Nose-job route to nuptials
Teachers steer clear of HS script check camp
Cops on course for off-shops
Turning point in creativity
The City Diary
A shot at what they like best, and more
Rooms on rent for phones to ring
Civic rift scars roads
A plot to ply a trade
Dacoity on morning bus

Calcutta, June 2: 
Her husband-to-be told her that her nose was too big. She fought her fears and agreed to go in for a nose job. He paid Rs 30,000 for it. Now, nearly a year into their marriage, she says: �I am happy, because my husband is happy. I did it for him. He says I look good with my new nose.�

Egged on by family or friends, boyfriends and fiances, young girls in and around Calcutta are increasingly going under the knife to improve their looks. Little wonder then that this phenomenon is being referred to as �pre-marital surgery�.

�I have practised for years in the UK, US and West Asia. The striking difference here is that most clients are young, often unmarried girls from middle-class families, who have been refused marriage because of their appearance, or those who want to improve themselves in the eyes of their in-laws. It�s almost like an epidemic,� says plastic surgeon Aniruddha Bose.

The most common surgeries are rhinoplasty (nose jobs) and lip work. �It�s all related to socio-cultural and economic factors. Because of the types of clothes worn here, the body is mainly covered. So it�s usually the face that people want work done on,� says Bose.

Nova Clinic is the first of its kind in the city, offering help of the non-surgical kind. In addition to surgery, it uses Intense Pulsed Light and Laser technology to remove birthmarks, scars, spots, body hair and other skin aberrations. Although a long process with repeated treatment, this is �a relatively painless method, with no side effects� and takes about half an hour to 45 minutes per treatment. The cost is Rs 350 per pulse of light, with one to three pulses per session. Says A.K. Prasad of Nova: �Since we�ve opened in March, we have had a steady stream of patients. The youngest is a two-month-old baby and the oldest is a 70-year-old-man. People sometimes come in during lunch hour and go back to office after the session.�

One Nova patient, a girl in her early 20s, is undergoing treatment to remove facial scars. She says, on condition of anonymity: �I am doing this to look better and people are already starting to notice.�

Suddenly, beauty is skin deep and being noticed is all that matters. Aniruddha Bose ruefully remarks: �I have about four to five patients a week, and the majority of them are young girls. A lot of the time, they come in with severe insecurities about their looks, and suffering from inferiority complexes. They often need psychological help, not surgery.�

Amit Roy is a dental surgeon. He also performs cosmetic surgery on the upper and lower jaw, to correct facial imperfections or to generally improve one�s appearance.

�Ninety per cent of the patients who come to me for this kind of surgery are young unmarried girls, between the ages of 19 and 30. Seventy per cent of them are Bengali,� he says. �One patient�s father told me that the better she looks, the less the amount of dowry he has to pay� The consciousness of plastic surgery has increased due to socio-cultural factors.�

These girls often face a lot of �unfair discrimination� when it comes to arranged marriages. �Usually, the girls come of their own accord, embarrassed and frustrated after being refused marriage a few times. I did some upper-jaw work on a young librarian from Midnapore. She was desperate because she couldn�t get married. When she went back, she was inundated with proposals. She finally got married to a schoolteacher who had previously refused her.�

It�s a silent, surgical revolution among a generation bombarded by images of near-perfect faces and figures. Ruchira Goswami, who teaches sociology at the West Bengal University of Juridical Sciences, feels these young women are �increasingly influenced by the media and its message� that the more beautiful one is, the better the chances of finding a perfect husband or a dream job. �The rise in cosmetic surgery among women and the explosion of beauty products in the market all add up to a very disturbing trend. What is particularly worrying is that women are seen as commodities, not individuals.�


Calcutta, June 2: 
Spot evaluation of select answer-scripts of Higher Secondary (HS) examinations � aimed at speeding up the process and curbing malpractice � has been tripped by a section of teachers.

The reform measure introduced by the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education two years ago ran into resistance after teachers of some prominent English-medium schools in Calcutta refused to attend the spot-evaluation camps set up for assessing answer-scripts in �English first language�. Their point of protest: the makeshift structures were far too �hot and uncomfortable� for them.

