The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
A day for a river in distress

River Hooghly has long ceased to be the spine of the city, with technology carrying life and livelihood away from its waters. But that is no excuse to turn our backs on it. That was the theme of Clean Ganga Day.

The morning got off to a colourful start, with children from the nature clubs of three city schools — the La Martiniere schools and St James – joining hands to paint a mural at Millennium Park. The day’s events were organised by the Varanasi-based Sanket Mochan Foundation, with local partners Intach and People United for Better Living in Calcutta (Public), supported by the CMDA.

The line-up included representatives from all walks of life. Asok Bhattacharya, minister, urban development and municipal affairs, was chief guest for the technical session at Rotary Sadan, where Paul Narain, deputy director, public affairs, US consulate, delivered the welcome address.

At Millennium Park the schoolchildren also put up an exhibition on issues that are plaguing the river. Posters on the plight of the Gangetic dolphin, growing pollution from industrial effluents and the toxic substances introduced into the waters by the immersion of idols were on display.

“Some of the visitors to the exhibition did not even know we have dolphins in the Hooghly,” explain the boys of the La Martiniere nature club, who have concentrated on the plight of the aquatic mammal. “Unless we can educate people about the effects their actions have on sea life and the eco-system, they will never care what they are throwing into the water,” add Raj, Skand and Bhuvanesh, who completed their Class XI finals and got cracking on this project.

The girls from the sister school paid visits to the Judges and Prinsep ghats to catch the pollution on film. Photographs of the plastic bags floating on the water, black smoke coming from industrial chimneys and clusters of waste bobbing up and down mid-stream are proof enough of the negligence these activists are warning against.

This is just the first step for the students, led by Public. La Martiniere, for example, is dedicating its annual nature club fest, Creations, to the theme “Calcutta: Reality Bites”, where the river’s problems will be central, alongside issues like urban bio-diversity and arsenic content in water, explains nature club president Preetika Bose. For these crusaders, this campaign started three years ago, with a clean-up and awareness walk along Strand Road.

The boys from St James’ have plans of “approaching companies” along the river to stop pumping their untreated waste into the water. “They can easily treat their sewage and reduce the bad effects, but most won’t because it will cost them money,” stress Sashank and Nav.

The children have been “far beyond enthusiastic” according to Public. “They have put aside their individual school identities to work together for this cause,” explains Bonani Kakkar of Public. A larger exhibition is scheduled for April, which will delve deeper into the subject.

“The city that has turned its back on the river has to face it once again. But acknowledging the problem means that something will have to be done about it,” signs off Public’s Manosh De.

Booked by Tibet

A “surreal experience” is how Patrick French described a brush with Calcutta. Researching Francis Younghusband’s life at the state archives, he had been shocked when he was denied access to 100-year-old documents because of “security reasons”.

But this week, back in India’s “intellectual and cultural powerhouse”, French had a different agenda. Promoting his recent release, Tibet, Tibet, the British writer read excerpts from the work at the British Council Library on Wednesday evening.

Elements of memoir, travelogue, history and political analysis merge in French’s book, which has been described as a “quest for the true Tibet”. Having worked in close association with the Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet movement for years, he is said to have taken a no-holds-barred look at the movement as well as its leader in the book.

Though the Dalai Lama has become a spiritual icon across the globe, French accuses the “increasingly fashionable pro-Tibet movement” of the West as moving away from the “reality of how things are”. Mediaperson Larry King, interviewing the Buddhist monk on his popular show Larry King Live, even mistook him for a Muslim cleric.

On Wednesday, before an audience of academics, writers and book-lovers, he read extracts, some of which recounted instances of repression under Chairman Mao’s regime. He fielded questions from the audience with straight-faced humour and a candid approach to Tibet’s current realities. The Dalai Lama, in his view, would prefer to be a spiritual leader rather than a political one. He is “optimistic and idealistic” and “too trusting of apparent western support”. He answered queries from a curious audience on the difficulties of reaching a settlement acceptable to Tibetans and their rulers, the problems of setting up self-rule if and when the need arose and the attitude of young Tibet.

French has been commissioned to write the “official biography” of V.S. Naipaul, and on the Nobel Laureate’s trail, he has come back to India to research the book that will take “five to 10 years” to complete.

Powder power

After its high-profile launch of the Beauty Secrets by Madhuri range, Emami is back with the relaunch of Emami Golden Beauty, a body talc. To endorse the French-perfumed product, five models from France will be in the country for a month-long tour. Alpine Dew and Moon Drop, the two variations of the powder, are already on the shelves.

“With the peak summer season coming up, we wanted to reinforce Emami’s presence this segment,” explains Mohan Goenka, brand manager, Emami. Calcutta, and some of the smaller towns, will see brand ambassador Petra Katarina Susanne Svan in the market place, hobnobbing with retailers and consumers alike.

Cruise along

It’s a database of about 4,000 hotels and apartments worldwide, with special discounts and deals, from budget to luxury, for corporate clients and family holidays. Discovery Hotels, a sister concern of the city-based Discovery Travels and Tours, may not have a hotel of its own, but promises to deliver the ultimate travel solutions, from airport pick-ups and cruise holidays, to special meals and group tours.

With partners in almost every continent, including the tourism boards of Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore among others, the “travel service” launched on Friday will cater to individual travellers, agencies and tour operators. And Airtel customers can dial 901 for bookings, information and special deals.

The aim, says Discovery Hotels director Prashant Binnany, is to consolidate the Indian travel industry and provide the best to the “whimsical, yet adventurous” Indian traveller. “This is just the beginning. We hope to expand as the business picks up, which it no doubt will,” he adds.

Rhyme in print

Living Other Lives. Poetess Sharmila Ray will do that through a soon-to-be-released collection of poems bearing the title. The book, which will be brought out by Minerva Press, deals with “expressions of a woman’s emotions and reactions to social issues”, she points out. This is the third publication of the poetess (after Earth, Me and You and A Day with Rimi), who recited at Srijan on Friday evening.

A known name in cultural circles and niece of Sahitya Akademi winner Manindra Ray, she has already performed at the India International Centre in Delhi and more recently with singer Anjan Dutt at Landmark.

“I started writing poems when I was in school for our magazine,” says the history teacher at Surendranath College, who laughingly insists that one does not have to be a literature student to wield the poetic pen.

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