The flavour of Kolkata

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

Friday, March 30, 2007

Eso Kichhu Kori: Time to pitch in

Eso Kichhu Kori, the NGO mentioned in my post Eso Kichhu Kori, with a dream to cohesively support underprivileged students to continue studies, gets on with job. Currently they need a) Sincere volunteers and most importantly, b) funds. They've apparently got the first in a bunch of enthusiastic youngsters. Funds is what they badly need. Garnering funds is critical now as results of Madhyamik Examination are waited and just after it a no. of students might need the support of the organisation.

Interested donors can send cheques to the following address:

ESO KICHU KORI
C/O Tilak Gupta
B-4/1, Bramhapur
Northern Park
PS- Regent Park
Kolkata 700 070

Cheques are payable to: ESO KICHU KORI.

But kindly send a mail with copies to the following email IDs before sending any contribution so that they get informed beforehand-
esokichhukori@gmail.com, datta.madhumita@gmail.com, ghosh.abira@gmail.com.

Willing people residing abroad may kindly contact their Chief Co-ordinator Dr. Rituparna Sen in the following address-

Dr Rituparna Sen
Assistant Professor
Department of Statistics
University of California at Davis
CA 95616
Ph (530) 752-7623
Email: jhumpasen@yahoo.com

Wish Eso Kichhu Kori is showered with enough funds that lets them start on immediately to fulfil their dream.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Retail fever arrives

The city saw two retail addresses throwing themselves open in the span of the last fortnight of this month. Haldiram Food City opposite CC & FC and Orchid Point between Kankurgachhi and Phoolbagan. The first raised the retail quotient of the heart of South Kolkata and the latter put North Kolkata on contemporary retail map.

A visit to Haldiram Food City on March 27, the opening day, was a pleasant experience. The five-storeyed, 80000 sq. ft. property can be called a mini food mall. The ground floor houses a Haldiram's store with extensive mithai and namkeen counters and sit-in facility, the first floor is a vegetarian food court serving North Indian, South Indian, Bengali, Chinese and continental cuisine, the second floor is a supermarket- Haldiram's first foray into daily needs retailing- and the third and fourth floors are banquets.

The sprawling, well-stocked supermarket, with promise to serve the freshest of fruits and vegetables among other things, is also the best in the area in terms of location and convenience. Among the other two present in the area, the Food bazaar atop Pantaloons Gariahat is not very inviting thanks to a small elevator and a steep staircase. And the C3 at Gariahat Mall can't boast of as good a location as Haldiram's. The roadside glass wall provides a complete view of the world outside. The fare in the food court is reasonably priced (A plate of plain dhokla costs Rs 10) and it serves combo meals across cuisines. The ground floor store and the food court combined is the expansion of the hugely successful Chowringhee branch model (Located at Exide junction). There are escalators to move between floors at ease.

While the property was under development at such a prime (May I say coveted) place, replacing an old building, it generated enough curiosity. The selection of location, hence, is bang on. Also the area merits a food court (The only other is at the top floor of Gariahat Mall, which is not as prized a location as this is). The property mix is very good and it looks set to attract healthy footfall.

Nobody can miss the giant Pantaloons store at Kankurgachhi. It looks so unusually huge, one feels like a dwarf standing in front of the fascade. As earlier mentioned in the blog, this is the largest Pantaloons store In India- all of 80000 sq. ft. The top floor, whose next attraction is a food court, hosts Food Bazaar and Depot- the book and music retail format of Future Group which owns Pantaloons. The store also houses Future Group's new electronic products retail format e-zone, which is, simply called, a heavenly experience. It has an experience zone, where you can sit relaxed and experience the products placed on the opposite wall, and a separate room for home theatre experience. This is Kolkata's first store of the group where Food Bazaar is part of the store from day one (Each of the other two Pantaloons stores added Food Bazaar atop later on). Just for record, this Food Bazaar is much bigger and spacious that its Gariahat counterpart. Also in true modern mall style, escalators replace stairs.

