Siliconeer: October 2001

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OCTOBER 2001
Volume II • Issue 10

IN THIS ISSUE

MAIN FEATURE
Reclaiming Normality: Indian Americans After Terror Attacks
BY SIDDHARTHA BORDOLOI


CULTURE
Diwali and Remembrance: Celebrating Our Culture, Honoring Terror Victims
BY BIREN CHOWDHARY


COMMENTARY
Sage Advice from Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates Speak

Publisher’s NoteInfotech India
Arundhati Roy’s Dissent: The Algebra of Infinite Justice
Auto Review: 2001 Lincoln Blackwood
BollywoodTamil CinemaRecipeHoroscope

Publisher's Note:

We at Siliconeer join the nation in mourning the deaths of firemen and victims following the monstrous terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Part of the proceeds of advertising revenue from this month’s issue will be donated to support the firemen and victims.

As we go to press U.S. and British armed forces have begun retaliatory attacks on Afghanistan. As the West builds a broad-based coalition to take on Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the horrible, monstrous terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, the entire world is apprehensive.

At a time like this, Siliconeer’s regular focus, interests appear irrelevant. Consequently, in this issue we have moved away from our usual focus and chosen to look at how the community is dealing with today’s crisis.
Even Diwali, that joyous festival of lights, is not the same. We present a community leader’s appeal to Indian Americans to gather for Diwali festivities at an amusement park to make a statement—that no terrorist is going to cow the community into changing its lifestyle.

We also present the thoughts of several Nobel Peace Prize-winners following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Their insights and sage counsel is invaluable, and bears close consideration and reflection at this particularly difficult time.

We also include in our issue an essay by Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy that has created a furore. Her dissenting voice, we felt, is important and deserves a wider hearing. Most important of all, the publication of her essay is for us an affirmation of the values that separate us from the bigoted terrorists—this is where we differ from the likes of Osama bin Laden—in the freedom of expression of contrarian views.
However, we also agree that life must go on, and we cannot allow crazed terrorists to dictate our lives. So many of our regular departments, including articles on Bollywood and Indian information technology roundup, are also included in this issue.

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Main Feature

Terror and Retaliation:
Surviving the Fallout

As missiles flew into Afghanistan Oct. 7 as part of a joint U.S. and British attack, the world braced itself apprehensively. The retaliation had begun, but this does not seem to be a war that will have a resolution anytime soon.

On a gorgeously beautiful day Sept. 11, suspected Arab terrorists commandeered four commercial airliners bound for transcontinental flights to the West Coast, their bellies full of flammable fuel, and slammed three of them against the two most recognized symbols of American power—the World Trade Center in New York, and the national defense headquarters in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth aircraft crashed near Pittsburgh.

The world has not been the same since. The diabolical planning, the surgical execution, the devilishly cunning use of relatively low-tech knives and box cutters to inflict the worst ever terrorist attack on the U.S. marked a watershed.
Indian Americans suffered like mainstream Americans –the nearly 6,000 people who died with the demolition of the World Trade Center included people from 40 nations, so it included Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as well.

Indian Americans were touched in a variety of ways—as residents in this country, they shared in the grief, shock and rage at the monstrous attacks.

Unfortunately, the frustrated rage of Americans, combined with ignorance of geography, erupted into a spate of hate attacks—targeting, along with Arabs,
Muslims from South Asia and even Sikhs.

A Sikh murdered in Mesa, Arizona. A Pakistani killed in Dallas. An Australian friend of an Indian stabbed in San Francisco. A Pakistani thrown out of a flight in San Antonio, Texas. A Hindu temple vandalized in Hamilton, Ontario.
Suddenly, along with the shock and grief of the terror attacks, Indian Americans are having to grapple with xenophobic attacks, harassment and hostility.
This is particularly ironic for Indians, who recall only too well the repeated terrorist attacks in India’s Kashmir by foreign Islamist militants who have entered that troubled state.

As the stock market reels and the teetering U.S. economy appears to tip over into a recession, these attacks come at a time when the Indian American community is vulnerable. As the recent dot-cum bubble has burst, it has ripped apart the go-go information technology economy, leaving in its wake precariously poised IT professionals who flocked to this country to fulfill what seemed—how it seems like a different era now!—Silicon Valley’s insatiable appetite for computer professionals.
Be that as it may, the community has rallied with the rest of the nation in expressing grief for the victims and reaffirming solidarity with the nation.

