The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The bridge, the river and kids' play. Brilliantly captured by Sujay Kumar Das.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The green triumph

Finally.....the landmark decision. Calcutta High Court pronounced the most eagerly awaited verdict of the city on Monday January 29. Kolkata Book Fair, the last fair among all still being held on Kolkata Maidan after its counterparts moved to other destinations after the Calcutta High Court's earlier judgement banning fairs on Maidan on ground of environmental damage, can no more be held on Maidan. This means this year's fair to be started at end of January is out.

Kudos to Subhas Dutta, the forever fighting environmentalist whose PIL in 2002 started it all. It's only because of his efforts that the court took notice of immense and irreversible environmental degradation of Maidan caused by fairs, especially Kolkata Book Fair which witnesses footfall of quite a few lakhs every year. Due credit goes to the lawyers who fought the case- Kalyan Bandopadhyay and Arunava Ghosh and the environment-conscious judge Bhaskar Bhattacharya who refuted many arguments of the lawyers of PCB and KMC on his own. I also personally thank them on behalf of the kids living in the city for paving the path of their living in a cleaner and greener city of tomorrow.

But the reaction from the writers, one of the important stakeholder groups of the book fair, were anything but charitable. They almost rubbished the verdict by terming it sheer nonsense. For them it was clear that emotion was overriding logic. But mustn't they be restrained in their expression as we look up to them and they have a definite, responsible social role to play? I remember watching Azizul Haque saying on a news channel"...in order to protect people from air pollution High Court caused brain pollution."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

City's favourite places

Here is a look at the top 20 favourite places of Kolkatans as revealed by a poll in an Orkut community:

1. Outram Ghat
2. College Street
3. Nandan complex
4. Park Street (Especially pre-office hours and evening)
5. Maidan (Especially early morning)
6. Riverside (In the morning)
7. Swabhumi
8. Gol Park
9. Dakshinapan
10. Gariahat
11. City Centre
12. Millennium Park
13. Princep Ghat
14. Coffee House (College St.)
15. Dhakuria Lake
16. Tala Park
17. New Market
18. Eden Gardens
19. Jadavpur University
20. St. Xaviers College

The list is not in order of no. of votes the places has received, Park Street wins hands down, with more than 11 out of close to 70 votes. Second position is shared with each place getting not even half the votes Park Street got.

This is just a casual listing. Not much to be read into it. Without getting into the question of positions, I myself can vouch for the fact that all these are the places where Kolkatans love to hang out.

Some members refused to list one favourite place, as that seemed apparently impossible. They listed different places to suit different moods and needs. But lets keep more of that insight for the future.

I value readers' remarks. I am eagerly looking forward to that in the comments section and the guestbook at right.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The day of the goddess of learning

The goddess of learning descended yesterday. The day is known to Bengalis as Saraswati Puja, after the name of the goddess who is worshipped on the day. The puja is performed in households, 'para's (In localities by local kids) and schools.

Valentine's Day may not be too old in Kolkata in terms of celebration. So far I remember it was popularised by Archie's and other greeting card majors in early nineties. Before that the day was not well-known. But Bengalis always had their own Valentine's Day and that was Saraswati Puja. This is the day for which many love-struck youngsters in school and college wait for months. Many of them finally succeed in expressing themselves to their loved ones- verbally or by letter, while others fail to make it for lack of confidence or other reasons. This is the day where parents give their children a free hand to spend. They are allowed to go to their school and elsewhere with their friends. Hindu schools and colleges perform the puja. Young couples (Many in their school) spend the day in gay abandon in parks, streets, theatres and other places.

The other attractions of Saraswati Puja include-

a. For children- Getting rid of studies for a full day. Even the strict parents let their children go for this one day. In all the households where this puja is performed, books are kept in front of the idol of the goddess to collect her blessings.

b. For all- Two special preparations in prasad- dadhi karma and khichudi bhog. The first is made by mixing mainly dahi (Curd), banana and rice. Some love it so much, they end up asking for a second helping though it is not generally meant for that. Khichudi bhog is the quintessential khichdi or Bengali khichudi which for strange reasons acquire a taste out of the world on this day. It is served in the puja venues post the puja, though some households do away with this custom and distribute only basic prasad of assorted fruits, dadhi karma and sweets.

