Monday, May 28, 2007

Life is short, Watch a Billboard

Most days it was 9:25-ish, in the morning, when the mini-bus would stop in the infamous Beckbagan traffic. My head, already constrained by the neighboring angry and sweaty sardines, would have to finish a short, yet compulsive semi-circular motion - starting from the cheap, B-grade movie posters on left side walls of Gurusaday Dutt road and ending at the huge billboard blocking further views of La Martinere for Girls' school - in less than seventy three seconds. This would soon be followed by a leisurely, Cigarette-friendly walk diagonally bisecting Minto Park, leaving Bellevue Nursing Home on my right, and Hindi High too - till I would reach the green (back) doors of St Xavier's. At least one such walk was unusually gloomy for a 17 year old who still had enough money to buy three cigarettes, a couple of Samosas - and possibly even a movie ticket at Regal - that day. Calcutta Municipal Corporation had just buffed Lisa Ray's shiny back - on that huge billboard - to prevent any more corruption of Bengali morale. Ironically, it now looked like Lisa Ray would indeed need a lot of Camay to wash off that dirty, black, greasy paint from her crisp, inviting, smooth-as-a-lager-at-evening back.

Give or take another 15 years, several thousands of miles -- and it looks like nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed. It is that funny sense of Deja Vu all over again.

A week or so ago, they had to pull down a racy, controversial billboard from a busy intersection (aptly called "Viagara Triangle") of the city of Chicago. It was advertising a female-employee only local law firm -

Studies have shown that racy billboards can cause traffic accidents in busy sections. Mostly, the party at-fault would be a male driver, unless something actually falls down from the billboard itself like -

However, a self-conscious female star can stare at herself - magnified on the board - and can cause a car wreck too. 20 year old Scarlett Johanssen got shock of her life looking at "brotonsorous sized" you-know-what in this movie poster of "The Island" (great movie though!).

Who ever thought anyone who is not a blonde, is on wrong side of 36 (not age) - would ever feature on a beer ad? Call it a "shady" strategy but this billboard does demand attention at certain level -

Europeans, especially Parisians, always remain ahead on the race. A certain women's clothing with - err - untrimmed enthusiasm --

Ladies, it does not always target us (i.e., heterosexual males). Especially Calvin Klein and Abercrombies.

On the road, parting ways with convention - watch the crowd trying to fill in --

In some century, you are the bird. Some centuries later you may just be the statue. That's a Plugg jeans ad below -
The ad above reminds me of a photo from the last page of one "The Telegraph Weekend (Color) Magazine". Movie poster of "Kab tak choop rahoongi" was pasted right above a "Silence Please" sign near a hospital zone.

I was in UK in 2000s and this billboard featuring Anna Kournikova again provided enough in-the-bus entertainment -

Wall Street Journal described this Chinese billboard of McDonalds as -
"These are the messages McDonald's Corp. is sending Chinese consumers as it tries to seduce them into eating more hamburgers. One racy billboard ad features a close-up of a women's lips; on another ad on the door of restaurants, a woman runs her hand over a man's flexed biceps. "Flirt with your senses," signs say.

This one - though not exactly racy - conveys the message all too well. Anyone who has ever been in the vicinity of Tiffany's or her ilk would agree -

Underwear billboards have the highest ratio of double entendres. Even in that scale this one below literally stands out -

Back to India, this billboard in Chennai recently caused a lot of heartburn among Coke executives.

And, I am not sure if this was photoshopped like the one with Coke and Pepsi billboards in the same frame that circulated in email a few years ago, but if not - this one belowdefinitely deserves a mention.

Amul campaigns deserve a special place in any write up on Indian billboards. This one is my favorite one this year, so far -

Now, imagine you are driving a busy highway at an usual average speed of 60mph. Imagine there is a 50- ft brightly illuminated billboard that changes the display ad every 5 or so seconds, and they are showing all the ones above, and possibly more. Apparently, they are going to set up one such near where I stay. Time to call my car insurance agent!

(Special thanks to Adrants)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Urban Legends and Not Growing up - Part 2

(Cont. after Part ONE)

6. Morarji Desai - Pissed off or Plain Happy?

________ Before or After?______________________________

Not only Morarji Desai banned any form of liquors in the state, he was probably about to banish the urinals as well before being toppled by a "use body rejects as fertilizer ONLY" peasant leader Chowdhry Charan Singh in 1979. Apparently, Morarjibhai would wake up every morning, go to the bathroom and - let's say - would not need a cup of coffee later to start his day. He would stoically drink a glassful of his morning urine (otherwise known as "Shibhambhu" - Lord Shiva's water). One may wonder what the laboratory assistant would have told him before she needed an urine sample to test. "Mr. Desai, the bathroom is in the corner, here is a glass, do NOT drink it full -- we need some for the sample!"

- Absolutely TRUE! On a prime-ministerial visit in 1978, he stunned the American audience when he boasted of his "urine therapy" to Dan Rather in one "60 minutes" show. That was his grand plan to bring the otherwise health-care to millions of poor Indians. American health system could never recover from the shock and has never been the same since.

If this is distasteful, please feel for the old man who was, let' say, unshaken in his belief and lived for over a hundred years! OK, one last joke. What would be Morarjibhai's expression for "not exactly my cup of tea" ;)

Unrelated Trivia: Greeks were not much interested in "Euro" as the common currency as the word "urine" in Greek sounds similar. Britons tried to pacify Greeks saying that 'Penny' had already been nicknamed 'pee' with no one trying to get rid of it entirely.

7. Suchitra Sen has "Blood Cancer" -

Her last movie was a "Priyo Bandhobi" with Soumitra Chattopadhyay way back in 1978. Her last published photograph appeared in 1989 - clad in a burkha she came out to vote in the State election and someone was able to snap her even in those pre-MMS days. Calcutta's own Greta Garbo who has remained a recluse for last thirty years and yet continued to haunt three generations together to let them figure out the "why". The maternal generation, arguably unhappy with the carefully hidden photo of hers in our fathers' wallet, told us this. Per grapevine, she was seen not only in Belur Math, but with the Sanyasi in Noihati who only coughs to communicate, does not speak; or to seek the mud of the pond in ChuNchura that could cure ANY effing disease in the world et al.

Verdict: Terrifyingly false. This has been a rumor since at least last 25 years. Last photo of Madame Sen - from that voting incident - however showed a certainly aged woman whose sharply curves on the face(the only part we had been allowed in movies, close-ups after close-ups) have been erased by an unforgiving middle-age female fat. Gaseous belly wishes the first real star of Bengali movies a long, happy life to let her see the first movie by her fourth generation, in the close comforts of her Ballygunge Park Road residence.

Unrelated Trivia: Suchitra has played two characters from the same novel (though in different movies) by Saratchandra -- she played Kamallata (titled same) and Rajlaksmi (Rajlakshmi o Srikanto). Kamallata was directed by Harishadhan Dasgupta, a famous movie-critic. Suchitra's maiden/pre-film name was Rama Dasgupta.