Organizations like the America India Foundation, which raised half a million dollars in pledges and donations to aid terror victims and firemen, led a host of community organizations in publicly affirming its support and commitment at a critical time for the world’s only superpower.

Meanwhile, India has been scrambling to position itself as geo-political dynamics have changed dramatically. The U.S. has been aggressive in its diplomatic efforts to cobble together a world-wide coalition against the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attacks, Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, and the fundamentalist Taliban regime which defiantly backs it.

India was quick to offer its support to the U.S. in its global anti-terrorist effort, but discovered to its chagrin that arch enemy Pakistan was being wooed by Washington.
As Indian emissaries Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra scurried to Washington, India has been able to make a diplomatic advance of sorts, but the fact of the matter is that for strategic reasons, Pakistan has a decided edge.

India’s anger is understandable, because it is Pakistan-backed Islamists who have been responsible for continued terrorist activity in Kashmir including the recent hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar. The freed Islamists went to Pakistan.

But then, this crisis has produced strange bedfellows. The U.S. is now getting cozy with Russia, shelving misgivings about its human rights abuses in Chechnya, willing to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s sponsoring of the Taliban—all considerations, it seems, are subordinate to the one, implacable aim—get bin Laden and his suspected band of terrorists of the shadowy Al-Qaeda network—and bring Taliban to its knees to fulfill its aim.

The Indian American community is nervously mulling an uncertain future, and the challenges are going to be considerable. A shaky economy, even in the best of times, tends to brings out the worst in the mainstream population: immigrant scapegoating, xenophobic hostility, all tend to raise their ugly heads. Add to that the frayed nerves of a nation jolted by terrorist attacks on its home turf, with official warnings of the possibility of more attacks in the future, and the mainstream mood far more ready than usual to accept draconian measures. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has already proposed a six-month moratorium on issuing student visas, and racial profiling is not such a taboo proposition anymore. What is disturbing is that it is not just rednecks in the hinterland who are hostile. The Wall Street Journal, in a long, chilling report, has recounted how investors, executives and highly educated Americans are expressing hostility in a variety of ways—from withdrawing investments to refusing to shake hands.

However, as the Journal is quick to add, these unpleasant incidents are exceptional, and to his credit, President George W. Bush has taken special care to create awareness against hate-attacks against minorities. The mainstream media has also been particularly sensitive and responsive in its reportage of hate crimes and harassment of the South Asian community. If nothing else, that offers a glimmer of hope.

However, the world is simply a less safe place today. As Americans look at the future with trepidation, so does the Indian American community, whose worries have a sharper edge.

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Infotech India

INTERNET BANKING

The private-sector global banker Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation is ready to offer Internet banking facility to its one million customers in India soon.

This is a part of the bank’s strategy to strengthen its personnel banking operations in the country, which had a strong potential for Internet banking all along as it continued its 10 percent minimum annual growth, according to E. Prakash Kuruvilla, senior manager in charge its south Indian operations.

After opening the bank’s 29th ATM in the country at Gajuwaka industrial hub on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam, he told reporters that the bank planned to open about 75 new ATMs in the country by the year-end.

It would start selling insurance instruments across the country soon besides providing on-line access to over 300,000 ATMs in about 100 countries.
With its sound operations, the HSBC profits grew by 80 percent during 2000-01. It has about 15 percent market share in car finance in India.

E-BEAT IN CHENNAI

The Chennai police, which is carrying out various modernization programs, is all set to introduce Oct. 8 an ‘e-Beat’ system on an experimental basis.

The system will ultimately dispense with the present procedure of beat constables recording their duties on a book given to them by some citizens.
The police claim that Chennai will be the first metropolitan city in the country to introduce the system.

City police commissioner K. Muthukaruppan told reporters in Chennai Oct. 5 that under the new system, beat constables would be given an electronic device called "reader," which they would have to take close to a silicon chip fixed at several points in the beat area.

