THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 25.11.00
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Our man from Havana Shall we call it the pilgrim's regress? CPI(M) politburo member and the all-powerful Alimuddin Street boss, Biman Bose, has returned from Cuba, the Marxists' mecca, a disheartened man. Two apparent reasons for the sadness. One, a Cuban doctor has asked chain-smoker Bose to give up on the habit for the rest of his life. Bose wishes he had never seen him. Commies have problems refusing a Cuban, you see. The other thorn is the Cuban literacy rate, which Bose found was way higher than that of his state. Bose, who pioneered the literacy movement in the state, had a humbling experience to see over 90 per cent of Cubans literate, while the figure for West Bengal is only "70 per cent" (according to Commie stats, that is). Bimanda was also impressed by the high literacy among female Cubans. A determined Bose has lined up a fresh programme to relaunch the literacy drive in the state. He has also promised to give more time to the campaign than to politics. Bad characters, however, attribute Bose's political disinterest to his being sidelined in the party. With Anil Biswas at the helm of affairs as the state unit secretary, Bose can only think of educating Bengalis. Is that to also help them realize Bose's worth better? Dearer à la carte All good things come to an end. So has sasta khana or cheap food inside Parliament. Bless or blame our fiery, all nonsense Union railways minister for that. The prices at the canteen run by the railways have been increased twofold. The "Veg soup" now costs Rs 4.50 instead of the antiquated Re 1. The chicken biryani has been priced at Rs 27 instead of Rs 12. Quite naturally, the new price list has got the goat of both journalists and MPs who thought moving in the corridors of the Lok Sabha entitled them to the privilege of having the heavily subsidized fare. There is evidently no point reasoning that the revised rates are much less than what appears next to the food listed on the menus of even third rate joints in the capital. There is more. Journalists apparently have been debarred from eating in the Parliament house canteen and around 180 of the breed have protested in writing to a disinterested speaker of the house. A small room is now serving as a cafeteria for them. Its dirty interiors, the piles of bones, leftovers and groundwater bottled in mineral water bottles are adding a new dimension to India's political hub. Into something richand strange This might bring the dead alive. One story doing the rounds in the Congress is about its departed dissenter, Sitaram Kesri. A treasurer for 17 years, Kesri was reportedly in possession of some party funds. Days before his death, he had apparently got in touch with his bête noire and president of the party, Sonia Gandhi, telling her that he wanted to pass on the funds to the party. As the story goes, a very suspicious Sonia sought the view of her famous coterie, which advised her against touching the money. The doubly suspicious coterie feared it might be some "trap" set by the ailing Kesri to get back in the good books of the madam. There wasn't time to confirm the hunch. Kesri died soon after. Weeks after and the threat gone, the coterie is suddenly interested in Kesri's wish again. More so the funds. They are enquiring discreetly to find out how much the "funds" amounted to, where they are now and how they can get hold of them. What makes the coterie think the dying man has not willed it already to the real waris of the Nehru-Gandhis? Less room for a tipple The capital's most prestigious watering hole, the India International Centre, has a problem with the Delhi government's excise department. On his appointment, almost every excise commissioner thinks it his birthright to be made a member of the IIC. The IIC is protective about its membership and this is a sore issue with the excise department. The vindictive excise department inspectors descend on the IIC frequently to warn it if it failed to adhere to the terms and conditions of its bar licence. Thanks to the visits, the IIC bar has shrunk to one tiny section in the wall of the annexe. The larger area which once used to be inhabited by tipplers is out of bounds now. Some months ago, the small but enclosed open space outside the small bar room in the main IIC building was nixed by excise department inspectors for serving hard liquor. And all because the IIC will not have excise commissioners in its milieu. But do they stink that bad? Footnote/ Performance with a purpose If in Bengal, there's no escaping this woman - as the Rashtriya Janata Dal president, Laloo Prasad Yadav, found out. Mamata Banerjee haunted Laloo as well on his Calcutta visit to attend a private function. Laloo apparently remained closeted in his hotel room, holding discussions with the party's lone representative in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. Alarmed by reports that the RJD councillor from ward 47, Anjana Ghosh, was all set to switch over to didi's Trinamool, a desperate Laloo gave her a long lecture. The marathon meeting lasted for hours during which Laloo refused to hear out the grievances from other party faithfuls and even cancelled a meeting scheduled with the former chief minister of the state, Jyoti Basu, at his Salt Lake residence. A senior RJD leader in the state admitted that it wasn't only the CPI(M) and the state Congress, Lalooji also suffered from didi-phobia. But Laloo's Calcutta performance seems to have hit its mark. Anjana says she is so impressed by Laloo's lecture on the dangers posed by communism and by didi that she has decided to stay. Whoever doubted Laloo's persuasive skills?