Aid slash for English schools
Grammy glory for rhythm duo
Delhi Board papers in lockers
A little extra, in the fitness of things
The City Diary
Forester friends of the four-legged
Look, hear and feel your lessons
Botanics being stifled, court told
Kudos for cholera control
From Kalighat to the new woman

 
 
AID SLASH FOR ENGLISH SCHOOLS 
 
 
BY MITA MUKHERJEE
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Anglo-Indian schools in and outside Calcutta, which employ English as the medium of instruction, on Thursday appeared close to hiking tuition fees after a government decision to slash financial aid to the institutions from March.

In a circular, the government has informed about 70 schools — most of them run by Christian missionaries — that the assistance given to them by way of dearness allowance (DA) would be pared down from 132 per cent to 41 per cent of the basic salaries of teachers and employees from next month.

Explaining the rationale behind the move, state school education minister Kanti Biswas said the Fourth Pay Commission’s recommendation provided a basis for the decision. “All that we are going to do is to pay the allowance at par with the allowance paid to teachers and employees of schools controlled or aided by us,” Biswas said.

The newly-structured rate of DA, though in tune with the pay commission’s recommendation, would severely hit teachers and various other categories of employees of Anglo-Indian schools whose basic salaries, compared to the scales prevailing in the state-aided institutions, were low.

The authorities of Anglo-Indian schools realise that the salaries of their teachers and employees will shrink considerably if the government starts paying the allowance at the official rate of 41 per cent.

By contrast, teachers and employees of state-controlled or aided institutions do not suffer because of their relatively lower dearness allowance and far higher basic salaries.

“It is a funny situation, where we ignore our own teachers and employees, only to pay a fat dearness allowance to them just because the (Anglo-Indian) schools they work for do not want to pay them higher basics. It is surprising, because they make hefty profits from tuition and various other fees,” said a senior education officer.

Worried over the government’s plans to cut down 90 per cent of the funds, the principals of all the prominent English-medium schools held an emergency meeting on Thursday.

N. McNamara, general secretary of the Association of Anglo-Indian Schools and principal of St Joseph’s College, said: “We have discussed the problem and hope to work out a solution soon.”

Sources close to the association said the heads of the schools have decided to meet senior officers of the state school education department soon and demand withdrawal of the decision.

“If the government really implements the decision, the schools will have no alternative but to increase fees. The hike will be necessary, as we cannot stop any of the existing financial benefits to our employees,” said a principal of a school after the meeting.

The authorities of Anglo-Indian schools had to increase tuition and other fees recently to pay the enhanced salaries, as recommended by the Fourth Pay Commisssion. Guardians of students feared they would have to pay even higher tuition fees now.

   

 
 
GRAMMY GLORY FOR RHYTHM DUO 
 
 
BY SAMARJIT GUHA
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Bikrambhai, you’ve won the Grammy! That was Amaan Ali Bangash’s wake-up call from New Delhi to Bikram Ghosh’s New Alipore home, early on Thursday.

Calcutta had just taken centrestage for a magic musical moment at the Staples Center, Los Angeles, hosting the 44th Annual Grammy Awards. When Pandit Ravi Shankar’s album Full Circle at Carnegie Hall 2000 won the World Music Album award, Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose — the city-based tabla players who had accompanied the sitar maestro at the concert — had no idea about their share of Grammy glory.

Till young sarod star Amaan called Bikram. “For a moment, it didn’t register, as the awards had slipped my mind. Then, when it sank in, I started calling up all my well-wishers,” said the 35-year-old tabla exponent.

For Tanmoy, the all-important call came from Rabin Pal, Ravi Shankar’s secretary in Calcutta, who runs the cultural organisation, Jalsaghar. “Soon after Rabinda broke the news, Amaan called from Delhi to congratulate me,” said Tanmoy, 35.

For Ravi Shankar, who spent his childhood in Calcutta and retains a “strong bond” with the city, this is his third Grammy, after West meets East with Yehudi Menuhin in 1968 and The Tribute to Bangladesh in 1972.