�Some of the teachers even said they would not assess the answer-scripts in such a camp after coming all the way from home in their air-conditioned cars,� said a senior official of the education department. The Council authorities were forced to back down and direct head examiners to allow teachers of these English-medium schools to take the answer-scripts home.

The spot-evaluation camp for subjects like English first language, Bengali second language and Hindi first language began at a government-run HS school in Salt Lake on May 20. Answer-scripts of other �major subjects�, taken by a large number of students, are being assessed by examiners at home.

�It is only the teachers appointed to assess the answer scripts in English first language who created the problem. We had no problem at all in any other subject. We understand that some teachers may find it difficult to do the job in these camps, but we hope they will understand our problem and bear with us in future,� said Council president Jyotirmoy Mukherjee.

This has, however, caused resentment among a large section of teachers from state-aided Bengali and Hindi-medium schools. They have warned the Council that they will be compelled to take up the matter with the state education department if the authorities continue to be �partial towards teachers from English-medium schools�.

The Council had introduced the system to organise spot-evaluation camps in papers taken by a lesser number of students to avoid delays caused by the lengthy process of distributing and collecting answer-scripts to and from examiners by post.

Moreover, the Council had been receiving a growing number of complaints about �anomalies in assessment� of answer-scripts in subjects taken by fewer students. This year, more than 100,000 answer-scripts are being assessed at the spot-evaluation camp.


Calcutta, June 2: 
The government has finally called the bluff of campaigns against the opening of licensed liquor shops in various localities. State excise minister Prabodh Sinha said the police have been asked to curb the protests and ensure smooth functioning of the off-shops. He has also urged protesters to direct their �righteous� anger against illegal shops and factories peddling spurious liquor.

From Lake Town to Tollygunge, from Beleghata to Thakurpukur and from Deganga to Jadavpur, grassroots leaders from the CPM and the Trinamul Congress have banded together to thwart the uncorking of these off-shops. State excise commissioner Arun Mishra has already asked the North and South 24-Parganas district administrations to take up the matter. �It is unfortunate that the transparent licence-awarding procedure has met with such opposition,� Mishra said. �The places where off-shops have been set up were selected following every rule in the book.�

Excise department officials say they have received complaints from many owners about being targeted for extortion. Lake Town police station has distributed hundreds of leaflets, signed by the officer-in-charge, warning of stern action against those campaigning against a new off-shop in the locality. �One of the owners has obtained an order from Calcutta High Court,� said a Lake Town police officer.

Residents blocked the VIP Road-Lake Town intersection for several hours a week ago to protest the opening of an off-shop at Block B of Lake Town. They maintained that such a shop would have a �bad influence� on the youth and �pollute� the area. �If anyone has any specific objection to the liquor shop, he/she should take up the matter with the high court. But under no circumstance should anyone take the law into his/her hands by preventing the owner from opening the shop,� read the police leaflet.

The South 24-Parganas administration, too, is threatening action. Shop-owners will be given necessary protection, said additional superintendent of police (industrial) Rajesh Kumar Singh. District magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhyay said the administration would try and explain to protesters the �senselessness of their agitation�.


Calcutta, June 2: 
It takes the young and the skilled to bring about change in a changeless city. That�s the driving force of a programme involving young architects to change the Calcutta skyline. And for architects under-35, it doesn�t get bigger than this � the chance to get their work evaluated by Balkrishna Doshi, Prabir Mitra and Dulal Mukherjee and help start a beautification drive in town.

A joint initiative by the apex body of state architects and a corporate house has thrown them their first challenge � to recreate the roundabout at the crossing of the EM Bypass and the Rashbehari connector. �A traffic roundabout is a turning point which can be seen from a distance. It should give the motorist a sense of direction and orientation, but shouldn�t be cluttered with out-of-place and sub-standard works of art. Also, the circulator shouldn�t be obscured by tall trees like at Park Circus, where Shanu Lahiri�s paintings are hardly visible,� says Prabir Mitra, one of the judges for the contest, and the creator of the VSNL building at Ultadanga.

