Siliconeer: July 2001

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JULY 2001
Volume II •
Issue 7

Publisher's Note:

Our interest in information technology, in particular as it intersects with Indian Americans, is one of the central themes of our magazine. But our interest in science often casts a wider net.

One of the reasons is the realization at the back of our minds that the acute socio-economic challenges that India faces are hardly addressed by the information technology boom. The digital divide may have become a cliché from overuse, but it is nevertheless true.

This does not mean that we consider information technology irrelevant. It’s important, but at the same time, we are also keenly interested when we see the scientific method having a recognizable socio-economic impact.

That is the reason a Tamil Nadu social welfare organization’s innovative effort to address one of the most pressing problems in urban India is this issue’s cover story. Waste disposal is a daunting, expensive challenge even in the affluent West. In India, given lax civic controls, the situation is horrifying. Yet this Tamil organization has shown that by the simple expedient of using a natural technique, i.e. using earthworms, a major city problem can be tackled in a way that is environmentally sound as well as socially and economically advantageous.

Sometimes it is relatively simple ideas like these, rather than highfalutin expensive technology, that can offer significant social benefits.

The siren call of technology-intensive Western solutions tend to cast a powerful spell, and efforts like these are a useful reminder it is not just technology, but appropriate technology that can be most fruitful in tackling India’s formidable challenges, and social engagement is a key factor in making a difference.


Main Feature

From Garbage to Gold By Rinku Gupta

Vermi… what? Get used to the term, which means using earthworms to turn your garbage to high quality fertilizer, says Rinku Gupta, who writes about the tremendous response of a Chennai NGO which has tried to popularize the technique.

Chennai is not very different form your average Indian metropolis in one respect — the city is bursting in the seams with refuse and fights a losing battle to devise a cost effective technique to handle it.

So what’s your best guess about how to best tackle it? More dump trucks, landfill and million-dollar incinerators? Or contracting state-of-the-art waste management corporations in the West for an arm and a leg?

Actually it’s the lowly and let’s face it — yucky — earthworm which is turning out to be the real lifesaver. Vermicomposting could prove to be not only a lifesaver for the city about to get swamped in its garbage, but is also providing a tidy income for villagers in a fishing hamlet nearby.

Vermicomposting — yes, it’s a mouthful, but get used to the term — refers to the technique of using earthworms to transform biodegradable garbage into natural fertilizer.

Chennai non-governmental organization Guild of Service identified Pudukalpakkam, a fishing hamlet on the East Coast Road, to help women of the village there, who were mainly employed in fishing, a seasonal occupation that did not bring a regular income to support their families. “We decided to train these women in the art of vermicomposting on a trial basis,” says Saraswati Gopalkrishnan, honorary secretary of the project. “So we set up 10 pits in consultation with Dr. Sultan Ismail of New College, Chennai. The program became so successful that soon more women joined, bringing the total to 35. The Tamil Nadu Corporation for the Development of Women and the Tamil Nadu State Social Welfare Board decided to help us with funds to set up concrete pits, “ she continues. Says Devika Rani, project officer, “ So successful was the project that soon the women began clamoring for garbage and even began going to neighboring villages to obtain it. Each vermibed contained earthworms, cow-dung and bio-degradable waste which was all introduced in a phased manner and harvested in a period of 45 days. At the end of this period we had about 144 kg of rich, black, odorless vermicompost, ready to be sieved and cleaned before being packed and sent to our city office to be marketed and sold by us,” she continues enthusiastically.

Vermicomposting is the conversion of biodegradable garbage into a high quality chemical free bio-fertilizer with the aid of earthworms. Earthworms play a key role in soil biology by serving as versatile natural bioreactors to harness and destroy soil pathogens, thus converting organic wastes into valuable bio-fertilizers, vitamins, enzymes, growth hormones and proteinaceous worm biomass.

And these little critters can work their butts off. Generally speaking, 2 lbs. of earthworms will recycle 1 lb. of organic waste in 24 hours. In absolutely ideal conditions of comfort and ground up, moist food, the herd will recycle their own weight in wastes every 24 hours. And they breed faster than rabbits. Ten lbs. of earthworms can become over two tons in two years. Naturally this presupposes good living conditions and no loss of earthworms due to ingesting toxic materials.

The earthworm voraciously feeds on all biodegradable refuse such as leaves, paper (non-aromatic), kitchen waste, vegetable refuse and the like. It then burrows deep into the soil, positioning its castings towards the surface of the soil thereby enriching the soil with a pre-digested, easy to assimilate bio-fertilizer that is now rich with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. This soil also has the enhanced ability to absorb atmospheric moisture, helping in water economy and aeration.

Chemical fertilizers restrict the growth of soil microorganisms that are necessary for recycling nutrients. But vermicompost preserves the natural eco-system and helps in nature farming as a form of agriculture, which uses no chemicals for the growth of plants. Thus harvesting large amounts of garbage and turning it into vermicompost on a regular basis can free large areas of litter and also produce a bio-fertilizer that can be marketed and used in landscaping and farming, thus yielding a regular income.

The villagers in Pudukalpakkam were enthusiastic about it for good reason. Each woman makes at least Rs. 300 per month. Of course glass and plastics cannot be used, as they are not biodegradable. But the region is abundant in fish, and the women use fish waste extensively making the compost rich in vitamins, calcium and proteins.

And what’s happening in Tamil Nadu is peanuts compared to Maharashtra.

Since 1985 an organization in Maharashtra has prompted over 2,000 farmers and institutions to switch from conventional chemicals to vermicompost. Vermiculture — the harvesting of earthworms — has been the primary focus at Maharashtra Agricultural Bioteks in India, an organization which has initiated both commercial and educational ventures to promote vermiculture.

