Hope in the wake of horror
Ansari’s Delhi duo had twin terror mission
Grab a bite of Bengal in Berlin
The City Diary
Uproar over varsity appointments
Howrah hamstrung by ill-kept records
Jailors meet to counter terror threat
Teenager’s death sparks roadblock
Indochic, GK and the cover story
Buddha shouldn’t be misread

 
 
HOPE IN THE WAKE OF HORROR 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
Remember Abdur Rahman Mandal, alias Bakhtar, the only person who “saw” the Chhoto Angaria “carnage”? Well, the Midnapore man is now firmly ensconced in Calcutta. What’s more, there’s a newcomer in his family who has not heard about the incident that catapulted Bakhtar to the front pages of newspapers.

About a month ago, Bakhtar’s wife, Anisha Bibi, gave birth to their fourth daughter and seventh child. Bakhtar has named her Sahura because she was born in the city. The proud father does not want her to have anything to do with their village, Chhoto Angaria.

“We don’t even want to take her back to the village, though my mother and some distant relatives are still there,” Anisha said. “We don’t want to go back to those days of horror and torture.”

Bakhtar, too, has not gone back to his village after January 2001; it was his house that was allegedly torched by CPM cadre on January 3, along with some others.

His current address: A camp on 24, Chowringhee Road, set up by the Trinamul Congress.

“CPM cadre will kill me if I return,” Bakhtar said. “I am certain they will not allow me to live there, as I am the only one who volunteered information about the January 3 episode,” he said at the camp, run by Trinamul leader Madan Mitra.

Bakhtar’s mother, Kulsum Bibi, has no inkling about the addition to his family.

“My mother has been forced to cut off all connections with me by CPM leaders,” Bakhtar rued. “I don’t even write letters, as they are intercepted before they reach her from the local post office.”

He might be safe in Calcutta but life at Chhoto Angaria — at least till January 3 last year — was much better, Bakhtar said.

His family had a two-storeyed mud house with four rooms; back in the village, surrounded by forests, his children never had to share a room with a guest.

In the concrete jungle, however, things are different. Bakhtar and his family share 4,000 sq ft space with 120 Trinamul supporters who, till date, have not found the courage to return home.

There are also others whom they have never seen before, like Ashis Patra of Bankura, who has a deep hole where once his left eye was.

A typical day at work, too, is drastically different. At Chhoto Angaria, Bakhtar tilled his own land when he was not spreading Mamata Banerjee’s word.

In Calcutta, he rushes to the taxi-stand at 6 am and stays there till 10 in the night — save when he goes “home” for a quick lunch — collecting parking fees from taxi-drivers and ensuring that no one refuses a passenger.

Bakhtar’s sense of security, however, is not shared by local guardian Mitra.

“The camp does not even have a guard,” he claimed. “I don’t know how a key witness for CBI investigations can be left unprotected like this,” Mitra said.

Bakhtar’s sons — Zakir Hossain, Kunal Sheikh and Akash Ali — are always by his side as they, too, worry for his life.

Bakhtar, say CBI officials, has been questioned several times. “The probe is still on and we may need to check facts with him again,” a senior CBI official said.

   

 
 
ANSARI’S DELHI DUO HAD TWIN TERROR MISSION 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
Two of the five young men rounded up by the Delhi Police crime branch on January 31 had been handpicked by Aftab Ansari for a dual mission: To abduct VVIPs from Calcutta and recruit jihadis for subversive activities in eastern India.

“After interrogating the arrested youths, we have come to know that the duo was directly associated with Aftab Ansari. They had plans of conducting subversive activities and spreading the terror message in the eastern region,” joint commissioner of police (crime), Delhi, U.K. Katna, said on Sunday.

“We are keeping their identities under wraps for security reasons. They are being constantly grilled by various agencies to find out whether they had any connection with the American Center attack,” he added.

So far, the police have not found any evidence linking the arrested duo with the January 22 attack. A special CID team and a Calcutta Police outfit, which left for the Capital on Sunday, will also be questioning Ansari’s men on the Khadim’s case and their operations in Calcutta.

Sources said the duo — arrested from a suburban hotel near Delhi — was headed for Calcutta to fill the gap left by Asif Reza’s death.

“All the arrested persons, including the two in question, will be interrogated by our officers in New Delhi,” confirmed special inspector general of police (CID) V.V. Thambi.

The Delhi Police top brass said the duo had probably sneaked into India though Bangladesh and then got in touch with local contacts in the Capital.

“The duo confessed during interrogation that orders from Dubai included identifying criminals and turning them into jihadis, who would then be sent to Pakistan for training. Once their training was over, the criminals would sneak back into India and take up terror assignments, with the help of local contacts,” a sleuth explained.