8. Nargis - A Nehru?
______________________ Tryst with Edwina

This is what happens with one family ruling the nation for about 40 years, 33 out of which delivers no Cable Television to the masses. Unverifiable rumors on the family starts spreading. If Indira was the 'iron-lady' who could even got her son killed, Nehru - her father - was apparently chasing skirts. Numerous ladies were linked with the Kashmiri handsome pandit - Edwina Mountbatten (whose husband's ability to swing both ways earned him the title - MountBottom), Padmaja Naidu (Sarojini's daughter; apparently had a good taste for porn), Mridula Sarabhai (sister of 'Dad of Indian Space Program' Vikram Sarabhai whom Mrinalini married; Mallika is daughter of Vikram and Mrinalini) and, outside numerous notables, a certain "Shraddha Mata". In the book long banned by GOI, Nehru's secretary writes (pp 206) -

In the autumn of 1948 a young woman from Benares arrived in New Delhi as a sanyasin named Shraddha Mata. She was a Sanskrit scholar well versed in the ancient Indian scriptures and mythology. People, including MPs, thronged to her to hear her discourses. One day S. D. Upadhyaya, Nehru's old employee, brought a letter in Hindi from Shraddha Mata. Nehru gave her an interview in the PM's house. As she departed, I noticed that she was young, shapely and beautiful. Meetings with her became rather frequent, mostly after Nehru finished his work at night. During one of Nehru's visits to Lucknow, Shraddha Mata turned up there, and Upadhyaya brought a letter from her as usual. Nehru sent her the reply; and she visited Nehru at midnight.

Suddenly Shraddha Mata disappeared. In November 1949 a convent in Bangalore sent a decent looking person to Delhi with a bundle of letters. He said that a young woman from northern India arrived at the convent a few months ago and gave birth to a baby boy. She refused to divulge her name or give any particulars about herself. She left the convent as soon as she was well enough to move out but left the child behind. She however forgot to take with her a small cloth bundle in which, among other things, several letters in Hindi were found. The Mother Superior, who was a foreigner, had the letters examined, and was told they were from the Prime Minister. The person who brought the letters surrendered them. I made discreet inquiries repeatedly about the boy but failed to get a clue about his whereabouts. Convents in such matters are extremely tightlipped and secretive. Had I succeeded in locating the boy, I would have adopted him. He must have grown up as a Catholic Christian blissfully ignorant of who his father was.

The digression above was just a backdrop. Jawaharlal's father Motilal Nehru is rumored to have fathered Jaddanbai - daughter of Allahabad's most famous kothewali Daleepabai. Later, an orthodox brahmin who was supposed to go to England for studies aborted his trips as he fell in love with Jaddanbai's immaculate beauty and even married her much against his family's wishes. Nargis is the first born of this couple!

Immediately after she came back to power in 1980, Indira Gandhi nominated Nargis Dutt for a Rajya Sabha (upper house) membership.

Verdict: Probably true. No one is taking the DNA test yet. Beats every novel you've read, every soap you've usually missed. A part of the family goes to run the country from Delhi, another part aims to do so from Bombay. No member from any of these (extended) families is short of epic drama, not even Kumar Gaurav!

Unrelated Trivia: Jaddanbai, BTW, was Bollywood's first female music "director". Sanjay Dutt's first wife, Richa Sharma (picture inset, right), also succumbed to cancer just as his mother did.

9. Sharmila calling Pataudi, holds on -

Sharmila Tagore calls the Brabourne Stadium, during a test India was playing, to talk to her suitor MAK Pataudi. Someone from the team picks up and informs Pataudi has gone to bat and Madam may call later. A disenchanted Sharmila quips that she would rather hold on since Pataudi never really stays that long in the crease.

Verdict: False. Probably a pre-SMS version in 60s that got some attention. The same story has been repeated with Glenn McGrath's wife waiting for her husband to come back in the pavilion. Personal favorite Cricket story goes like this - Mark Waugh taunts some rookie English player saying he is not good enough to play for England. James Ormund apparently quipped back - "May be not, but at least I'm the best player in my family".

Unrelated Trivia: Pataudi, desperately trying to woo Sharmila and not able to decide what to do, finally had a brand-new fridge delivered to her residence.

10. Various Urban Legends on food -
__________________________ " Aapki haathoN mein kuch,
________________________Mehke Hue Se Raaz Hai. "
_______________________- Gulzar

  • Panipuri (fuchka in Bengali) won't taste as good if served by a manicured vendor. Apparently, the biggest variant in the taste is neither the tamarind water, nor the crispiness of the fried dough, nor is it the potato's origin -- but the amount of dirt concealed within the overgrown finger nails of the panipuriwallah. That dirt - as it sips in various ingredients - causes the mouthwatering taste in the best fuchkas.

    - Abysmally false. This was mothers' try to ensure sons and daughters still have room for home-cooked dinner after an evening out with friends. They failed miserably. Bengalis proudly overlook such facts as the fuchka vendor scratching his balls (through a well-worn lungi though) as long as the road-side delicacy is stuffed with more red chilly powder one's anus can tolerate a day.

  • Bread (pauNruti in Bengali) is dough prepared by men pressing it with bare feet (paun - pa - leg, you see?).

    Verdict - So false even a 2 year old would giggle and ask for his next slice. This is our equivalent of "strawberries are so named because they are bedded in straw".

  • Coca-cola bottles have "For beverage use only" for a reason - This was one of the ULs passed on by ubiquitous Samrat Tewari in one of those countless college theks. Apparently, someone "in USA" took an empty bottle and, err, tried what Lord Mountbottom (see above) tried with members from the unfair sex in his so-called parallel sex life. Apparently this "someone from USA" was unhappy, either of the outcome or the actual pleasure obtained out of it, sued Coca Cola and actually won since - hold on your breath - Coca Cola never forbids one to not use the bottle for other-than-beverage purpose!

    Verdict - Whew! Painful - even without pesticides, ain't it?
Some of the ones I missed in the list above -
  • Dhirubhai Ambani asks just five minutes from a belligerent Rajiv Gandhi. Tells him of the Rs 500 crores Indira has "kept with him". Gets unlimited access to PM later. Recently shown in the movie "Guru" - though the other man was shown just to be a minister.

  • Indians "rule" American tech sector so much so that Billji has said -"..after the Chinese, South Indians are the smartest people in the world". Absolutely False.

  • Percentage of Indians in USA - 38% doctors, 12% scientists, 36% NASA, 34% Microsoft, 28% IBM, 17% Intel, 13% Xerox. Yeah, right! What about the percentage of immigrant Indians driving cabs? Waitering in Indian restaurants? Running pay-by-hour motels?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Urban Legends and Not Growing up - Part 1

Have you ever, even momentarily, believed that you may feel a pinch in your back sitting in that cozy corner of movie theater; turn back and get a chit "Welcome to the world of AIDS" and see a broken needle? Or, after coming to US did you not shop Tommy Hilfiger for years since, apparently, he thinks his clothing suits only whites? Or, Santa Clause was originally a creation by Coca Cola company? Or, if you accidentally ingest a chewing gum it remains in your entrails for at least next seven years before the stomach acid does it?

Well, I did! In each of them. I tried avoiding movies in theaters, even if I went I never chewed a gum, laughed off Santa Clauses at local mall as another marketing ploy, bought Gap instead and was always looking for a chopped finger in Taco Bell burritos. Urban legends are just like the statements above - they sound incredible yet too good to spoil the fun by cross-checking and create very strong urge to pass it on to unsuspecting family and friends. Created by our inner fears, social phobias, celebrity interests or just a way out of plain summer afternoon boredom -- these satiate the inner child in us that the real world bores to death otherwise. The only true "urban legend" I came across was in the movie "Lion King" there IS a shot of cloud that spells "S...E...X"! The X is a bit too subtle to miss on, though. Seriously, that was not heard from my friend's wife's cousin's ex-boyfriend, I verified it myself.

You believe or not, 'urban legends' are very cool to talk about in parties, on your second date and, possibly, to your daughter's boyfriend(s). As there are already extensive details in Snopes, I would just focus on the urban legends I encountered while growing up in Calcutta. Many of it have been passed on by (yeah!) my parents, some other by friends, some other I don't even remember - may be by a mini-bus co-passenger. There was no email back then!