Once the constable did this, the chip would record details like the time, place, constable’s name and number. The data, which can be stored for an extended period, can be fed into a computer, which will help get a full picture of the performance of the constable.

The commissioner said initially the system will be introduced in the Teynampet police station area and the chips will be fixed in 20 different places.

If the experiment proves successful, this cost-effective method will be introduced throughout the city police region and such chips will be placed in over 1,000 places.

Introduction of the e-Beat system would cost around Rs. 1.5 million and the system would come handy particularly while providing security to VVIPs, Muthukaruppan added.

I-FLEX, FUJITSU, JOIN HANDS

I-flex Solutions and Fujitsu Systems Business’ Thai subsidiary have announced a partnership to launch a broad range of financial solutions for financial customers in Thailand and across the Asia Pacific region.

Based on joint marketing and business development arrangements with i-flex, Fujitsu will offer i-flex’s Flexcube series, which has been growing in popularity among financial services customers globally in recent years. Fujitsu, Japan’s top provider of IT hardware, software solutions and services for the financial services, is also a leading supplier of ATMs in the worldwide market.

The partnership will combine Flexcube’s versatility and flexibility as a total banking system with Fujitsu’s proven strengths in financial integration, hardware platforms such as Primepower (Sparc Solaris based) and Primergy (Intel architecture) servers, middleware and web-enabled series 8000 ATM products, according to a release here.

In association with Chennai Online

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Diwali and Remembrance
Celebrating Our Culture, Honoring Terror Victims

In normal times, it would be simple to invoke pride in Indian culture and request all of you to join us in Diwali festivities at the Great America amusement park Oct. 13 at Santa Clara, Calif.

But these are not normal times. It is especially important, particularly for that reason, to reassert control of our lives and reclaim our right to a normal life. To do otherwise would be to concede an ignominious defeat to the monsters who slammed commercial airliners filled with innocent civilians into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC to kill thousands of innocent civilians from nations all over the world.

India is familiar with terrorist threats, and the price our ancestral country has paid is considerable. Yet we are proud to say that India has not moved away from its commitment to plurality and democratic values even under the greatest provocation.

This year, as we seek your presence at the Diwali festivities at Great America, we also wish to declare our solemn commitment to honor the victims and firefighters who lost their lives following the attacks. My organization, the Federation of Indo-American Associations in Bay Area, will donate all proceeds from its share of ticket sales to aid the victims and firemen who perished.

In this land of great opportunity that we Indian Americans call home, our pain and shock at the terrible human toll is impossible to measure. But we also share in the enormous pride this nation feels as it has decided to stand up again. We have seen the wondrous resilience of the people of New York City, the selfless dedication of its firemen, and the overwhelming outpouring of support across this nation in which we have joined in as well.

As Indian Americans we solemnly share the resolve of this nation to stand up against the forces of darkness that have dared to attack this land for which we have such enormous affection.

The first step in doing that is to pick up the pieces as best we can and begin to chart a path back to a normal life of joys and sorrows, work and leisure.

That is why we at the Federation of Indo-American Associations of the Bay Area decided that we will celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, at the Great America amusement park in Santa Clara, Calif., once again. This is a time to join all Americans in reclaiming our right to live in freedom and in peace. We agree with President George W. Bush’s call to Americans to get back to their everyday routines, and this year’s Diwali event is the Indian American community’s humble effort to do just that as we celebrate our cultural heritage as well as this land of freedom and opportunity.

As many of you know, last year FIBA joined Paramount’s Great America in presenting what was probably the first Indian cultural festival that was sponsored by a mainstream American amusement park. Wonderful fireworks lit up the sky at Great America with Indian music in the background to mark Diwali. This was the perfect finale to a day of celebrating Indian culture with ethnic food, henna, a slew of cultural presentations ranging from classical music to youth dances, and booths selling handicrafts, clothing, among other things.

The event was a wonderful success, quite beyond our expectations, as tens of thousands of Indians visited Great America and enjoyed the events. As an organization, it gave us great pleasure to sponsor an event that clearly brought so much joy to the community.