c. Yellow sarees- The dress code for girls on this day. The cotton sarees wonderfully change the hue and feel of the environment. Girls who wear sarees only occasionally never miss out on it this day.

d. Hatay Khodi- The ritual of learning writing for small kids. Many of the kids are dressed traditionally and are taken to a convenient puja venue where the purohit (Worshipper) does the needful by hand-holding them to write Bengali alphabet. My two-year-and-two-months-old daughter experienced it this time. Her mother indulgently dressed her up in a kids' saree and we performed the ritual at an old household temple known as Chandibari in Chandibari Street near Sahitya Parishad Street in North Kolkata. My daughter enjoyed every moment of it and uttered every letter as guided by the old and trusted purohit. She loved the saree so much that refused to wear anything else for the rest of the day.

At this age of marketing, companies organise contests for Best Puja in schools in order to promote their brands on this popular platform of puja. Parle Saraswati Bandana is perhaps the oldest running contest in schools. Students work hard on their respective school's puja (Often working overnight before the puja day) to win prizes. In Parle's contest the winning schools are honoured in a special event with cultural extravaganza, telecast and print coverage. This puts a special honour and creates a covetability to these contests.

One change I witnessed in the various para pujas this year is that the budget is shooting up in idols. The idols are strikingly bigger. The one I saw in Brindaban Bose Lane in North Kolkata was giant. Also, as shown in Bengali television, pandals are turning 'readymade' for lack of time to devote for today's studious kids. Both are indeed significant changes. Perhaps it's the influence of the current age in which everything from a TV show to a Durga Puja pandal to a shop inauguration is trying to get bigger and better.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A different life

Yesterday I went to a place called Ghuni, a place in the countryside in the interiors of Baguiati. The occasion was a family picnic at a relative's friend's place. Soaked in pure nature to the heart's content.

In a short time, on a walk around, discovered that the place is just on the other side of a canal bordering New Town, Kokata's showcase township in-the-making. Got curious by looking at some large plots guarded by boundary walls and heard from a local farmer that they all are bought by builders. A startling fact came out. Before New Town happened, the land was sold at Rs 500-600 a cottah. And now the rate has gone up to Rs 300000 a cottah. Many builders have bought land for future development by offering such astronomical amount. Here I pointed out that local people must be happy having been able to make a killing by selling land that barely fetches enough crop to sustain a family, but the guy didn't share the consequence happily. He said while some have started business or put the big money to good use, many have misused it to enjoy the luxuries of life and are now left with paltry sums, ruing their luck.

Its common sense that an illiterate farmer can't handle big money out of a windfall. But where it struck me was that the opposition party of Bengal, Trinamool Congress, is against any kind of industry on farmland. According to them nothing can be a better substitute to farming even at this age of diminishing income from farming. And they provoke the farmers to guard their land against the state government's industrialization drive that requires large tracts of framland. But what do they have to say about such cases where farmers are tempted to sell their lands, and then on one hand don't find a suitable profession or business to keep themselves going and on the other hand blow up the money? Do they feel like standing by these hapless farmers and help them find a way of living? It's indeed in the best interest of everyone that the state government acquired the framland at Singur for the Tata Motors plant and took care of rehabilitating willing landlosers by providing them vocational training in collaboration with social organizations for their indirect employment in the project in arrangement with Tata Motors. Now, instead of this if industrialists start buying land directly from farmers, lots and lots of such cases will happen, as it happened in Ghuni.

The place has an interesting dichotomy, while their are people to buy Maggi noodles (Smaller, Rs 5 packs were hanging in chains in a retail shop) and a variety fruits, the place doesn't even have a bus route. Auto rickshaw and a few rickshaws were the only transport. The autos carry 7-8 passengers on an average. We were in a big group and had to rush to the nearest busstand so that we don't miss the last bus. And eight of us had to board a single auto. I had to sit at the front on one side to accomodate the ladies at the back and my hip joint started paining so much during the journey that I had to stand up somehow. One main reason for this apart from the sitting discomfort was extremely poor road condition. The road was simply not motorable. The driver revealed, when an auto breaks down midway, another auto passing by carrying a full load of passengers accomodate all the passengers in the other auto. And nobody will belive but the fact according to him is that sometimes this takes the passenger count to 18. I have no idea how that is possible and even if somehow possible, how safe that is on that kind of a road. Its scaring even thinking of the kind of life people back there live.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The new street food

Momo seems to be the new happening street food these days. This Tibetan snack is invading Kolkata gradually. Every other day I find a new momo vendor on Kolkata streets. On Exide junction I spotted no less than three vendors today. The one just beside Exide office is the most popular.