“At 82, any award holds equal importance for me, but I do agree that the Grammy is special. I was more excited when I won it the first time, being the first Indian to do so, but, nevertheless, this is a great feeling too,” said the master from New Delhi. “I am in no physical condition to go and collect the award. Bikram could well pick it up for all of us.”

The album, recorded at Carnegie Hall, comprises ragas Kaushi Kanhara and Mishra Gara in the traditional format of alaap, jor, jhala and aochars. Bikram and Tanmoy even played a teental (16 beats) duet, before accompanying Shankar. Anoushka assisted her father on the sitar.

Ravi Shankar had first performed at Carnegie in 1938 as a supporting player and instrumentalist in brother Uday Shankar’s dance troupe. “Since then, I have performed around 19 times there but at this particular concert, I was fortunate to have my daughter Anoushka with me. Besides, Bikram and Tanmoy provided fantastic accompaniment to make this album memorable.”

Full Circle at Carnegie Hall 2000 — produced by Hans Wendi and recorded by Tom Lazarus. Angel Records — is, of course, “very special” for the young tabla duo from Calcutta. “For Tanmoy and me, the concert at Carnegie was a high point as it draws top-notch performers and an international audience. And getting a Grammy for that is like a wonderful gift,” said Bikram, who has been playing with the sitar legend for the past 10 years, besides experiments with various forms of fusion.

Tanmoy joined Team Ravi Shankar three years ago. “In this short while, I have been enriched by this association,” said the tabla player, whose Taalyaagna with Subhankar Banerjee struck the right rhythm recently.

India’s date with the Grammys comes seven years after Mohan Veena exponent Viswa Mohan Bhatt won the World Music Album award.

   

 
 
DELHI BOARD PAPERS IN LOCKERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Nearly 25,000 examinees from 200 schools in the city and districts will appear for the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) and Indian School Certificate (ISC) examinations, beginning Friday. For the first time since the examinations started in the 1970s, question papers are being kept in bank lockers. This decision was taken by the authorities to prevent leaks.

Teachers said the new system may pose a problem for schools, whose banks are located afar. “The papers have to be collected an hour before the examinations begin,” the authorities said.

Meanwhile, there was confusion among students at examination centres of the Madhyamik 2002 history paper. Students complained of confusion over the word ‘dadu’ (grandfather) in one of the questions. Haraprasad Samaddar, president, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, said he would look into the complaints.

   

 
 
A LITTLE EXTRA, IN THE FITNESS OF THINGS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Steeper rate-cards at health clubs, beauty parlours and designer boutiques; higher cost of cable connections. That’s what Calcuttans are staring at, post-Budget 2002, with the finance minister casting the service tax net wider.

But initial responses to Yashwant Sinha’s decision to impose a levy on lifestyle services belied the ‘price-sensitive’ tag that Calcutta has carried for long. Pragmatism scored over panic as these sections of the industry slipped into ‘wait-and-watch’ mode.

New kid on the fitness block Add Life, a 6,000-sq-ft health club on Camac Street scheduled to open in March-end, has been caught off guard by the “unexpected tax” just before its launch. But the high-end spa hopes it will not affect its target of breaking even in the first 18 months. “We have not taken a decision on whether we will absorb the charges ourselves or pass them on to our consumers. But we do not think this will be a deterrent to our clientele,” said partner Ritika Kumar.

Patrons of gyms, health clubs and spas will also have to shell out the added tax. VLCC, the obesity clinic and beauty parlour which, according to founder Vandana Luthra, “took time to capture the Calcutta market”, is planning to absorb the extra charges without a fuss. “We have not increased our rates in the two-and-a-half years since we have opened. A five per cent hike is on the higher side, and we would like to stay within the affordability range of our middle-class clientele,” explains Rachana, manager of the Shakespeare Sarani clinic.

The thing to watch here, say market analysts, is the segment that this additional tax will affect. According to Shiloo Chattopadhyay, chairman, TNS Mode, the price hike will not hit either the buyer or the seller.