In 1985, Maharashtra Agricultural Bioteks was formed and it established a small plant to manufacture vermicompost from agricultural waste. Those involved believed that a successful commercial venture based on regenerative principles might convince others to adapt sustainable practices.

The organization currently produces 5,000 metric tons of vermicompost annually. Its real achievement, however, has been in raising awareness among farmers, researchers and policy makers in India about regenerative food production methods. The group is directly responsible for 2,000 farmers and horticulturists adopting vermicomposting. These converts have begun secondary dissemination of the principles they were taught.

In 1991-92, Maharashtra Bioteks and the federal Department of Science and Technology promoted the adoption of vermicompost technology in 13 states in India. The group has also established a vermicompost unit with Chitrakoot Gramodaya University, Madhya Pradesh, which produces five tons of vermicompost per month.

Nearly 1,000 farmers have reduces their use of chemical fertilizers by 90 percent by using vermicompost as a soil amendment for growing grapes, pomegranates and bananas. Similar work is underway on mangoes, cashews, coconuts, oranges, limes, strawberries and various vegetable crops.

The organization has devised methods to convert biodegradable industrial waste like pulp waste from paper mills and filter cake and liquid effluent from sugar factories into vermicompost. These wastes are commonly regarded as pollutants, but three facilities are already producing thirty tons of vermicompost each month from this waste.

The organization has also created a program which trains housewives and home gardeners to produce their own vermicompost from household and garden waste. The aim of this work is to increase awareness about regenerative practices. Vermicompost kits have been developed and distributed and in one year 100 housewives were trained to use the kits.

And don’t for a moment think this is just a low tech Third World technique. Get this: Japan imports 3,000 million metric tons of earthworms per annum for waste conversion. It’s caught on in the U.S. as well, particularly with the growth of organic farming. Sherrel Hall of the Alpine, Calif., vermiculture firm Environmental Recycling Systems told the U.S. News and World Report, “Worms are the missing link that makes sustainable agriculture a reality.”

The magazine reported in a recent article that “vermiculture ventures, the biggest of which involve 50 million worms chowing down on almost 90 tons of waste per week, have boomed over the past few years. ‘I’ve gotten so many calls in the last 18 months that I’ve contracted to edit a book just to get people off my back,’ says Clive Edwards, an Ohio State soil ecologist acknowledged as the world’s leading vermiculture authority. In response to the rapid growth in the industry, nearly 300 large-scale vermiculturalists formed the International Worm Growers Association (in 1997) to help promote the trade. Edwards estimates that the IWGA’s membership represents a fraction of the ‘thousands’ of vermiculture operations he believes are now up and running.”

Charlotte, N.C., based Vermicycle Organics, which harvests worm droppings in high-tech greenhouses, each year produces 7.5 million pounds of a fertilizer it markets as Nature’s Ultimate Plant Food. The company expects sales of the fertilizer to grow by 500 percent in a year. In Orange Lake, Fla., Vermitechnology Unlimited has doubled its business every year since 1991, despite prices that can run twice as high as those of synthetic fertilizers. The company sells around 100 tons of worm droppings to local organic growers. With many local and state governments trying to divert waste from dogged landfills, forward-thinking cities are promoting “back-yard vermicomposting.” Traditional compost piles can take weeks to produce a relatively low-quality humus; a pound of worms, on the other hand, needs only 48 hours to convert a pound of waste into nutrient-rich castings. In 1996 in San Jose, Calif., where state law has mandated that the amount of garbage going to landfills be cut in half by the year 2000, about 1,200 residents used city-distributed discount vouchers to purchase garbage-eating worms from Jack Chambers’s Sonoma Valley Worm Farms. His small operation sells 4,000 pounds of worms a year-about 4 million of the critters-at around $20 per pound.

India, however, is still a long way behind in fully exploiting the promises of vermiculture technology for waste disposal and fertilizer generation. With the amount of waste produced in India, the country could easily produce 400 million metric tons of plant nutrients and considerably reduce the outflow of foreign exchange towards the import of fertilizers.

It is now up to grassroots organizations and scientist-activists to nudge and force usually slothful governments to make massive efforts to spread the practice – the dividends from it could easily be phenomenal, whether environmental, economic or social.

– Rinku Gupta is a reporter based in Chennai.
In association with Chennai Online.


Infotech India

Telecom opens Web sitePARAM for schoolsMalayali Web siteIT meet in BiharHere is the latest on information technology from India

Telecom Opens Web Site

Tata Teleservices, the private basic telephone service provider of Andhra Pradesh, in its endeavor to reach out to its customers, has created a direct customer link with the launch of its Web site . The Web site provides the user a comprehensive understanding of the company, its values, and the plethora of customer services offered.

On the occasion, S. Ramakrishnan, managing director, Tata Teleservices, said, “With the launch of our Web site, we enable our customers to enhance their understanding of the varied products and services offered by us. It also enables our users to interact with the company effectively. We are a customer focused organization and will consistently evolve our Web site to suit the changing customer needs by providing value additions in the existing frame work and create new services and standards.”

With the launch of the Web site, Tata Teleservices has announced a contest, “Quick 5,” for Internet users. Surprise gifts can be won by answering a few simple questions.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

PARAM for Schools

The Center for Development of Advanced Computing has completed the installation of the PARAM 10000 supercomputers at 12 premier academic institutions in India, CDAC executive director R.K. Arora said July 6.

He was speaking at the workshop to review the activities of the project for installation and usage of PARAM 10000 supercomputers at these institutions at CDAC here.

The project, sponsored by the federal Ministry of Information Technology at a cost of Rs. 72 million, involved the setting up of parallel computing systems at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur and Guwahati, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, University of Roorkee, Roorkee, Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi, and other places.

