Category Archives: NRI’s / PIO’s

Doc with city roots a star author in Britain


Who is Rangan Chaterjee and why has he suddenly become just about the most famous doctor in Britain – a bit of a heart throb, actually?

For starters, Chatterjee, son of a doctor, Tarun Chatterjee, who came to England from Calcutta in the 1960s, has written a book, The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life, which is now No. 1 on Amazon UK.

“I am a Bengali boy and this book will have special appeal for Bengalis who tend to eat late at night,” Chatterjee told The Telegraph, as he remembered frequent Calcutta holidays at his father’s home in Shyambazar and his mother Bandana’s in Chetla.

Chatterjee, who has been interviewed by BBC News, The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and elsewhere, appears to have struck a chord by focusing “on finding the root cause of diseases and helping my patients make their illnesses disappear”.

“The handsome 40-year-old father-of-two, star of BBC One’s Doctor in the House, is at the forefront of a new generation of social-media-savvy medics,” wrote one interviewer about the 6ft 6in tall doctor who lives in Wilmslow, Cheshire, with his Gujarati wife, Vidhaata, a criminal barrister, and their children, aged seven and five.

Based on his “experiences serving as a doctor for nearly 20 years”, Chatterjee, MBChB, BSc (Hons), MRCP, MRCGP, says that his “book goes beyond the sort of health advice we’ve all been reading about for so long – beyond the fad diets and the quick fix exercise programmes”.

His plan has been endorsed by, among others. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who believes “Rangan’s easy, common-sense plan can help everyone live a happier, healthier life”.

Two events have shaped Chatterjee’s life – one was caring for his father who died five years ago. He was a consultant at Manchester Royal Infirmary, “a first-generation immigrant, who worked and worked and worked”.

Even more traumatic was the near death of his infant son who was diagnosed with “an easily rectified calcium deficiency”.

With a sensible diet, exercise and meditation, Chatterjee says: “I have routinely helped my patients reverse type 2 diabetes; eliminate irritable bowel syndrome; lower blood pressure without drugs; reduce menopausal symptoms naturally; sleep better and regain their energy; regain control of their autoimmune conditions; restore harmony to their circadian rhythms; add life to their years, as well as years to their life.”

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcutta / by Amit Roy / January 03rd, 2018

Gratitude to genius behind Boson

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute to S.N. Bose (below) on his 125th birth anniversary
via video-conferencing from New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)


Physics was his calling but he could play a complex classical raga on the esraj with as much dexterity as he could read out a French novel in impromptu English translation.

Stories highlighting the multifaceted genius of Satyendra Nath Bose, after whom the Boson particle is named, on Monday filled the curtain-raiser to a yearlong commemoration of his 125th birth anniversary.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the event from Delhi through video-conferencing, reminding the audience at the SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences in Salt Lake that “just as a quantum particle does not exist in isolation, we should also get out of isolation”.

Modi said the scientific ecosystem needed to connect with innovators, entrepreneurs and technocrats to work on artificial intelligence, big data analytics, machine learning, genomics and electrical vehicles. “These are some of the rising technologies on which we need to get ahead,” he pointed out, holding up Bose as the inspiration to test new frontiers.

Born on January 1, 1894, Bose had collaborated with Albert Einstein to create what came to be called the “Bose-Einstein Condensation”. Physicist and author Partha Ghose, who did his PhD under Bose, recounted one among many instances of how humble he could be despite his brilliance.

“He was in a reflective mood one day and spoke about the ‘photon spin’ aspect in his derivation of Planck’s law. But then, with a mischievous smile, he said, “But the old man (Einstein) struck it off”.

Ghose said the anecdote left him flabbergasted because Nobel laureate C.V. Raman’s research later vindicated Bose’s derivation.

“When I asked him why he didn’t claim credit for his discovery, he said, ” Ki ba eshe gelo? Ke baar korechhilo tatey ki eshe jaye? Baar to hoyechhilo (How does it matter? Who discovered it is not the main thing, is it? At least it was discovered)’,” he reminisced.

Planck’s law is the basis of quantum theory.

In his speech, the Prime Minister said many Nobel prizes had been won for work based on Bose’s research.

Union science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan also paid tribute to Bose.

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcutta / by Anasuya Basu / January 02nd, 2018

City girl on a roll in New York

An outlet of The Kati Roll Company, which has branches in New York and London


The Calcutta girl who makes “the next best wrap after Pashmina” rolled out her sixth kati roll shop in New York in November and has another one lined up in March.

Payal Saha, who comes from a music family that runs Hindusthan Records of 1932 vintage, has five stores serving up kati rolls in Manhattan New York , where she is based, and a solo near Oxford Street in London.

The newest store of The Kati Roll Company opened at Grand Central in New York and the earlier ones are at Greenwich Village, East Village, Midtown West and Midtown East.

