Truth loses its way when bangle cracks
Advani brokers Gujarat truce
Stain-slick spreads panic
Right rank, wrong surname
Omar sets Hurriyat term
Drought spares only Assam: Ajit
Lanka calls for Pak talks, silent on terror
High fashion gets rid of price flab
Scotland rush for Shah Rukh
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TRUTH LOSES ITS WAY WHEN BANGLE CRACKS 
 
 
SUJAN DUTTA
 
Patna-Tamoli, Aug. 8: 
The splash of grey ash on the side of a red, barren hill in the Kaimur Range marks the spot where Kuttu Bai is said to have committed sati.

Here, in Panna — described in the Madhya Pradesh human development report as one of the most backward districts — the ash-smeared ground also conceals the country’s largest diamond reserves, with an estimated one million carats.

Somewhere between the ashes and the diamonds is the true story of Kuttu Bai. As of now, like the tens of thousands of prospectors who forsake hearth and home in search of the elusive sparkling gem, that story has as many versions as there are its narrators.

We are standing in the village’s burning ghat. It is by the main road that runs through Patna-Tamoli. Across the road is a pond. In the burning ghat, three mango trees, now shading a police camp, flower. A villager says Kuttu Bai changed into bridal wear under one of the trees before mounting the pyre.

It is raining in Bundelkhand today. It rained yesterday, too. Bundelkhand in the rains is a plateau of heaving, undulating earth, its soil red and black, mostly churned; their tenders praying, pleading, asking desperately for water. This is a single-crop land with the tillers barely able to eke out a living from one harvest of wheat or corn or betel leaf in a year.

One story goes that as she mounted the pyre, Kuttu Bai told the assembled people of Patna-Tamoli and surrounding villages: “I will go up and ask the weather gods for rain.”

It is raining in Bundelkhand today.

In this drought-stricken, parched land of rocky earth, the hungry will believe anything – so long as it promises succour. But just like every myth and tale now being spun around the events surrounding the death, this one, too, comes with a rider.

As far as the eye can see — and here it does see far and wide — it is raining in sheets almost all over, but it is not raining in Patna-Tamoli.

In Kuttu Bai’s house, the cattle in the courtyard are still. The house is a kuchcha structure, rectangular and cut in half along the length. The front is a narrow end facing the dirty, muddy lane. It has two rooms shared by Kuttu Bai’s nephews and their wives and children. The rear end has two other rooms. Kuttu Bai’s husband, Mallu Sen (or Nai, denoting caste) lived with elder son, Ashok, 36, and his family there. Behind it is Kuttu Bai’s quarters where she lived with Rajkumar, 32, their younger son, and his family.

Kuttu Bai’s is one of two nai (barber caste) households here.

In his room, midnight Monday-Tuesday (August 5-6), Mallu, 65, died. In these parts, 65 is old enough to die, particularly when the man has been sickly for the better part of four years.

Kuttu Bai’s daughter-in-law Pratibha (Ashok’s wife) says early in the morning — about 4 am — Rajkumar’s wife went and called Kuttu Bai. She refused to come. Mallu Sen lived with his in-laws and Kuttu Bai never forgave him for not being able to eke out a living. Mallu did not even belong to Patna-Tamoli. He came here because his in-laws owned some 6 acres. The couple had always quarrelled. Yet, a daughter-in-law asked Kuttu Bai to come and touch Mallu’s feet, as per ritual.

Kuttu Bai refused. Even earlier that day, they had quarrelled. Later, after much goading from family and relatives, she did go to Mallu’s room.

Word of Mallu’s death spread round the village as the wails grew. In sarpanch Bimla Chaurasia’s house in the village’s Diwalamohalla, her husband, Ramadhar, awoke early.

A village lad — one of the many who are always hanging around the headman’s (here, headwoman’s) house — told him that Mallu had died.

The sarpanch’s family gave instructions for the wood to be gathered for the funeral later in the morning. It was too early.

This is the point where the stories begin to diverge. A village shopkeeper says by that time word was going around from Kuttu Bai’s house that she had planned to commit sati.

