Home alone and hungry
Image damaged in drunken brawl
Aggro over art in Puja ad mart
Pujas toned down with eye on awards
Fans flock Mamata bookstalls at pandals
Granny for the asking
The spirit has gone out of the Pujas
New twist to feud in Tripura Congress
Marak new PCC chief

Calcutta, Oct.6: 
Mou Mondal, 10, spent three days of the Pujas locked inside the New Alipore flat she works in � without food or drinking water. She had been left alone from Tuesday evening, Sashthi, after the lady of the house, Maitrayee Banerjee, and her two sons left for their Puja holidays to Bangalore.

Mou was finally �rescued� by the police on Friday morning after being alerted by anxious neighbours, who had heard faint cries of the girl from the house.

�I survived the first two days on two packets of biscuits and water from the tap. After the biscuits finished, I didn�t know what to do. I was hungry and scared... I thought I would die,� recounted Mou, tears streaming down her cheeks.

�By Thursday night, I was too weak to move or shout for help, but I still tried to draw the neighbours� attention. The last thing I remember is lying down on the floor and crying...�

After being alerted by the neighbours, the New Alipore police broke into the flat early on Friday.

�The girl was almost unconscious when we rescued her,� an officer of the local police station said.

Mou was produced before the sub-divisional magistrate�s court at Alipur on Friday afternoon and then handed over to her maternal uncle.

A case has been registered against Maitrayee Banerjee under Section 342 of the IPC for illegally detaining a minor girl. Officials said action will be initiated against her as soon as she returns from Bangalore.

Officer-in-charge of New Alipore police station, Subrata Ghosh, said: �We rescued the girl around 3 am. But we could not take her to the police station as we have no separate rooms for women. So, we requested some relatives of the Banerjees, who live in the same apartment, to shelter the girl for some time. But they refused.�

The police then contacted several groups of social workers.

�Untimately, two women from the locality, who are engaged in social work, agreed to take care of the girl till it was time to take her to court,� Ghosh added.

Preliminary investigations revealed that five years ago, Mou�s father, Amal Mondal, married a second time and abandoned the girl and her mother, who also left soon after.

Mou then went to live with her maternal uncle in a Salt Lake shanty.

According to the police, Banerjee picked up Mou from there and employed her as a maid a few months back.    

Calcutta, Oct.6: 
A gang raided a Puja pandal on Ganesh Chandra Avenue early on Friday and damaged part of the image. They did not even spare the purohit, who was attacked during Sandhipuja at 4 a.m.

According to Jayanta Ghosh, president of the organising committee of Milonsree Sarbojonin Durgotsav, three young men stormed into the pandal around 4 am during Sandhipuja and threatened to stop the Puja.

�When we tried to throw them out, they clambered on to the dais , damaged the deity�s mount and broke the puja utensils, including the mangal ghot,� he added.

Angry residents blocked the crossing of Ganesh Chandra Avenue and Chittaranjan Avenue for about an hour from 10.35 am, demanding immediate arrest of the gangsters who had damaged the image. The blockade was lifted only after officers of Bowbazar police station assured the residents that the culprits would be arrested as soon as possible.

The organisers threatened to stop the Puja if nothing was done about it. �We are going to immerse our Durga today if the police officers do not arrest the criminals within the stipulated period,� said Sameer De, one of the members of the organising committee.

The police, however, had a different story to tell. According to A.K. Chakraborty, officer-in-charge of Bowbazar police station, the incident was a sequel to the rivalry between two young men over a girl of the neighbourhood.

According to Chakraborty, preliminary investigations revealed that a youth, identified as Arup Guchait, from the Muchipara area, came to the pandal during Sandhipuja and threatened to kill himself if the girl rejected him.

According to police, the youth, along with two of his mates, stormed into the pandal, allegedly with a gun and held it against his head and asked the girl at the top of his voice to come out of her house.

After the girl failed to turn up, the youth tried to disrupt the puja proceedings. Local people told the police that all the three young men were drunk.

�The youth has been arrested a number of times for anti-social activities in the area. We have sent our men to nab the culprit,� added Chakraborty. Deputy commissioner of police (headquarters) Nazrul Islam said on Friday that Arup was released from police custody a few days ago.

n Organisers lathicharged: The police lathicharged organisers of the Ganguly Bagan community puja at Jadavpur after a dispute over traffic management near the pandal on Friday evening. A member of the puja committee received head injuries during the clash. Trouble started on Friday evening after police were posted to manage traffic in the area. A spokesman of the district police headquarter said members of the puja committee who usually monitored traffic in the area during the Pujas, resented the police move.

n Bridge restored: Bansloi bridge between Rampurhat and Nalhati, the missing rail link to north Bengal from Calcutta, was restored on Thursday after two weeks. However, the possibility of restoring rail links between Sealdah and Lalgola is uncertain because the Paglachandi river remains in spate.    