Daughter of a college professor and an entrepreneur, Payal perhaps had it in her blood to excel in business. Both her grandfathers were entrepreneurs, she said over an email chat from New York.

Payal’s paternal grandfather founded Hindusthan Records after training in Germany. “He travelled through India looking for regional content from the brothels of Varanasi, recording recitals by baijis to Bade Ghulam Ali and Debabrata Biswas,” she said. The Akrur Dutta Lane studio of Hindusthan Records was inaugurated by Tagore where he also recorded his songs.

Payal Saha

Her maternal grandfather jumped ship on Staten Island as an illegal immigrant in NYC and went on to become a chemical engineer from New York University before returning to Calcutta to open a paint factory.

The first store of Kati Roll Company opened in 2002 and soon became a raging trend for “fast casual dining” in New York. It has been widely covered in the American and London press, including The New York Times and BBC America. “After 15 years we still have snaking queues and on weekend nights we need bouncers to manage the rush. Last year, we sold over a million rolls,” Payal said. The bestseller: Chicken Tikka Roll with Achari Paneer a close second.

The decor at her stores is very street and Bollywood with film posters and a rugged charm.

Payal studied at Loreto House before moving to Lawrence School in Ooty for her PLus II and Jesus and Mary College in New Delhi for her graduation. She left for New York in 2000. “My husband (Anil Bathwal) was working in advertising and found a job in New York,” she said.

While Payal missed her Calcutta food, it was the kati roll that she most yearned for. Her personal favourite: Golden Spoon on Middleton Row near her school. “I also like the rolls at Stop and Go near Ballygunge Phanri,” she added.

Soon, Payal started experimenting with recipes and came up with The Kati Roll Company. On her next visit to Calcutta, she visited as many roll shops as she could – from Anamika in New Alipore to Badshah in New Market. She also gained some hands-on experience at a kati roll shop run by a Bengali in Mumbai. “I was determined to make it taste like the best of Calcutta rolls, if not better,” she said.

In the early days, Payal made everything on her own, with just one helper. “We would grind the spices, make the parathas and marinate the fillings. It was a lot of work.”

With several shops under her wings, operations stabilised and a baby to take care of, she now depends more on her “capable managers”.

The core menu is authentic kati roll but for healthy eating, she offers chapatti instead of paratha. Recently, Payal started a line of flavoured lassi with organic yogurt. Mango Lassi and Mishti Doi Lassi made with patali gur are among the top picks.

Her one earnest wish: Bengal should apply for a GI tag for the kati roll.

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcutta / by Anusuya Basu / January 02nd, 2018

Docspeak on Hepatitis cure 12 weeks for treatment


Hepatitis C is now curable with 12 weeks of treatment and the chances of developing liver cancer from Hepatitis B has gone down, a professor of medicine from Weill Cornell Medicine said here on Saturday.

The most common liver disease in the world now is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that can develop because of obesity, excess fat and genetic factors, Patrick Basu said.

“There are medicines that can cure Hepatitis C in 12 weeks. Vaccines can reduce the chances of development of cancer from Hepatitis B. There is a lot of advancement in treatment of hepatitis,” Basu told Metro.

Basu was in Calcutta to speak at a seminar for doctors at the Belle Vue Clinic.

Both Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B are viral infections.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus and modes of infection include unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products, according to the World Health Organisation.

Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening liver infection. The Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.

When non-alcoholic fatty liver disease worsens, it can cause cirrhosis, a doctor said. It is possible to reduce the amount of fat in liver if detected early. Ideally, the liver should have no or little fat, he said.

Arun Sen, a professor in the Texas A&M University, spoke of the benefits of telemedicine in Bengal where doctors are few in rural areas.

Saurabh Kole, in-charge of Belle Vue’s intensive care unit, said the hospital was trying to create an organised platform of doctors for telemedicine in the state.

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcutta / by Staff Reporter / December 24th, 2017

Suriname envoy at Kolkata ghat from where ancestors set sail

Kolkata :

On February 26, 1873, sailship Lalla Rookh set off from what is now known as Suriname Ghat with 410 passengers on board. Nearly all of them were from places that are now in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The men and women had been recruited as ‘coolies’ or indentured labourers by the Dutch who owned sugarcane plantations in Suriname. The ship docked at Paramaribo on June 5 with 279 men, 70 women and 50 children. Eleven did not survive the voyage. In the years that followed, 63 more ships left Kolkata port for Suriname.

Nearly 145 years later, a descendant of one of the 34,304 Indian labourers who were transported to a distant land in the northern tip of South America returned to the very ghat from where her ancestor had set sail and survived the arduous journey. It was a poignant moment for Aashna Kanhai, the Surinamese ambassador to India, as she stood at ‘Mai Baap’ Memorial on Suriname Ghat and looked at the shimmering waters of the Hooghly.