The sarpanch’s son, Ramji, says they certainly did not know of this at that hour. Kuttu Bai’s daughter-in-law, Pratibha, told police that she had made up her mind and was looking for her bridal wear.

District magistrate Ravindra Pastor says Kuttu Bai told all those who came to her that she will be “devoured by insects now”. “May be she wanted to atone for her sin of quarrelling with her husband all his life,” he conjectures.

Mallu’s body was taken to the burning ghat shortly afterwards. Here again, the stories differ.

Pastor, who is ultimately in charge of the investigation, says Kuttu Bai had refused to go to the burning ghat. That in itself was not an issue because women often do not go to see their husband’s body being burnt. They do, of course, if they have been man and wife for long and when youth has ceased to matter.

Back in 1987, when Roop Kanwar of Deorala in Neem Ka Thana, Rajasthan, was said to have committed sati, that was an issue. Roop was just 18 years old and a wife of eight months. Her husband, Maal Singh, from the upper-caste Rajputs, had died of tuberculosis. Nine years after the event, all the accused were acquitted for want of substantive evidence.

Unlike Maal and Roop, Mallu and Kuttu Bai are from the very dregs of society here. The Sens are just two households in this village that is overwhelmingly Chaurasia, betel-leaf planters. Even this background, though, does not fit into a formula.

Sub-divisional police officer Arun Kumar Mishra rules out a caste conflict — in the sense that the upper castes were not directly goading Kuttu Bai to commit sati so that they could usurp her land.

The funeral procession with Mallu’s body reached the burning ghat shortly before eight in the morning. It was a well-attended procession, said the shopkeeper who did not want to be named (understandably, for Patna-Tamoli is now flooded with policemen).

Tuesday, August 6, is also the weekly market (haat) day in these parts. The haat is held at Saleha, which is the nearest settlement that can be called a town, some eight km away. The road to Saleha from the Kaimur hill villages runs through Patna-Tamoli and the burning ghat is by the side of that road. Soon enough, the crowd at the burning ghat swelled, with many of those headed for Saleha stopping by.

It is possible that the crowd grew in strength as word got around that Mallu’s widow had announced she would commit sati. “I was not there, but I have heard that she walked with the funeral procession after having said she wanted to burn herself on her husband’s pyre,” says Anandilal Chaurasia.

Seventy-two hours after the event, villagers — those that dared speak out — always insisted they were not at the spot but had heard in detail from others. In Patna-Tamoli, shops are closed and few venture out into the main street after 15 men were arrested by the police on charges of murder, attempt to murder and beating a policeman. That has made the villagers afraid.

Sarpanch Bimla Chaurasia says that around eight in the morning, Kuttu Bai’s younger son, Rajkumar, came rushing to her house and said his mother was adamant and wanted to commit sati.

“I told our chowkidar (watchman) Ramgarib to go and have a look and hastened there myself,” says Bimla.

Minutes later, Ramgarib returned and said it was true. Ramadhar Chaurasia, telephoned the Saleha police station where thanedar sub-inspector Harcharan Singh Ghose asked him: “Is she already on fire?”

Ramadhar said : “I am calling from my house and not from the burning ghat.”

Ghose says he told Ramadhar: “Make sure they don’t light the pyre before I reach.” Ramadhar said he would try to dissuade them.

Ghose, a gruff old policeman approaching retirement, looked around the station and found that only some of his juniors on clerical duty — not in uniform — were around. The only constable he could find in the living quarters adjoining the police station was Nathulal.

Ghose telephoned his seniors in the Panna police headquarters, requested for more force, and left for Patna-Tamoli, around eight km away, on his motorcycle with Nathulal riding pillion. Ghose had a revolver and Nathulal was issued his rifle.

Ghose says he reached the burning ghat at 9.40 am. In the sarpanch’s house, they said the police were informed by 8.15 am but were still late in reaching.

“When I reached the burning ghat, I saw there was a crowd of some 4,000 people,” says Ghose, two days later. “I forced my way through the throng, the sipahi (constable) behind me and told the people that sati is illegal and all of them are liable to be arrested.”

He also dragged down Kuttu Bai, who was sitting on the pyre. He held Kuttu Bai with his left hand, by the left hand.