Eminent scientist Prof. V. Rajaram of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, discussed supercomputing technology. Dwelling at length on the genesis and growth of supercomputing technology, he predicted that from the present Gigaflop technology, supercomputing has moved on to teraflops and the future belongs to petaflop technology.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Malayali Web Site

A Web site catering exclusively to Non-Resident Keralites has been launched by the Non-Resident Keralites’ Affairs Department of the Kerala government July 6.

The portal was formally inaugurated by Kerala Non-Resident Keralites Affairs Minister M.M. Hassan here.

The Web site,, gives useful information on various governmental schemes for NRKs and also serves as a forum for them to air their grievances.

It provides links to the federal Ministry of External Affairs Web site, addresses of regional passport offices and the offices of Protector of Immigrants in Kerala.

NORKA also has plans to establish a chat room for NRKs on the site.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

IT Meet in Bihar

Bihar’s first couple are going in for an image makeover and the make-up package will be provided by Cobit-2001, a two-day international IT seminar from November 25.

Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav and Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi told journalists July 8 that India’s Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan and IT’s big two, Wipro chairman Azim Premji and N.R. Narayanmurthy of Infosys, would be invited to the meet.

“They were branded as being ‘anti-IT’ but the fact remained that the state was in favor of fast development in this field, they added.

The seminar would be organized by Indus Entrepreneurs, IT Society of India, the Bihar branch of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Bihar Industries Association, the state government and non-resident Indian Ramesh Yadav.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Web Business

Bollywood at Your Doorstep:
Online DVD Rental

Forget lousy video prints. Forget commuting hassles. One of Bollywood’s big players is promising to bring DVDs at your doorstep.

Secaucus, N.J.-based Eros Entertainment Inc., a major player in the Bollywood home entertainment market, announced last month that they are launching an online Bollywood DVD rental service for the American market. With this launch, Eros says it aims to consolidate its leadership position in the market by introducing this service aimed at the quality and convenience conscious South Asian consumer of Bollywood films.

Eros’s chairman Kishore Lulla said, “We have been closely monitoring behavior of our customers and we notice that the convenience of buying/ renting of products and services online is on the increase. Being the market leaders, we realize that it is our responsibility to offer our customers the online option and our online DVD rental service is the first step in that direction”

Kapil Sethi, in charge of Eros’s Home Entertainment Division, said, “Never before has such a comprehensive library of Bollywood movies been available for renting online. Customers will be able to log on to from June 29 and order DVDs of their choice for a fixed rental of only $13.99 a month. Customers can rent any number of DVDs a month subject to a maximum of two at a time. The DVDs will be delivered to the customer’s doorstep free of cost.”

Eros is hoping that its superior library and excellent service will bring in the customers. The company has promised a lot of consumer promotions including free trips to India, meetings with Bollywood stars etc. for the customers who log in and rent the Eros DVDs.

Lulla later explained that the market for Bollywood products worldwide is steadily increasing and that the Eros group of companies are well poised to maximize the potential through new production ventures and the available forms of content distribution including theatre, home entertainment (DVDs, VHS), satellite television (B4U) and online distribution.



Arzoo Goes Bust
Hotmail Founder Humbled
By Urvashi Majmundar

Sabeer Bhatia was the poster child of the go-go Internet days when every desi techie dreamed of landing his first million in a year. The fall of his start-up underlines how fortunes can change like quicksilver in the rollercoaster world of IT, says Urvashi Majmundar.

How the mighty fall. It wasn’t too long back when Sabeer Bhatia was the most Indian bachelor around, judging beauty pageants, advising the Indian government and giving advice in Indian television to IT instant millionaire wannabes. That is, when he wasn’t ensconced in his $2 million plush Pacific Heights condo overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge or driving his Porsche Boxster.

Last month, Arzoo, his nine-month old venture, went belly-up as Bhatia joined the growing list of high-tech entrepreneurs who have been felled by the “dot-com” bust.

Arzoo, ironically, means “wish” in Urdu. That’s one wish that will remain unfulfilled. Arzoo started as a venture linked to consumer shopping, later turned to an exchange for software projects, putting experts in a call-center like interface for clients. It charged its clients a flat monthly fee linked to usage and number of questions asked. The technical experts placed rival bids for their services.

Announcing its quiet burial, Bhatia refused to acknowledge defeat. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs never say die.

“We strongly believe in this model but, unfortunately, this is just not the right time to introduce such a service to our corporate partners — all of whom are engaged in what some call a ‘ruthless cost-cutting’ exercise,” Bhatia said.

All of this is quite a comedown from the time when Bhatia had seized the desi public imagination when he and co-founder Jack Smith sold Web-based free e-mailing system Hotmail, something which they had started when Bhatia had just $6,000 in his bank, to Microsoft Corp for hundreds of millions of dollars.

The money-spinning venture began when he was working at Apple. In fact that is where he met Hotmail cofounder Smith. Bhatia’s academic career path had already been fairly impressive — he had an undergraduate degree from Caltech and a masters from Stanford under his belt, and particularly at Stanford, he attended classes taught be Silicon Valley legends — Scott Nealy and Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems, Steve Jobs of Apple. Seeing these big shots gave him confidence. It was something he could use, because it had not been that long since he had reached Caltech, all of 19 years, with butterflies in his belly and wondering what the heck he was doing there.

Bhatia has worn his celebrity and wealth relatively well, say many who know him. And to be fair to him, if the dot-com bust has shown that the overhyped “genius” standing of many of Silicon Valley’s high tech gurus is as fleeting as the crashing value of their stocks, then it is only fair to also remember that the demise of their pet projects should not cast more than a passing shadow on their merit.

And it’s far from appropriate to shed any tears for Bhatia yet. For one thing, he must have pots of money left from the killing he made out of selling Hotmail.

For another, Bhatia is a tough cookie. Back in the days when he had come up with the business plan for Hotmail, the Internet feeding frenzy had not yet begun, and the path for IT entrepreneurs was not yet paved in gold — doled out by eager beaver VCs. Business plan in hand, knowing Hotmail was a surefire thing, Bhatia and cofounder Smith still had to bang a lot of doors before one opened for them when they tried to raise money.