Calcutta, Oct.6: 
�Shivering timbers!� did I hear the boatswain say, as he rowed in on high tide with the goddess en famille. �Is this a real free-for-all or what!�

�And why not,� quoth Ganesha, quite unfazed. �Power rises from the barrels of the bread at your command.�

True. True. A truism in fact. Roll out barrels of the right stuff or the real thing and you�ll be home and dry. Happy Christmas in October, December, and round the year. No matter how many thundering typhoons come and go. Or barrages disgorge their excess on hapless homes.

But where did all these sponsors and patrons pop up from suddenly? To take the strain off door-to-door chanda-collection drives? Notice that even the tiniest puja pandal has found corporate sponsorship of sorts. More banners, booths, torans and kiosk signs than we care to count. I believe most of these companies were there all the time, reluctantly (?) doling out ads for puja souvenirs under pressure from para dadas � from special budgets reserved as the price of being in business at all. Until fresh market perspectives provided from overseas perhaps, brought about a complete paradigm shift. Here was peak purchasing power waiting to be tapped. Not merely as Grand Sales and Price Offs. But to be gone after with all 10 arms of the goddess as it were. No holds barred.

Indian advertising history will mark this year as 2000 KBC. No wonder contests and promos are the order of the day. The thrust of adspend is practically replacing those harmless goodwill/PR type ads which the biggies released and their creative teams agonised over for months on end.

There�s more aggro, less art. Just as well, for those arcane literary lines were fast going out of stock, and thinking up new twists and turns each year must have been quite a strain. Of course, good old Tagore was always there and still is, to rescue the copywriter from her creative block.

Copy-wise too, there are KBC clones of various hues, as was only to be expected. �Aap banenge Crorepati� from Videocon. Or Crorepati Prize refused � for a teaser ad. Or �Be a Lakhpati� from a local with less muscle. And many, many others too numerous to name.

Now there�s cars and white goods and trips abroad to be won. Diamond rings and gold ornaments to Peel & Win. Pandal-o-Mania from No.1 McDowell. Dhamakas from a couple of others. Why even the newly-formed BSNL has got into the act with a 50% cut on daytime STD. Also, Asian Paints of Sharad Samman fame has become less laid back.

Win a trip around the pandals along with the judges by calling in on their Helpline and answering three infantile questions. Winners to be picked by lottery.

Cuter still is their offer of 30-gram gold and 75-gram silver miniature images of the Devi. Whoever thought up that one deserves a special prize.

Never mind that �ja ichchhey tai�, meaning �whatever you wish� is etymologically linked with its contraction �jachchhetai�, meaning �utterly deplorable.� I�ll let it pass.

For I must say they�ve pulled off a rather neat one this time around. Coke, I mean. That quintessential frontrunner among cultural hegemonists from across the seas, whose local cohorts are expressly enjoined to �Think global, act local.�

Their current TVC has all the upbeat, fast-cut vibrancy that marks Coke ads worldwide. With local colour aplenty. In the background, a family puja in progress.

Upfront, beautiful young guys and gals in festive ethno-chic, giving each other the glad-eye and glugging the fizz to the staccato, rap-like rhythmic soundtrack that is so au courant. �Ja ichchhey tai hoke/ Ebar pujoye chai Coke.�

The last bit is of course a conscious reference to the hoary Bata line still running but not going half as strong as its desi rivals. You still see the same full-page double-spreads that marked the coming of Pujo when we were young. Except it�s Sreeleathers now, not Bata.

One sign of what a level playing field can do. Hm. Wait for the next round next year to see who walks over whom.

Ah well, well.    

Calcutta, Oct.6: 
Did you hear the Pujas this year? Probably not. The annual Bengali carnival seems to have donned a mantle of sobriety. Blaring mikes till all hours of the night is definitely out, at least at the major stops on the city�s Puja map. Instead, the music has been reined in by limits of time and decibel. Even the choice of music seems more serene and tasteful.

Yet, not so long ago, the Pujas were with us every second of the day. Old-timers on their morning walk were greeted with blaring filmi geet. In the pandals, teenagers tapped their feet to Daddy Cool and stately ginnis, foreheads blazing with sindoor, greeted each other above the din.

At night, you dropped off listening to a rising Sandhya-konthi from a distant para cultural programme. Unnerving, perhaps, but you had generally accepted it as part of the Pujas. You had also taken for granted that nightfall brought out the drunks.

Safety measures, environmental issues and crowd control are in sharp focus today. Yet, how far is this a fallout of the awards?