“In the heat of the moment, a bangle on her hand broke and a piece of glass pierced my left ring finger.” He holds it up to show the damage.

In the villages around Patna-Tamoli, the rumour that went around is that “as soon as a policeman touched her (Kuttu Bai), she started bleeding and the policeman’s uniform was drenched in red.”

When Ghose hauled her, Kuttu Bai, he says, screamed: “What are you doing? Let me be.”

This is what incited the crowd, says Ghose. Blows rained down on him. A stone hit him on the back of the head, leaving him giddy. “I had a vague sensation then that I was being carried out. I do not recall what exactly happened,” says Ghose. “But I had seen Ashok and Rajkumar and some others and had pointedly told them that sati was illegal.”

The sub-divisional police officer, Arun Mishra, says that evidence so far gathered does not point to a detailed conspiracy. “It appears that a lot of things happened in the heat of the moment.”

When Ghose gathered his wits, he says he saw the pyre was lit and Kuttu Bai was in flames.

In Patna-Tamoli, Anandilal Chaurasia says no one seems to have seen the pyre being lit. “I think a lot of coconuts and incense sticks that were given as offerings suddenly caught fire and set the pyre aflame.”

Ghose says the “fire began from the south-east corner where a lot of coconuts were piled up and incense sticks bunched together were burning”.

A police officer, called here from another district — as reinforcement — says he had learnt that after Ghose tried to drag down Kuttu Bai, he was indeed beaten up but she did not make her way back to the pyre. Then she was bodily lifted, dry bramble and brush was piled on her and it was set on fire.

All agreed, for Kuttu Bai, widowed, poor, penniless and destitute, it was deliverance. Only, Kuttu Bai never said so.

   

 
 
ADVANI BROKERS GUJARAT TRUCE 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was summoned to Delhi this evening for an emergency meeting with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu.

A compromise formula for the Gujarat elections was thrashed out late in the night at the meeting, which also took stock of two other issues: the fallout of the Haren Pandya quit drama and the impact of the petrol-pump scam on the state.

According to the formula:

The elections will be fought under the leadership of Modi

Keshubhai Patel will be the chairman of the campaign committee. The post was given to the former chief minister, who was sulking, to persuade him to join electioneering.

Modi and Keshubhai will jointly launch the campaign when elections are announced. With Pandya quitting as minister and threatening to remain a thorn in Modi’s flesh, the high command was desperate to rope in Keshubhai

Gujarat BJP chief Rajendrasinh Rana will be in charge of allocating work to MPs during elections.

The contentious issue of ticket distribution, however, has yet to be resolved.

The focus now shifts back to the Election Commission, which landed this evening in Ahmedabad for a second recce of the state. A nine-member team toured the state last week, but its report has not been made public.

Chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh and colleagues T.S. Krishnamurthi and B.V. Tandon are scheduled to visit riots-scarred areas and relief camps tomorrow. A visit to the Shah-e-Alam camp is on the cards at 10.30 am but the itinerary is being kept under wraps to shut out media glare. In the evening, the panel will meet political parties and NGOs.

Also present at this evening’s meeting in Delhi were Central leader in charge of Gujarat Ramdas Aggarwal, general secretary Arun Jaitley, who is Modi’s close friend, Rana and Keshubhai.

Gujarat BJP sources said Modi may have been advised to “tread cautiously” and not antagonise too many leaders in the poll run-up. The high command fears that the longer the poll panel takes to fix poll dates, the greater are the chances of a “revolt” against Modi.

   

 
 
STAIN-SLICK SPREADS PANIC 
 
 
RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
Parliamentarians cutting across party lines today scurried for cover as dirty tricks departments worked overtime to dig out details of what they described as crony allotments of fuel depots.

A deep sense of unease appeared to have enveloped the political class with charges leaking right and left. Rumours, whispers, allegations and counter-allegations flew thick and fast in Parliament as the latest names did the rounds.

The BJP fired another salvo by releasing a new list of 36 beneficiaries from Congress-ruled Karnataka. As many as 110 BJP MPs appealed to the Prime Minister to cancel all allotments made by the selection boards since 1983 and order an inquiry.