1. Moonmoon Sen's "blue film" -

Beer, smoke, Moonmoon Sen

This was(?) the holy grail for most of our generation. After sharing one beer bottle among three, in the dark alleys of Dhakuria, one in the group would propose to 'rent' this to utilize his "khali bari" (parents away). It would not take him much effort to convince other two 'drunks' that his friend from Naktala has sworn to have watched it the month before! The journey would typically end in Gupta Video-Golpark facing a very serious looking bespectacled gentleman at the counter.

Drunk1 - Errr, hmm, (coughs, looks guiltily to the elderly gentleman renting "Jungle Safari" VHS) - do you have any good (special emphasis on the word like when you instruct the waiter on how spicy you want your soup) Moonmoon movie?

Serious looking gent- (paused for a few seconds. Enormous tension in the air) You mean "Anurodh"?

Verdict - False. My "friends" have spent at least 4235 man hours locating it without any success. Similar story was reported in Newspaper on Shatabdi Roy when she visited West Germany in late 80s! However, her daughter's naughty MMS clip with an Asmit Patel is indeed real.

2. Jyoti Basu's second wife in London -

Jyoti Basu leaves for London annually to spend time with his "second wife" and get skin treatments. Skin treatment is difficult to validate, but the "second marriage" bit is ludicrous. His first wife died within days of his marriage. In his autobiography "Jotodur Mone Pore" (As far as I remember) he writes -

Talk of marriage was being discussed. I did not attach much importance to this. I know there was a long and difficult struggle ahead but anyway, I got married. My father-in-law’s name was Shri Amukule Ghosh; Prof. Prafulla Ghosh who tough English at the presidency college was part of that family. Within a few days of my marriage, my wife died. My mother died in 1941. I was sitting at the high court Bar Library when my father called to break the news. The last rites were performed by my elder brother. It was father who told me that there was no need to stick to custom and have vegetarian food. I would’nt have had anyway. But with father beside me, I got that extra bit of strength.

He got married again to Kamal Basu several years later.

Verdict - False, though I could not verify the other "UL" whether Kamal Basu was his first-wife's sister.

3. Kapil Dev can land a ball on a 25 paisa coin -
Not Exactly a Change Bowler

Several versions exist. In most, Kapil visits a school (different schools in different stories); eager ones ask for bowling advice; Kapil asks one to put a coin anywhere on the pitch and bowl on *that* coin - everyone fails. Kapil bowls six deliveries all of which land bang on the coin. Kapil asks them to first aim the coin at least 3 times in an over and then look for advices!

Verdict - May be! Aiming a coin is a popular bowling practice, however whether Kapil really landed 6 out of 6 is debatable. Even if he did, the coin would surely move every time the ball touches it and chances are by second or third hit it may even be outside the pitch.

However, Kapil's father Ramlal did actually buy a buffalo to feed to his milk-loving son after strenuous practice sessions.

4. Indira Gandhi had her younger son (Sanjay Gandhi) killed -

Bordering more towards conspiracy theory, this one is the Indian version of JFK. Apparently, Sanjay was blackmailing his mother and she could not take it anymore since it was hurting her party.

Verdict - False! Why would Indira do such a thing within six months of winning 1980 general election? She was safe there for another four years and was riding the popular wave of disenchantment for Janata party.

However, Sanjay Gandhi was one colorful character and was involved in many controversial, juicy, and notorious incidents in that part of Indian history. Of course, he and his cohorts cracked the emergency whip -- but he was involved in probably the first-ever Indian "sting" operation. Maneka Gandhi ran a newspaper called "Surya" and it published Indira's bete noire Jagjiban Ram's son in compromising positions with a lesser known model. The photos that absolutely ruined Ram family's hold on UP can be seen here (not office safe!). Months later the publication inspired a movie called "Bezubaan" on the theme of paparazzi porn.

5. Juhi Chawla is actress Kaberi Bose's daughter -

The very tall Bengali actress' best work is "Aranyer Dinratri" as an unfortunate widow who gives in to her physical needs, the puny Punjabi Miss India'1984's is arguably "Teen Deewaren". Apparently, Kaberi died from a Jeep accident in the hills of Darjeeling in late 60s, but one of her daughter's miraculously survived and was adopted by the Chawlas who were posted in nearby army base. The only other "I swear it's true" statement is "Don't they look similar?". As it happens, moms don't like being questioned on such versatile truth!

Verdict - Sounds too goofy to be true. Juhi Chawla did act in some Bengali movies (like one suggestively titled "Amaar Tumi" - 'You're Mine'), just as she did some (forgettable) Telegu ones -- but other than the Jeep accident(that did happen) nothing else can be verified.

to be continued..

Pathetic Times of India

In private conversations about the future of India I often wonder what will happen to the quality of work done in non-IT industries as the inflow of natural talent in those sectors has been drying up so fast. Most engineering graduates in India, irrespective of what they majored in, choose the very safe and higher earning career paths offered by Indian "IT Majors".

Per an independent study done by BusinessWeek, India produces about 215,000 Engineering graduates per year (contrary to popular perceptions - US produces 222,335). Demand in the off-shored IT industry is way much higher -- just the "Big 5" would apparently hire 100,000 in this year. Thus, it is safe to say, most good engineers -- including Civil, Mechanical, Chemical ones -- are sucked into the monolithic IT services drudgery with a scary regularity, leaving very little for the faster growing demands in the real infrastructure components.

In other words, despite the record volume growth in construction -- chances are your home site was designed by an engineer who still probably pines for an entry level position in Infosys; or a big part in the "Golden Quadrilateral" project was in hands of bitter "IT rejects". Not to undermine the passionate ones, but most entering the non-IT segments of workforce today would happily change position with someone sitting in one of the famed IT "parks". Only if they can.

Non-engineering graduates are doing no better -- the larger part takes the escapist route to become "John" or "Jill" to answer calls from irate customers off far far away in Fargo, ND; the slightly more ambitious ones try pushing the "MBA" wheels to end up - may be - just a notch higher than the former group - managing them!

One of the biggest deteriorating effects has already started seeping not-so-furtively into print media. Rapid increase in viewer ship of electronic media does not help the newspapers either. One often wonders what type of "journalists" report for the most circulating English newspaper in India today. The following report -- ironically on IT industry -- is one example of crap churned out regularly --

"US techies 10-times more productive than Indians"

Why this article is a meaningless blabber of some not-yet-ready-for-even-internship idiot who needs lessons on both his/her basic math and logic?

Comparing Infosys, TCS etc with HP, DELL etc is a worse travesty of truth than the President of Iran can ever dream of. The comparison is as valid as comparing Construction Workers and Doctors -- or in the so-called "call center" lingo one between the Medical Transciptionist and the Doctor whose scanned or recorded voice she enters into the "system"!

Indian IT companies (mostly) do stuff that is repeatable, non-core and is significantly cheaper to do in India (off-shoring), rather than executing the core stuff better in a streamlined budget (outsourcing). HP, for example, makes real products, has real factories and at least 80% of its business requires serious supply-chain management. To HP, trying to keep a tab on whether the computer servers on which this supply-chain calculations run is a huge waste of its competency. Say, Infosys or TCS gets a contract to keep an eye on the panel and contact someone in HP if there is an issue. These diverse businesses in US and Indian high-tech sectors thus can not be compared on either their profitability or even, as this article suggests, their revenue per employee.

Out of the companies suggested, EDS -- and a part of IBM -- probably comes somewhat closer to the Indian IT business model. Unlike the other US companies mentioned, their significant revenue comes from services, not from product.