“It was a hard story to sell,” Bhatia has told Asiaweek when he reminisced about getting Hotmail started. “Few people believed the Net was real. They thought it was a fad, like CB radio.” Nineteen doors had slammed on him, but he stuck to his guns, before he reached the offices of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, who decided to fund Bhatia and Smith’s project with $300,000. The two stretched the money till the launch of Hotmail in July, 1996. By the end of the year, they had their millionth customer.

When Bill Gates wanted to buy his company, he was shown around the Microsoft campus — all 26 buildings. He met Bill Gates. Next thing he knows, he is facing 12 negotiators from Microsoft. And they gave him a final offer: $160 million, take it or leave it. Bhatia kept his cool. “I’ll get back to you,” he said.

A month later, Microsoft coughed up $400 million for Hotmail. The rest, as they say, is history. So it is, alas, with Arzoo. The market giveth, the market taketh away.

Urvashi Majmundar is a freelance writer.
She lives in Tracy, Calif.



Celebrating India
India Festival 2001 – By Biren Chowdhary

Independence Day makes Indians nostalgic, and Bay Area Indian Americans are going to celebrate it with a three-day bash, writes Biren Chowdhary.

Colorful floats, yummy food kiosks, mehndi parlor, Indian fashion wear and jewelry, and all of it topped off by the presence of Miss World Priyanka Chopra — it’s Indian Independence Day parade time again.

The Federation of Indo-American Association of Bay Area and the Federation of Indo-American Associations will celebrate India’s Independence Day with a three-day extravaganza Aug. 3-5 with a dance competition, health fair, raas-garba, banquet and of course, a festive mela and a parade.

The arrival of August brings a whiff of nostalgia to every expatriate Indian in the world. August is the month of India’s independence, when India won her freedom from the British after 200 years of colonization. In India, the tricolor flies proudly and special events commemorate the sacrifice of the nation to wrest independence from the British.

Outside India, the expatriate Indian’s mind turns towards the motherland, and this is a time to reaffirm ties with the old country and pledge one’s abiding affection and commitment to one’s culture.

In the Bay Area, as the Indian American population has mushroomed, thanks to the information technology boom, the community is also becoming large enough to begin to define its own distinctive cultural identity. The community has been celebrating India’s Independence Day with a parade for the past nine years.

With each passing year the event attracts not only tens of thousands of Indian Americans but now also the mainstream media as well local and state politicians who have come to recognize this as the premier cultural event of the community.

Last year, Miss Universe Lara Dutta led the parade, and State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, erstwhile Rep. Tom Campbell, other state officials including local city mayors Pete McHugh, Mark Green, Gus Morrison, Henry Manayan, attended the event along with many other local elected officials.

This year FIBA expects a huge turnout again to join organizers in several days of fun and activities that include cultural performances and a banquet in addition to the parade. The organization would like to extend a warm welcome to everybody to join and make this festivity your very own festival.

Biren Chowdhary is the coordinator for India Festival 2001.



Choosing a Pro
The Right Financial Planner - By Ashok Gupta

There is no alternative to financial planning for the future. In today’s age of rapid changes in tax laws and investment scenarios you need expert help to plan well, but how do you figure out how to choose the best person? Ashok Gupta offers a few pointers.

In some ways, choosing a personal financial planner is like picking a good golf or tennis instructor. You want someone who’s knowledgeable, can make a thorough assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and gives you a plan to help improve your game.

Of course, unless you’re eyeing a spot on the pro tour, you’ll have much more at stake tackling today’s increasingly complex financial environment than playing at your local country club. That’s why working with a financial expert to develop a comprehensive, personalized financial game plan may be the best investment you ever make. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind in selecting the right financial planning professional.

Expect the “Big Picture:” While many financial professionals specialize in certain areas, such as investment advice, estate and retirement planning, risk management, and tax strategies, the primary responsibility of the accomplished financial planner is to provide you with a “big picture” perspective. Even if you only want consultation on one facet of your financial situation, a good planner should give you the framework to weigh each financial decision in relation to its short and long-term effects on your life goals.

Set Measurable Goals: Specificity can help shape a successful, well-focused plan. Wherever possible, a planner should help you quantify your financial goals and set targets for when you’d like to achieve them.

Demand Individual Treatment: Before making any recommendations, your planner should meet with you several times, reviewing your personal situation, discussing your objectives, examining relevant documents, and establishing the terms of your working relationship. The end result should be your plan, nobody else’s. Watch out for “plans” that are put together without a rigorous examination of your circumstances. That’s a tip-off that you may be getting a boilerplate product rather than a customized strategy.

Get Costs: A planner should be able to let you know the cost of his or her services within the first or second meeting. Depending upon the complexity of your situation, prices may range from $300-$2,500 or higher.

Separate the Plan from Other Purchases: Increasingly, consumers looking for unbiased, objective strategies are selecting fee-based planners. They are paid separately for the plans they develop, regardless of whether they play any other role in putting the plan into action.

Check Credentials: Several educational designations, such as CFP (Certified Financial Planner), ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant) and CFA (Certified Financial Analyst), can help identify professionals who are committed to high standards and ethics. In addition, planners who are registered as investment advisers must produce, upon request, a form disclosing compensation methods, conflicts of interest, business affiliations and personal qualifications.

Coordinate Expertise: The rapid pace of today’s financial, tax and legal developments makes it almost impossible for a planner to have an expert grasp on all the elements that might be needed to complete your comprehensive plan. That’s why your planner should be willing and able to coordinate your plan with the efforts of any other specialists you retain.

Keep Control, Be Involved: Contrary to a popular misconception, hiring a professional planner doesn’t equate to yielding control of your finances. Actually, a good planner should solicit and welcome your input. And a well-conceived plan should empower you to make better informed and more focused decisions going forward.