“Today, there are 170,000 people of Indian origin in Suriname (the total population is 558,368). There are also 200,000 of them in Holland who decided to leave Suriname when the country became independent 42 years ago,” said Kanhai as she folded her palms in a namaskaar in front of the Mai Baap Memorial.

Surinam ambassador in India Aashna Kanhai, Union minister of state for external affairs M J Akbar, Netherlands ambassador in India Alphonsus Stoelinga and Kolkata Port Trust chairman Vinit Kumar at the unveiling of the plaque at Mai Baap Memorial in Surinam Ghat, Garden Reach on Saturday. photo by – Avik Purkait

The occasion that had brought Kanhai to Kolkata was Suriname Day. “My ancestors must have stood here for the last time before leaving India forever. The men carried two dhotis and two kurtas each. The women carried two saris each. Apart from this, some carried religious books like the Ramayana, Mahabharata or Quran,” Kanhai said, her voice choked with emotion.

Aashna Kanhai, the Surinamese ambassador to India, celebrated Suriname Day on the banks of Hooghly on Saturday, accompanied by minister of state for external affairs MJ Akbar, who unveiled a plaque at the Mai Baap Memorial on Suriname Ghat.

The memorial comprises a sculpture of a man and a woman, each carrying a potli, to commemorate the landing of Indian labourers at Paramaribo. The original sculpture is in Paramaribo and its replica was inaugurated in Kolkata in 2015.

Her great grandmother’s father was among the indentured labourers who landed in Suriname. During an earlier visit to Kolkata, she had heard the name Bhawanipore and it rang a bell. “I recalled that my ancestors were kept at the Bhawanipore Depot before they boarded the ship,” Kanhai added.

Initially, the transport and living conditions of Indian labourers in Suriname was worse than it had been prior to the abolition of the Dutch slave trade. Many died during the journey.

But why did the Dutch planters require Indian labourers? “In 1863, slavery was abolished by the Dutch and they entered into an agreement with the East India Company to recruit labourers from India to work in the sugarcane plantations in Suriname. Men, known as Arkatias were sent out to recruit people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They entered into a five-year contract and came to be known as the Contrakees or Agreemanees. They were to receive 25-pence a week for their labour but payment was often delayed. Of the 34,000-odd Indians who reached Suriname, 65% stayed back. Indentured labour was finally abolished 100 years ago in 1917,” the Surinamese ambassador said.

During the event, videos of renditions by Surinamese singer Raj Mohan were screened. In a Bhojpuri song, the singer brought out the feelings of a ‘coolie’ after he realized that he had been cheated. The second song by Mohan was Tagore’s Ami Chini Go Chini Tomarey, Ogo Bideshini. Kanhai, who speaks fluent Bhojpuri, said that the only Bengali she knows is the Rabindrasangeet which is extremely popular in Suriname.”That one stanza of the Bhojpuri song says it all. It reveals how the labourers from India had gone to Suriname with plans to return after five years with small fortunes. Once there, they realized that they were cheated. They were taken there as replacement slaves. Such was colonialism. They just played with words to make things sound better. The Hooghly wasn’t a river of hope. It was a river of no return. The peasants left their lands in the first place because of the huge taxation imposed by the colonial government in India. They had no surplus during lean seasons. Through such programmes, we celebrate the resilience of human spirit,” Akbar said.

While Dutch ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga recounted how his country shared a piece of history with India and Suriname, Kolkata Port Trust chairman Vinit Kumar said there are plans to improve the surroundings of the memorial. “The first labour ship to leave Kolkata for the Mauritius was in 1834. Later, ships left for several countries. We have plans to organize heritage tours to the Suriname Ghat and create a larger indenture memorial. We shall also upgrade the surroundings,” Kumar said.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Jayanta Gupta / TNN / November 26th, 2017

Kolkata Chinese makes it big with Tangra-style food in London

Kolkata :

Kolkata-born Chinese who took Tangra-style cuisine to London is planning to leverage the popularity of the Indo-Chinese food that he serves at his restaurant in Harrow to start a chain across UK.

Steven Lee, whose father had migrated to India in the 1940s from Guangdong province in China, was born in Kolkata in 1971 and grew up in Tangra, the Chinatown that once housed tanneries that have now been converted to restaurants.

Like most Chinese living in Kolkata, Lee had bland Chinese food at home. But it was the spicy Indian-Chinese served in Chinese restaurants that he loved.

“Indo-Chinese food is a Tangra creation that is now a worldwide sensation. This fusion is unique on its own and loved by foodies all over. It is different because this fusion is prepared by using Indian ingredients while still accepting the Chinese cooking technique,” explained Lee, who started Indo-Chinese kitchen bar Hakkaland named after the Tangra’s Hakka community.

While Lee left Kolkata to work in at China Garden — a popular Chinese restaurant by Nelson Wang in Mumbai — nearly 20 years ago, he still visits his relatives in Kolkata annually during the Chinese New Year.