Typically, hardware companies have higher revenues (also, higher cost of production) than software producers. A typical software company, like Oracle, has much lower revenue, but due to strong annuity registers a much higher percentage profit.

The following table was constructed from publicly available data on major 10 US tech companies -

The article notes - " The market observers believe that factors like high attrition rates of over 12 per cent and under-utilisation of resources are acting as a major hurdle to achieve high employee productivity for Indian firms." Really? The per employee revenue ratio - mathematically depends on just two factors - namely, (a) number of employees - the lesser the better and (b) the revenue - the higher the better. With Indian firms -- following footsteps of Xerxes of Persia, and his million-man army -- bragging about number of annual recruits -- and not their quality -- as the measure of growth, and a huge potential loss of business if the consulting rate per employee grows up -- one does not see the ratio moving any higher with the Indian "Big 5". Statistically, "ratios" hide the scale of the issue while volume does not usually scale well.

One way to achieve a higher ratio would probably be to mimic what the top-scorer in the table above did. Sergey Brin and Larry Page did not bother about fixing other people's old predictable businesses. They - while doing their Ph.D. - found out a cracking solution to a real future need and started out commercializing it in a garage without bothering about how big -- employee wise -- they should grow next year. As a result, today an average employee in their organization can go to sleep with a calm assurance that his or her work brings over a million dollar of cash a year to the company (and that he/she gets to bring a sizable part of that back home!).

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shrek 3 - 2nd Summer Sequel of the year that failed!

  • Prince Charming arrives late to the castle where the princess was captive for so long. All he finds is a Wolf reading swimsuit edition of "Pork Illustrated" with a pig posing in bikini on the cover!
  • Puss-in-boots -- in a clear reference to Garfield -- blurts out "I hate Mondays" after his first drink in the bar!
  • The "Far Far Away" -- including the sign on the hills -- is very Hollywood where they have "Farbucks Coffee" shop exactly opposite another "Farbucks Coffee" on the other side of the road!
  • Fiona's mom is shown reading "King are from Mars, Queens are from Venus"!
  • There was a poster of "Sir Justin" (Timberlake) right above Fiona's bed. Cameron Diaz -- voice of Fiona -- was dating Justin that time!
  • Some shops in "Far Far Away" - 'Burger Prince'; 'Baskin Robinhood', 'Saxon Fifth Avenue' ...
  • Giant Gingerbread utters "Be Good" as melting away, same last words uttered by E.T.!
  • Puss in boots grabs his hat Indiana Jones during a chase scene.
  • In "Far Far Away" a movie theater is playing "Lethal Arrow 4"
  • A lot and lot of pop-culture, movie, personality references I -- and bunch of other fans -- are still trying to find out.

Hold on! All the above are from the "Shrek 2". There is no need to watch "Shrek 3" again to find out the references - especially those not so subtle ones - because there is none!

Shrek had a severe identity crisis in the first movie (that basically mimicked then Disney chief Mike Aisner), fell in love too. In the second, he visits his in-laws and tries to be as social as a green ogre can be. Third, the wife wants a kid, Shrek does not even get the hint. He does not want to be the king after his dad-in-law's death either. He wants to go back to his swamp and be happy with his smelly self. Such a big comic opportunity was entirely wasted by trying to retell all the fairy tales listed on Wikipedia. Retell is the key word -- not mimic. There are just so many characters -- most of whom you must have encountered decades ago, if at all -- that following them makes the grin vanish!

There is this new trend to make the fairy tales "hip", and there were some good movies -- just plain good, nothing more -- made in last couple of years on that premise. "Hoodwinked" - where the little Red riding hood plays a Miss Marple - being a personal favorite of the genre. However, "Shrek" was much more than parodying fairy tales. Following the mandatory Hollywood arithmetic to swamp the market with a sequel till there's a flop one in the series, the producers took the franchise too seriously this time and frustrated fans like this reviewer to no end.

Don't go green this summer!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ups and Downs - 60 Defining Moments (Part 3)

Part ONE - 30 Up-moments

Part TWO - 15 Down-moments

Part THREE - 15 Down-moments

16. Bantala - 1989

Three women social workers were raped, tortured and murdered after being dragged from their white Ambassador allegedly by local CPI(M) supporters. Jyoti Basu, then CM, comments the next day - "Erokom to hoyei thake!" ('This is not an unusual event!). One of the reasons he was not in the "Up" list.

Translated part from Suman Chatterjee's song on the event -

Manhood now makes me shameful
Before myself I hang my head.
The blood of the three women sits -
In our conscience, still and dead.

7. Behala Oil Tragedy - 1987 - A disaster to happen

"In 1987, more than 1600 people had fallen ill seriously and 18 died after consuming food cooked in rapeseed oil sold by a ration shop in Calcutta’s Behala area. The poison responsible for this tragedy was triorthocresyl phosphate (TCP), which is used as a plasticiser in the plastic industry. TCP was mixed with the oil to give it the flavour of mustard oil."

This was not an isolated incident. 4 out of 5 food testing laboratories in the state have shut down, and there are only about 30 full-time food inspectors responsible for collecting food samples for over 65 million people - most of whom regularly eat outside. An estimated 1,04,000 street food vendors serve in Calcutta alone. Your guess on how many of them follow good hygiene is as good as mine!

For example, a dangerous coloring substance (Metanil Yellow) - to be used in textiles industry - is regularly used in street biryanis to replace more expensive saffron. Percentage of Calcuttans regularly eating street food? 33! To not end this on a sour note, Rs 1 (about $0.03) can buy about 200 calories on street and there's not much evidence of heavy metal contamination!

18. D.C. Vinod Mehta chopped to death at Gardenreach - 1984

A daring 35 year old Deputy Commissioner (Port) was viciously led to a blind alley and was chopped to death. His bodyguards were not spared either. Investigations reveal Mehta was on the verge of cracking a big nexus running narcotics business in Port of Calcutta area. 21 years later, a person wanted for the murder was eventually caught for passing secret information to ISI, Pakistan.

19. "Abar Aranye" - 2003

Goutam Ghose not only ruined memories of the original "Aranyer Dinratri", but made a very bad movie overall. What was an uncomplicated story-telling based on four friends who escaped from Calcutta in the original became a harangue on issues ranging from World Trade Center bombing to the organic drag in the relationship of a couple over the years. Battling with Cancer that would eventually cost his life, Samit Bhanja, however, gave a spirited last performance to an otherwise sad-opposite-of-his-prime Soumitro Chattopadhyay, very nagging Sharmila Tagore and still-adolescent-at-35 character of Tabu!

20. "Songbad Protidin" - 1992

Cornered by a leftist Aajkaal, a strongly anti-CPI(M) Bartaman and an opportunist though highly readable Anandabazar -- Tutu Basu's newspaper venture has been a pathetic failure. Interestingly, this was the first Bengali newspaper on the internet and even tried to come up with a replica e-paper, but failed there too.

21. Chandan Basu -

Other than the terribly insensitive comment after the Bantala incident, Chandan is the reason Jyoti Basu did not get into the "Up" list despite meeting all other prerequisites for an icon. Chandan and his not so illustrious friends have always been linked at scandals ranging from a biscuit company; borrowing Rs 2 crores from SBI and never pay it back; prime land allocation near Park Street, "importing" a SUV at half-a-price, to getting into a Medical college at his father's rival Siddhartha Shankar Roy's recommendation (repeatedly mentioned by a cherishing Manuda!).