Keep Tabs on Plan Performance: Make sure that you monitor the performance of your plan. If you want, your planner will work with you after the plan has been implemented to track results and make appropriate adjustments.

Even if you’re comfortable with developing your own financial strategy, you may want to think about reviewing it periodically with a planner. Just as the finest athletes regularly consult with coaches to keep in top form, objective professional input may add the extra “winning edge” to your personal finances in the long run.

This article gives general information for the subject matter covered. It is not intended to give tax or legal advice. An individual’s particular circumstances should be discussed with a personal tax or legal advisor.

- Ashok Gupta is a financial planner based in San Jose, Calif.



Remembering Rafi
A Performer’s Tribute - By Vishwesh Ranganathan

Evergreen playback singer Mohammed Rafi has been Bay Area performer Rakesh Kumar’s long-time idol. He will pay a musical tribute to Rafi in a performance in September, writes Vishwesh Ranganathan.

Way back when he was 18, when Rakesh Kumar decided to begin to take lessons in light classical music at the Bharatiya Sangeet Kala Bhavan in Amritsar, his inspiration was one of the great titans of Bollywood music — the evergreen Mohammed Rafi. After over 1,000 live concerts in India, England and the U.S. including performing at London’s Wembley Stadium and an album with Kavitha Krishnamurthy, his love for Mohd. Rafi is undiminished.

So come Sept. 15, Kumar will perform evergreen hits of Mohd. Rafi at a concert at Chandni Restaurant in Newark, Calif. He will perform with several other singers, both male and female. A seven-member orchestra will accompany the performance. Slides of films will create the mood for Rafi film songs that he will present, Kumar says.

“Mohammed Rafi was not only a singer of great versatility, but he sang songs long ago which are still popular today with millions of people” Kumar says. “Which is remarkable, when you consider, say the last 10 years. So many songs have come and gone, how many do we remember?”

After a three-year stint at Chandigarh, Kumar moved to Delhi where he continued taking lessons in music. He also started performing at live shows with a band of his own, and became so successful that at one point he was doing at least a show every day, he says.

Kumar moved to Mumbai to try his luck at playback singing, and also continued his musical training under Sulakshana Pandit He also spent a year in England, performing frequently in live shows for Punjabi audiences.

In the Bay Area, Kumar has a band, Anmol, with whom he presents live shows. His Antakshari show at the Fremont Hilton a few years back has been one of his most successful in the Bay Area. In addition Kumar has also extensively presented Mata Ki Jagriti at various temples to large audiences. Mata Ki Jagriti events are devotional sessions paying obeisance to Vaishno Devi.

- Vishwesh Ranganathan is a freelance writer
who lives in Livermore, Calif


Auto Review:

Hi-tech Hybrid
2001 Toyota Prius
By Al Auger

Our automotive editor Al Auger cuts through the technobabble to give you the lowdown on Toyota’s new state-of-the-art car which runs on gas as well as electricity.

When is an “electric car” not an electric car? When it is what has been accepted by the industry as a “hybrid.” After all the political hoopla and hyperbole about the coming generations of electric vehicles, all cars with some level of electric motivation has come to be so termed. Not so. The 2001 Toyota Prius 4-door sedan is a good case in point. As the name implies, the Prius is a dual-powered machine.

Even beyond its esoteric hybrid roots, the Prius is a mixture of tradition, automotive exotica and high-tech. First, in the Prius‚ the principal mode of power is an in-line 4-cylinder, DOHC, 1.5-liter, 70 horsepower, variable valve timing (VVT-i) engine working in partnership with an electric drive motor that turns out 33 kW (44 horsepower). The unique Toyota Hybrid System operates the Prius on either gasoline or electric power or in combination. Whatever system of power is needed, THS is constantly directing the most efficient power to the wheels.

Regeneration of power to the electric motor comes from either the gasoline engine or during braking. This braking system is also unique in its operation. Called a regenerative braking system, it will, when the Prius is coasting or under braking, turn the gasoline engine into a generator, transforming kinetic energy into useable electricity to recharge the battery. When you let off on the accelerator and brake, this regenerative system begins to slow the forward motion. As you brake more, the computer signals out the regenerative system and phases in the hydraulic Anti-lock braking system. As you head downhill, simply shift into “B” on the automatic transmission and the engine brakes (as in downshifting). Just reading all this arcane info is intriguing.

Even the established EPA estimated fuel mileage is skewed in the Prius. The estimated city fuel figures of 44 to 60 MPG is actually figured higher that the highway numbers of 38 to 52 MPG. According to Toyota spokesman Michael Dobrin, “The people at Toyota said the Prius’ main purpose is urban transportation and configured the duality of power and its fuel usage to favor stop and go driving. The result is better in-town mileage than freeway cruising where the gas engine is predominant.” Such elevated numbers qualify the Prius for certification as a SULEV (super ultra low emission vehicle).

All that techno-babble behind us, the Prius (which is not a proper word either, by the way) is an engaging subcompact 4-door sedan all by itself. Designed by Toyota’s Southern California Calty Design Research shop, it is distinctly an American-looking machine. Utilizing the “cab-forward” lay out of a long, rakish windshield and high roofline with short front and rear hangover, the Prius is at once singular in profile and expansive inside.

The instrument panel, as well, is one of a kind, with a wide-open display of controls and graphics. I don’t know how the grab handle shifter for the automatic transmission passed the DOT safety standards, sticking straight out of the dash as it does, but whatever. Another caveat is the Multi-information Display screen with a touch-sensitive membrane. Next to cell phones or applying makeup while driving, what can be more distracting than trying to find the proper graphic to touch while whistling down the road at 65-70 MPH?