Around 17 years ago, celebrity chef Udit Sakhel invited him to London to work at his restaurant Dalchini. There, Lee used his experience and knowledge of Tangra-type Chinese to introduced Indo-Chinese food. “I infused many new dishes to this fusion and Asian taste which was widely accepted in the UK and the restaurant was a huge success in early 2000s. “Keeping the multi-cultural diversity of UK in mind, I introduced Hakka Chicken, Ginger Chicken, Fish Pepper Salt, Tai Pai Paneer, Soya Chilli and a lot more,” Lee recounted.

After working for Dalchini at Wimbledon, Spice n Ice at Croydon and Bombay Wok at Hounslow, Lee teamed up with partners to launch Hakkaland a year ago. During Durga Puja, Lee’s restaurant served to Bengali patrons at the Ealing Town Hall.

Encouraged by the customer response, Lee now plans to make Hakkaland UK’s first Indo-Chinese restaurant chain with joints in Manchester, East London, Leeds, Lecister and Birmingham. Lee isn’t sure yet but if things go his way, he even has eyes on bringing his brand home to where it all started, Tangra.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Subhro Niyogi / TNN / November 20th, 2017

The Indian in the Yasukuni Shrine

Plaque in Yasukuni Shrine, northwest of Tokyo’s imperial palace, features a large black and white photograph of an Indian judge: Radha Binod Pal (1886-1967).

To the northwest of Tokyo’s imperial palace, the Yasukuni Shrine is a 148-year old complex of memorials and cherry tree-dotted grounds, commemorating those who died in the service of Japan between 1869 and 1947.

It has emerged as the symbol of Japan’s fraught relations with its neighbouring countries and its own uncomfortable relationship with its Second World War history. Among the two million people buried there are 1,068 convicted war criminals. Fourteen of these are categorised as ‘Class A’ criminals, found guilty of a special category of “crimes against peace and humanity” by the 11-member team of justices from Allied countries that made up the 1946 Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Visits to Yasukuni by senior Japanese politicians are viewed by neighbouring countries, in particular China and South Korea, as provocations, tantamount to a denial of war crimes. Japanese nationalists believe Yasukuni visits to be a justified exercise of sovereignty, indicating a moving on from what they consider to be an overly apologetic stance to the war. On the day this correspondent visited, there were scant traces of these bitter recriminations. A series of memorials dedicated to military horses, pigeon carriers and dogs charmed camera-wielding tourists. But the plaque attracting the tightest knots of visitors featured a large black and white photograph of an Indian judge: Radha Binod Pal.

In Japan, this Bengali jurist elicits the kind of recognition and reverence that other countries reserve for the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Biographical mini series about the judge are aired on Japanese TV, memorials to him have been erected in Tokyo and Kyoto, and books debating his legacy are published every few years. The average Indian would be hard-pressed to identify Justice Pal at all. Until the war, he was best known for his contributions to the Indian Income Tax Act, 1922. His international profile comes from his participation in, and eventual dissent from, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Twenty-five of Japan’s top wartime leaders were convicted by the tribunal of the new category of ‘Class A’ charges. Going against the grain of Allied judgment, Pal issued a 1,235-page dissent in which he rejected the creation of the ‘Class A’ category as ex post facto law. He further slammed the trials as the “sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge”. And he argued that the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should also be counted as major war crimes.

Procedural flaws

The Indian judge tends to be valorised by Japanese nationalists and historical revisionists who seek to deny Japan’s wartime culpability. But in fact the jurist did not absolve Japan. His intention was rather to highlight the flaws in the legal process of the trial. Since all the judges were appointed by victor nations, the Indian justice thought the trial to be biased and motivated by revenge.

In his 2007 book on Pal, Takashi Nakajima, an Associate Professor at Hokkaido University’s Public Policy School, criticises right-wing supporters of Pal for relying on out-of-context quotes from the dissenting judgment. Pal’s dissent ran to a quarter of a million words, but Prof. Nakajima says that only a handful of quotes tend to be used by historical revisionists as ballast for their agenda.

Back at the shrine, a Japanese tourist gazed at the Pal memorial, silently mouthing the words written on the plaque: “When Time shall have softened passion and prejudice… then Justice, holding evenly her scales, will require much of past censure and praise to change places.”

(Pallavi Aiyar is an author and journalist based in Tokyo)

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Tokyo Despatch – International / Pallavi Aiyar / November 18th, 2017

Policing feather in city girl cap

Millie Banerjee


Calcutta-born Millie Banerjee has been appointed the new chairman of the UK’s College of Policing.

Actually, she has been interim chairman since November last year so her appointment was today made permanent by the home secretary, Amber Rudd.

“Working with Millie over the last year I have been impressed by the insight she brings from her time leading other public and commercial organisations, including the British Transport Police,” Rudd said on Thursday.