Eminent artist Sunil Das and Asian Paints judge, unhesitatingly attributed it to the Sharad Samman started some 10 years back. �It precipitated an awakening of public taste in every field. The awards have promoted a healthy interaction between creative and technical people from different areas,� said Das.

Doing the rounds for the Snowcem Ananda Durgotsav Arghya awards, judge Swatilekha Sengupta said: �It is unjust to think on these lines. We don�t feel the awards are defining the trend. But it is true that the awards have encouraged organisers to think differently.�

Husband Rudraprasad begs to differ. �The response is still mixed. Aesthetic awareness is counterbalanced by cheap taste. There were pandals playing Hindi film songs at full volume. But the moment they saw us coming, they quickly switched to shehnai played very low.�

Award-winning organisers of Hatibagan Sarbojanin have geared their entire presentation to a single theme, used plaster of Paris to prevent fire and installed two drums to collect donations for flood relief.

�But,� says their spokesman T. Roychowdhury, �public participation in the event and the desire to do something together has waned.�    

Calcutta, Oct.6: 
It was perhaps the most humiliating rollback of her career when railway minister Mamata Banerjee revoked her decision to resign from the Union cabinet on Friday, Mahanavami.

However, Mamata�s literary career seems to be on the �write� track. Books penned by the Trinamul Congress supremo are selling like hot cakes at stalls set up by the youth wing of the party near various puja pandals..

While the Trinamul stalls bustled with customers Friday evening, those set up by the CPM, or its students� wing, SFI, stocking books by Marx, Engels, Lenin, John Reed and others, were not as crowded.

Of nearly a dozen books of fiction, poetry and essays on the political situation in Bengal under Mamata�s belt, three titles � Upalavdhi, Pallabi and Ma � have grossed over Rs 70,000 at various stalls in the city on Sashti, Saptami and Ashtami, said Tapas Dutta, vice-president of Trinamul�s youth wing.

Most of Mamata�s books are priced between Rs 50 and Rs 80.

These three books and others like Crocodile Island, an anthology of poems she wrote after a trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Motherland, Janatar Darbar and Trinamul are vying for attention with the collected works of Lenin, Marx and Engels, Reed�s book on the Mexican revolution and Jyoti Basu�s biography by Surabhi Banerjee.

Trinamul sources said two stalls near puja pandals at Bagbazar and Ahiritola, in north Calcutta, together sold books authored by Mamata worth Rs 10,000 on Thursday evening alone.

Dilip Dey of Dey�s Publishing, which has published all the books penned by the Trinamul boss, said that Trinamul workers from individual city areas had placed orders for the books much before the Pujas. Altogether, Dey�s Publishing met an order of nearly 6,500 books, he said.

Besides, audio cassettes of Mamata�s speeches and songs sung at Trinamul rallies by the party�s youth wing members are also selling well. Apart from Bagbazar and Ahiritola, some of the other big stalls set up by the Trinamul youth wing at city puja pandals have come up at College Street, Jatin Das Park, and Tollygunge.

The stalls have also put on display other books, like biographies of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi and their collected works.    

Calcutta, Oct.6: 
Don�t worry if your child doesn�t have a grandma of her own. Nabanir, an old-age home for women at Tollygunge, has started an �adopt-a-granny� scheme.

Whoever is in need of a granny�s company may approach the home run by a city-based social welfare organisation, Women�s Interlink Foundation.

Nearly 45 grandmas are always available at the Foundation for the asking. Of the 45 boarders 25 are offered free accommodation.

They are ready to offer love, affection and everything a child expects of a loving grandmother.

In return, those �adopting� the grandma are required to pay Rs 150 per month to Nabanir. Even elderly people looking for company can avail of the scheme.

Those who have adopted the grandmas, never forget their duties towards the old ladies. They took their �grandmas� to a pandal closeby on Saptami morning.

�Our grandchildren are so caring that we sometimes forget we are not at home. They held our hands firmly to make sure we didn�t trip or fall,� said Maya Lahiri, a 68-year-old boarder of the home.

Schoolchildren can avail of the facility through their schools and are free to visit the grannies once they have registered their names. The scheme can be sponsored individually or through an organisation.

At the home, children sitting in groups surround their �adopted� grandmas who told them fairytales.

�I forget my miseries when I am in the company of the beautiful children,� said Nirmala Mitra, a 69-year-old boarder.

Malati Bardhan (65) a single lady from Behala, and Sushama Sarkar (84) are delighted because the youngsters take them for film shows or cultural functions.

The scheme is aimed at generating funds for running the home which is totally dependent on donations.

Of the Rs 150 charged, Rs 50 is paid to the boarder concerned as pocket money. The rest is spent on food and other necessities.

Gangotri Ray, an elderly lady herself, has sponsored two boarders, Panna Ghosal and Maya Lahiri, for their company.