The information display is far too fascinating with its plethora of facts and advice from the audio to mileage to electric regeneration, energy monitor and navigational system. There’s nothing to buy optional except the compact disc deck and cruise control, sunroof and carpets as all the good stuff is factory installed and waiting for you.

From just a car point of view, the Prius is also entertaining in its performance on the road. Surprisingly lithe and energetic, between the horsepower of the seemingly small engine and the electric motor, the Prius snaps to attention when so ordered. Flat in fast bends with fast steering response, it does incline to a wavy gravy kind of response at quick linear changes.

If there are any sour notes from the sidewalk critics, it is in the $19,000-plus price tag. However, there are savings: The estimated annual fuel cost is a mere $374. The Society of Automotive Engineers have dubbed the Prius the “Best Engineered Car of 2001” and the crusty old Sierra Club has cited the Prius with its “Award for Excellence in Environmental Engineering.” The Prius is all that and a feel good car, too.

Today's Test Drive:

Al Auger, our automotive editor has been writing about cars for over 30 years.
He has spent 20 years as a race driver and public relations specialist.


Bollywood: | Guftugu | Hindi Film Review |


Big B Temple

Madame Tussaud’s, here we come. It’s happened in the South before, and now it’s gonna happen in Kolkata. Fans are all set to put their matinee idol in a temple, literally. During a four-month-long bash to celebrate the Big B, the Amitabh Bachchan Fans Association will install a 12-foot marble idol in a temple in Kolkata.

And instead of the usual puja, anyone laying foot in this temple can choose from the options of reading Amitabh dialogues from books in place of hymns or listening to the star’s cassettes on walkmans available at its premises.

The temple, located near the city, will have a Bachchan museum next to it, storing rare memorabilia of the superstar, including photographs capturing him in private moods, little-found posters of blockbusters Deewar, Sholay and Silsila and rare first-day-first-show tickets of all his movies.

”He is our god, our guru. What else do you call someone who has touched the lives of millions?” asks ABFA state secretary S.P. Kamat.

For Kamat and over 10,000 registered fans of the star, Amitji’s’ meaningful movies and rich dialogues in baritone voice have become a part of their lives. “We are even recording Amitji’s ‘moral’ utterances before the beginning of game sessions in Kaun Banega Crorepati. These snippets will be stored along with other cassettes and videos in the museum,” he said.

The association has gone to great lengths to compile the rare collection. “We contacted hall owners, thousands of Amitji’s fans and even black marketers of cinema tickets who readily donated stuff from their personal collections,” he said.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Welcome Sepia

Sepia is in, as far as Bollywood is concerned. The recent runaway success of two period films, Gadar — Ek Prem Kahani and Lagaan has everyone in tinseltown sitting up and taking notice. The Sunny Deol starrer is about the poignant Partition-era interfaith romance of Shaheed-e-Muhabbat Buta Singh, and Aamir Khan’s home production which stars him dwells on a Gujarati village’s fight against the ruling British. Both films have box office registers ringing, a much welcome phenomenon after anemic returns for many recent Bollywood films.

So Sunny is all set to work on a Raj Kanwar film on the history of Amritsar, and don’t for a moment think the period theme is on the mind of just one director. Others will likely jump on the bandwagon, and if the film making is as good as the two recent hits, Hindi film buffs will have little to complain about.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Aiming for Guinness

Well not the beer, but the record book. After breaking cinema box-office records, last year’s biggest blockbuster Kaho Na Pyar Hai’ is all set to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. But not for the reasons you would think.

The film is not aiming to get in the record books for the moolah it has brought in or for the successful launch of Hrithik Roshan.

The reason it’s aiming for a shot at the record book is something else. At the last count, the Roshan clan — Rakesh Roshan, his son Hrithik, brother music director Rajesh Roshan — and a host of other technicians associated with the film have won 92 awards.

“Yes, we have approached the Guinness Book of Records,” Rakesh Roshan said.

James Cameron’s hit film Titanic finds a mention in it for winning 11 Academy Awards, he said. So why not Kaho Na Pyar Hai?
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Is He the One?

Poor Sushmita Sen. The beauty queen has had a rather rough ride in Bollywood, what with making more news about her activities off screen than on. The tradition continues, alas.

Bollywood has been abuzz with rumors that Sanjay Narang was the man in her life. Then the news was that he wasn’t. Now, it seems to be that he is, after all. At the press conference of Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hai something else caught the eyes and eventually the tongues of Bollywood watchers. It was a sparkling diamond ring on Sushmita’s ring finger. So is everything hunky dory, then? Well, only time will tell, because this is, after all, Bollywood, where nothing is finally final.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Silver Success

It’s Bollywood, and make-believe, alas, doesn’t stop in front of the camera. Relationships are made and broken with such bewildering rapidity that it keeps the yellow press on its toes.

Not for macho star Jackie Shroff. He and wife Ayesha have been together through thick and thin for 25 years, and recently threw a huge party to celebrate. Even if we all could not be there to join the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Anil and Tina Ambani, to dance into the wee hours, here’s a warm congratulatory hurrah for the great couple for making reality as memorable as make believe. Wish you many more years of happiness, Jackie and Ayesha!
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Keerti’s Jadoo

The svelte actress from Bangalore had high hopes of creating a splash with here debut, starring as she was with newcomer heart throb Abhishek Bachchan. Keerti Reddy’s film Tera Jadoo Chal Gayaa, however, failed to have much jadoo for film buffs, and poor Keerti went back to her hometown, keeping a low profile.

Well, she might get a second chance at making the big time with Rajiv Rai’s Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat.

Keerti stars opposite Sunil Shetty, Aftab Shivdasani and Arjun Rampal and this could be her last shot at stardom for a while in Bollywood.