Kankurgachhi is the contemporary face of North Kolkata. It has a sizeable population of high-income people. Hence the location merits a store of this stature.

Watch this space for update on further inroads of retail fever which is set to rock the city in this year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The overpowering Black Wednesday

What kept me from writing on this blog for long was the happening in Nandigram on 14 March, Wednesday that rocked Bengal and Bengalis all over the world and fellow Indians too. I could not justify any other topic for a new blog post and was struggling to find expression for the same.

It’s already a well-known fact thanks to wide coverage in local and national media. Thousands of policemen moved into Nandigram, which was isolated from the rest of Bengal by choice thereby protesting against the possibility of land acquisition by state government for industry. After early rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets they opened fire on the thousands-strong agitating armed mob. The casualties were horrible- a large no. of people died and got injured. The official figure, as expected was low- 14 people died. Unofficial figures say it was hundreds of both.

Media was prevented on the highway to Nandigram by cadres of ruling party, so that the ‘operation’ remains under wraps. The only channel that sneaked in was Kolkata TV, the Bengali news channel. Hence live footage could be seen only on this channel. As a result the channel was strangely stopped from being beamed in pockets of the state (Read local ruling party units ensuring cable operators do the needful).

What many media sources- print and electronic- have implied and confirmed that with police were CPI(M) cadres cleverly in disguise of policemen and they opened fire, beat up villagers brutally (Including children) and raped hapless women. Some bullets recovered from injured persons are not police bullets. Many people are still missing, including some who were seen injured while the firing was on. There have been reports of dead bodies thrown away at Haldi river.

This is the first of its kind in the left rule in Bengal. Not that there haven’t been instances of mass political and police killings and other excesses before (The Keshpur saga is still fresh on our minds), but everything pales before Nandigram. The only parallel I can draw is China’s Tienanmen Square in 1989. And it paints a radically different image of the chief minister (Who happens to be the home minister too, thereby directly responsible for this police operation). The CM I, and many like me, knew could not approve of such an operation. It is understood why such an operation was planned- Nandigram was a red bastion, i.e. six of the ten gram panchayats in Nandigram I (The area proposed for acquisition) belongs to CPI(M) and one to CPI. And in the wake of the ‘Save land from acquisition’ movement organised by Jamait Ulema-e-Hind and political parties especially Trinamool Congress, many left members and supporters were driven out of Nandigram. Those in control of the villages in Nandigram dug up roads and the ferry ghat was made dysfunctional, thereby isolating the area from civil administration. and police. While the lives of the left became miserable, the local CPI(M) units put pressure on their city headquarters to make way for their return to home. Meanwhile a no. of all-party meets were convened in Nandigram but they failed to reach consensus of all groups involved.

But it was indeed a high-risk task to force the desired situation with the help of police. While administrative interventions (All-party meets) failed, the government had to be more strategic and patient in using both political and administrative steps to bring back normalcy gradually. A large no. of people who died and were injured were children and women, as they were strategically put on forefront to dissuade police from firing. What, in such a scenario, prompted police to open fire, whatever have been the provocation (Stones and crude bombs were reportedly thrown to the police), is still being investigated. The initial CBI probe (Ordered by Calcutta High Court following a suo moto case immediately after the incident) has not found any evidence that substantiates it.

The government has not owned up responsibility for the whole incident and it has tried to present the incident as unavoidable. CPI(M) too hasn’t owned up the ruthless atrocities. There hasn’t been any known efforts of organising additional medical care for the injured admitted in the hospitals or declaring any compensation for the affected families. All this paints the picture of a ruling party possessing a terrible arrogance that grows out of a record thirty years in power. Such scaring arrogance is the sign of a typical communist government, like the Chinese government who ruthlessly killed students at Tienanmen Square. What the operation also suggests is that the CM can’t handle mounting pressure from his own party and take decisions that requires a matured political and administrative brain. Subsequent reports after 14 March have also shown glaring loopholes in his information network that should make him uncomfortable. He seemed to have no inkling of how heated the situation in Nadigram was.