A Congress MP from Kerala, A.C. Jose, was spotted sending e-mails to several people denying any involvement. “In my constituency, these wild charges may damage my credibility. I want my voters to know that I have done no wrong,” he said.

Another MP, Ajay Chakraborty of the CPI, rushed to the Parliament library to hunt out a Hindi newspaper that mentioned his name. Chakraborty said he had merely pushed the case of a widow of a CRPF guard from his district who had lost his life fighting militants.

“In the pro forma given by the CRPF, there was a clause seeking recommendation from a local MP. I merely fulfilled that obligation. How can that be compared with the great loot unleashed by the BJP?” he asked.

BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra kept up the heat on the Congress, throwing a challenge at Sonia Gandhi. “I challenge Ms Gandhi that just as the Prime Minster cancelled all allotments made since 2000, she should ask her partymen to surrender,” he said.

The Congress’ initial reaction was not to go on the backfoot but to brazen it out. Some “clean leaders” even toyed with the idea of “disciplining” errant leaders.

But when the name of the brother of Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna was thrown up, the reaction changed. A Congress MP was heard commenting that “nobody would believe that Manmohan Singh has committed an irregularity. But unfortunately, the same can not be said about several others”.

Officially, the Congress condemned the BJP move as a “dirty and diversionary” ploy. “Yesterday, the BJP mentioned names of Congress leaders, including Manmohan Singh. These were absolutely transparent requests made to the petroleum minister. But not one of them was given any favour,” Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said.

In the Central Hall, MPs chatted freely on the allotments and floated various theories, ranging from the involvement of an industrial house to infighting in the BJP.

In the Congress parliamentary party office, the tension was palpable. “Arre bhai kal kaun si list aa rahi hai?” asked an MP from Bengal. Legislators from Congress-ruled states sounded more worried. “People are prepared to believe we all are corrupt. They think we all are the same, which is not true,” an MP from Madhya Pradesh said.

Girija Vyas, the Rajasthan unit chief, broke down before Sonia today after her name appeared in one of the papers.

   

 
 
RIGHT RANK, WRONG SURNAME 
 
 
OUR LEGAL REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 8: 
Tahamina Khatun was 27, married and without a career. She opted for teaching and took the admission test for the basic training course offered by the Gandhi Memorial College near her home in Habra, North 24-Parganas, and ranked among the top 10.

During admission formalities, the authorities of the state-aided college questioned why she had not changed her surname. Khatun replied that she did not think it necessary and that her husband had concurred. Khatun was married to Sukumar Mitra.

When the admission list came out, Khatun’s name was not on it. She had been denied admission to the BT class on the ground that she could not produce a ration card with the address of her new residence after marriage.

The angry couple took the case to the Barasat munsif court, alleging that the college authorities were prejudiced as she had not used her husband’s surname.

That was nine years ago. Even today, after shuttling from court to college with orders in her favour, Khatun has not been able to take her rightful place in the BT class.

Khatun, now in her mid-30s, could not approach any other institution because her testimonials bore court stamps, which made other colleges suspicious of her applications.

But Khatun and her husband have not given up. Faced with their tenacity, the college principal today approached Calcutta High Court to seek a stay on the lower court’s orders.

Justices A.K. Ganguly and H. Banerjee of the high court today held out hope for the couple by directing that the orders would continue to be in operation and fixed hearing for Wednesday.

Khatun’s battle began in 1993 at the first munsif court in Barasat with the plea for a direction to the college to grant her admission to the ongoing academic session and allow her to attend classes.

Her prayer was granted, but the college authorities refused to abide by the order.

As there is no provision for contempt proceedings in the lower courts, Khatun filed an appeal in the court of K.K. Bakshi, sixth additional judge in Barasat, seeking admission to the college. Observing that the ration-card objection was too flimsy a reason for refusing to admit the candidate, Bakshi upheld the lower court’s judgment. He ordered that Khatun be admitted. But, by then, the 1993 academic session was almost over and she had to wait till the next session.

Again, the college refused admission, saying that the order pertained to the 1993 academic session. Khatun went back to Bakshi’s court and obtained another order that directed the college authorities to grant her provisional admission in the 1994 session. But this, too, was turned down. The process was repeated every year.