“It is an upmarket segment which is not so sensitive to price. A five per cent service tax can be directly passed on to the consumer as a legitimate levy and I don’t foresee any real impact on buying or spending patterns because of this,” Chattopadhyay said.

Sonal Pathania, just-crowned Tilottama 2002, couldn’t agree more. “I’m sure those who frequent health clubs, beauty parlours and boutiques will be willing to shell out a little extra for quality services,” said the third-year student of Gokhale Memorial.

Fashion designers also will now come under the service tax purview. “In a recession-hit economy, levies of any kind seem unwelcome,” said Kiran Uttam Ghosh. “This additional surcharge will naturally be passed on to the customer. And this is not-so-good news when, in the present market scenario, we are trying to offer our customers competitive prices for our services.”

The excise duty on garments has been reduced from 16 per cent to 12 per cent, a move that has drawn flak from the West Bengal Garment Manufacturers and Dealers Association. “The proposal to reduce excise duty on readymade garments, made-ups and fabrics will not help the small-scale readymade garments industry to augment its competitive edge, unless the exemption level is enhanced from Rs 1 crore to Rs 5 crore,” said Banwari Lal Somani, president of the association.

On the cable front, despite the regular rate wars between channels, operators are ready to pass on the additional buck to the subscriber. “As an organised sector, it is only reasonable that a service charge will be levied,” said Swapan Chowdhury, president, Forum of Cable Operators. “We don’t know what the exact tax structure or the rate will be, but there is no question of absorbing the additional burden. We do not anticipate any trouble from our subscribers for something that has been imposed by the government and is not in our hands.”

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Friday date for Delhi meet on tanneries

The completion of the Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC), which is crucial for tanneries facing a shutdown order from the Supreme Court, depends on a meeting in Delhi on Friday. The meeting, called at the behest of the apex court, will decide on the cost components of the common effluent treatment plant (CETP) which has been questioned by M.L. Dalmiya and Company, the promoter of the CLC. The apex court on Wednesday stuck to its decision not to allow the 523 tanners to operate from their present locations in Tangra, Topsia and Tiljala. Of them, 231 have been given land in the CLC for relocation. The promoter has pleaded before the court that the construction cost of the effluent transport system, already in place, should be deducted from the total cost of the CETP. Officials from the state industries department, the state pollution control board and the state advocate-general will sit with environment ministry officials to decide whether the plea is permissible. Under the guidelines set by the Supreme Court, the cost of the CETP would be equally divided between the Union environment ministry and the promoter. Tannery owners, who will have to shut down their units from Thursday midnight, met state industries minister Nirupam Sen and urged him to speed up completion of the leather complex.

Saha case witness cost

Defence witnesses in the Anuradha Saha death case will be heard by the chief judicial magistrate of Alipore court on Friday. The five witnesses listed by the accused — three doctors, a nurse and a “competent person” from the Asansol sub-divisional hospital — had to be summoned at the expense of the complainants, after the accused pleaded “lack of funds”.

Liquor sale

A former army personnel was arrested in Thakurpukur for allegedly selling liquor collected from his quota. The arrest was made by the excise officials.

Madhyamik protest

About 100 Chhatra Parishad workers were arrested for demonstrating in front of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education on Thursday. Police said they were protesting the publication of the wrong date of birth of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the Madhyamik English question paper.

Sign language

The International Human Resource Development Centre for the Disabled, run by the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya, Coimbatore, has organised a orientation programme on sign language at the Helen Keller Bodhir Vidyalaya in the city in collaboration with the Rehabilitation Council of India. The two-week programme, which will continue till March 9, aims at sensitising professionals working for education and rehabilitation of persons with hearing impediment.

School complaint

Employees and teachers of La Martiniere for Boys on Thursday demanded action against an official of the school for his “excessive interference” in all academic and administrative matters of the school. They said they would take up the matter with the school authorities on Friday.    