This year the occasion is more somber, but we are determined to assert our love and commitment to our culture as well as our adopted country. What better way to do it then joining thousands of Indian Americans as well as mainstream Americans in celebrating Diwali and at the same time raising funds to support the victims of terror? Come join us, and reaffirm our cultural and fraternal ties at a time of crisis.
Jai Hind and God bless America.

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Sage Advice From Peacemakers
Nobel Peace Laureates Speak

The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, Tibet
Winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize

I am deeply shocked by the terrorist attacks that took place involving four apparently hijacked aircraft and the immense devastation these caused. It is a terrible tragedy that so many innocent lives have been lost and it seems unbelievable that anyone would choose to target the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. We are deeply saddened. On behalf of the Tibetan people I would like to convey our deepest condolence and solidarity with the American people during this painful time. Our prayers go out to the many who have lost their lives, those who have been injured and the many more who have been traumatized by this senseless act of violence. I am attending a special prayer for the United States and its people at our main temple today.

I am confident that the United States as a great and powerful nation will be able to overcome this present tragedy. The American people have shown their resilience, courage and determination when faced with such difficult and sad situations.
It may seem presumptuous on my part, but I personally believe we need to think seriously whether a violent reaction is the right thing to do and in the greater interest of the nation and people in the long run. I believe violence will only increase the cycle of violence. But how do we deal with hatred and anger which are often the root causes of such senseless violence?

This is a very difficult question, especially when it concerns a nation and we have certain fixed conceptions of how to deal with such attacks. I am sure you will make the right decision.

(Letter to U.S. President George W. Bush following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.)


Nelson R Mandela
Frederik Willem de Klerk
Winner of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize
Desmond Mpilo Tutu
Winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize

South Africa

The terrorist attacks in the United States of America last week shook all of humanity. It starkly reminded us again of the depth to which we can sink in our inhumanity towards one another.

It was a source of encouragement to note that almost the entire world responded with utter revulsion to such cowardly acts that cruelly and horrendously took the lives of so many innocent people merely going about their ordinary daily lives. Amidst the indescribable tragedy the overwhelming decency of human beings the world over found expression in the unreserved condemnation of those terrible deeds of cruelty.
To that we wish to add our collective voice of condemnation of those acts and to express our deep felt sympathy to the American government, people and particularly those who lost family and friends. We share in their sense of loss and can only trust that they will take some sustenance from the knowledge that so many people all over the world mourn with them.

The events of last week are also a renewed call to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism. Those acts emphasized that we are all vulnerable to terrorism. We hope that the culprits will be identified, apprehended and severely punished.
This is a time that the world should stand together in pursuit of those objectives. Terrorism seeks to put itself above and outside of the law. Our steps against terrorism should studiously be within international law and the charter of our world body.

We need wise leadership and statesmanship in this period of looming crisis. The actions taken should not deepen tensions and further divide the world for it is in those circumstances of strife and division that terrorism finds fertile ground.

The recent history of our own country has taught that negotiation is the surest means of finding lasting solutions to even the most seemingly intractable political problems.

In combating and seeking to eliminate terrorism we must address the root causes of problems around the world and find just solutions to them. In the Middle East, particularly, efforts at arriving at a just and peaceful settlement should be redoubled.

If out of the tragic events of last week the world can find a renewed will to co-operate in finding just solutions to the problems that threaten the safety, security and well-being of us all, the highest tribute would have been paid to those who lost their lives.


Rigoberta Menchú Tum,
Guatemala
Winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize

After learning of the events which moved the world in the early hours of today, I wish to make my position public with the following words:

1. I strongly condemn and repudiate the terrorist acts that have cost thousands of innocent civilian lives and have unleashed a spiral of violence and unforeseeable consequences. Terrorism, regardless of origin, is a politically unjustifiable and morally unacceptable conduct.

2. I express my deepest feelings of condolence and solidarity with the victims, their families, and the people of the United States.

3. I put out a call for calm and sanity to avoid responding to this provocation and senselessness with actions that could then result in a retaliatory offensive that would only fuel an escalation of violence. Despite knowing how and when this violence would start, no one would be able to foresee how or when it would end.

4. I invoke making full use of the resources that would make a dialogue possible between a hegemonic world system that includes and excludes selectively and unilaterally, and the desperate radicalism of the responses it has engendered.

