The man who is synonymous with Sunderbans is this corporate executive from TCS who also runs an NGO called Mukti. Each time there is a cyclone or pandemic, the person we turn to before the calamity is Sankar, who would have by then prepared an Excel sheet of the number of villages under his watch, likely number of victims and funding estimate for their food for the first 168 hours.
Within a day of the calamity, he would have rolled out a fleet of Tata Chhota Hathis, criss-crossing the Sunderbans with relief material. Sankar brings to his rigour corporatised professionalism, clarity, detail, discipline and persuasiveness. At Kolkata Gives, the funding NGO I am associated with, Sankar is a brand for ‘Sunderbans ownership’ and getting the work done. You won’t find too many of his clonal kind in the social entrepreneurship sector.
Runs a first-rate NGO called Rural Health Care Foundation. The NGO mobilises donor funds to extensively subsidise primary healthcare delivery across rural Bengal. The service he provides is overseen by doctors; he stocks more than 170 SKUs; the doctor treats the rural patient with respect; the nominal fee charged covers patients for diagnosis and medicines (seven days); Anant monitors pan-Bengal service delivery through his Kolkata office CCTV.
Anant is also our turn-to pillar at Kolkata Gives. During the pandemic he helped raise crores for relief, single-handedly fielded hundreds of calls across 24 hours for concentrators, monitored inward and outward relief material logistics, maintained accounts, deputed his office for our NGO operations and was our ‘everything man’ (general factotum). When he had problems, we just called him. That’s it.
Soumen and Monabi Mitra
Soumen Mitra has made a singular contribution to the city that could be remembered for decades. As Commissioner of Police, he stewarded the restoration of heritage police properties in Kolkata and Barrackpore. The under-restoration state police academy in Barrackpore looks like a Downton Abbey cousin; the restored Jorabagan Traffic Guard should be ideally viewed when the uplighters are switched on; the restored Sealdah Traffic Guard is a head-turner.
If that were not enough, he teamed with his wife Monabi to write and produce a first-rate coffee table book on the Barrackpore property restoration (a model of how such a subject needs to be treated). Here is one man who will discuss Page 39 from the diary of Marquess of Hastings’ handwritten diary with the same straight face as he would when asking if you would like doodh or liquor cha when you meet him.
You won’t know her but if you walk down Shyampukur Street at night, there is a good chance you might find a lady on her haunches waiting for the dogs to come. That’s her. She feeds dogs in one street pocket, walks into an adjacent alley to wait for her next ‘group’ and then into the next seeking yet more dogs. She feeds them rice-chicken, dips into her savings and does so at night because ‘in the morning the shop owners consider me to be a hindrance.’
This one is not just for her; she is a metaphor for hundreds across the city who care for animals in general and keep Kolkata humane.
Madhu and her team at The India Story graduated a proof of concept on paper into a vibrant show that attracts the best national talent. The event stands for finesse, period. Whether in retailer curation, location presentation or event positioning. Being able to get a stall allocation at this event represents an achievement that people would like to put on their resume (‘We were there’). Gradually, this event has turned into a jewel in Kolkata’s winter crown. And it has happened in front of our eyes across the last decade.
Lady in her 80th year who curates a fascinating terrace garden at her Ballygunge Park residence. I find this fascinating: her arthritic knee corrects the moment she appraises flower maturity, chill influence on leaf growth or issues instructions to her maali. Her terrace garden is a blend of understated elegance, colour diversity and manicured trimness. For someone who turned around a Tezpur tea estate, it’s in the blood so to speak. Sadly, one can’t just walk in to see her creation as the property is private; maybe a pan-Kolkata tour needs to include her terrace on the must-visit winter list.
The man behind the Deckle Edge Instagram handle. This offering captures images of Kolkata – the kind you are unlikely to see in everyday life. That’s partly because DE has carved out a signature treatment – a deep bluish tinge on photographs that may appear exaggerated but cannot overlook the reality that he goes where most will not and when they will never (a heavy monsoonal outburst for instance). It is pages like his that have inspired smartphoners to walk into unexplored Kolkata alleys seeking candid moments. The next time you find someone from Kerala or Gurgaon or Ahmedabad in North Kolkata training a camera on a rickshaw in evening light, you know where that might have come from.
Maverick architect. Challenges established architectural traditions. Seeks the ‘soul in the shell’. His temple at Bansberia has been acknowledged as a small-time case study in design, materials and community engagement. His studio was selected among the Top 50 Young Firms in the World by World Architecture News in 2019; the studio’s work has been published as a monograph by The Architectural Review. This long list can get boring, so suffice it to say that Abin excites – whether he is crafting installation art for The Hindustan Park Street Festival, Behala puja, mansion, neighbourhood or a spanking new multi-storeyed building.
It’s got to a point where he has become a reflex thought: whenever I see anything on a street or a heritage mansion that needs a responsible makeover, my first thought is ‘Must call Abin!’
Mamoon is the unelected councillor, MLA and MP of Tikiapara. A man who started tuitions for three marginalised students in 2004 is now possibly Kolkata’s second largest educationist, addressing the needs of 6,500 students. During the pandemic, he was all over the place: arranging food rations, managing healthcare, dispatching stranded Bihar labourers home by bus, devising training by IAS officers to prepare Tikiapara students for civil services examinations, structuring a women’s stitching programme to keep 200 Tikiapara women economically productive and organising community vaccination. When I need to provide an example of a successful social entrepreneur, my reflex question is ‘Heard of Mamoon?’
Excellent instance of someone who lives his political ideology. Doctor Halim is a card-carrying Communist who specialises in dialysis treatment for the marginalised. His credibility comes from the fact that his donors are sold on him: they fund the dialysis machines and treatment costs without examining the fine print. During the pandemic, he went out and raised even more money so that he could drop his dialysis session costs down to Rs 50 (which is virtually free when you consider that the subsidised cost is around Rs 500) for the benefit of the rural suffering.
Kolkata’s Sikh community has strengthened its image around public compassionTT archives
This is the only ‘hero award’ given to a community. During the pandemic, Kolkata’s Sikh community (across gurudwaras) was out in the streets seeking out the hungry. It is amazing how the community has strengthened its image around public compassion; whenever I see one I begin to expect that he or she will always be willing to help a stranger. The Sikh in my mind has graduated from a religious identity to someone who stands for goodness everywhere. The community in Kolkata has become a brand.
Among Kolkata’s best known wedding photographers. Understated and efficient. Shoots in Kolkata and across the world (before the pandemic, that is). She is a mascot for all those women who seek to extend beyond society’s gender manifesto (‘You shall do this and not do that’). She is an even bigger mascot for all those who have encountered physical limitations and have shrugged them off as if they don’t exist. Malvika is hearing impaired; her work shouts.
Mudar Patherya is a romantic who revels in Kolkata anecdotes, pictures, bylanes, characters and memorabilia.