The Delhi Police have detained “several local contacts” of the duo to track down other associates of Ansari.

   

 
 
GRAB A BITE OF BENGAL IN BERLIN 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
As a student, he worked for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in the University of Stuttgart. As a professional, he sold air-conditioner parts for a Switzerland-based firm. But for the past two decades, he has been teaching Germans the intricacies of cooking dal-bhat and luchi-mangsho and is also engaged in a patent war of the palate in a foreign land.

Meet Arup Banerjee, the Bengali-next-door who has made a career out of Indian — and more specifically, Bengali — cuisine in the land of beer and the frankfurter. More than 20,000 German ‘students’ — some of them much older than him — and five patented recipes bear testimony to the prowess of this chef from Behala, who made Germany his home in 1961.

Having given cooking lessons in universities like Esslingen, Pforzheim, Lindau and Singen, where the India fad now includes yoga and ayurveda, Banerjee is now back in town for his annual sabbatical. “The first formal class I gave was in 1979 in Stuttgart,” he recounts. “The Berlin Wall was still standing and Germany was still very much divided.”

Twenty-three years later, many things have changed for Germany, including the nose-diving fortunes of its national football team, says Banerjee. But one thing has remained constant: “Their interest and love for Indian cuisine… It has really grown over the years.”

One of the most popular Indian items on the German plate is the quotidian dal-bhat. “This combination of pulses may not be considered a delicacy here but, for Germans, it remains one of the favourites,” says Banerjee. But distinguishing between the mung and the musur is still very much beyond the palate of the average German student, he concedes.

Other favourites are luchi, phulkopir tarkari and the fish curry, though even his students , like other Germans, are wary of fish with too many bones. “It’s very difficult for them to pick (the bones),” he explains.

But why do Germans seem so fond of only Bengali dishes? “No, that’s not the case,” says Banerjee. “Most of my students show a very keen interest in tandoori items; it’s quite akin to their roasted food.” His love for the Bengali menu might have rubbed off on his students, he adds.

Banerjee, besides teaching the art of cooking, Indian-style, has also entered the patent war in Germany. He has five German patents for recipes, like chicken curry-and-rice and chicken curry. “They are dry, come in packets — like your ‘two-minute noodles’–— and just need to be heated in water for a plate of murgir mangsher jhol,” smiles Banerjee.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Book Fair records increase in sales

The 27th Calcutta Book Fair, which ended on Sunday, recorded a turnout of more than 250,000 visitors during the day. According to Kalyan Shah, general secretary, Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild, the turnout this year was over two million, almost the same as previous years. The footfall during the first two days, however, was low, as compared with last year’s, due to the unseasonal showers. A review has shown that there has been an increase in sales in most of the 600 stalls this year, Shah said. The demand for children’s books has also shot up.

Cops hurt in jute mill clash

Three policemen were injured in a clash between workers of Hanuman Jute Mill at Malipanchghara, in Howrah, on Sunday. Police said casual workers had been squatting outside the mill since Saturday night, demanding permanent jobs. The clash broke out when the mill’s permanent employees stepped out. As policemen rushed in, the mob threw stones at them. Later, 16 persons were arrested.

Social worker dies

Social worker Kalyani Karlekar died at her Triangular Park residence on Sunday after a protracted illness. She was 90. Kalyani did her masters in Bengali from Calcutta University and later joined Teachers’ Training School. In the early 1970s, she started Calcutta Social Project for the development of slums and streetchildren.

Flights rescheduled

Indian Airlines has rescheduled some of its flights in the Calcutta-Agartala and Calcutta-Dibrugarh sectors. On February 11, flight IC 743 will leave Calcutta at 10.40 am for Agartala. The return flight will leave Agartala at 12.10 pm, to reach Calcutta at 1 pm. On February 14 and 17, flight IC 701 will leave Calcutta at 10.40 am for Dibrugarh, while the return flight will leave Dibrugarh at 12.50 pm to reach Calcutta at 2.20 pm.

Discourse

Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine will be discussed by Dr Gita Ghosh at Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, on 8, Shakespeare Sarani, on Monday at 6 pm.    

 
 
UPROAR OVER VARSITY APPOINTMENTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
The Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) will launch a movement against the authorities for appointing heads to two departments, in violation of a university Ordinance.

JUTA secretary Tarun Naskar alleged that the authorities had appointed Bimal Chowdhury head of the metallurgy department for the second consecutive term. In the life science department, the university had ignored the seniority of at least two teachers while appointing Subrata Pal head of the department. “Both appointments were made in gross violation of the JU Ordinance,” Naskar alleged.