Dulal Mukherjee feels it is important to include the surroundings and the backdrop in the design solution to create a dynamic and soothing project. �Vehicular movement is too erratic in Calcutta and the sanctity of a circulator is often ruined by unplanned bus, auto or taxi stands mushrooming around it. To create something like the gateway at the Champs Elysses or the Marble Arch in London will be difficult. Still, a project like this has the potential to inspire others to take the beautification plunge,� says the architect who has left his stamp on Metro Plaza and the Russian Consulate.

Handled by the West Bengal Chapter of the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) and sponsored by Ambuja Cements Eastern Limited, the signature design solutions from budding architects are being invited in the form of a contest. Participants must be below 35 and registered with the Council of Architecture. The winner will leave his or her creative stamp on the traffic intersection and transform it into a landmark.

Doshi, the visionary architect who gave the city Udayan, The Condoville, will be in town to assess the designs.

The winner will receive a purse of Rs 75,000, while the second prize is worth Rs 25,000. Three merit prizes of Rs 10,000 each will also be given away to the next best entries and all the designs featured in the contest will be displayed for a week at Swabhumi.

Contestants have been given a ceiling of Rs 10 lakh as cost of development and briefed to keep within civic stipulations. The jury will also keep a keen eye on the maintenance aspect.

According to Mitra, no specific theme has been given to the contestants and the jury expects a �varied approach� to the design. �A circulator is not an isolated platform for an artist to express his/her creativity. I think architects are better-equipped for this job,� he says.

So what should a winning design have? �It should be able to deal with space and traffic movement and also fuse with the ambient environment. If it can make a statement and give the place an identity, it should do well,� says Harshavardhan Neotia, managing director, Ambuja Cements Eastern.

This initiative, say the jury members, should spark interest among other corporate houses. �Cities get their character from such public places of interest. If a work of rare visual beauty is created in the middle of a traffic square like this, people talk about it every time they are in the vicinity, which can be a wonderful boost for young architects,� says Neotia, who has given the city the riverside retreat, The Ffort Radisson, and will sit in with the three architects to judge the contest.



Roadblock over crime spurt

Residents blocked the intersection of Sarat Bose Road and Manoharpukur Road for an hour from 11.30 am on Sunday to protest the spurt in lawlessness in the area. Some goons had shot at local youths Piku Majumdar on Sunday and Bishu Choudhury the day before. Piku was taken to Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan, where his condition was stated to be stable. Bishu was also released from hospital after first aid. Police said Piku was trying to organise an agitation against some local people who would give shelter to criminals. Bishu had joined Piku in the movement. On Saturday evening, criminals fired at Bishu, of Motilal Nehru Road, while he was walking along Bondel Road. Police said raids were on but no arrests have been made.

Breakthrough in agriculture

Scientists of Calcutta University (CU) have made a breakthrough in the agricultural field by producing paddy on salty land. The World Bank has sponsored the project, while the CU gave Rs 50,000 as grant to the department of agriculture. Scientists associated with the project said new varieties of rice, like Bipasha, Sabita and Malati, will meet the increasing demand for the grain.

The researchers feel the technique will also help convert a vast tract of the Sunderbans into paddy fields. Chief scientist of the project Ranjit Kumar Sarkar said cultivators can now produce rice four times a year by following their guidelines.

Godown gutted

A godown of plastic materials on S.N. Roy Road, a residential area in Behala, was gutted on Sunday evening. Around a dozen fire tenders were pressed into service. Firemen could not ascertain the cause of the blaze.

More traffic signals

The Howrah district administration will instal more traffic signals at vital intersections to reduce road mishaps. The administration wants to instal signals in the fringe areas as well. Rajesh Kumar, superintendent of police, Howrah, said the number of traffic personnel would also be increased.    