22. Dominique La'pierre writes City of Joy - 1985

Member of Parliament Nargis Dutt once accused Satyajit Ray of selling Indian poverty abroad. This accusation smugly fits "City of Joy" - a "classic" woven around a hand-rickshaw puller's struggle in this 'cruel' city. Most disagreed with the way our city was portrayed in the novel. The contention was not poverty, but the ruthless, inhuman face of the city portrayed in the book as well as in the film. Calcuttans for once forgot about freedom of expression and protested the shooting of the film. To many reviewers this book was no more than a "Leper Porn".

Very soon, however, the irony of the name was lost and "City of Joy" found its name in the glossy touristy coffee table books on Calcutta.

23. Diamond Harbor -

It is said Diamond Harbor was responsible for three out of four unwanted pregnancies in the later part of the last century. A naturally beautiful place - River Hooghly just about meets the ocean here - that lost its charm to the seediness of the local rent-by-hour hotels and the daytime activities of drunk, single, twenty-somethings from nearby Calcutta by the riverside.

24. B.T. Road -

Suffice to say this is arguably India's most congested road.

25. Govt Hospitals -

Only thing worse than driving on B.T.Road would be to drive on B.T.Road to go to a government hospital. Some of the reasons these hospitals were in News recently -

26. Auto-rickshaws -

At least 70% of Calcutta residents suffer from some respiratory disorder. It also has the highest rate of lung cancer across all cities in the world. Reason - Calcutta's average SPM (Suspended Particulate Matter) is at least 50% more than what it should be. The biggest culprit is the 50,000 plus (most unregistered) auto-rickshaws that use "kantatel" -- an environmentally lethal mix of kerosene and petrol.

For Calcutta's environment to survive auto-rickshaws must die!

27. Subhas Chakraborty -

Enfant terrible of the Left Front Govt, the transportation minister himself is responsible for the unauthorized Auto-rickshaws and for the fact that less than 50% of the vehicles in the state would pass the emission test. He takes pride in knowing his Rabindranath, and his Lenin, and his army of folks like "Hatkata Dilip" (Hands-cut-off Dilip).

When he opens his mouth he is unintentionally comical. Almost borrowing the legacy of Bill Clinton he defended his act of offering prayers(he's a communist, not supposed to believe in God) at Tarapeeth by claiming he just threw flowers at the idol and did not say anything religious. Had he been managing some inconsequential portfolio he could even be a pleasure to look at - in a Circus Clown sort of way.

28. "Balak Brahmachari" enters samadhi - 1993

Sri Sri Thakur's died of heart failure at a ripe age of 73, but his dead body was kept in Sukhchor ashram for 70 days when his followers - Santan Dal- eagerly waited for him to re-emerge. To the disciples it was just a "deep trance" that the Thakur had apparently gone into before and re-emerged after several weeks. Police had to forcefully take the rotting body out to cremate. Baba did not mind.

Fourteen intermediate years seem to do nothing to the unwavering faith of the sect. They took out a huge rally last year prophesying Netaji would return alive in 2007, accompanied by the Baba.

29. "Diamond Dutta" - 1997

Always a maverick, Amal Dutta quit his full-time job in 1960s and became India's first professional soccer coach. His on-field innovations, if not his success record, will always ensure a big place in our football history. Dutta took charge of Mohanbagan in 1997 and created an euphoria as a rejuvenated team displayed one of their finest attacking games and beat Churchill Brothers 6-0 in Fed Cup quarter finals. An all time record crowd of 131,000 flocked to Salt Lake Stadium for the semi-final clash with Dutta's arch-rival P.K.Banerjee's East Bengal. The much publicized "diamond system"(see diagram) was shredded by Bhaichung Bhutia's immaculate hat-trick as Bagan lost it 1-4.

Though Dutta was vindicated when most teams adopted the "diamond formation" in 2002 Euro cup, our club officials were clearly not amused at the big defeat and Dutta had to give up his experimentation soon. Sadly, Amal Dutta's inability to keep his mouth shut also made sure he would never be invited to coach the national team even after a spirited Nehru Cup'88 display under his tutelage.

30. Stoneman - 1989

Our version of Zodiac killer, "Stoneman" thrashed at least 13 homeless and city beggars to death over the summer of 1989. Modus operandi - a heavy slab of concrete was dropped over a sleeping victim's head in dimly lit part of sidewalks of central Calcutta. Conspiracy theories like some bizarre tantrik cult that want a certain number of human sacrifices were in circulation but no one was ever arrested or charged. Stoneman - originally named so by The Statesman - still remains an unsolved mystery with closely repeating patterns in some other major cities. Bombay and Bangalore both had their share of pavement dwellers' serial murders during 1980s too.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ups and Downs - 60 Defining Moments (Part 2)

Dipta has come up with compilation of sixty events that shaped West Bengal in his - "60 years of a state". Some of those events - compiled from a special edition of "Anandabazar Patrika" - predate my generation.

Here's another list of 60 events that encircles my generation - 30-somethings - 30 Ups and 30 Downs. After 30 "Thumb Up" moments -- here is my list 30 "Thumb Down" events. Again, this list touches events only witnessed in our generation. Thus, choosing a place named "Haringhata" as the dairy land of Bengal would not be mentioned in the flops.

1. Uttamkumar's Mohaloya - 197x

We accepted Arun Kumar Chatterjee as Uttam Kumar, the only Mega Star of Bong movies. However, we hated when we woke up at 4am, turned on the radio and could not hear Biren Bhadra's booming voice that had so far been the traditional start of Puja holidays. Uttam Kumar as narrator and Hemant Mukherjee as music director were heartbroken. It was not only a coy Suchitra Sen listening to Uttam's whispers but pretty much the entire state; it also lacked enough deci-bell to keep us awake so early in the morning. Biren dadu was back the next year, and the next....

2. Dakshinapan Shopping Centre, Dhakuria - 1980s

This could have been the first "mall" of Calcutta with its upscale location, easy access for housewives, nice street food (Rajender's Alur Dom is one of Calcutta's best kept secrets). For some secret reason Dakshinapan never really flourished. Shops are closed by 7:30 in the evening and remain closed on most holidays! Unable to attract many traders, Govt offered s(h)ops to other State Govt Emporiums at dirt-cheap rates. If you want to shop for handlooms, handmade textile, cutesy arty stuff - followed by sipping lemon iced-tea at Dolly's Tea Shop - this is still the place though.

3. Poschimbongo Gronthomela - 1982-1992

Probably it was the Benfish stall that made all the difference - or the overlap with Saraswati Puja for Calcutta Book Fair (C.B.F) - but the book fair run by Govt of West Bengal never really took off. It had several advantages over Calcutta Book Fair (organized by 'Publishers' & Booksellers' Guild') however. This one started in late December and, unlike the C.B.F., had more overlapping holidays. In 1992 both the fairs were finally "merged".

The Govt. lately has started an annual "Boi Bazaar" in Nandan Complex. That too is a sad competitor for the C.B.F.

4. Devang Gandhi - Retired in 2006
Following the footsteps of Gopal Basu, Snehasish Ganguly, Utpal Chatterjee (David), Gandhi ended his career with an excellent first class record and some wasted below-par international outings.

5. Trinamul Congress - 2001

"Hare Krishna Hare Hare|
Trinamul Ghare Ghare".

"Chupchap phul-e chap"

Media (especially Anandabazar Patrika) projected an end to Left-Front rule (then going on for 24 years) in the State legislative Elections 2001. Mamata Banerjee - impressed upon by some journalists from Anandabazar - formed a "mahajot" (Grand Alliance) with Congress, a party she was part of barely five years ago! Her hatred for red went to the extreme where she even gave up "laal cha" ("red tea" - without milk).