5. I alert the international community to the danger that the actions of these terrorist groups may contribute to unleash a warlike logic seeking to settle old and new controversies between nations and justifying actions against groups and sectors which, within the current institutional framework, have not found a pluralistic disposition for the recognition of and respect for their expressions of identity.

6. I call upon the media to avoid alarmism founded on interpretations of strong ideological affiliation, which only promote confusion and feed the ghosts of intolerance.

7. Finally, I summon the planet’s civilian society — the Nobel Prize winners and those who carry the responsibility of governing all the countries of the world — not to hasten to conclusions about today’s events, but to commit to a grand FRONT OF SANITY which may halt the cowardly senselessness of violence and avoid greater suffering for humanity.


Oscar Arias Sanchez, Costa Rica
Winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize

In the face of these terrible events, and as we receive the images and words of those lost in Tuesday’s attack and feel the pain of their families and friends, let us affirm our common bonds in shock, outrage, and sorrow. I extend my deepest sympathies to those who lost loved ones in this horrible attack, and, along with all who love liberty and democracy and are committed to non-violence, I condemn this and all acts of terrorism.

At this time of great suffering, I want to make a plea to the American people and to their government not to allow their hearts to be filled with hatred, for this would be granting the terrorists the very response they seek and expect. Instead, I pray that the United States and its allies collectively pause and take a deep breath before responding to this violence in kind. It is essential that justice be done, and it is equally vital that justice not be confused with revenge, for the two are wholly different. I beg of the United States government to exercise caution and prudence as they plan their response to this unimaginably grotesque display of disregard for human life. Let justice be done, yes, but let the United States remain committed to its fundamental values, admired and emulated the world over: respect for liberty and for life, especially of the innocent.

I want also to ask the people of the United States, in the midst of their anguish and very justified anger, to remember that extremists of the kind who perpetrated this attack represent only a tiny minority of the Muslim world, and that the vast majority of Muslims pray to the same God as the rest of us -whether Hindus or Jews, Christians or Buddhists - and that is a God of love and not hate, of life and not death. Therefore, let us call upon that God, that power which while being universal is known to each of us in a unique way, to give us the strength to stand firm against the darkness of hatred and violence that threatens us. Let us seek the light, and reach out in peace to our Muslim brothers and sisters.

I want to suggest that we also take this occasion to re-examine our global priorities and the values upon which they are based. Terrorism is one evil that should not exist in the world today, and there are many others, including poverty, illiteracy, preventable diseases, and environmental destruction. We have the resources- both material and spiritual - to eliminate many of these ills. Let us channel them according to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Instead of building bunkers and shields that fail to protect us, let us build good will and harmony, human capacity and understanding, and in this way we shall build the world we want to live in. We must be the change we wish to see, as Gandhi once said, and not the darkness that we wish to leave behind.


Jody Williams, United States
Winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize
International Campaign to Ban Landmines

September 11 was the day of a coordinated, terrorist attack on the United States. Too many innocent people died – too many families lost their loved ones in this unspeakable, terrorist attack of unprecedented scope. We are all affected in one way or another and numb with horror and shock. When innocent civilian lives are taken in any kind of military or terrorist attack, the mind recoils. When it happens in our country, a country not at war, it seems impossible.

This terrorist attack has been called an attack on freedom. It obviously is. Civilians in an open society not at war have been killed. But many have also expressed concern that other freedoms are at risk as well in the aftermath of the terror. History has shown too many times that when a country sees itself in a state of war, individual freedoms are subordinated to the survival of the state.

Attacks on innocent people anywhere cannot be tolerated. Those who perpetrated this heinous crime need to be brought to justice. They need to be found and tried in a court of law. Their network needs to be dismantled.

But I share the concern of many others who dedicate their lives to peace and justice and human rights that the very difficult question of how to respond must be considered long and hard and not contribute to an escalation of violence.

Human Rights Watch, a founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, immediately issued a statement about the attack that is well worth thinking about. It reads:

"We profoundly condemn yesterday’s cruel attacks in the United States and express our condolences to the victims and their loved ones. This was an assault not merely on one nation or one people, but on principles of respect for civilian life cherished by all people. We urge all governments to unite to investigate this crime, to prevent its recurrence, and to bring to justice those who are responsible.