When Khatun approached the college this year, principal Amalendu Panja felt enough was enough. In a bid to quash the issue once and for all, he approached the high court with the plea for a directive to strike down the lower court’s ruling.

The principal also sought an interim stay on the order, first passed nine years ago. But the two-judge bench refused and posted the next hearing for Wednesday, Khatun’s lawyer Sabyasachi Bhattacharya said.

   

 
 
OMAR SETS HURRIYAT TERM 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
The National Conference is willing to back down and consider allowing holding of elections in Jammu and Kashmir under Governor Girish Saxena’s charge if the All Parties Hurriyat Conference agrees to participate in the polls.

“So far no one, not even the separatists or the Hurriyat, has publicly said they would participate in the elections under Governor’s rule. If the Hurriyat is willing to contest, we might consider it,” said National Conference president and minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah, when asked at a press conference why his party was opposed to Governor’s rule ahead of the polls.

The minister was invited by the Indian Women’s Press Corps to speak on Kashmir, India’s foreign policy and Pakistan. However, the focus remained the Assembly elections in his home state.

The minister felt former law minister Ram Jethmalani’s attempt to get moderate elements in Kashmir to join the election process has been made too late. “Jethmalani’s intentions are sincere but he should have begun working on this at least one or two years ago.”

Abdullah’s reaction to most questions on Governor’s rule was to ask why this condition should apply only to Jammu and Kashmir. “If every state government is willing to step down and make way for Central rule before elections, we are willing to do the same. Jammu and Kashmir is part of India. Why should there be another set of rules for us?” asked the minister.

“Elections are a risk. We never promised violence-free elections. How could we?” asked the National Conference chief when questioned whether free and fair elections could be held under the shadow of the gun.

The minister said the security situation now is no better than it was during the last Assembly polls. Politicians had to take risks in Kashmir, where terrorist groups have been trying to strangle democracy because people’s participation in elections would go against Pakistan’s bid to annex the Valley. The National Conference has lost hundreds of members in militancy-related violence, but is in no mood to give up.

Abdullah agreed terrorists would try to disrupt the elections and both the state and the Centre are working together to ensure safety for candidates and voters. Paramilitary forces are being flown into Kashmir and army units now deployed for the Amarnath yatra would be available for security during the elections once the yatra is over on August 22, Omar said.

The minister, however, ruled out withdrawing army units now deployed in forward positions. “If we do so, Pakistan would get the wrong signal, believing we are reducing pressure on them. India’s re-deployment would be seen as its de-escalation by Pakistan and the international community. We want to make sure Pakistan knows we mean business,” the junior foreign minister said.

Abdullah said the RSS demand for trifurcating the Valley would strengthen Pakistan’s case that Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs in India could never live together.

The minister rejected US secretary of state Colin Powell’s suggestion of monitors but was willing to allow embassy personnel and foreigners who wanted to come in to get a ringside view of the elections.

Abdullah said the Election Commission was making sure that no rigging takes place, as two officials from outside the state would be posted at each polling booth. He added that it was unfair to demand a postponement of the elections when everything has been finalised.

   

 
 
DROUGHT SPARES ONLY ASSAM: AJIT 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
Agriculture minister Ajit Singh today said this year’s drought has engulfed the entire country except Assam and not just 12 states as announced earlier.

“Earlier, we said there was drought in 12 states. Now, drought is everywhere except Assam. It is worse than the 1987 drought,” Singh said as he announced a Rs 8,000 crore package to restructure co-operative banks. The money is to be raised through the issue of bonds and will be provided to state governments willing to undertake reforms in the sector.

The agriculture minister, whose claim could mean more expenses for the Centre by way of largesse to fight the drought or a “drought-like situation”, said unlike earlier droughts, the silver lining is that the granaries are full and foodgrain or seeds would not be scarce.

Though officially the country has suffered from a 30 per cent drop in average rainfall, Singh told state co-operative ministers here “statistics do not tell the whole story” and that even rains in June proved counter productive as they lured farmers into sowing crops, which were eventually damaged.

The monsoon is vital to India’s economy as agriculture accounts for about 30 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 70 per cent of its population.