 
 
FORESTER FRIENDS OF THE FOUR-LEGGED 
 
 
BY SANKAR SRIDHAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
The call of the wild is what they have followed all their lives. And now, the Wildlife Trust of India has recognised the contribution of Arun Kumar Mallick, range officer, Canning and Gopal Tanti, laboratory assistant, Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, in curbing wildlife crime and conserving ecology in the Sunderbans and elsewhere in Bengal.

The two have been awarded the Venu Menon National Animal awards for Protection and Conservation.

Mallick became the first forester in India to successfully track down 13 independent ‘cases’, hauling in 45 poachers and seizing nine tiger, four deer, two leopard skins and a complete tiger skeleton. All this in just one-and-a-half years.

“The wild animal traffic is a huge racket, second only to narcotics trade,” Mallick said. Recent crackdowns have blown the cover off an operation that transcends not only state boundaries, but also has international implications.

In an effort to get to the root of the problem, Mallick is also maintaining an “accused data sheet” and a “seizure data sheet” to help in the investigation process and for useful future reference.

Back in the city, Mallick conceded that he was only a representative of a “loyal band of brothers” who did most of the fieldwork. He started work in the Sunderbans in 1994, “when Calcutta and its suburbs were corridors to the clandestine trade”.

With “a lot of help” from then field director Pradip Shukla, he got together an intrepid bunch of individuals to build up a covert network with the singular intention of busting animal traffic. Formed in ‘99, these watchdogs have “shattered the poachers’ false sense of security”. Some poachers and middlemen, claims Mallick, have even burnt their stocks to destroy evidence.

The process of selecting ‘members’ of his organisation was a painstaking one. “It was a high-risk job that did not find many takers,” he says. Because their identities had to be closely guarded, they were carefully hand-picked by Mallick and Shukla. “A very rare combination of strong intuition, a nose for finding problem areas and a level head during times of crises was what we were looking for.”

Working with false identities, these ‘watchdogs’ gather information from local residents, pose as buyers to flush out stock or, at times, work with the poachers to unravel their modus operandi. The rewards, rues Mallick, are few and the risks too great. “It’s only our love for conserving the animals and urge to live on the edge, or rather over it, that keeps us going,” is how one of Mallick’s ‘boys’ puts it.

With effective and stringent laws, police support and a dedicated combat team, the fight against poaching is on the right forest track. The Wildlife Act gives the forest officials the right to search homes without a warrant and use statements of the accused as evidence in court.

“Things are looking up, but poaching will remain a threat as long as there is a demand for animal parts. When will people realise that animals look best when wild and free, not as trophies in our houses?” wonders Mallick.

   

 
 
LOOK, HEAR AND FEEL YOUR LESSONS 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
An appeal to the senses is what teachers are using to capture the attention of their students. Visual, audio and kinaesthetic stimuli have been found to keep kids hooked to classroom lectures, according to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) specialist S.M. Devadason.

The management consultant has been called into La Martiniere for Girls, Bhawanipur Education Society College and an upcoming media-training centre in Jodhpur Park to train teachers on presentation skills tailored to the ways in which children learn.

Says Devadason: “Everyone responds to one of three senses, sight, sound or touch (feeling), more than any other. By assessing which student responds to which sensation, teachers can model lessons to maximise attentiveness and understanding.”

For a ‘visual’ child, descriptive or illustrative tools are preferred. “The blackboard works well for such students, as do maps, flashcards or graphs,” he explains. For students accessing audio faculties, sound effects or audiocassettes are effective. For the kinaesthetic candidate, an emotional link to the subject is required to stimulate him or her fully. “So while taking up the Battle of Plassey, teachers should encourage students to empathise with the soldiers, making the battle real, and, thus, unforgettable.”

A psychological technique developed in the 1970s by San Francisco-based Dr Richard Bandler and Dr John Grinder, NLP has shown results in boosting the performance of Olympic swimmers and in dealing with psychological disturbances. It has also helped improve academic results.