The prices are dart cheap. Generally four pieces come at Rs 10. The only hitch is quality. Well, how much of quality is possible at that price is another question. Hence it may not exactly be favoured by real momo lovers but does make for a healthy, cheap snack- four steaming momos and a bowl of clear chicken soup. Especially good in cold weather. Its a big hit with school students and collegegoers.

For vendors too, it makes a lot of business sense. Selling momos require small place and not much of a capital, and cooking it is possible on a small part of a tabletop as all you need is the steaming appliance.

Momo was pioneered in Kolkata by some Tibetan families at Suburban Hospital Road, a place near Exide. Still the best momo joints are there- Orchid, Momo Plaza, the low-profile Hamro Momo. When many people in my age group were introduced to this delicacy at that place, it wasn't available on streets. I first sampled it in 1997. Real momo lovers swear by this place still now. My personal favourite is pork steamed momo at Hamro Momo, as the price is reasonable it being a no-frills place and the taste is great.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Brand Sourav

Ten minutes, 16.5 lakh rupees.

That's what was an auction of twelve cricket bats fetched yesterday. Bats used by the poster boy of Bengal cricket- Sourav Ganguly.

The event was held in an urgent aid of 19-year-old Raj Goswami from Siliguri, North Bengal, who needs an immediate liver transplant. His parents can't afford the estimated cost of nearly Rs 25 lakh. When the request to help reached Sourav he wasted no time. In the event he signed one bat after another and the cheering crowd lapped them up.

The last ten months were painful for him. His endorsement kitty absolutely dried up. Only exception was local player Priya that got him endorsing their new potato chips brand. And then he was seen in the Pepsi commercial which made his supporters bleed in mind. The most successful Indian captain said " Main Sourav Ganguly, bhule to nahin?". It must have been hard for him to appear on the ad, but being a truly spirited cricketer, he did it to cheer for Indian team.

Now after making one of the grandest comebacks in the history of cricket, the corporates are queuing up again at his doorstep. But that is not the truest sign of the power of Brand Sourav. It is a business phenomenon and happens to every successful cricketer. Something that perfectly embodies the power of the brand is an event like the one mentioned above.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Jadubabu's Bazar makes way for modern retail

Just now came to know in the office that Jadubabu's Bazar, one of the oldest and best-known markets and a landmark in Bhowanipore, is sold out to Reliance who will build a mall there.

Jadubabu's Bazar just a couple of years ago was a thriving market and its regular customers came from Bhowanipore and surrounding areas stretched to Shakespeare Sarani (Theatre Rd), Elgin Rd and Sarat Bose Rd. It is one of Kolkata's two food markets (The other is New Market) which stocks exotic food products that the foreign tourists often look for. Only in these two markets (Except the new economy markets like Big Bazaar) one would find the widest varieties of cheeese and canned foods in the city.

The place suffered a body blow when Food Bazaar opened atop Pantaloons in Shakespeare Sarani and C3 (Supermarket) opened in Elgin Rd. Soon many of its customers switched loyalties to these new, swanky stores high on customer service.

The sell-out will erase one of the landmarks of old Kolkata and change the texture and essence of Bhowanipore permanently. It would be better if Jadu Bazaar (As popularly known) was reconstructed like Lake Mall is being built in place of Lake Market, another old market of the city. Such a development, initiated by Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), would ensure a status quo of the old and the new faces of business. But I guess, replicating the Lake Mall model to all old markets would be an arduous task for KMC. And when Reliance's retail arm, who won't like to lose time to set foot in the city, vies for a place like that, it would possibly not have made sense for KMC to resist. What the place is going to be like is still not clear, hence watch this space.

The hot debate on industrialization

It seems the hottest debate among educated masses of the city is land for the current industrialization drive of the state.

A fellow Orkutian (Member of Orkut.com, the most happening social networking website) has posted a topic in his new forum in the community Kolkata Freaks. Below is it.

Singur and Nandigram
Hey friends....I would like you all to post ur views on the recent incidents going on Singur and Nandigram.Its just u all need to post ur views and vote for this recent industrialization process accepted by our own CM. Are u for or against this industrialization.