Despite attracting huge crowd wherever she went in, she - or her alliance - did miserably in the election. Anandabazar switched sides almost overnight and scathing attacks on her leadership and a detailed analysis on why she lost were on front page the day after the results!

6. Renaming Roads - Continuing

Brabourne Road or Trailokya Maharaj Road - Do You Care?

Communist government's hour of reckoning with "Samrajjobadi Markin Shokti" (Imperialist American Power) came in form of rubbing salt on an open wound. They renamed Harrington Street - where US Consulate is located - to Ho-Chi-Min Sarani right after the shameful retreat of US from Vietnam!

If you think that was funny, then try figuring out where "Anadi Lal Poddar Sarani" is (Russel Street)! Not only Calcutta has streets named after most number of people, the 'official' names keep changing every 1-2 years. Someone recently renamed Hunger Ford Street to Picasso Bithi.
Old timers don't pay attention to such gimmicks, however, and still say "Camac Street" rather than "Abanindranath Thakur Sarani"! Poor taxi drivers and post men!

7. Athithi Niyontron Ayeen - Seen till late 80s in Wedding Cards

"Poschimbongo sorkarer atithi niyontron ayeen projojjo" (West Bengal Govt's "Hospitality Act" is applicable) -- was a standard (and mandatory!) post-script in ALL wedding invitations till at least late 80s.

This law was made during acute food shortage in the state forcing a limit to number of people that can be invited for a social gathering where food will be served. Green revolution and several years of surplus grain production after, people will still put it on the card and invite at least 500 people for the wedding!

8. Sponge-er Rosogolla - ?

"Bagbajarer Nabin Das|
Rosogolla-r Columbus"

Nabin Das "invented" Sponge Rosogolla. The sweet is usually made from cottage cheese and sugar syrup, however "sponge" technique allowed the makers to inflate the volume by using less cottage cheese. This made export of the sweet possible by canning it. Nabin Das' cousin K C Das started producing "Canned Rosogolla". Despite significant amount of advertisements this never took off, at least within the state. True Bengalis hate this stuff only a little more than a Rosogolla made by Marwadis like Haldiram!

9. "Sare Saat tar Khobor" - The 7:30 News @ DD1 -

Our elders left the precious one and half hour after 6 o'clock for us to gobble on a variety of television programs like 15 minutes of Nepali telecast, followed by a children's show called "Chiching Faank" ("Open Sesame") , Saptahiki (weekly TV guide) - mostly talking about the next Saptahiki etc.

But they would require exclusive access to the television as soon as a little globe started spinning on a starlit sky - culminating in a shape like the image on right - accompanied by a music that closely resembles Mozart on 180RPM. That was "sonbad" - news - their only way to know Italy has loaned India Rs 1 Crore (~$5M those days) for industrial development or another TV center was opened in Silchar, Assam.

With arrival of much smarter round the clock News Bulletins from every other channel Bengali news at 7:30 has pretty much died a natural death. It still is aired from a dilapidated DD building, but number of viewers is even less than the number of people who still need to adjust a rooftop antenna to a certain direction to get better picture quality!

10. Nandigram - 2007

A shame for any government, especially a democratically elected communist one, would be to let its police launch a planned armed attack on impoverished peasants - especially on women as they're fleeing - and kill at least 14 people with powerful automatic rifles by firing at their back!

Killing by brutal force is nothing new to CPI(M) - they have done it by burning 17 Anandmargees alive in 1982; opening fires on protesting Congress supporters and killing 16 of them in 1992 etc. But Nandigram has made the biggest dent, so far, on CPI(M)'s image as many ideologues strongly attacked the hurried and improperly planned industrialization efforts at the cost of fertile land.

11. Gariahat Flyover - 2002

A proverbial Govt planned White Elephant, this first city flyover in the 21st century did everything that a flyover is not supposed to do. It almost killed not one but two local markets by restricting access; created traffic bottlenecks on both Golpark and Bullygunge Phanri sides of it; increased number of pedestrian accidents as the buses race for the two minute stretch in a 35 minute-6 miles journey that they can go above 20 miles per hour; created a sewer problem for the buildings underneath and even created security problems for the area residents!

12. Great Eastern Hotel - Taken over from Govt in 2005

  • One of the oldest classy hotels in the world, set up in 1841
  • Address 1,2 & 3 Old Court House Street (Renamed "Hemant Bose Sarani"!)
  • "The best hotel east of Suez" - Mark Twain
  • Hosted Queen, Premiers and most visiting Cricket Teams. Noted from article linked above - "the occasion when a legendary Bengali film actress sent 12 bottles of champagne to cricketer M.L. Jaisimha after the latter had played an impressive innings in Eden Gardens. "It was my job to ensure the bottles were delivered to Jaisimha, and I couldn't resist the temptation, and quietly helped myself to two bottles of champagne," he said. With the Eden Gardens barely half-a-kilometre from the hotel, cricket teams, till the early 1970s would generally be accommodated in the Great Eastern." Jaisimha scored a breathtaking 129 against England in 1964 in Eden Gardens, so we can rule out Supriya Devi. It's Suchitra Sen then! Hmmmm.
  • Taken over by Govt of West Bengal in 1975
  • Number of people attending 2005 New Year's Celebration in its celebrated "Durbar Hall" - 12!
13. Pradeep Kundalia released - 1990s

June 19, 1989. Months old Bhowanipur apartment building just collapsed burying eleven people - most of them happy new home owners - alive under the debris. The builder / promoter / film-producer Pradeep Kundalia apparently had high connections, right up to the door of the then chief minister Jyoti Basu. Even a lenient charge sheet filed by a friendly administration indicated intentional avoidance of all municipal rules and use of sub-standard material to mark profits. The case against him has been pending in Alipore Court since then. He has not only been out on bail but - extremely scary in context of present rapid real estate development in the city - has been happily building homes (and making films, like the one above!) for the rest of us.

14. World Cup Inauguration - 1996

First, a drunk Saeed Jaffrey announced South Africa team as "Emirates". Second, organizers mistook the appeal for the then pop hit "Made in India" (Alisha Chinoy) and made it the central show of the evening. However, none of the 85,000 could catch a glimpse of the diminutive Ms Chinoy from the gallery and booed. Third, a so-called Italian "director" Gianfanco Lunetta was paid a fortune to supervise a grand laser show. It turned out - thanks to the gutsy evening wind vigorously flapping the laser projection screens - as if someone was randomly pointing his two-cell flashlight on each side of a mosquito net. The inauguration (literally!) had an air of failure written all over it.

Emotional newspapers went as far as - "Lunetta should be tied with a rope and detained in Calcutta". Lunetta, mistaking the attack as politically motivated(!), replied with a very tangential - "My company could not and cannot be held responsible for anything by anyone. I have always belonged culturally to the far left, because I do not believe in the bourgeoisie."

15. India-Sri Lanka Semi-final abandoned - March 13, 1996

Scared that the opening ceremony fiasco was not bad enough for the city, drunk-on-cheap-rum crowd of 100,000 could not digest India losing to Sri Lanka thanks to the captain's inexplicable decision to field after winning the toss. Water bottles started flying, Vinod Kambli exited the field weeping and - thankfully - Sangeeta Bijlani was not easily accessible! The match was stopped and later, awarded to Sri Lanka who went on to win the cup.