A country-wide drought will not only hit farming but also industry, which sells the bulk of its goods in rural and semi-urban areas where demand would naturally be depressed.

However, advisers with the Planning Commission disputed Singh. It is still a little far fetched to describe the entire nation as drought-hit, they said.

Singh announced that the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development has asked state co-operative banks and regional rural banks to give additional crop loans to farmers to offset losses and to allow them to go ahead with fresh sowing, wherever that is possible.

The apex farm sector bank has also asked other banks to on-lend for purchasing fodder, deepening of wells and installation of tube and bore wells. Besides, GIC has been asked to extend by 15 days the date for acceptance of insurance proposals from non-loanee farmers who have gone for late sowing due to delayed rains, so that they too can avail of a crop insurance cover.

Singh said the Rs 8,000 crore restructuring package would be funded through 10-year bonds with a 10 per cent annual rate of return in the market for which the interest cost would be shared by the Centre and the state.

However, the package would be available only to those states who make efforts to reform co-operatives. The reforms should include allowing multi-state co-operatives to function, compulsory elections in all co-operatives, no suppression of boards by the government unless it owns more than 51 per cent stake in the society, and compulsory audit by chartered accountants.

   

 
 
LANKA CALLS FOR PAK TALKS, SILENT ON TERROR 
 
 
PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
Sri Lankan foreign minister Tyronne Fernando has raised quite a few eyebrows in South Block with his assertion that the current standoff between India and Pakistan was a matter of serious concern and the two sides should return to the dialogue table to bring down the temperature in the region. But the absence of any reference to cross-border terrorism in his remarks has surprised many in the Indian establishment.

Fernando, while expressing concern over the current Indo-Pak hostility, said that their relations were having an adverse impact on the smaller nations in South Asia.

“India and Pakistan must discuss and settle this not only for the sake of those two countries but also for smaller people like us,” the Sri Lankan foreign minister said during an interaction with the media at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of India here this afternoon.

He hinted that the current military standoff could lead to a nuclear war as both India and Pakistan were nuclear powers. “We are very concerned because both the countries have nuclear weapons,” Fernando said.

Later in the day, he briefly met his Indian counterpart, Yashwant Sinha. The Sri Lankan foreign minister is here on a private visit.

Fernando said he had apprised Sinha on the progress in the peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The Lankan foreign minister pointed out that the Sri Lankan government had expressed some of India’s concerns to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during his recent visit to the island country, but maintained that Colombo was not trying to play the role of a mediator between the two sides. He also said he would discuss with Sinha Musharraf’s recent visit to Colombo.

“As a small country with 20 million people, we have hardly any role to play,” Fernando said. He clarified that Colombo supported India’s stand that its differences with Pakistan had to be sorted out through bilateral negotiations.

Though surprised by Fernando’s comments, New Delhi is not viewing them as a shift in Sri Lanka’s position on the issue.

During Sinha’s visit to Colombo last month, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shared India’s views that cross-border terrorism had to end before New Delhi could normalise ties with Islamabad.

South Block was more willing to see today’s remarks as Fernando’s personal views rather than that of the Sri Lankan government.

Officials in the foreign ministry said Fernando during his talks with Sinha did not raise Colombo’s concern over the current tension or the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said the Sri Lankan foreign minister’s meeting with Sinha this afternoon signified the close rapport, understanding and cooperation between the two governments and people.

Rao said Fernando’s visit was in the tradition of close dialogue between New Delhi and Colombo, keeping each other informed of developments of mutual concern and interest.

   

 
 
HIGH FASHION GETS RID OF PRICE FLAB 
 
 
SEEMA GOSWAMI
 
Aug. 8: 
If you’ve been wondering who buys all that designerwear currently flooding the newspapers and swamping television, here’s a news flash. A few months down the line, it could well be you.

As Lakme India Fashion Week wound down to a close, one trend was clear: fashion was going determinedly mid-market.

Buyers from such department stores as Shoppers’ Stop, Pyramids and Westside were doing the rounds of the designer stalls in the exhibition area, selecting merchandise and placing orders.

And designer boutiques were shortlisting collections that would meet the value-for-money criteria with a view to extending their clientele beyond the ladies who lunch.

