The man who saw a mermaid

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By (Contributed by Rith Basu, Poulomi Banerjee, Jhinuk Mazumdar and Samhita Chakraborty Lahiri)
  • Published 2.08.09
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I am not handicapped,” announced Masudur Rahman Baidya, stunning the 100-odd children gathered at the Bidhan Sishu Udyan on Thursday at a felicitation to mark the 12th year of Masudur crossing the English Channel. Among the crowd were 12 physically challenged kids from Paschim Banga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammelani.

As a nine-year-old, Masudur, who loved to swim, had been run over by a goods train. The injury required the amputation of both his legs from the knees. The boy from Ballavpur village of North 24-Parganas had to spend over one-and-a-half years in different hospitals. He finally emerged from the Artificial Limb Centre in Pune as a child determined to do the best.

The only man with amputated legs to cross the English Channel, Masudur went on to conquer the Strait of Gibraltar in 2001. On Thursday he said he would attempt to cross the Palk Strait in July 2010.

“I have not been able to swim at any challenging venue for the last eight years because I did not get sponsorship. But now, Bangla band Jowar and the Silicon Group of Industries have raised the money needed for ‘Mission Palk Strait’ and we have got in touch with the defence ministries of India and Sri Lanka for permission,” he said.

After the amputation, his body would bend downward from below the waist in water. But he practised from dawn to dusk, even caught a bacterial infection that affected his digestion for staying in the water for too long.

“But I did not give up till I could swim. Believe me, it is possible for persons with physical disabilities to do things better than normal people. But you have to be dedicated to your cause.”

He described the waves, dolphins and jellyfish of the English Channel and the Gibraltar Strait for the wide-eyed audience. When asked about his “most memorable moment” in the seas, the 40-year-old replied: “I saw a mermaid once. She swam with me for a while.”

Bengal connect

The two Bengals have just got more connected. www.aalaap365.com, a networking website, has been launched targeted mainly at students from Bangladesh looking for information on Calcutta.

The website provides medical service information, details of admission at Calcutta colleges, information on guesthouses, transportation, tutorials, tourist draws, malls and movie halls. It also works as a social networking site.

“We have tied up with the Bangladeshi deputy high commission,” says Atanu Das of Miracle Infoweb Pvt Ltd, which has designed the site. While the exact number of Bangladeshi students studying in West Bengal and other parts of India is difficult to ascertain, it is sizeable.

“The site will provide organised information about admission and scholarships and also help students get in touch with us for administrative help or obtaining required certificates,” said Mohammad Narul Huda, counsellor, Bangladesh deputy high commission, at the launch.

There’s the option to use both Bengali and English. Singer Srikanta Acharya lauded the initiative but said he would have been happier if the entire name of the portal was written in Bengali. Aalaap writes its name with a Bengali first letter, then goes on to use English. Singer Kaazi Kamal Nasir hoped that the portal will strengthen bonds between Bengali-speaking people across the border with his song on simana.

Shampoo cooler

It’s not been a happy season for CESC. In May, the sorry state of the city in the aftermath of the Aila spoke volumes against the disaster-readiness of government agencies. Incensed at the prolonged power cuts that stretched to 90 hours in some pockets, compounded by acute water shortage, roads blocked by tree trunks and branches and debris piled up, Calcuttans vented their wrath on CESC officials. Some were even beaten up.

Then came the cruel summer and as Calcutta sweated and fretted, CESC became the villain of the daily blackout story with demand outstripping supply. Sporadic rains dipped temperatures on some evenings, but that led to power cuts again as a drop in electricity demand also tripped the power plants.

In July, a CESC subscriber received a pleasant surprise. With her bill came complimentary shampoo from a reputed brand — not the customary free sachet that come with magazines and detergents but an entire bottle. She found that almost all subscribers had received a bottle of shampoo. She felt happy with CESC after a long time: at least it is trying to please.

Back in the US

A thoroughbred Calcuttan was hosting a family friend who lives in the US. Within a day of the NRI’s arrival, the host wanted her guest to leave.

The NRI couldn’t stop complaining: about the weather, the traffic, the men bathing at roadside taps and the monsoon puddles. “When she fished out a camera and started clicking pictures of a little boy begging at our car door, I contemplated homicide,” the host said.

But the NRI’s “back in the US…” stories came to an abrupt end at the American visa office, where she had to go for a renewal. Expecting a grand welcome on her “homeground”, the NRI was in for a brush with reality.

With no place to stand, let alone sit, inside the premises, she was herded together with a bunch of “Indians” on the opposite pavement, under the hot “Indian” sun, dripping grimy “Indian” sweat down her very “Indian” backside. Death, they say is a great leveller… so is the American consulate, it seems.

“Back in India”, she is just an Indian who wants to be in the US.