his health needs,” Sen said.

Another photograph shows him drawing out the title card for a documentary on Sukumar Ray, his father. Taken in the late 80s, the picture shows a change from the Ray of 1973. “The age-lines are more pronounced,” Sen said.

One of the photographs catches Ray playing the piano at his Bishop Lefroy Road residence in 1973. Both Halim and Sen are confident the exhibition will be a big draw. “We are sure the black-and-white photographs will add colour to the flower show this year,” said Halim.


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