All this has resulted in the intelligentsia of Kolkata distancing iself from the government it supported heartily. Prominent leftist theatre personalities have mass-resigned from the state drama academy and writers have mass-refused state literary awards. Celebrities, lawyers and journalists have held rallies in protest. They have voiced their frustrations and vented anger on television channels and newspapers. The general public showed their protest in a spontaneous support of the strike on March 17 called by all opposition parties.

I was numb for some time and living with restlessness for two days. What happened in a state ruled by a chief minister like Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was not in my wildest nightmares. All that I would like to say is that Nandigram left a scar that will take ages to heal, and it will change the course of land acquisition in Bengal and in India forever. It has already started in the state government’s notice that no land will be acquired in Nandigram and central govt.’s amending the land acquisition policy. It remains to be seen how many miles the CM has to tread before he restores his erstwhile legendary positive image that is badly messed up.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The changing retailscape

Kolkata retailscape is set to be hot in 2007. Big players in organised retail are being joined by small, new and local players in debuting in the city. A large no. of retail stores in the formats of neighbourhood departmental store, supermarket and hypermarket will open soon.

In December I wrote about Subhiksha's cluster plan of opening 90 stores in the city by April 2007 (Re: Organised retail scene will be hot ...). But now it seems they've postponed their plans to a later period this year. At this juncture the first star entry is going to be by Spencer's- India's first retail chain that originated in Chennai in 1863. After winning over South with Foodworld (Which has been rechristened Spencer's) and establishing itself in West, Kolkata becomes an important destination in the nationwide rollout of Spencer's, currently owned by city-based RPG group. It operates in four formats- Express (Which is your friendly neighbourhood department store, of 1200-1500 sq ft), Daily (3000-5000 sq ft), Super (Supermarket) and Hyper (Hypermarket). In March three Daily stores are opening in Bangur venue, Beliaghata and Tollygunge. Another fourteen will follow in six months in different formats. As per plan there will be three hypermarkets- in South City Mall, Mani Square (On EM Bypass) and Rashbehari Avenue. The South City Mall hypermarket is slated to be the largest Spencer's outlet in the country.

The near future will see Spencer's expanding into 35-40 Express and 25-plus Daily stores in Kolkata alone, to compliment a hub of five hypermarkets. Spencer's has promised a never-before international standard shopping experience in their hypermarkets with an amazing range of merchandise with emphasis on food products.

The other players in the fray are Khadim's Khazana, Haldiram's (Erstwhile Haldiram Bhujiawala), Emami, El Dorado and Vishal Mega Mart. Khadim's, a Kolkata-based shoe and leather products co., tasted success in their first hypermarket in Kanchrapara, a suburb and is now set to replicate it in the city. Emami, the city-based personal products and healthcare group, is already present in retail through their Starmark bookstore chain. Vishal Mega Mart, after success in other parts of India, is coming to the city which gave birth to Vishal group's first retail foray- Vishal Garments. The massive promise of the retail industry seems to be too hot to resist even by smaller business groups.

All this will redefine shopping in Kolkata which is familiar with Big Bazaar/ Food Bazaar and local players like C3, Wot Not (From Rupa group which owns the Rupa hosiery brand)) and Arambagh's (The downmarket neighbourhood department store chain from Arambagh Hatcheries who own the hugely popular Arambagh's Chicken brand) as far as organised retail is concerned. By the year end there will possibly be at least one retail store in most parts of Kolkata. In the present rush what is specially noticeable is the pace with which Spencer's will roll out, as Kolkata till now has witnessed six Big Bazaar/ Food Bazaar stores in almost as many no. of years (Arambagh's is a much longer chain but only Big Bazaar matches up to Spencer's). For information on more actions on retail in Kolkata, watch this space.