Devadason — who hopes to take the new teaching technique to as many institutions as possible — recalls one boy who came to his south Calcutta clinic with trouble in maths. His mother was at her wit’s end, as he could not remember his time-tables. Everything he would copy from the blackboard would be wrong. “After a brief examination, I found that he responded best to audio impulses and recommended that he record chapters on cassettes and play them back while sitting with the book in front of him,” recounts the MBA from XLRI. The boy’s mother called after his annual exams, thrilled. Her son had shown a 15-mark improvement, across the board.

Positive results can also be achieved in larger groups, such as the classroom. For Suchandra Chakravarty, vice-principal of the Bhawanipur college arts faculty, the recent three-day workshop was the ideal way of updating teaching skills. “It is important to improve presentation in these times when there is so much information available to children. To stop students from staying away from classes, we have to give them information in an easily-accessible manner,” she says. Chakravarty has started moving around the classroom, instead of speaking from the pulpit, and the college is making provisions for overhead projectors in classrooms to add a visual dimension to lectures. “I can see that even the smallest effort to connect to students has paid off in terms of attentiveness and attendance.”

For Devadason — who has been roped in by the likes of LIC, Lafarge and Indian Oil for human resources services, from training to recruitment — the influence of language on perception is the crux of this prescribed teaching method. “By using vocabulary that your target audience uses, you can reach out to them better. Those are the words that occupy mind-space, so they must have special significance.”

   

 
 
BOTANICS BEING STIFLED, COURT TOLD 
 
 
BY OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
A petition was filed on Thursday before the green bench of Calcutta High Court, seeking its intervention in the preservation of the famous Botanical Gardens of Shibpur.

Activist Subhas Dutta and others supplemented the petition with photographs depicting the pathetic state of the garden.

Dutta also sought a court order, directing the Central ministry of environment to remove unauthorised settlers from the garden.

According to the petitioners, the garden had played an important role in the economic development of the country.

“The Great Banyan Tree, a wonder of the world, grows here and yet, it has not been attended to for years. Fifteen thousand trees and more than 450 medicinal plants are going to die of sheer negect,” the petitioners said.

The garden, conceived in 1787 by William Roxbourgh, is one of the largest in southeast Asia and the oldest in India, covering 313 acres. But, according to the petitioners, the area had been reduced to 273 acres over the years.

The petitioners also alleged all the 24 lakes of the garden had dried up and no one was tending to the famous ‘Victoria Rizia’ plant. “Cattle are grazing in the garden unattended, while the house renovated in 1995 for a museum is being occupied by the security staff,” Dutta added.

The activists also alleged that in the name of fencing, a sizeable chunk of land had been provided to encroachers. “Only 20 policemen have been deployed to look after the vast garden,” the petitioners added.

   

 
 
KUDOS FOR CHOLERA CONTROL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
The directorates of health and medical education are concerned only about the curative aspects of healthcare delivery, rather than preventive measures, said department minister Surya Kanta Mishra.

Addressing the annual appraisal meeting of the project on prevention of emerging diarrhoeal diseases, being implemented by the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED), in Beleghata, and the Japan International Cooperative Agency (JICA), Mishra lauded the work conducted by the agencies.

The project has been able to evaluate the reasons behind two cholera outbreaks in Calcutta — one at Akra Fatak, in Kidderpore, in April, and the other at Patuli in October — in which 710 people were hospitalised.

“In both cases, investigations revealed that the outbreaks were due to Corporation-supplied water,” said institute director S. K. Bhattacharya.

According to him, the water sourced from the pumping stations is filtered and bacteria-free. “But cracks in pipes are responsible for the contamination, especially when these underground pipes lie next to the drainage pipes.”

Ever since he assumed office in June, Mishra had sought monthly reports on communicable diseases in Calcutta and the districts. “But I have not received any information till now,” he said. The minister said if there was a diarrhoea outbreak in the districts, city hospitals would not be able to identify the strain of the bacteria or virus.

He had recently toured north Bengal after such an outbreak but found no study on the topic.

The five-year joint project, ending next year, has yielded several benefits, mainly identifying new strains of bacteria and viruses causing diarrhoea.