JUTA had been very vocal about these appointments and forced the university authorities to set up a fact-finding committee, with pro vice-chancellor Ashoknath Thakur as head. The committee also suggested that all such appointments be made in tune with the university Ordinance. But the authorities have, so far, ignored the recommendation.

JUTA members met vice-chancellor A.N. Basu on January 29 and demanded cancellation of the appointments. The executive council — the highest decision-making body of the university — met the next day. But the matter was not raised at the meeting on January 30. Basu had also refused to cancel the appointments.

Another JUTA official claimed that the authorities had ignored two senior teachers in the life science department — Sukumar Chatterjee and Ashru Sinha — and appointed Subrata Pal the head because of his proximity to the CPM-controlled university administration.

He said these appointments would help the CPM-controlled university administration to manipulate the election to the executive council, court and a number of deans. “Heads of departments are ex-officio members of the faculty councils, which play a key role in electing deans. Naturally, we have to organise a movement against these appointments before February 20 when election process will start”, said the JUTA official.

The vice-chancellor, contacted over the telephone, refused to comment.

   

 
 
HOWRAH HAMSTRUNG BY ILL-KEPT RECORDS 
 
 
BY TARAK NATH DE
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
Poor records are preventing civic officials overseeing building activities in and around Howrah town from identifying unsafe buildings. Sources in the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) told Metro that the department is finding it difficult to identify unsafe buildings as the records section does not have detailed information on them.

“We do not know how many of the 1,286 highrises (four-storeys and above) have abided by plans sanctioned. Naturally, it is difficult for us to identify those which have been built in violation of building rules,” said Basudeb Mukherjee, HMC’s chief architect.

Also, there is very little record of old and dilapidated buildings, some of which may have to be declared condemned immediately. Some officials of the records section supported the contention. “This is a fact. Our record-keeping has not been up to the mark,” they said.

Sources in the records section blamed lack of infrastructure and “the indifferent attitude of a section of officials” for the sorry state of affairs.

“It is unfortunate that many of us do not understand the importance of proper record-keeping and try to do it haphazardly. As a result, a number of important files and building plans are missing. Files, kept in the records section, are also gathering dust due to lack of maintenance,” sources said.

Officials also pointed to poor work culture in the Howrah civic body and inadequate computer networking as another reason for the HMC’s poor track record with files.

“The HMC is now trying to improve its infrastructure by computerising its departments, but irreparable loss has already been caused. It is high time experts identify the buildings constructed in violation of existing rules and plans,” said an official of the building section.

   

 
 
JAILORS MEET TO COUNTER TERROR THREAT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
A five-day interactive session for jail officials has been organised by the state prison directorate, in collaboration with Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), on Monday.

Prison officials from several states, including Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, will participate in the meet, to be held at Administrative Training Institute, in Salt Lake. One of the highlights at the session will be a discussion on the human rights issue.

“The programme will help us get acquainted with the strategies adopted by terrorists and ways to deal with them,” said inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar on Sunday. “We have tightened security measures in all the jails, but separate arrangements have been made for those put behind bars in connection with terrorist activities,” Kumar added.

In another development, the state prison directorate plans to shift prisoners lodged in jails for several years and “are prone to violence”. The move follows last Thursday’s incident, in which undertrial Seukumar Rajjak, a henchman of Sheikh Vinod, slashed rival gangster Guddu in a prison van. Jail sources said while Sheikh Vinod and his five accomplices had been shifted to Dum Dum Central Jail, Guddu would be lodged in Presidency jail. A move is also underway to shift some women prisoners, prone to violence, to Purulia jail.

   

 
 
TEENAGER’S DEATH SPARKS ROADBLOCK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
Traffic was paralysed in Beniapukur for an hour on Sunday morning, after the death of a 15-year-old boy in an accident. One person was arrested.

The mishap occurred around 8.15 am. The victim, Mohammad Imtiaz, was returning from the market on a bicycle. He was a resident of Topsia Lane.

As soon as Imtiaz reached Christopher Road, a Tata Sumo trying to overtake another knocked him down. Imtiaz was taken to a local hospital, where he was declared “brought dead”.

After the accident, the drivers of both vehicles tried to flee but bystanders caught hold of one and handed him over to police. The other managed to escape, leaving his vehicle behind.

Residents of the area blocked the road, demanding that a traffic guard be posted on the spot to check rash driving. The blockade was lifted on police assurance that the matter would be looked into.

Father Mohammad Sabir told the police Imtiaz was his eldest child and had started to support the family. “Every day, he would go out on his bicycle to ply variuos trades. On Sunday, too, he left home around 7.30 am and within half an hour, we were told of his meeting with an accident,” Sabir said.