It tarnished the popular image of Eden Gardens and its spectators forever. Later, at least two more matches at the same venue would be disrupted by the crowd too. Populists blamed "Pan-parag culture" - that replaced the idyllic Orange chewing, test match watching crowd - for the 'bad losers' tag. The proverbial snake, however, had already entered the Garden of Eden when the crowd booed and threw - among other things - bitten apples at Marshneil Gavaskar during a 1984 test match.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ups and Downs - 60 Defining Moments (Part 1)

Dipta has come up with a nice compilation of sixty events that shaped West Bengal in his - "60 years of a state". Some of those events - compiled from a special edition of "Anandabazar Patrika" - predate my generation.

Here's another list of 60 events that encircles my generation - thirty-somethings - 30 Ups and 30 Downs.


1. Sourav Ganguly does a 'Rambo' from Lord's balcony (2002)-

What this photo did for a nation in war, the image on the left did to a nation in doubt with its expression at success. Forget the "Ma Chandi" amulet, don't try to guess how much this guy can bench press - but, seriously, have you ever been prouder as a Bengali? Like all successful people leaders, subtlety is not his forte but an undying passion for the cause is.

The half-naked Maharaja's slap on proud Brit cheek was perhaps as strong as the "Half-naked Fakir's". This moment is all our freedom fighters ever wanted to see. Thank you, oh Prince of Biren Roy road.

2. Bengali in Bond Movie - 2006 - (Copying from an old email after watching "Casino Royale")

"Finally, Bengalis have arrived! My dream is to see a Bengali playing Bond - asking for a Vodka Martini, wearing Dhuti on a Bijoya Dasami afternoon as someone has hidden a nuclear bomb inside the Asur's gut. Not exactly there yet, but good progress.

Remember the guy who played the Doctor in MI6 headquarters who was instructing Bond on how to use the defibrillator as Bond was having a heart attack? That guy is our very own Paul Bhattacharjee - I bet his first name is Palash!

This is the 2nd most important day in Bengali history (first one was when Rabi Thakur returned his Knighthood). Whoo hooo!!!"

3. Kumar Shanu sings in "Aashiqui" - 1990

Bollywood male singer world was never so unabashedly "bong" before. Sachin "kotta" was from Tripura, Kishore Kumar from Allahabad, Hemant Kumar and Mannada were mostly for our jethus and pisis - but Kedar Bhattacharya was from our very own Dumdum. He paved the way for Abhijeet, Babul Supriyo, Shaan, Debojit and many others. Think twice before mocking a bong speaking Hindi - it will be virtually impossible for you to hum in shower then!

4. Sunil Gangopadhyay shows up with "Atmoprokash" - 1966

This is probably the only event in this list that is from the 60s. But Bengali literature would never be the same again. Partly auto-biographical, partly surreal, and almost entirely rebelling - this novel defines the genre that would rule the rich literature for the next half-century. Never before anyone dared to start a novel -- that too in "Sharodiyo Desh" -- with --

"Sokalbela Paritosh ese bollo, esob apnara ki arombho korechen?"

It was thanks to this novel that we got to read about places we go, things we do and people we interact with in the language we actually use. Amit Choudhuris and Jhoompa Lahiris please pay attention!

5. Suman Chattopadhyay's first album "Tomake Chai" - 1992

What Sunil did for Bengali novels, Suman did for Bengali lyrics. No more would "chaNd" be called "sashi"; no more would people bother using "kunjobon" or "preyoshir adhor " to talk about amorous activities.

The title song in the album, allegedly written about Cigarette, gave an entire generation reasons to buy Bengali music cassettes and gave us words that we actually could identify with while walking along the corridors of Esplanade. After launch of several knockoffs trying to live on Suman's success, some over-enthusiast music executive coined the school "jibonmukhi" (life-facing, literally!). It was not quite like the "impressionist" movement in Western Europe but it surely did touch more number of hearts.

6. Jotayu's introduction in "Sonar Kella" - 1971

Unless you're Pulak Ghoshal, you would address him "Lalmohanbabu". We had several great Bengali detectives before - Satyan(W)eshi Byomkesh Bakshi being the best in the genre - but we truly lacked self-deprecating humor. We laughed at "ure"(Udiya), "Bihari", "Madrasi" and "mero" (Marwari) - but no one was laughing at us Bengalis "babus". No one made fun of our fear of experimentation, over-cautiousness at cold weather and suspicion of burly character in the same train compartments till the following lines were written -

"Jini kothata bollen tini dekhte ottonto niriho, ritimoto roga, aar height-e nirghat amar cheyeo ontoto du-inchi kom | Amar to tao boyos matro ponero, tai barar boyos jaaYni | Ini kompokhhe p(N)oitris, kaajei jemon achen temon i thakben|"

7. Muhammad Yunus wins Nobel Peace Prize - 2006

Since Pakistan smirks every time we praise Dilip Kumar, we should retain the bragging rights on Dr Yunus too. Bangladesh, you can keep your deadly cyclones, horrible floods, funny middle-names and even all of Kaji Najrul but let's just be "Bangali" when it comes to Nobel and Padmar Ilish.

8. Amartya Sen wins Nobel Price - 1998

This one is totally, legitimately ours. We don't understand his theories on eradicating poverty through education and how the great Bengal Famine was mostly man-made, but we did not have the luck to sip at Kalor Dokaner Cha (Tea at Kalo's Shop) either.

We still bought his books, placed it exactly beside "Geetanjali", locked the cabinet firm and went to our local tea-shops to speculate why his marriage with Nabanita Debsen could not survive the battle of the intellects.

Nabanita Debsen, BTW, is the author of first ever Bengali e-book!

9. Calcutta Metro Rail inauguration- 1984

Gokhale was only partially right! What started in Bengal in 1984, took - not a day - but a full twenty years to start in Delhi! We Calcuttans love the 16 mile stretch metro so much that we actually try not to spit once we are underground.

"Poroborti station Rabindra Sadan. Next Station is Rabindra Sadan. Agle istition Rabendra Sadan" in that lady announcer's melting voice on those warm, patchy, sweaty June days was the closest to sex one college-goer could manage!

10. Vidyasagar Setu opens - 1992

One of the best ways to enjoy a drunk night in Calcutta is to hail a cab to Vidyasagar Setu, bribe him (and any cop that may approach) a few bucks and stand on the bridge (not *on* the car tracks!) for a few minutes. Calcutta looks like Sydney even if you are, by chance, sober.

If you're not a Bengali you probably best know the "setu" as the place where a stunt man's motorcycle ran over Vivek Oberoi's left leg and watching the incident - Yuva's director - Mani Rathnam had a mini heart-attack. Chances are it was the stunt man's first time on the bridge and he was lost in the beauty that surrounds it before ramming over to Aishwarya Rai's then boyfriend.

11. Dalmiya elected ICC chief - 1997

One of the most astute administrators of the game from the east 'whitewashes' the Pommie-Aussie lineage. Never again would the match referee could dole out any punishment to our players. This man from Calcutta not only revived a cash-strapped ICC, marketed Cricket like never before but also made sure that India will bully others - if not exactly on the field - in the global meets.

12. "Swetpathorer Thala" - 1992

Bengali mainstream films had never had it so rough after Uttam Kumar's death and before the release of this movie. It was ridiculed by urban elites enraged at titles like "Beder Meye Josna"; and sidetracked by fares from Bollywood - or even, by Jatras - for rural folks. No one in his sane frame of mind on this side of Noihati would dare see a Bengali movie not made by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen or a by-then-decaying Tarun Majumder. This movie launched few fresh faces, threw Bollywood interjects out of New Theaters window and remained true to a popular Bengali novel (by Bani Basu). Suddenly, our mothers and maasis were flocking to theaters like Rupabani-Aruna-Bharoti or Minar-Bijoli-Chobighor.