She has already said she wants to move from Tamil and Telugu films to Bollywood, so Keerti is really keen, and it’s beginning to show. Literally. The shrinking violet act is gone, and her hair is taking hues of chestnut and golden brown — thanks to visits to hairdressers, and she is beginning to work out regularly at her favorite gym. Her pretty face is beginning to pop up at all the right places in Mumbai and Bangalore.

The film, though, was shot a year ago, so it’s still not clear that it will click. But no one will be able to blame Keerti for not trying hard enough if, God forbid, disaster strikes.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Proud Dad

In the ego-driven world of Bollywood, would you believe a film star being delighted because he was asked to give an autograph for somebody else? Yet that’s exactly the case, says proud dad Jeetendra, whose son Tusshar has made quite a wave with debut film Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai.

Jeetendra, who was no mean star in his heyday, recently went to the Mukteshwara temple in Juhu, and fans besieged him for an autograph on son Tusshar’s behalf. Jeetendra was particularly touched, because no one asked for his autograph before although he has been visiting the temple for a while.

Now he may no longer be a star, but he is one proud father.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Lata Won’t Sing

The note was as sweet as her voice, but the answer was in the negative. Lata Mangeshkar has recently scotched rumors that she will be performing in Pakistan. The invite came from the Pakistan Cricket Board, but Lata cited prior engagements to decline the request.

“Though there were some talk going on, she can’t go to Pakistan at this stage. Her hands are full with prior commitments here. And of late Lataji has been taking less work,” informs Yogesh, her nephew.

Earlier, Lata had been invited to perform in a concert in memory of late Pakistani singer Noor Jehan. She had declined that invitation as well. Presently vacationing at London, she is unavailable for comment.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Sarika’s Fall

We mean that literally, so those of you looking for prurient gossip, get your minds out of the gutter. Poor Sarika, wife of actor director Kamal Haasan, fell down from her terrace in Chennai and hurt herself rather badly. She was flown to Leelavati Hospital in Mumbai, and is recuperating nicely now after surgery.

“The operation went off very well and Sarika is in fine condition,” a family member said.

Sarika was admitted to the hospital immediately after her arrival. She was accompanied by her husband and their two daughters.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Comeback Kid

Who says you have to stay at home just because you have just had a baby? Just ask Juhi Chawla. The Bollywood star is raring to go after a three-month enforced leave, and she is certainly not letting the grass grow under her feet. She has signed two films with Harry Baweja and Pritish Nandy, and that’s just the beginning. She has already been approached by Tanuja Chandra and Esmayeel Shroff.

Juhi knows she has a lot of ground to cover. She lost out to Rinke Khanna in a role for the recently-released Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai, due to her pregnancy, and her first ever sister role didn’t quite take off in Ek Rishta — the Bond of Love.

Juhi is also now actively involved in the joint film production company she has with Shah Rukh — Dreamz Unlimited, which is currently making Asoka the Great.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Hindi Film Review
Graceful, Patriotic Saga

Aamir Khan Productions

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Music: A.R. Rahman
Starring: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Paul Blackthorne, Rachel Shelley and Kulbhushan Kharbanda

If you have heard all the hype about Lagaan, you must be wondering whether you should take it with a grain of salt, because after all, when you think of realistic, intelligent cinema, Bollywood is not the first word that springs to mind. After all, melodrama, gore, slapstick humor, implausible storylines and the most obvious sensual titillation — that’s the sort of stuff that is Bollywood’s stock in trade.

To Aamir Khan goes the singular credit of having the artistic integrity and courage to eschew all those tired condiments less confident Bollywood film makers use to spice up their potboilers to hide the poor content of their films.

Stunning photography that can hold its own with any international film, exquisite attention to detail including costumes and period detail, and an interesting is somewhat implausible storyline makes Lagaan a rare watchable Hindi film despite its inordinate length of over three hours.

So, going back to the question of whether Lagaan deserves all the hype surrounding it, the answer is a rather equivocal yes and no. Actually, there is more that is positive about the film than not, and that is particularly good news for both Bollywood and film buffs.

The story is simple enough, one might even say formulaic. Farmers in a village in a princely state are facing a drought, and they are worried about the lagaan — in-kind taxes — that they might have to pay. This is the 18th century, and the princely state is a British protectorate, so the decision is not the rajah’s.

Enter a brutish British military officer who offers the villagers a deal: They can have their taxes waived for three years if they can beat the local British team in a game of cricket, but if they lose, they have to pay three times their due taxes.

The villagers, a sensible lot, find this proposition to be dubious, but village lad Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) is adamant. He wants to take the Brits up on the offer.

The rest of the story is about how he convinces the villagers to come around his point of view, and how he builds up a cricket team from scratch, with the assistance of a British woman, who is the sister of the boorish British officer who has made this whimsical offer in the first place. The film ends in a tense climactic cricket match.

The film’s technical excellence is its strongest suit, and what a joy it is to see a Hindi film that has production values that are of international standard! Right from the superb beginning credits to the lovely earth-toned color and costumes which fit both the period and the general sepia-toned ambiance, the beautiful panoramic shots that capture both the rugged terrain of the village as well as the courtly and British lifestyle, the film is a delight.

This charm is enhanced by distinctive, rustic dialogue and the music where A.R. Rahman has done something which he does particularly well – he has created a fetching combination of rural ethos and a haunting South Indian overtone that adds considerably to the film’s value.

At the end of the day, though, whether you are actually bowled over by the film will depend on your gullibility quotient. If you are a Bollywood buff, your gullibility is apt to be robust enough to stand pretty much anything, so the inconsistencies in the film may not bother you one bit

But if you are more discerning, you are apt to realize that Lagaan represents not only the heights Bollywood can scale but also the limits that restrict it. When you come down to it, the film’s story is more a fond fantasy than a realistic tale — who on earth really believes a bunch of villagers can be taught cricket in three months and contest a British team? The village sets are beautiful, but less than realistic, and villagers seem to have a habit of milling around, often standing around Bhuvan, waiting for his latest gem of wisdom. Hard, intractable disagreements are sorted out following brief melodramatic exchanges, and the British brutish officer is in the mold of Bollywood baddies — so rude, uncouth and crude as to become a caricature who is hard to take seriously.