"Last night, President Bush said that the United States ‘will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them.’ Yet distinctions must be made: between the guilty and the innocent; between the perpetrators and the civilians who may surround them; between those who commit atrocities and those who may simply share their religious beliefs, ethnicity or national origin. People committed to justice and law and human rights must never descend to the level of the perpetrators of such acts. That is the most important distinction of all.

"There are people and governments in the world who believe that in the struggle against terrorism, ends always justify means. But that is also the logic of terrorism. Whatever the response to this outrage, it must not validate that logic. Rather, it must uphold the principles that came under attack yesterday, respecting innocent life and international law. That is the way to deny the perpetrators of this crime their ultimate victory."

I conclude offering again my deepest sorrow and condolences to the victims of this unthinkable act. This attack has changed too many landscapes, some of them permanently. I hope that one of those changed landscapes is not outrage so immense that peoples committed to justice and law and human rights think about descending to the level of the perpetrators of such acts.

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The Algebra of Infinite Justice
An Author Dissents
– © Arundhati Roy

In the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11 suicide attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, an American newscaster said: "Good and evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they did last Tuesday. People who we don’t know massacred people who we do. And they did so with contemptuous glee." Then he broke down and wept.

Here’s the rub: America is at war against people it doesn’t know, because they don’t appear much on TV. Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an "international coalition against terror," mobilized its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle.

The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can’t very well return without having fought one. If it doesn’t find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one. Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of its own, and we’ll lose sight of why it’s being fought in the first place.

What we’re witnessing here is the spectacle of the world’s most powerful country reaching reflexively, angrily, for an old instinct to fight a new kind of war. Suddenly, when it comes to defending itself, America’s streamlined warships, cruise missiles and F-16 jets look like obsolete, lumbering things. As deterrence, its arsenal of nuclear bombs is no longer worth its weight in scrap. Box-cutters, penknives, and cold anger are the weapons with which the wars of the new century will be waged. Anger is the lock pick. It slips through customs unnoticed. Doesn’t show up in baggage checks.

Who is America fighting? On September 20, the FBI said that it had doubts about the identities of some of the hijackers. On the same day President George Bush said, "We know exactly who these people are and which governments are supporting them." It sounds as though the president knows something that the FBI and the American public don’t.

In his September 20 address to the US Congress, President Bush called the enemies of America "enemies of freedom". "Americans are asking, ‘Why do they hate us?’ " he said. "They hate our freedoms - our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." People are being asked to make two leaps of faith here. First, to assume that The Enemy is who the US government says it is, even though it has no substantial evidence to support that claim. And second, to assume that The Enemy’s motives are what the US government says they are, and there’s nothing to support that either.

For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US government to persuade its public that their commitment to freedom and democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack. In the current atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it’s an easy notion to peddle. However, if that were true, it’s reasonable to wonder why the symbols of America’s economic and military dominance - the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - were chosen as the targets of the attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government’s record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things - to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)? It must be hard for ordinary Americans, so recently bereaved, to look up at the world with their eyes full of tears and encounter what might appear to them to be indifference. It isn’t indifference. It’s just augury. An absence of surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing that what goes around eventually comes around. American people ought to know that it is not them but their government’s policies that are so hated. They can’t possibly doubt that they themselves, their extraordinary musicians, their writers, their actors, their spectacular sportsmen and their cinema, are universally welcomed. All of us have been moved by the courage and grace shown by firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary office staff in the days since the attacks.

America’s grief at what happened has been immense and immensely public. It would be grotesque to expect it to calibrate or modulate its anguish. However, it will be a pity if, instead of using this as an opportunity to try to understand why September 11 happened, Americans use it as an opportunity to usurp the whole world’s sorrow to mourn and avenge only their own. Because then it falls to the rest of us to ask the hard questions and say the harsh things. And for our pains, for our bad timing, we will be disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced.

