The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calcutta takes wing on Thames

London, Sept. 12: Calcutta will be on show at the London Mayor’s Thames Festival on Sunday and Nandita Palchoudhuri was today making sure that the showpiece peacock-shaped vessel, carefully packed and sea freighted from its manufacturing base in Chandernagore, actually works without a hitch.

There has long been a preconception that Indian engineering is, let’s say, not the best in the world. In fact, Prince Philip once visited a factory in Scotland, pointed to something that was faulty, and joked: “Must be Indian.”

Palchoudhuri, the Calcutta-based curator, was today putting finishing touches to the peacock ensemble, known as the bajra, which is made up of 135,000 little bulbs. The theory is they will all light up beautifully and simultaneously on the Thames on Sunday, lead the procession and amaze more than 50,000 onlookers.

“The boat is 7 metres by 3.5 metres by 5 metres,” Palchoudhuri told The Telegraph, as she and a team from Calcutta fiddled with the bajra in the lovely London sunshine. “The lights are connected in series. If one fuses, 40 bulbs go out,” she explained.

Three Calcutta staff will be hidden inside the boat for just such an emergency. It’s one thing for shortfuses to occur in Calcutta, quite another while foreigners are watching.

“The three will make repairs if needed while the boat is moving so no one will know the difference,” she promised.

In all, 2,000 people will take part in Sunday’s festival designed to celebrate the multi-cultural character of London. On December 14, there will be a similar festival in Calcutta, with London schoolchildren flying to India to join up with their Bengali counterparts.

At India House last night, the Calcutta part of the festival was launched with the deputy Indian High Commissioner, Satyabrata Pal, talking eloquently about the whole venture.

Then Palchoudhuri talked of another pal — the sail on the bajra.

The idea of taking the festival to India and joining up London and Calcutta and generally helping to beautify the waterfront in the West Bengal capital is apparently that of George Nicolson, one of the trustee of the Thames Festival.

Palchoudhuri has been in London for a week preparing for the festival, with the help of her colleagues Sridhar Das, who helped design and make the bajra, and Tanusree Shankar, daughter-in-law of Uday Shankar.

The bajra will light up between two landmarks on the Thames, the Oxo Tower, where people with more money than sense go for a drink, and the London Eye, the massive millennium wheel which affords a panoramic view of the capital.

The bajra is not the only thing being floated. One theory which is also being launched is that the Trinidad Carnival was taken to the Caribbean by Indians who left India via Calcutta. Therefore, when the carnival comes to Calcutta in December, it will represent a kind of homecoming.

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