Calcutta, June 2: 
Mask-making, painting and creative writing were just some of the workshops on offer for kids at the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre (EZCC) in Salt Lake. When a few Salt Lake schools requested the centre to hold summer camps for children of the area, the authorities obliged with a wide variety of programmes. Music, art, crafts, writing� different subjects for the varied interests of children during vacation time.

�We started this series of workshops for the children before the summer holidays actually began, and they will continue after the schools have reopened. The response has been very good. Several schools selected students for a particular workshop, say painting, who then stayed on to do the others. That way, they developed their talent in something, and learnt something new as well,� says Ranojit Samaddar, programme director, EZCC.

The workshops were conducted by professionals, brought in to share with the youngsters valuable hands-on experience. The painting workshop, which included Madhubani and folk art, was over on May 26, and the mask-making began on May 27. The teachers were two Purulia mask-makers, who used mud and terracotta. �I have never taught children before. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only were they interested, but also enthusiastic,� said Bhagurat Sutra, one of the trainers.

The EZCC is planning to hold an exhibition of the best works, for which some of the children�s products have been selected. �They have done some very good work,� Samaddar says. �Children, when they like what they do, perform the task with such complete concentration and joy, that it�s a delight to watch. The result is always bound to be good. More importantly, it helps develop perception, observational skills and artistic sense.�

Twelve-year-old Samprit Bhattacharjee of Kendriya Vidyalaya II, Salt Lake, explains: �I did the painting workshop first. I love painting and have been at it since I was very small. I did mostly Madhubani paintings, which are on display here, in the main hall. Now I am learning to make masks, which I have never done before.� Samprit and his friends mixed the mud, made the shapes, covered them with paper, and when they dry, began painting the features on them. They made �demons, gods and goddesses and even people�.

Manojit De, 11, from the same school, shyly declared: �I like doing this. It�s a good experience. Maybe I will come back for more classes.�

The EZCC holds different cultural workshops round the year, from Bharatanatyam and Odissi dance to tabla and theatre, and it�s not just for the youngsters either. There are workshops for all ages, from toddlers to the elderly. After each workshop there is a programme that gives participants a chance to demonstrate their skill. A dance recital, a play or an exhibition, it gives them the opportunity to showcase what they have learnt.


Calcutta, June 2: 
Calcutta Telephones is desperately seeking property on rent for setting up smaller telephone exchanges.

Though 190 smaller exchanges are already in operation to supplement the 31 bigger exchanges, Calcutta Telephones authorities say they need around 70 more 250-sq-ft to 700-sq-ft ground-floor or first-floor flats on rent to set up even more Remote Line Unit (RLU) exchanges that can be remote-controlled from the main exchanges. These small units can cater to 3,500 and 6,000 connections.

Senior telecom officials say they are willing to fork out anything between Rs 12 and Rs 18 per square foot, depending on the area, as monthly rent. According to the current plans, the agreement with the landlords is likely to last 20 to 25 years, with provision for review of rent every five years. �We need 70 apartments on rent, especially in the central and southern parts of the city, immediately,�� chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones S.P. Chakravarty said.

There is an urgent need to divide the bigger exchanges and distribute the workload among smaller exchanges, say the telecom authorities, given the rapid increase in subscriber base. Around 200,000 people have taken connections in the past 18 months.

The smaller exchanges will reduce the length of cables between the subscriber�s residence and the exchange, minimising cable faults drastically, Chakravarty explained. �Besides, a lot of the workload will be taken off the bigger exchanges,� he added.

Calcutta Telephones now has around 1.3 million subscribers, of whom 15,000 are on the current complainants� list, with faults in their connections. Calcutta Telephones officials are negotiating with landlords in Burrabazar, Nimtala, Ironside Road, Picnic Garden, Park Circus, Park Street, Bansdroni and surrounding areas.

Ram Narayan Nandi, who let out a flat recently to Calphones, said he was �happy� with the arrangement. �No one stays at night and there is no dispute over toilet facilities and water supply,� he explained. The 1,100-sq-ft flat, on K.K. Tagore Street, caters to 9,000 connections in the neighbourhood, officials said.