All the reply messages in the next six days of posting the topic voted for industrialization. Now here is my view for the same.

Industrialization is the call of the hour
Everybody in Bengal agrees that we need industries. And for big industrial projects to come up, we need to offer big tracts of land. In an agricultural economy like Bengal it is natural that fallow land will not be adequate for big projects. After all we have over 62% of farmland, then considering residential land, industrial land etc there is little fallow land to offer. And most of them are in Purulia, Burdwan, Bankura and West Midnapore. Also other infrastructural factors like proximity to city, expressway, water etc must be considered for selection of location. Hence just because we have hundreds of acres of fallow land in Purulia, West Midnapore, Burdwan it is not feasible for all big industrial projects to locate there.


Hence we need to give away farmland for industry. That's reality and everyone needs to appreciate it. Every state like Bengal is doing it- Maharastra, Gujrat, AP, Haryana (The huge power project of Reliance is coming up on farmland). Now what should be done is- to avoid multi-crop land as far as possible and most importantly compensate and rehabilitate the landlosers and sharecroppers.

Many (Incl. some overenthusiastic political parties) are concerned about food security of the state. But as senior economist and ISI faculty Abhirup Sarkar has explained it recently in Anandabazar Patrika, even if we take 1,00,000 acres of land in the coming years for industry it will be 0.07% of our total agricultural land available now. So there shouldn't be any fuss and political parties better find some other important issue.

It was pointed out by some parties that huge watery land was available just opposite the Tata Motors site and that could've easily be offered to them. Do they want to mean the government was interested in inviting trouble by offering Tata Motors the current land which is mostly farmland? And didn't Tata, one of the oldest industrial houses and best known for its social responsibilities foresee the trouble for acquiring land from farmers? It seems quite clear that the current land acquired for the factory was exactly what was required. Can anybody tell if that alternative watery land is equal to or more than the close-to-1000 acres needed for the project? And mind it, quality of land is also a factor. Otherwise soil-testing wouldn't be required before construction of the Tata Motors plant in Singur. That watery land might not have been right for the plant.

Finally, the CM has given 4500 acres of fallow, government-owned land (Out of total requirement of 4800 acres), 4.5 times that of the Tata Motors land, to Jindals for construction of our largest ever industrial project- the steel plant with a captive power plant. Fallow land in Salanpur of Burdwan and in Purulia are going to Bhushan Steel and Balaji Steel who will construct two more steel plants. So we need to appreciate the fact that the CM has no such intention to eye only farmland to offer for industrialization.



Thursday, January 11, 2007

Poor man's tandoori

After dabbling with politics for some time, unintentionally though, this blog returns to it's pet subject- Food.

Tandoori cuisine is one of the most popular in the city, what with kebabs finding space in newer roll joints in the modern and developing parts of the city and this cuisine is accomodated in new restaurants/ eating joints that are not upmarket in any sense. But it is definitely not available at low price points, like less than Rs 10.

But in Arambagh's Chicken, the undisputed home-grown king of branded chicken and chiecken delicacies, I found a preparation last year that costs Rs 6.50. Yes, you heard it just right, a tandoori preparation at that price. It's called Wing Roast. A small portion of roasted chicken wing- bones with a lot of flesh around it. The taste is awesome. There is no reason it should not be called poor man's tandoori dish. One of my favourites now, it is widely available, thanks to Arambagh's Chicken's giant chain. Apart from all Arambagh's Chicken outlets it is available in Arambagh's Food Mart stores.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The new political game

This blog of late is talking political pretty often, but that was least intended. As it is, the burning topics are increasingly getting political making sensible citizens disoriented.

Bandhs (Strike) seem to be back in Bengal with a bang. This would be the least wished observation in the new year, but unfortunately it has turned out to be happening.

In keeping with the disturbing trend that the city witnessed last December, calling a bandh at the drop of a hat or with no objectivity, just to get political mileage and turning back to the very people who it is meant for, political parties started the new year with yet another Bangla (Bengal) bandh called today. Yesterday Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC), BJP, SUCI (By now a familiar face in negative and cheap politics, quite far from their sincere pro-people movements in the past that didn't require bandhs much) and some naxalite outfits announced the bandh as a protest to the killings out of the political clash that broke out at last Saturday evening at Nandigram between supporters and members of CPM and opposition parties.