Partha Chanda, a neighbour, said: “Mishaps are common in the area because vegetable-sellers spread out their wares on the road, blocking the carriageway. The police refuse to take action.”

   

 
 
INDOCHIC, GK AND THE COVER STORY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
Threatened as books are by the advent of digital technology, the problem is compounded by the lack of a “culture of preservation” in our country. It was against this scenario that the English department of Jadavpur University organised a seminar, Towards Book History in India, last Friday and Saturday.

It covered issues related to “production, distribution and consumption of the book, and the various personnel associated with these processes,” to quote its convener, Abhijit Gupta. A number of international scholars were speakers.

Graham Shaw, director of the British Library Oriental and India Office Collections, presented a bibliometric survey of publishing in Bengal 1874-1933, using statistics available and charts to analyse the book trade and the people involved in it. He said scrapping of archives was not a phenomenon peculiar to India.

Alexis Tadie of the Universite de Paris 7-Denis Diderot described how a British army officer transmogrified his personal copy of Kim by appending photographs of his choice between the lines. Padmini Mongia of Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, examined the making and marketing of “Indochic” in The God of Small Things.

While discussing the history of encyclopaedias, Madeleine Herren of the University of Zurich focused on notions about general knowledge in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Among the more interesting papers were Siddhartha Ghosh’s discussion on the making of Abol Tabol, Arun Nag’s on putting together the ideal Bengali encylopaedia, Dipankar Sen’s critique of the “wasteland” of Bengali typography, Swapan Chakravorty’s analysis of the hybridisation of early Bengali prose, and Rimi B. Chatterjee’s telling account of the printing of the Rig Veda at OUP.

The audience reacted spontaneously to Jatindra Nayak’s paper on the arrival of the printed book in Orissa, Subhendu DasMunshi’s on Satyajit Ray’s book covers, and Abhijit Nandi’s history of the College Street book trade.

   

 
 
BUDDHA SHOULDN’T BE MISREAD 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
What happened to the madarsa controversy is an old, familiar story. Any debate on anything to do with Muslims is a strict no-no because of the so-called communal sensitivity and its possible political fallout.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee thought it was time to break free from the stereotype. He chose to speak the unspeakable and was promptly forced to duck under a battery of alarmist bouncers. But he remains convinced that his was an important step that needs to be pursued.

The reactions were basically of two kinds. By talking about some madarsas being used for fundamentalist or even anti-state activities, the chief minister was alleged to have sent out a wrong signal to the entire community. This strain was reinforced by the reactions of some religious leaders and by politicians across the board, including sections in the CPM leadership.

The other reaction complained of the saffron ring in the Marxist leader’s voice. How could he speak in the language of L.K. Advani and the Sangh parivar? Many CPM leaders saw red in the fact that the BJP’s was the only stridently supportive voice for the chief minister’s stand.

Both reactions were clearly extraneous to the issues Bhattacharjee had raised. His critics focused on the possible consequences of his message rather than on the message itself. One way to sidetrack the issues was to bring up the dangers of Hindu fundamentalism, which Bhattacharjee had mentioned at all the meetings where he raised the madarsa issue. But the critics chose to ignore it because that would take away the teeth from their protests.

As for the charge of saffron sounds in his voice, Bhattacharjee could have pointed out that the CPM had done something that was unthinkable in Left politics until recently by organising a meeting in Calcutta to protest against the attack outside the American Center and the threat of terrorist activities in Bengal. The fact that his concerns about some madarsas matched Advani’s was certainly not germane to the debate.

Although Bhattacharjee was later at pains to explain that his point about these madarsas was not linked to the issue of the reform of madarsa education, he knows that the two issues are linked in a major way. The point he wanted to make was that unless the madarsa education was reformed, fundamentalist elements and their agents would try to abuse some of these institutions.

If the political-communal bogeys succeed in stalling this important reform agenda, it will be a major setback, not for Bhattacharjee, but for the Muslim community itself. Religious fundamentalists have a vested interest in keeping the community away from the reach of modernity and liberalism in education as much as in other spheres. The political leaders who want the status quo in the Muslim community retained at all costs know that only very poor Muslim families are lured into sending their children to these schools.

It is another matter, though, that the Left Front had turned a blind eye to these problems for a quarter of a century in power, during which time its aim — the Muslim vote — was no different from that of other so-called secular parties. If Bhattacharjee has finally thought of taking some steps to look beyond votebank politics, he needs the support of the Muslims.

Above all, the Muslims themselves should realise that it is not in the community’s interest to keep out of debates.. Bhattacharjee’s mission will succeed if the Muslims care to read this message carefully.

   
 

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