Prabhat Ray - who started as an Asst Director to Shakti Samanta - proved his mettle in the middle of the line Bengali movies that no one would be ashamed to see and yet would not lose on the investment.

13. Jiten Seal dies of heart attack - 1997

Watching the book fair getting raged by an unforgiving fire, Mr Seal had a heart attack and succumbed to it. Contrary to the popular belief, he did not die from or even had any burn injury. Till date, a two minute silence is observed every year at the Calcutta Book Fair in his memory.

14. Ban on Noisy Fireworks - 200?

Even Calcutta woke up to the cause of pollution and any firework that breaks the 65 decibel limit was banned by law. We all laughed at this and our elders waited with their earplugs at Diwali night. Surprisingly, political goodwill joined by popular mandate made this one of the very few such laws that was indeed enacted!

15. Bengal wins Ranji Trophy - 1990

If Duckworth-Lewis tests your sanity, you probably have not dared unraveling the "quotient" formula used in Ranji Trophy till early 90s. But a sharp Arun Lal surely did, the final was played in Eden Gardens and "mysteriously" the pitch was wet in the morning (without any overnight rains) to delay the match exactly to the point where Bengal would be favorably placed on "quotient". We did not exactly win it as much as we made Delhi - with three national members in team - to lose, but we did it almost after half-a-century.

Bengali parents quickly put "Cricket Coaching Camp" in the to-do list of the children, along with Rabindra Sangeet, Recitation, Bharata Natyam (if girl), Math tuition (if boy), NCC, Boy Scout Camp, Swimming at Lake Club and other very important things outside school.

16. Bakulbagan er Durga Puja - Continues since 80s

The idol typically 'made' by a popular art-director (Gautam Basu) or painter (Bikash Bhattacharya) or sculptor (Mira Mukherjee) or fashion-designer (Sarbari) or sketch-artist (Rathin Mitra) ; the pandal typically displaying true Bengali artwork of Dokra, Kantha, Pata, Terracotta etc - this was the reason to start "Sharod Somman". This is a puja that even a snooty "bong" cannot refuse visiting year after year.

17. Tram Company (CTC) starts running Bus - 1992

Running at huge loss, CTC starts running buses without laying off a single employee. The buses were - surprisingly - on time, brand new compared to the 30-year old ill-maintained 8-Bs, and would not wait endlessly at the stops to pack as many people as they can.

18. Prannoy Roy - Since 1988

What Mithun did to "bong" Hindi, Prannoy Roy did it to our English. Friday nights were all about eagerly waiting to see Prannoy Roy - inside Delhi studio - talking to an overcoat clad Appan Menon in Red Square standing next to Russian tanks!

We went back to school and was not so impressed by our English teacher's accent anymore.

Prannoy also got us hooked to the mammoth telecast of election results - interspersed with movies like "Do Bhai" - running over 2 days in early 90s.

We still want to know how you can look so impartial Prannoy!

19. Pranab-babu - Since forever

Indira Gandhi apparently advised him to always keep a pipe in his mouth -- to keep it shut. He is one of the last "bhadralok" old-school politicians, never been(blatantly) involved in any scandal, and always been relied on by any prime-minister. He is probably the only leading politician who (almost) never won a people's vote and who has never been bitterly attacked by any of his rivals.

His English accent is not really like Prannoy Roy's - but it reminds us of our dad, or of a close uncle. It's difficult to hate him.

20. "Chokher Bali" - 2003

Rabindranath-Rituparno-Aishwarya- and a forbidden triangular love with enough hint of an activity Bengalis are so sensitive about. "Madam Bovary" becomes a widow without bra.

21. Cleaning Poll Graphiti off the walls - 2005

Who knew a vague"West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976" would clean up our walls of ungainly political
campaigns! But, like the noisy fireworks thing, this one worked too.

Now, can someone please clean up the beetle stains?

22. Bollywood " Bong-Shells" - 200X

We had a plump but cute Moushumi Chatterjee in 70s leered on by Lalaji in Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. We even had an out-of-the-world classic bong beauty sporting bikini in 60s, but our lasses - on average - were never really known for sharp curves in Bollywood. Every babe we sent near Arabian Sea after 1990s sizzles. No one needs to send a middle-aged paunchy laala to pounce upon the hapless beauty to titillate the audience anymore. Present day bevy of babes rather keep hunting for hunks strutting their stuff in undersized undergarments.

The jaw-dropping doesn't necessarily require them to act, however. Sushmita Sen, Rimi Sen, Reema Sen, Riya Sen (carrying on legacy of her mother), Koena Mitra, Bipasha Basu, Celina Jaitley etc are cozily riding their precious first class coupe while Rakhee Sawants and Mallika Sherawaats are fighting for a seat in the unreserved compartment!

23. Visitors - Derrida etc - Various

Our lives will be meaningless without listening to the Hungarian director at the Calcutta Film Festival. Derri-da caused so much amusement while waiting at the long serpentine Book Fair queues.

Russian delegates from Communist Party apparently were puzzled seeing the huge crowd waiting to see them. One reportedly commented - "We led a revolution, but never seen such a big crowd". Recent visitor hero Hugo Chavez caused more people to assemble than in Rabindranath's funeral procession!

Who else would dare call Pope John Paul II - "Poltu-da" - on his only visit to the city of joy?

24. Subhas Dutta - 200o onwards

Probably the only bald in the list, but he deserves a standing ovation for actually pursuing the cause of environment. If you ever take a dip at Babughat - and still be alive - you have to thank this man!

Despite our love for Bookfair - and Benfish - we did not lynch this guy when he singlehandedly made the Bookfair to move out of Calcutta Maidan quantifying the enormous air pollution it causes near the lung of the city.

We hope this man would launch crusade against the ridiculous move to demolish Calcutta Race Course and build a - guess what- mall there!

25. Mother Teresa - 1997

Easiest entry in the list. The only surefire way to let people ("foreigners") know exactly which city you're coming from is to take this name.

26. Steve Waugh - 2000s

We relish the fact that our Maharaj made Him - the skipper of Australian Cricket team - wait at the toss. Despite that, and despite losing the 'last frontier' in this very city, this man has consistently been doing nice work much to the line of the person noted just above this entry. Kudos mate!

27. Kona Expressway - 2002

The new town Rajarhat expressway is merely cosmetic to attract the NRI money to nearby real estates. This four-lane expressway truly made an impact on many people's lives. A city dweller now can actually drive his car to Shankarpur beaches and enjoy the ride.

28. Binoy Chowdhury - 2003

Perhaps the closest to the Bengali definition of a "Hero" in this list, Chowdhury was honest, patient, humble, educated, capable and yet the least ambitious to always remain happy to be on the second spot. One last communist leader that probably everyone loves to admire.

29. Moonmoon Sen Kidnapping - 1983

One daring actress always ready to exhibit more than what her body could endure got "kidnapped" by two Marwadi "fans" from a crowded Park Street. Sen was later released "unharmed", apparently the kidnappers were smitten by her and just wanted her "autograph". However, this single event probably ruined the last chance many in our generation had to have healthy sexual feelings to the fairer sex.

Feminists, this event was included in "ups" because we must have at least one from the "tabloid quota". No?

30. Nalban - 1990s

Sector V - or its vicinity - today has one bowling alley, a few theme parks, a classy watering hole and several CMM Level 5 software companies. However, in the early 90s Nalban was probably the one of the three places in the city you could go with the girl-next-door eagerly waiting for her to put her sweaty palm on your's and still not be scared for a cop or local goon to arrive out of nowhere and embarrass you. If you gotten married to your childhood sweetheart, thank Nalban. If you're not, thank your next girlfriend!