The clash was a repurcussion of the attacks on CPI(M) supporters and burning of CPI(M)'s party office in the last week. This was done by some over-enthusiastic people among a huge group of villagers agitated by the possibility of their land/ home being acquired by the state govt. for a special economic zone (SEZ). Though no public notice of land acquisition was supposed to be given right now, there was an internal administrative notification listing which mouzas are being eyed for the SEZ. This was leaked and the news spread like wildfire leading to the agitation. Needless to say there were political hands behind organizing thousands of villagers for the movement. Some naxal paeople incl. university students from outside Bengal were arrested and as The Telegraph reported today, Jamait-Ulema-i-Hind, an outfit with a strong base in Nandigram started preparation for the same three months back as soon as they came to know that land would be required for the proposed SEZ.

But a corresponding trend of people who are sick of bandhs is gradually gaining momentum. It's these people who went to work defying the SUCI-sponsored bandh on December 5 last year turning it into a big joke, and it's the scare of them that propelled Mamata Banerjee, the TMC chief to call off (She called it 'Postponed'!!) her proposed bandhs on Dec 21 and 22.

People did come out today also, like myself and most of my colleagues. And apart from govt. buses, quite a few private buses did ply. How far the bandh was defied is to be confirmed later, but the scar on people's mind caused by the bandh call will definitely strengthen the resolve of defying bandhs in the future of those who dared not to leave home today.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The new face of political hooliganism

A bunch of Trinamool Congress (TMC) supporters yesterday ransacked the head office of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (At Council House St), the anchor organisation for the state's industrialization, like a perfect set-piece movement. They beat up employees who resisted, damaged computers, printers, lights, telephones, chairs, tables and also valuable government records in half an hour, shouting TMC slogans. Nobody even could call the police. Later two people who identified themselves as TMC supporters surrendered at Hare Street police station claiming to be part of the attack.

President of TMC's youth wing Madan Mitra, though not really admitting responsibility for the attack, said that the office is behind all conspiracy (Of industrialization?) and hence possibly agitated people chose it to vent their anger. He won't be surprised if such incidences are repeated in future.

While TMC's historic rampage in the assembly house just a while ago is fresh in public memory, this looks like an incident encouraged by that. The party looks like a perfect example of being directionless. While their supremo Mamata Banerjee creates a new record by fasting for 25 days at a stretch protesting for farmland acquisition in Singur for the Tata small car plant, her supporters have their way of undoing all the sympathy she gathered by subsequently acting in a militant way to protest on the same issue. Not to forget, the assembly incident was done at the provocation of Mamata herself, present at the venue. What is typical of TMC is that later on they never regret such incidents in public and punish those involved. That's another way of putting the party's official stamp on this kind of movement. It is indeed a misfortune of us citizens that this is what our main opposition is like.

What Mamata is repeatedly failing to understand is that all these political blunders at one hand will only strengthen the resolve of the state government in going about their aim of industrialization which is the need of the hour and on the other hand will erode her the valuable support base of the educated class in the city and elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New year goodies

A lot of goodies are awaiting to brace Kolkata's evolving lifestyle. For example, South City Mall, the eagerly awaited destination mall will open gates on Bengali new year, so will the Silver Spring mall on EM Bypass and the one opposite Manicktala VIP Market which will house the country's largest Pantaloons store. South City Mall will have the second Fame multiplex whose official inauguration date is April 14. Kolkata's first IMAX screen alongwith a 3-screener will come up at Mani Square. INOX will also unveil its Jessore Rd plex and 89 Cinemas (Part of INOX kitty now, post an acquisition) will open at Hazra Rd.

On retail front besides the Pantaloons store there will be five more Big Bazaars taking the store count to 11. Spencer's is poised to set foot in the city and its city office has been doing the groundwork for quite some time. Reliance is also reported to open it's new chain. And Subhiksha (Re: The post "Organised retail scene.....") will start in a giant way.

Talking infrastructure front Kolkata will see some new flyovers including the long-awaited one at Dunlop. The AJC Bose Rd flyover will get two critical ramps at Sarat Bose Rd and AJC Bose Rd (Near Kala Mandir/ Mallick Bazar). Prince Anwar Shah Rd will have an EM Bypass connector.

Overall the city life looks more comfortable and high-class leisure more accessible in 2007.