The institute has become an important training centre on enteric diseases for specialists from India. “In fact, we plan to go in for third-country training, in which doctors and scientists from developing countries in Asia and Africa will take part,” said Prof Yoshifumi Takeda, project team leader and microbiologist from Jissen Women’s University, Tokyo.

Bhattacharya also warned of the emerging trend of drug resistance. “Antibiotics in the quinolone group such as norfloxicine and ciprofloxicine, which are widely used to control a diarrhoeal infection, are not working in many cases. If the trend continues, I foresee an impending epidemic in five to 10 years, unless new drugs come in the market.”

Misra asked Prof Takeda and Takashi Kanai, Japanese embassy first secretary, who had come down from Delhi, to renew the project for another five years. He also proposed that JICA provide a grant for a centre of international standard on the 40-cottah Infectious Diseases Hospital complex. Japanese representatives said they would recommend his proposals to their government.

   

 
 
FROM KALIGHAT TO THE NEW WOMAN 
 
 
BY SOUMITRA DAS
 
Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Any researcher, who has had the bitter experience of trying to tap archives or collections belonging to institutions with even a remotely governmental connection, knows how inaccessible these are. Those who are supposed to look after the collections develop such a proprietorial interest in the material that they jealously guard them from the public gaze.

It was partly to facilitate research work and partly to build up a broad cultural history archive of material relating to 19th and 20th Century Bengal that the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC) began a visual documentation project in 1996. However, this is not original material. It has been either photographed or microfilmed.

Part of this collection, in the form of bromide prints covering a huge variety of genres, including bazaar paintings and prints, works of a selection of contemporary Bengali artists, cover designs, illustrations, posters and early commercial art, samples of Bengali advertisments, cinema pamphlets, logos and signboards, and photographs, is being exhibited in a two-part show. Entitled Visual Worlds of Modern Bengal, it opens on Friday at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre at 36C, S.P. Mukherjee Road. Part I up to March 16 is devoted to paintings and prints. Part II from March 19 to April 3 focuses on photographs.

Tapati Guha Thakurta of CSSC, who has curated the exhibition, says it all began with Bengali periodicals from mid-19th Century, initially from Bangiya Sahitya Parishat and later from the district libraries. Material available on books was inexhaustible. Correspondence was acquired from the families of Jadunath Sarkar and Shibnath Shastri.

Slide documentation was funded for the first three years by the India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore. Grants for the second phase came from the Japan Foundation, Asia Centre, which funded both microfilming and the photographic archive.

IFA has also funded a second project on Bengali advertising under the supervision of Gautam Bhadra. To preserve it for posterity, colour transparencies have been made and all of the material is being digitalised. Besides, black-and-white negatives have been made of the transparencies, since they have a better chance of survival.

The bulk of the material came not from institutions but from private collections, notably those of R.P. Gupta, Nandalal Kanoria. N.K. Kejriwal and Prakash Kejriwal.

Guha Thakurta says to photograph only 100 Abanindranath paintings, Rabindra Bharati Society made her run around for a year. On the other hand, the Government College of Arts and Crafts, where its collection of students past was photographed, was very cooperative.

In spite of some obvious gaps in the collection, the exhibition provides a fairly complete visual record of the diversity of popular, academic and commercial art as it existed in the period it intends to cover.

It begins with familiar images of Kalighat patas and Bat-Tala woodcuts, and leads on to the products of new print technology such as lithography, chromolithography and oleography that killed the earlier forms of bazaar art. Thereon, to mythological oil paintings where Western techniques were used to depict Hindu deities. Academic drawing was taught for the first time at the Government School of Art which opened in 1854. Periodicals and journals for middle-class consumption emerged around this time. We see these as well illustrations in panjikas.

Raghunath Goswami’s calendars represent the most innovative in the new commercial art. Besides the contemporary artists and the early masters, there is an entire section on Atul Bose and Prabodhendunath Tagore, whose contribution has been under-estimated. In keeping with the focus of the exhibition, it ends with the Calcutta Group of the 40s and the mysterious Amina Ahmed Kar.

   
 

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