Millie’s responsibilities are highly sensitive – keep an eye on “standards in policing” across the 43 police forces in England and Wales; developing knowledge and “what works”; and assisting with education and career development.

It is possible she will want to exchange notes on policing in Calcutta.

“Millie” is really her nickname but it has come to stay as she has become part of the great and good in Britain. She was born Urmila Ray-Chaudhuri in Calcutta on June 30, 1946, and is friendly with a number of prominent figures in the city, among them the physicist Bikash Sinha.

Millie, who was honoured with a CBE on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2002 and was High Sheriff of Greater London in 2012-13, was chairman of the British Transport Police Authority for seven years and spent 30 years in the telecommunications and satellite industries. This included 25 years with BT in senior positions.

She is currently the chairman of NHS Blood and Transplant and a board member of East London NHS Foundation Trust.

Reacting to her confirmation, Millie said: “I have spent many years in policing and it has been a privilege to witness the dedication and compassion of officers and staff to protect the public. This is evident when I see that public approval for police has remained high despite officers and staff being faced with ever more complex crime, a reduced workforce and greater demand.

“We are dedicated to providing access to the best knowledge and skills which sits behind the bravery, dedication and compassion shown by police on a daily basis. We have ambitious plans ahead and I intend on working with people across policing to continue building a professional body that supports all officers and staff.”

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcuttu / by Amit Roy / November 17th, 2017

Meet Miss Japan who is also half-Bengali!

For the world she is Priyanka Yoshikawa -Miss World Japan 2016.

But those close to her know her as Priyanka Yoshikawa Ghosh.

Born to a Bengali father and Japanese mother, she is the first woman from a multi-racial background to have won the pageant in Japan. But Priyanka’s journey was far from easy .

When she broke the glass ceiling, there were some who questioned why the title was not bestowed upon a `pure’ Japanese, but Priyanka found support in her nation and also in India, where she has her roots.

On a whirlwind tour to Kolkata where she attended a dinner hosted in her honour by Masayuki Taga, Consul General of Japan in Kolkata, Priyanka spoke to us about the backlash and support, tracing back her roots and why her family doesn’t discuss Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, her greatgrandfather and Bengal’s first chief minister, over dinner.


Is this your first trip to Kolkata since you won Miss World Japan in 2016?

Yes. But I have been to the city quite a few times before that. I lived here when I was nine years old. That was for a year. I also studied in a school here. Even before that, I have been to the city when I was two or three, but I don’t have memories of those visits. Another long visit was five years ago, when I was 18. That time, I stayed here for a month. My father is Bengali and our extended family lives here. My connection with Bengal was established with my birth though I was not born here.During the one year I was here, I explored my father’s country and got to understand my roots.

On this visit for a day, did you get to meet your relatives living in Kolkata?

My father comes from a big family and he has many siblings. My uncle and aunt live in Kolkata.Some of my cousins are still here, but many got married and live abroad. Whenever I am in Kolkata, I visit them. I came on Sunday midnight and on Monday , I visited Mother House and later, went to a doctors’ meet. Though I was not in Kolkata on work, I am the brand ambassador of a charitable foundation, and ended up doing some meaningful work. I wanted to visit Kolkata ever since my win, but it was hard to get a vacation. Then, I got a few days off and came here on my way to Guwahati.

After you became Miss World Japan 2016, the first contestant from a multi-racial background to do so, you spoke about drawing inspiration from Ariana Miyamoto, born to a Japanese mother and African-American father, who won the Miss Universe Japan 2015. She had to endure racial backlash for being a hafu (a person with a non-Japanese parent), but since she set a precedent just the previous year, was it easier for you?

To be honest, Ariana was not exactly my inspiration. We participated in different pageants. I followed my own dreams, but I have tremendous respect for her.I didn’t know her before I won, but we became good friends after winning the title. I didn’t hear stories about her trials and tribulations, but she made it big as the first hafu to win a pageant in Japan. She had to face racial backlash as she was the first and people were not used to it. For me, I was the first for Miss World in the nation. Nothing has been easy even though Ariana won the previous year. I got good media coverage and though some people questioned my win, it never affected me. I was confident and was concen trating on the international pag eant where I made a mark after 60 years. During the pageant, there was no social media back lash, but after the win, some questioned why the title was not awarded to a `pure’ Japanese. I got a lot of support too. Messages came trickling in from hafus living in Japan, and also from Indian citizens. When you get such strong support, it gives you more confidence. I am proud to have an Indian in me, but that doesn’t mean I am not Japanese.

What were the celebrations like in India?

My relatives messaged me. My first cousins are very close to me. I call them didi. One of my didis lives in the US and she was a great support during the inter national pageant. She is eight nine years older than me and she and everyone else was happy about the win.

What was the homecoming like this time around?