Calcutta, June 2: 
A row between mayor Subrata Mukherjee and his council member (roads) Anup Chatterjee has all but rendered defunct the road department of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). This, when more than 300 km of roads require �immediate attention�.

The 1,600-odd employees of the department have been without work since the middle of May. The two hot-mix plants have been shut down; the raw material stock is not enough to even undertake patchwork. The staff, whose salaries add up to about Rs 2 crore a month, are sitting idle.

�What can I do if the mayor decides to cut off the nose to spite the face?� demanded Anup Chatterjee, who has decided not to attend office till road-maintenance funds are allotted to his department. �What the mayor does not seem to realise is that the image of the Trinamul Congress will be tarred if city roads are not maintained,� he added.

According to a senior engineer in the roads department, of the total 1,500-km network, around 300 km require a fresh track coat. These include Strand Road, Strand Bank Road, C.R. Avenue, James Long Sarani, S.N. Roy Road, Beleghata Main Road, Narkeldanga Main Road, Belgachhia Road, Raja Subodh Mullick Road, B.T. Road and about a hundred peripheral roads.

The CMC has two hot-mix plants at Palmer Bazaar and Goragachha, where road-repair material like bitumen, stone and sand are mixed mechanically in hot chambers. The Palmer Bazaar plant produces 667 tonnes and Goragachha 333 tonnes of hot-mix every day. The stock of stone chips has been used up and suppliers have refused to accept orders till their dues are cleared.

But there is no end in sight to the impasse at the CMC headquarters. The mayor has even hinted that Chatterjee should resign if he feels he is incapable of repairing roads. But the mayoral council member is in no mood to back down: �I will resign only if my party asks me to.�


Calcutta, June 2: 
Though the law bars people from setting up shop on residential plots in Salt Lake, Bidhannagar Municipality plans to erect worksheds in the added areas to help jobless youth start small-scale businesses under various self-employment schemes. At its recent board meeting, the municipality decided to set up two worksheds in wards 14 and 23 for the purpose.

�We will send our proposal to the urban development minister when he returns from tour,� said Dilip Gupta, chairman of the municipality. �We have trained more than 300 unemployed boys and girls through government-approved agencies and have provided them with equipment. But since we cannot issue them trade licences on residential plots, they have no place to set up their own business,� Gupta explained.

Officials said a proposal for recruiting coordinators on part-time basis for the schemes has also been approved. These coordinators will help the youths secure loans from banks and push through the paperwork required for setting up a small-scale business. These coordinators will also keep a vigil on how the business is being run and try to ensure timely repayment. The municipality will send a request to state youth welfare minister Md Salim in this regard.

Chandan Ghosh, CPM councillor of ward 17, said: �Apart from the unavailability of trade licences in Salt Lake, the unemployed youths also face a problem in getting loans from banks. Except for the West Bengal State Cooperative Bank, the others do not release funds easily.�

There was a longstanding demand from the local CPM to implement such schemes and members of the DYFI, the youth wing of the party, recently submitted a deputation to the chairman.

A section of the local CPM is unhappy with the rigid rules on residential plots. �We think the rules must be changed immediately,� a senior leader said. �There is a special permission for the software industry, but the government must also think of the jobless youth� he added.

The leaders are also unhappy with the banks. �The quota for the scheme is 150, but we don�t know how many will actually be able to start business, as the banks are so rigid in disbursing loans,� a CPM leader stated.


Calcutta, June 2: 
Four youths brandishing revolvers got into a private bus on AJC Bose Road at 7 am on Sunday and looted cash and valuables from five passengers.

As co-passengers sat in stunned silence, the criminals, all in their mid-20s, got off and walked towards Alimuddin Street. One of those robbed, Rajib Biswas, lodged an FIR at Taltala thana.

However, additional officer-in-charge, Taltala police station, Nanda Dulal Pal, denied that passengers had been robbed. After scanning the day�s records, he admitted that Biswas had registered a complaint about his gold chain getting snatched. Biswas boarded the bus from Tollygunge for Sealdah station.

His friend Avijit Guha said the youths boarded the bus near Nonapukur tram depot.


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