Among them was Abhilasha Sethia of Intrigue, a designerwear store on Calcutta’s Park Street, who will bring the collections of Raghuvendra Rathore and Cue to the city.

Ashish and Namrata Goenka of Zenon already stock Manish Arora and are now looking to bring Nahid Merchant and Vijay Arora to the city. According to them, the price points in this segment move between Rs 1,000-6,000 with the market in Calcutta absorbing as much as 40-50 such outfits a week.

Gary Newman of Westside, the store which stocks such designers as Anita Dongre, Wendel Rodricks and Monapali, revealed that they planned to extend the store to 28,000 square feet, given the success of the current operations.

Said Newman: “I think Calcutta is a vastly underestimated market. It is not price sensitive; it just wants value for money.”

Newman believes that the growth segment in Indian retail for the next 3 years will be the Westernwear segment, with the market being driven by womanpower.

“The woman under 35 is driving the retail market. She is the changing face of India and of organised retail. Ignore her at your peril,” he warned.

Designers are responding to these changing trends by coming up with bridge labels, which retail for anything between Rs 700-6,000.

Ritu Kumar’s Label is a front-runner in this category. And following in her footsteps are Tarun Tahiliani and J.J. Valaya who have launched cheaper labels, sold out of Crossroads in Mumbai.

Calcutta’s Anamika Khanna is all set to follow suit with the launch of her bridge line, A2. Khanna’s main line — showcased at Fashion Week today — featured a vintage look, burnished with dull gold, kantha embroidery, mirrorwork, patchwork, crushed saris, ikat facings, hand-painting and beading.

Says Khanna, “These are clothes that could have come out of your grandma’s trunk -- and which you can leave to your grandchildren.” Her A2 line will be very different, featuring everyday clothes with a strong design element.

Priced between Rs 500-5,000, this will stress on cut and style rather than embellishment to make a fashion statement.

Khanna will use natural fabrics like cotton and linen to make no-fuss, hard-working clothes — both Indian and Western — that can be bunged into the washing machine without any worries. And at those prices, who could possibly resist?

   

 
 
SCOTLAND RUSH FOR SHAH RUKH 
 
 
AMIT ROY
 
London, Aug. 8: 
Demand for tickets to a live appearance by Shah Rukh Khan at the Edinburgh Film Festival has been so great that the organisers have to adopt unusual methods to prevent touts from moving in.

The organisers acted quickly when they discovered that a single buyer wanted to snap up the last 200 tickets at the UGC Cinema in Fountain Park where Shah Rukh is due to be interviewed by Nasreen Munni Kabir on August 24. Clips from many of his films will also be shown.

Laura Bonney, a spokeswoman for the Film Festival, said: “We were worried that the tickets were being bought for sale by a tout at vastly inflated prices. Normally a ticket costs £10 and £4.50 for concessions."

Boney said that the festival management had decided that no individual would now be allowed to buy more than four tickets. “We have never had to do anything like this before,” she added.

The cinema holds 500, one of the bigger venues in Edinburgh. “We are expecting crowds outside because some people simply want a glimpse of him.”

The festival had initially billed Shah Rukh as “the Tom Cruise of Bollywood” but later revised that to “perhaps Tom Cruise is the Shah Rukh Khan of Hollywood”.

Such attention will please Shah Rukh whose Devdas has done well in Britain.

Three of his films — Asoka, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham — are being shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival as part of its contribution to the Imagine Asia programme of South Asian cinema currently under way in Britain.

Bonney said that to meet demand Shah Rukh would address a news conference two hours before he apppeared at the UGC Cinema at 3 pm.

“He is flying into Edinburgh just for one day. Security will be tight.”

Prabjote Singh, from the Edinburgh Mela, the city’s multi-cultural festival, said: “It will be very good for Edinburgh to have a major Bollywood star coming here.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.1°C (+2)
Minimum: 27.1°C (+1)

Rainfall:

Trace

Relative humidity

Maximum: 94%,
Minimum: 65%

Today

Sunrise: 5.13 am
Sunset: 6.11 pm

One or two spells of rain or thundershowers likely towards evening or night

   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company