The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
On lip-smacking return route

Experimentation is the name of the game for the reigning screen queen. Ever since motherhood and her Tollywood comeback, Rituparna Sengupta has decided to be different. Small surprise then that she’s playing the lead in Byatikrami, her first project with off-the-beaten-path director Ashok Viswanathan. The film also stars Debika Mitra, Nandini Ghosal, Badshah and Debjani Roy. Picture by Aranya Sen

Care for some mouth-watering heat ’n’ eat chicken biryani' Or a chunky chicken meatloaf for that perfect breakfast sandwich' There’s delicious news for homemakers and chicken freaks alike. Venky’s, the market leader in processed chicken products, is back in Calcutta for a second innings, with a blueprint to invade every kitchen.

“We had underestimated the demand for our products in these parts the last time round and our supply chain collapsed. This time, we have done our homework and Calcutta homes can now have a steady diet of our value-added items,” says O.P. Singh, general manager of Venky’s (India) Ltd, “Asia’s largest poultry integrated company”.

For the past four months, the chicken major has been testing the Calcutta palate with its new range of “customised recipes” like chicken samosa, chicken keema and hariyali tikka, through fairs, exhibitions and some retail outlets. “We were at the Book Fair and around 40,000 people visited our stall every day, with stocks running out in a couple of hours,” smiles Singh.

The “overwhelming response” has prompted Venky’s to put its chicken-in-a-minute delicacies on the shelves of 160 Calcutta stores and the company hopes to retail from 350 points by end-March. Before the end of June, Venky’s will augment this retail chain with 16-17 exclusive branded stores, to reach a penetration of “one outlet every 1.5 km”.

The company has incorporated “regional eating habits” into its R&D for the East to come up with the biryani, samosa and tikka to go with its mix of nuggets, sausages and salamis. “Calcutta has a predominantly non-vegetarian population and we want to prove here that chicken is the most economical source of protein, aiming to put it on the plate at least once a day,” Singh says.The Venky’s branded stores will have literature and interactive video kiosks for education and awareness on the nutritional aspects and various pluses of poultry products. A Venky’s team is also embarking on an awareness campaign on chicken in city schools and colleges this week.

The company, which has targeted a turnover of around Rs 10 crore by the year-end in eastern India, has commissioned a 10-tonne cold-storage facility on the E.M. Bypass, and has another 10-tonne capacity for deep-freezing. Singh is confident that the Venky’s range of processed chicken products will be a “healthier and more nutritious alternative” than most of the branded products now available in the market.

“We control our entire supply chain and our processing plant in Pune has the most modern equipment and latest technology for plucking, de-feathering, de-boning and packaging. Besides, our products conform to EU and USDA quality-control guidelines,” the GM declares.

Venky’s can spread its wings in Bengal further, if the government reconsiders taxation on processed food, which stands at “a stiff 17.25 per cent” as opposed to just four per cent in Uttar Pradesh and 12 per cent in Maharashtra. “Calcutta can be one of our largest markets, since West Bengal already has the second largest broiler population in the country,” concludes Singh.

— Subhro Saha

Two cheers

Swabhumi — the Heritage Plaza, inaugurated on February 17, 2001, celebrates its second anniversary with a three-day festival ‘Colours Of India’ — a meeting ground for craft, culture and cuisine from all over India. The festival (February 15-17), to be open from 12 noon to 8 pm, will showcase elements from Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Nagaland.

Among craft items, there will be handloom, and a variety of hand-embroidered works like kantha, handprints, block, tie-and-dye and batik. Handicrafts include woodcarving, brass and bell metal, folk paintings, cane and bamboo work, natural cosmetics and spices, incense sticks, folk and tribal jewellery, terracotta, shoal, dokra, iron works, stone-carving and sandalwood products.

Traditional cuisine at the festival will include north Indian, Mughlai, Chettinaad, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Hyderabadi, Goan and Bengali dishes. A special attraction will be 20 varieties of authentic Bangla mishti including pithe, payesh, patishapta, jibe gaja, kucho nimki, narkel pulao, kamlabhog, bhapa doi, bhapa makha and sandesh.

Cultural performances will feature baulgaan from Bengal, Nacha and Pandwani singers from Chhattisgarh, folk songs and dances from Gujarat and Punjab, Chenda Melam and Kaikottikkali from Kerala.

Road rage

After Kargil to Kanyakumari, it’s Koteshwar in Gujarat to Kivithoo in Arunachal Pradesh. Having driven over 3,500 km for 10 days, the K2K-II team was in for a sweet treat in Calcutta, earlier this week. With mishti, the sight of a sea of ambassadors and a stroll at Victorial Memorial, for the four-man team on wheels out to study road and road behaviour, it was time to relax. Well, almost.

“Buses and taxis are a big pain,” said Rishan Saam Mehta. “It’s as if they think non-stop honking gives them right of way. And the buses give you barely a few inches to pass. But after Bihar roads, it’s heaven.”

Timeout for a few hours for the team meant taking in the sights and sounds. “It’s criminal to come to Calcutta and not have mishti doi and sandesh, so we had to try both,” smiled Kartik ‘gadget guy’ Ganesh, in charge of the techno side of the tour. He monitors the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system, and constantly updates their location on the website

Mehta, however, was busy “photographing the uniqueness of Calcutta”, not just Victoria Memorial and the second Hooghly bridge. “My best was the picture of a traffic jam, where every single car was an ambassador. In no other city in India will you see that. Another favourite is the police sergeant in white uniform and black boots, riding the red, shiny motorbikes.”

The two other team members are Vivek Bhat, a car whiz, and Farad Bhathena, former national car rally champion. “I wouldn’t recommend anyone to drive from Varanasi to Calcutta. It’s filth and chaos all the way, from the moment you leave Varanasi until it peaks in Bihar. Once you enter West Bengal, it gets better,” observed Mehta.

So, while Ganesh shyly grinned about how the devotion to his first love — cars — had earned him flak for missing the third Valentine’s Day in a row and his mother’s birthday, Mehta was dreaming of a day in Kaziranga. And they were all looking forward to finishing on the 15th and finally heading home on the 17th, leaving behind the “smog, pollution and crazy drivers”.

Australian rhyme

Cricket and kangaroos. That still sums up Australia for many of us. But even those who discovered the Nobel-winning novelist Patrick White decades ago, find it difficult to lay hands on a good anthology of Australian poetry with an affordable price tag.

Writers’ Co-operative, in collaboration with the Shakespeare Society of Eastern India, has brought out a selection of 300 years of Australian poetry along with the Bengali translations. “The book is part of an ongoing project to serve world poetry on the Bengali platter,” says Amitava Roy, a member of the editorial team. The choice of Australian works this year was a “happy coincidence” for Writers’ Co-operative, for Aussie authors Peter Carey and Kim Scott were also on a visit to the city at launch time and were “only too happy” to do the honours at the Book Fair.

The collection, with a crisp introduction by Debnarayan Bandyopadhyay, encompasses poetry from and on almost all major stages of the nation’s history — glorification of the British imperialist mission in the 1850s (A New Britannia in Another World: William Charles Wentworth), a critique of the valorisation that emerged soon after (And Britannia, shouldst thou cease to have: Charles Harpur), the voice of the aboriginals in Kath Walker or Colin Johnson, right down to modern pensters like Judith Wright and Kenneth Slessor with their penchant for journey as metaphor, bent on seeking their roots in the Old World (Britain), in the New World (Americas) and in Asia.

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