�I often visit the home and have a nice chat with Panna and Maya, which gives me a lot of mental peace,� said Ray.    

The party�s over, Calcutta. And so are the Pujas.

Yes, this year Calcutta is dead. The life�s gone out of the city, its people and its Puja.

The lights are there, the spectacle is there, but there�s no music, no life. And believe me, it hurts to see my city, my people, my Puja, lying there �like something discarded by a snake�. Images from the works of Baudelaire and Shakti Chattopadhyay � that�s what this city reminds me of. For I�ve never seen Calcutta look uglier or poorer.

The Durga Puja isn�t about how much money is spent, how many bamboos are brought in, how much cloth is draped on them, what kind of lighting arrangements there are... It�s about the spirit. The spirit of fun, of adda, of music, of romance.

But where�s all that gone? The first thing that strikes you is that you can�t hear the Pujas this time. There�s no sound of dhakis, no music.

Even if it�s awful Hindi film music, it�s still so much better than no noise during the days of the Puja. While the ban on loudspeakers � which I personally think should be relaxed during these festival days � has something to do with it, I think it reflects a deeper malaise. The fact that we seem to have just given up. Cholchhey, cholbey... aar kichu hobey na.

People walking heartlesslessly, not joyously, from pandal to pandal, just because they have to. And no one seems to be having fun anymore. Where�s that typical Bangali adda at the pandals?

Not even the young seem to be having any �special� feeling about the Puja. Boys struggling to prove a point in sweaty, tight T-shirts instead of classy kurtas, girls no longer laughing out loud.

In fact, the only glimpse of the �real� Pujas I got was in a little hut-like pandal on a little field in Diamond Harbour, where little girls with large ribbons on their heads were dancing out of step to a tuneless ditty while little boys drummed up a lively band. There was something honest about the way they were celebrating the festival, far removed from the ostentatious but lifeless Pujas of the city.

I don�t know what the Pujas mean to me anymore. My daughters (Riya and Raima) have gone off for a Dandiya tour of North India, my husband is in Mumbai and I�m sitting here.

Earlier, I couldn�t imagine staying away from Calcutta during the Pujas. This is the city I love. This the festival I love. But this year, it somehow seems so senseless.

I realise I�m in Calcutta only because of my mother. For me, these few days are meant to be spent with her. And as long as she�s here, I�ll be here with her.    

Agartala, Oct. 6: 
In a new twist to the leadership struggle in the Tripura unit of the Congress, almost all factions of the party have joined hands against PCC chief Birajit Sinha.

The party�s organisational elections are slated to be completed by November 11.

Shortly after the election process got underway, Sinha allegedly influenced AICC observer Debananda Konwar, a sitting legislator from Assam, into appointing some of his supporters as block returning officers and district returning officers.

However, senior party leaders � including former PCC presidents Gopal Roy and Samir Ranjan Barman � submitted a memorandum demanding that the list be revised. Ashok Bhattacharyya, another former PCC chief, also raised the issue.

Sinha was unperturbed by the development, saying that appointment of block returning officers and district returning officers was the prerogative of the election observer and he had nothing to do with it.

The intra-party squabble took a new turn when P.C.Chacko, the principal returning officer for Tripura, rejected the list approved by Konwar.

Chacko arrived here last week to take stock of the situation and hold discussions with all factions of the party.

The publication of a new list of returning officers representing all factions is, however, unlikely to end the crisis. �It will actually lead to fresh alignments,� said an observer.

The Trinamul Congress, which made a big splash in the state last year, is also facing problems.

Making its debut in the state, the party relegated the Congress to third position in the last Lok Sabha elections. However, its growth since then has been retarded by factional squabbles and Sudhir Ranjan Mazumdar�s alleged attempts to �keep the party under his thumb�. The Trinamul Congress high command summoned Mazumdar and party convenor Ratan Chakravorty to Calcutta recently and asked both to clean up their act.

A source said a delegation of Trinamul Congress leaders would arrive in Tripura after Durga Puja to take stock of the situation. �The central leaders will form the party�s pradesh committee and recommend steps to streamline the organisation,� he added.    

New Delhi, Oct. 6: 
Former Meghalaya chief minister S.C. Marak was today elected unopposed as the president of the Meghalaya Congress.

In the current party polls, Marak became the first state Congress unit chief to be elected. Marak�s election was announced by state returning officer B.K. Handique. Marak belongs to the influential Garo tribe. His appointment is seen as a counter to rebel leader Purno Sangma, who hails from the same community.

Assam landslide

Six members of a family, including a woman and her minor children, have been killed in a lanslide in the south Assam district of Hailakandi, reports PTI. A delayed official report in Guwahati today said the landslide was triggered by heavy rainfall at Baicherra on Tuesday.    

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