Yet after all is said and done, the director and producer deserve a warm, affectionate thanks for their effort to make a commercially viable film that is intelligent cinema as well. What is particularly heartening is that his effort has been rewarded where it matters most in Bollywood — at the box office.

Rating: **** (Superior)

|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Tamil Film Review:
Photography Saving Grace


Director: R. N. Kumaresan
Starring: Eashwar, Monisha, Rajiv, Damu, R. Sunderrajan, V.S. Raghavan, Rajesh

The story centers round Ravi and Raji who meet in Germany and fall in love. But there is a complicated history that predates all this: Ravi doesn’t know that Raji was the same girl his family had chosen for him in India, and whom he would have married, if some misunderstanding hadn’t cropped up between the two families.

This is what happened: Ravi had consented to marry Raji, a girl he had never seen, but whom his family had approved of. The duo later made some futile attempts to see each other, but to no avail. On the day of the engagement, as Raji eagerly waited to get her first look at her future husband, she learned to her disappointment that Ravi had to fly to Germany to take up his new job. At the engagement venue, a small misunderstanding snowballs into a major fight, and the engagement is called off, the two families parting as bitter enemies.

Raji’s grandpa arrives from Germany and takes Raji away with him for a change of scene. In case you haven’t guessed it, the grandpa lives right next door to Ravi. Ravi and Raji meet for the first time and fall in love, each not knowing the identity of the other. That is the case till they return to India, and see the shocked looks on the faces of their dear ones as they come out of the airport hand-in-hand. There is an attempt by the director to give the film a different ending. When Ravi hears of the entire story, initially, he refuses to marry Raji. But then matters are put in proper perspective and the director opts for the usual happy ending.

The film begins with a scene where the hero and his family members are introduced. The sequence is so shoddily done that one dreads to think what will follow. But the next part is not so bad, though the narrative style is very amateurish and the screenplay has scenes that are cliched and situations that seemed to be forced into the narration. The saving grace for the film are the scenes of the picturesque locations in Germany, where the story shifts in the latter half, and which have been impressively captured by Rajarajan’s camera.

Monisha, who plays her first adult role, had earlier given a good account of herself as a child artist in films like Indira. But here she looks inhibited in the romantic scenes, and not quite at ease in the song-dance routine. For her it seems to be a premature debut as heroine. Eashwar, the France-based software engineer, dons grease paint for the first time, and has a faint resemblance to Kamal Haasan. He sails through his role without much of a problem.

— Malini Mannath
In association with Chennai Online



A Savory Snack with Tea
Vegetable Fritters By Seema Gupta

Ready for your afternoon chai on a relaxed holiday? Why not bring a desi ambiance by adding a delicious savory snack? Seema Gupta shows you how to make it.


  • 2 cups mixed vegetables, finely chopped (carrots, cabbage, french beans, bell pepper, spring onions)
  • 3 Onions medium sized, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Garam masala powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Ginger paste
  • 2 tsp Toor dal powder
  • 6 tbsp Rice flour
  • 1 /2 cup Potatoes (washed and boiled)
  • 7-8 tbsp Water


Saute onion in oil till caramelized.

Turn off heat and add crunchy vegetables, salt, pepper and ginger paste.

Make a thick paste of rice flour, dal powder and potato, using oil.

Mix it with vegetables and sprinkle water.

Add salt, pepper and garam masala.

Steam cook for 10 min.

Cool and cut into squares.

Fry in oil and serve with mint sauce.

Seema Gupta is a homemaker
based in Sunnyvale, Calif.


July - August Horoscope

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Financial investments look profitable. Opportunity knocks only once, don’t lose it. A favorable reply from a government agency is possible. A business proposal might come from a known source. A raise at work is possible.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Money will come but expenses will rise. Encouraging career related news is predicted. You may go on a pleasure trip. You may sign some important documents, may be a new contract.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): You will be diplomatic while dealing with pressing issues. You may need to adhere to some legal matters. Strong opponents will accept defeat and you will certainly overcome a major hurdle in career. Financial matters look good.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): It will be an expensive month. You will spend money on family, friends and for a religious cause. Some of you will travel. Spouse will support your plans. Any change in career will be good. Keep an eye on people trying destroy your position.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): This is a month full of pleasant surprises. You will achieve major goals in life. A positive reply is coming from the government. Some of you may start a new project in association with an established group. Speculate and you could win.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): Job situation looks bad. You need to look for a change. Money aspect stays comfortable. A new member will be added to the family soon. You may also finalize a property deal but it will be overpriced.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Expenses will exceed your limits. Eyes may need attention. Severe obstruction in all attempts will frustrate you. Some of you may take a short break from job and relax. You will be spending money on your car and will replace electrical appliances at home.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Health will need attention. Do all your exercises. There will be some improvement in money matters but you will be behind some commitments. You may get out of stocks only after losing. Some of you may move.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): A lucrative offer is foreseen. There will be big changes in a partnership setup. You will be making tough decisions in personal life as you put career before everything else. You may go on an important trip. Competition in business will grow.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): You will overcome all problems effortlessly. Some of you will have good changes in career. Bank balance will grow despite additional expenses. You may go on a short pleasure trip.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will be comfortable as you do well in life. All your attempts will be successful. You may purchase another vehicle. You will organize an outing with family and some old friends. People in business will get lucrative contracts. You will make some very useful contacts.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Life will improve. You will clear an old loan. Financially you will be comfortable. You will be working overtime. Spend more time to locate a good property. You will go on a very short vacation.

Bay Area-based astrologer Pandit Parashar can
be reached by email at:


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