I was excited as I was meeting everybody after five years.Visiting home and meeting my aunt, uncle, nephews was quite something. Though they are all in touch with me, talking to them on social media is different from meeting them. I got to eat Bengali food. I was looking forward to tasting some homecooked Indian food. I often crave for white chicken, which is perhaps called doi chicken. And I love phuchkas though I missed it this time. I was in Mumbai and had panipuris there, but it’s different from having phuchkas in Kolkata.

How did you learn to speak so fluently in Bangla?

I studied Bengali in school, but I picked it up naturally as everyone speaks Bengali around me in my family .

Your great-grandfather Prafulla Chandra Ghosh was the first chief minister of Bengal. You must have heard many stories about him from your father?

He was my great-grandfather, but I didn’t meet him. My father did tell me stories about him but only at times. I never really asked questions about him.Everybody in our family knows about him, but we don’t discuss him over dinner.

An elephant trainer, are you visiting Guwahati for a purpose?

My Guwahati trip is all about wild elephant conservation and nature conservation.

You have keen interest in Bengali movies…

I remember having seen The Japanese Wife and some others that I watched on flights. I can’t read or write in Bengali though I can speak the language. It’s sad that not many Bengali films can be found in Japan, though Bollywood movies -sometimes three years old -travel to the country . I love to watch them. I have grown up watching Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Kajol. Kajol is one of my favourite actresses.

Should you foray into Bengali films if an offer comes your way?

Yes, why not! I would also love to do something with films in India, maybe bring them to Japan… There are many takers for Indian films in Japan and I am sure a lot of people here are waiting to watching Japanese films. If I can bridge the gap, I will be the happiest.

source: / The Times of India / Home> News> City News> Kolkata News / by Zinia Sen / TN / November 02nd, 2017

SOCIETY – The diaspora men

Newly arrived indentured labourers from India in Trinidad. | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

In 1834, 36 impoverished men from Bihar and Bengal set sail for Mauritius to work as indentured labour. Over the next 80 years, more than two million people would travel to some 20 European colonies, the first of a global Indian diaspora, before indentured labour was abolished 100 years ago

When the British abolished slavery in 1834, they populated their plantations with indentured labour from India, launching the biggest international movement of workers after the notorious ‘middle passage’. In 80 years, more than two million Indian labourers were transported to about 20 British colonies before it was stopped in 1917 under intense pressure from Indian abolitionists. This year marks the centenary of the abolition of indentured labour.

Kalachand was on the verge of collapse when Champa, a fellow tribesman from the hills of Hazaribagh, came looking for him that fateful September evening in 1834. Champa too looked starved, but his eyes held a glint of excitement.

“Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you since noon. Didn’t I tell you god is great? We are going to escape this wretched life,” he said.

Kalachand didn’t say a word in response. All he wanted was to eat something. He hadn’t had a proper meal for three days now.

Champa too, and many others, had not eaten the past few days, but he suddenly seemed to have found some energy. Standing on the slushy banks of the Hooghly, he pointed to the Kidderpore depot and said, “This will save us.”

All Kalachand could see was a long shed and some small sail-ships at a distance. “Are we going somewhere,” he asked. “Tapu,” said Champa.

“Come, let’s eat something, I am starving,” he said. “Money?” Kalachand asked. “Don’t worry, I have some,” he said. He didn’t tell Kalachand it was the same Ghulam Ali, who had promised road work in Calcutta for ₹5 a month, who was now promising a brighter future.

Back in his shanty in Howrah, Kalachand found Bachu, Chuniram, Budhu, Bhola, Chota Bandhu and other friends from Bihar, Burdwan and Bankura, preparing to leave. Champa had sold them the hope of a better life on a faraway island working in British-owned sugarcane plantations. They would have legal contracts, medical help, and plenty of money to save for the future. In five years, they could come back and start a new life.

New lives, new names

The next day, September 10, Kalachand and 35 others put their thumbprints on a paper for a contract with George Charles Arbuthnot of Hunter Arbuthnot & Company. It was read out to them by a magistrate at the Calcutta police headquarters. On the contract, their names were written in English exactly the way the white men pronounced them.

Kalachand became Callachand, Champa became Champah, Bachu became Bachoo, Chuniram became Chooneeram, and Chota Bandhu became Chota Bundhoo. Most of their names had “ee”, “oo” and “ah”. It would be repeated a few million times in the next 100 years, changing Indian names to strange-sounding new variations.

After a medical examination and a five-day wait in a barrack in Bhowanipore, the men were finally herded onto a boat on the Hooghly that took them to a medium-sized sail-ship called Atlas. They were led to the lower deck while the dock workers loaded a big cargo of rice. In a few hours, the ship was heading towards the Indian Ocean. Its destination: Mauritius, the once uninhabited island off the southeast coast of Africa, discovered by the Portuguese in the 14th century and colonised by the Dutch, the French, and finally the British.

