Sir — North India is reeling under a severe cold spell. One worries about the plight of the underprivileged people who have to spend the nights on the road. It is sad that while the privileged classes await winter for its many pleasures, the poor have to fight for survival on every single night. The government should provide free blankets and accommodation in State-run schools. People should also donate warm clothes to the needy. It is ironic that people spend money on building temples but nobody cares to construct a dormitory for the poor.
Abhishek Pandey, Calcutta
Sir — I toured the Sundarbans with the West Bengal tourism department recently and was lucky enough to survive and write this letter. My wife and I booked two berths on the M.V. Sarbajaya. My parents and my sister were also travelling with us. The tour started from the tourism department office at B.B.D. Bag. But we were not introduced to the person who was in charge. On reaching Sonakhali, we were told that we would have to reach the ferry ghat ourselves. On reaching the ghat, we found that the boat was anchored mid-river. We were asked to get on to a dingi that lacked proper seating arrangements. Many tourists did not get seats for the lack of space. We were shocked to see that an elderly boatman had been asked to row the dingi that was overcrowded.
After an uncomfortable and anxious ride, we reached the vessel. Most of the tourists, including my family, stood up — none told us not to — to leave the dingi. Suddenly some people began to shout, asking the tourists to sit down. Someone shouted, “Shobai boshe porun, ekta launch ashche, dheu uthbe (Sit down everyone, a launch is coming, waves will arise)”. To our horror, we realized that the dingi, which was moving away from the vessel, had tilted to one side. Next thing, my wife, who does not know how to swim, my elderly father and I found ourselves in the water. Several other people were in the water as well, including an elderly couple, but not a single person from the tourism department was there to assist us. After about five minutes, a boat from M.V. Sarbajaya rescued my wife. My father and I were pulled back on to the dingi some time later. Our belongings were soaked, and devices such as mobile phones and digital cameras damaged beyond repair.
In India, not much value is attached to the common man’s life. However, one can expect reasonable safety standards to be followed on a conducted tour organized by the state tourism department. We wanted to abandon the tour immediately. But it was not possible to go back without help from the tour operators, and they could not arrange for a journey back to Calcutta from Sonakhali. So we had to stay on. The trauma we suffered, not to mention the loss of valuables, was something I shall remember for life.
Prithwiraj Bhattacharjee, Calcutta
Sir — Anusua Mukherjee should be thanked for her lyrical essays on the Kanchenjunga and on Darjeeling’s toy train (“A mountain in the sky”, and “Lady of the heart”, Jan 3). I was reminded of my last, and most enjoyable, trip to Darjeeling when Kanchenjunga granted me a darshan. The trip was also made memorable by the blessings I received from a brahmachari of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Math in Darjeeling which was established by a direct disciple of Ramakrishna.
Nileen Putatunda, Calcutta