Related reading

The Telegraph story on Spencer's debut

Monday, March 12, 2007

Orkut Kolkata Meet III

The members of the community on Orkut of the same name as the heading met last Saturday at Rabindra Sadan. The headcount was poor, and poorer than the last meet, but many more would be there if work didn't come in between.

There was an eclectic mix of participants- an RJ (Shreetoma from Radio Mirchi, popularly known as Shree), an NGO guy (Dipanjan, known as Dip), three assistant directors in television (Soumya, Arin Paul and Bappa), a contractor (Anindya), an entertainment journalist (Shaoni), college students and a marketing guy (That's me) apart from the joint convener Tanmoy from Radio Mirchi. Among us was this fat and happy couple Dip and Shreyosi aka Shreya who kept us in good humour with, among other things, laughing at themselves. This quality is getting increasingly hard to find these days.

We knew each other and decided to form a small, low-profile film club. It will be just a television set, a DVD player, DVDs from members' personal collection and libraries and a place where we can sit, watch and analyse the movie. There are many who are passionate about films and a film club would be the ideal platform to express ourselves. Those wanting to be part of the club are going to join at Tanmoy's place next month for the inaugural show.

The meet was indeed a good place for me to make new friends and meet my Orkut friends (Who I scrap regularly) for the first time physically.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The FM for nostalgic Kolkatans

Post the T2 teaser campaign (Discussed in my earlier post T2: the new hip 'n' happening companion), another teaser (Mostly on outdoors) caught the attention of every Bengali music buff in the city. It mocked a forthcoming reunion of the famous characters- Nikhilesh, Moidul, Rama Roy, Sujata of Manna Dey's timeless gem Coffee House-er sei addata aaj aar nei. My gut feel told me this was going to be the keenly awaited FM channel from the ABP stable. The creative looked very much 'ABP'.

And it proved to be true when ABP launched Friends 91.9 FM on Wednesday, February 28. When the undisputed media leader of the city ABP joins the FM bandwagon, the expectations are going to be high and very different from the current leading FM stations. The radio station will be expected to deliver classy content by trained and skilled RJs (A la the news anchor team of Star Ananda, ABP's Bengali news channel- a joint venture with Star). The content will be supposed to have a good dose of Bengali golden oldies as well as popular songs from contemporary Bengali music. In short, a topline FM which Bengalis can call their own. Aamar FM promised to be something in this line, but it apparently failed to reach a respectable level of popularity that puts it at par with hot favourites Radio Mirchi and Red FM.

Friends FM's USP is touted as: It will tickle the musical bent of the nostalgic Bengali by playing the Bengali hits from the 60's and 70's besides the Hindi hits from the same era and its star anchors- the whose who of contemporary Bengali music scene- Nachiketa, Lopamudra, Anjan Dutt and Rupam (Of the leading Bangla band Fossils). While Nachiketa will be anchoring a programme of ghazals, Saumitra Chattopadhyay will join them with one on poems. The proposition stands in stark contrast of Radio Mirchi, Red FM and Big FM, the current biggies, endlessly churning out cosmopolitan content. Their RJs speak a strange mix of Bengali, Hindi and English, desperately trying to sound 'cosmo'. The radio stations collectively fail to touch the heart of the Bengali Kolkatans now in their 30s and above who miss their kind of Bengali music on private FM.

Early report from a friend- a knowledgeable music buff- tells Friends FM's Bengali music content is worth listening to.

This morning I suddenly heard a gem of a modern song on radio by Kabir Suman (Then known as Suman Chattopadhyay) from early nineties. It was Amader Jonyo, from Suman's very first album of modern songs, that shook our generation with its refreshing lyrics and music brought to life by the gifted voice of Suman, called Sumaner Gaan. The song was being aired by, no prizes for guessing, Friends FM. Unlike other FM stations they aired the entire song, typical of the old days of radio. It made my morning.

Given the marketing clout of the formidable ABP, it is sure going to give a run for money to the competition.