The tiny land of forests and hills, originally occupied only by dodos, rats and locusts, now had a flourishing plantocracy that desperately needed cheap labour. The abolition of slavery that year was threatening the survival of the sugarcane plantations. The planters needed workers by the thousands or faced bankruptcy. The only source of cheap labour they could think of was India, poor, overpopulated, and with millions from oppressed castes.

For the 36 men cooped up in the Atlas, it was a desperate, uncertain voyage to escape poverty and oppression. What they didn’t realise was that they were making history by launching the biggest movement of labourers in the world after the ‘middle passage’, laying the foundation for a global Indian diaspora.

50 days later

Over the next eight decades, more than two million Indians would travel to about 20 European colonies. A large number would die in transit, many would return to India, but the majority would remain, building vibrant Indian communities and sometimes even changing forever the demographies and socio-cultural and political histories of the colonies.

After 48 arduous days at sea and two days aboard the ship just off the shore, Kalachand and the other men set foot in Port Louis and walked up 16 stone steps carved at the harbour before they were processed and sent to the sugarcane estates. In the following years, till the turn of the next century, about half a million more Indians would climb up this flight.

Those steps, like those at Ellis Island near Manhattan that millions of immigrants to America passed through, would go on to become an iconic symbol of the history of Mauritius, and the incredible story of indentured Indian labourers across the world.

Kalachand and the others were the uninformed first participants of a ‘Great Experiment’ that the British had come up with to substitute slave labour and safeguard their commercial interests. If slaves had been hunted down and sold to the British and other Europeans, the new scheme used a method called indenture, which in simple terms meant a written contract signed by a person to work for another person or company for a fixed tenure and sum of money.

Compared to “slave” labour, indenture was projected as “free” labour, even though the workers were bonded by contract for five years under harsh conditions. ‘Double-cut’, for instance, would dock two days’ pay for a day’s absence from work.

The workers could not easily move outside their estates. If caught without their ‘immigration ticket’, they were jailed for ‘vagrancy’. The colonisers wanted to appear morally right without losing profits, but what they had surreptitiously laid out was “a new system of slavery”, as Hugh Tinker would call it in his seminal book in 1974. (A New System of Slavery, Hugh Tinker, Oxford University Press, 1974)

They chose to stay

Although their contracts promised the workers a return passage to India after five years, a majority of them chose to stay back by obtaining a new indenture. Some did return to India, mostly empty-handed, but many went back with wives and children.

Following the Mauritian experiment, which in the next four years saw more than 24,000 Indians arriving in Port Louis (an average 500 people per month), ships carrying Indian ‘coolies’ from the ports of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay became a common maritime activity for the British.

Between 1838 and 1920, another half a million would go to the Caribbean islands and the Dutch-controlled Suriname (based on a convention on emigration signed between the governments of Netherlands and England in 1870.) By the turn of the 20th century, almost all the British colonies, from Sri Lanka to St. Kitts, had tens of thousands of Indian indentured labourers. A few thousand Indian men had been transported as slaves, lascars, artisans and labourers by European colonies during the slave-trade era, even before the ‘Great Experiment’. However, what makes the 1834 Atlas voyage historic and pioneering is that it was the first-ever lawful movement of indentured labourers in the world.

Although Kalachand and his 35 companions survived, many who arrived in subsequent trips, which had more people packed into small ships, didn’t. Infectious diseases, unsuitable food, and the stress of the journey killed them. Mortality often touched double figures.

But in the later years, with the introduction of faster ships, the mortality rates decreased even as the numbers of workers rose rapidly.

The early recruits endured slave-like working and living conditions, and many perished. The Mauritius Truth and Justice Commission in its 2011 report said: “The treatment meted out to the flow of Indian workers who came to Mauritius between 1834 and 1842 was very harsh. Their recruitment, transportation, housing and conditions of work left much to be desired. The condition of work was so appalling that the authorities decided to suspend further recruitment.”

Most of the early ones were tribal people (collectively called Dhangars) and from lower castes — they were the desperate ones who could be easily duped or even kidnapped. The same report shows the attitude of the planters towards the Dhangars: “They have no religion, no education, and, in their present state, no wants, beyond eating, drinking and sleeping; and to procure which, they are willing to labour.”

Tracing their footprints

Did Kalachand or any of the men who came with him die young? Probably yes, but they left no traceable footprints, melting into the sugarcane fields that seemed to have filled the entire island. With no women partners, they probably didn’t even leave any descendants. But some of the early ones did survive and lived long lives. Some, such as Harran, a Bihari from Calcutta, left a record of their life, including photographs, purely by chance. (Angaje, Volume 1, Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, 2012.)

Harran reached Mauritius in December 1836, and did multiple indentures without ever going home. He rose through the ranks, finally becoming an overseer. He was booked for ‘vagrancy’ twice and was photographed by the Immigration Depot for the first time aged 76. His photo, available in the Indian Immigration Archives of Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Mauritius, shows a nattily dressed labour-hardened man with a white beard who looks to have done well for himself.

The stories of Harran and some others, available in the archives, throw light on the early migrants who survived the neo-slavery. The details of the later migrants, particularly those who came in the late 19th century, are well documented.

In the Caribbean islands, migrants fared better because they started travelling late. Munshi Rahman Khan, who became a sort of legend in Indian indenture history for his unique autobiography, was one such. (Autobiography of An Indian Indentured Labourer, Shipra Publications, India, 2005.) Hailing from a village in Hamirpur in the United Provinces, he was a schoolteacher. On a visit to watch the Ramlila in Kanpur, he was lured by the “sugary talk” of two agents into a job in Suriname as a sardar or supervisor at a salary of 12 annas or ₹24 a month, unheard of in India at the time.

He left Calcutta in 1898, finished his five-year indenture, but chose to stay on as an agriculturist while also working as a sardar in railroad construction. He got married and bought a plot near the capital of Paramaribo. By the time he migrated, the reforms in indenture laws and land ownership and the falling sugar prices gave him a different life experience. His memoir is a rich source of history.

Workers to owners

In 1870, the planters were forced by falling prices and labour shortage into land parcelling or grand morcellement — selling small plots on the fringes of their estates to labourers. Many labourers thus became small planters. By the 20th century, there were 40,000 Indian planters who accounted for about 30% of the estates. Their descendants went on to become prime ministers and presidents, ministers, writers, academicians, artists, and businessmen. Nearly 70% of Mauritians are of Indian origin, and they dominate the island’s politics. In Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname, Indians constitute 40%, 51% and 35%, respectively, of the population.

Where are the women?

Indenture history and literature is dominated by the stories of men. But the Mauritius Immigration Office records (1853) [New System of Slavery, Hug Tinker, p-70] show that a handful of women too travelled in the early years like Deeti in Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. The very first woman immigrant to Mauritius, and possibly in indenture history, to be issued a number by the Mauritius immigration authorities was Rimoney from North Bihar in 1845. (Satyendra Peerthum, Le Mauricien, 3 November 2016) And what a story it is!

Rimoney, 30, was a widow with a 12-year-old son when she was recruited by an agent in Calcutta where she was struggling to make ends meet. She was literate and so got a job as shopkeeper in an estate while her son was enrolled as labourer. She worked for several years, and with her savings, bought some land to become a vegetable farmer who employed other immigrants and later expanded the business.

There were other women too who migrated under extraordinary situations despite the prevailing patriarchy in India. Gauitra Bahadur, an American journalist of Indian origin, explored the 1903 journey of her great-grandmother Sujaria from Majhi district in Bihar to Guiana, in the book Coolie Woman. Sujaria’s story is fascinating because she was single, pregnant and, above all, a Brahmin for whom crossing the seas was taboo.

By 1910, about 23% of the indentured Indians in Mauritius were women — sifting sugar, stirring the juice, maintaining the mills.

An imagined India

The most remarkable feature of the indenture phenomenon is the creation of a “coolie diaspora” more than a century before the present diaspora India prides itself on. Recruited mostly from the Bengal and Madras presidencies, and to some extent from the Bombay presidency, the labourers and their descendants preserved their culture and heritage in its original form and created an India of their imagination, from handed-down memories and later, from satellite TV and cinema. A poor Tamil woman selling flowers on a Durban street dreams of meeting Rajinikanth in his Chennai home. Women, including young urban girls, who’ve never seen India, wear salwar-kameez and bindis and perform Bharatanatyam.

Temples are prominent in the diaspora’s cultural heritage, whether in Mauritius, South Africa, Fiji or the Caribbean, and Shiva and Kali temples, and Amman, Subramanya and Venkateshwara temples dominate. Shivratri, Diwali, Thaipoosam and Kavadi are gala events, with some rituals likely to surprise even Indians for their adherence to detail.

In Mauritius, for instance, a huge crater-lake atop a secluded mountain has been made into their Ganga Talo, where they celebrate Shivratri with bells and incense and rituals, an astonishing recreation of a heritage that travelled with them when they left their homeland more than 100 years ago.

The 16 steps the emigrants climbed are now immortalised as the centrepiece of a Unesco World Heritage site called Aapravasi Ghat. The Ghat, the barracks and the immigration depot have been restored and converted into a living museum. In its cool interiors, exhibits and faces tell the story of the odyssey of generations of bonded labourers from a country more than 3,000 miles away, how they built a nation with their sweat and blood, and finally, how they owned it.

As Kalachand stood at the steps, Champa probably whispered to him that the tapu they had reached was Marich tapu, Mauritius, the centre of a new India they would soon build.

@pramodsarang is a journalist-turned-UN official-turned-online columnist who lives a semi-hermit life in Travancore and adores Sanjay Subrahmanyan.

source: / The Hindu / Home> Society / by G. Pramod Kumar / October 28th, 2017