The world will probably never know what motivated those particular hijackers who flew planes into those particular American buildings. They were not glory boys. They left no suicide notes, no political messages; no organization has claimed credit for the attacks. All we know is that their belief in what they were doing outstripped the natural human instinct for survival, or any desire to be remembered. It’s almost as though they could not scale down the enormity of their rage to anything smaller than their deeds. And what they did has blown a hole in the world as we knew it. In the absence of information, politicians, political commentators and writers (like myself) will invest the act with their own politics, with their own interpretations. This speculation, this analysis of the political climate in which the attacks took place, can only be a good thing.

But war is looming large. Whatever remains to be said must be said quickly. Before America places itself at the helm of the "international coalition against terror", before it invites (and coerces) countries to actively participate in its almost godlike mission - called Operation Infinite Justice until it was pointed out that this could be seen as an insult to Muslims, who believe that only Allah can mete out infinite justice, and was renamed Operation Enduring Freedom- it would help if some small clarifications are made. For example, Infinite Justice/Enduring Freedom for whom? Is this America’s war against terror in America or against terror in general? What exactly is being avenged here? Is it the tragic loss of almost 7,000 lives, the gutting of five million square feet of office space in Manhattan, the destruction of a section of the Pentagon, the loss of several hundreds of thousands of jobs, the bankruptcy of some airline companies and the dip in the New York Stock Exchange? Or is it more than that? In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then the US secretary of state, was asked on national television what she felt about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic sanctions. She replied that it was "a very hard choice", but that, all things considered, "we think the price is worth it". Albright never lost her job for saying this. She continued to travel the world representing the views and aspirations of the US government. More pertinently, the sanctions against Iraq remain in place. Children continue to die.

So here we have it. The equivocating distinction between civilization and savagery, between the "massacre of innocent people" or, if you like, "a clash of civilizations" and "collateral damage". The sophistry and fastidious algebra of infinite justice. How many dead Iraqis will it take to make the world a better place? How many dead Afghans for every dead American? How many dead women and children for every dead man? How many dead mojahedin for each dead investment banker? As we watch mesmerized, Operation Enduring Freedom unfolds on TV monitors across the world. A coalition of the world’s superpowers is closing in on Afghanistan, one of the poorest, most ravaged, war-torn countries in the world, whose ruling Taliban government is sheltering Osama bin Laden, the man being held responsible for the September 11 attacks.

The only thing in Afghanistan that could possibly count as collateral value is its citizenry. (Among them, half a million maimed orphans.There are accounts of hobbling stampedes that occur when artificial limbs are airdropped into remote, inaccessible villages.) Afghanistan’s economy is in a shambles. In fact, the problem for an invading army is that Afghanistan has no conventional coordinates or signposts to plot on a military map - no big cities, no highways, no industrial complexes, no water treatment plants. Farms have been turned into mass graves. The countryside is littered with land mines - 10 million is the most recent estimate. The American army would first have to clear the mines and build roads in order to take its soldiers in.

Fearing an attack from America, one million citizens have fled from their homes and arrived at the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The UN estimates that there are eight million Afghan citizens who need emergency aid. As supplies run out - food and aid agencies have been asked to leave - the BBC reports that one of the worst humanitarian disasters of recent times has begun to unfold. Witness the infinite justice of the new century. Civilians starving to death while they’re waiting to be killed.
In America there has been rough talk of "bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age". Someone please break the news that Afghanistan is already there. And if it’s any consolation, America played no small part in helping it on its way. The American people may be a little fuzzy about where exactly Afghanistan is (we hear reports that there’s a run on maps of the country), but the US government and Afghanistan are old friends.

In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) launched the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA. Their purpose was to harness the energy of Afghan resistance to the Soviets and expand it into a holy war, an Islamic jihad, which would turn Muslim countries within the Soviet Union against the communist regime and eventually destabilize it. When it began, it was meant to be the Soviet Union’s Vietnam. It turned out to be much more than that. Over the years, through the ISI, the CIA funded and recruited almost 100,000 radical mojahedin from 40 Islamic countries as soldiers for America’s proxy war. The rank and file of the mojahedin were unaware that their jihad was actually being fought on behalf of Uncle Sam. (The irony is that America was equally unaware that it was financing a future war against itself.)

In 1989, after being bloodied by 10 years of relentless conflict, the Russians withdrew, leaving behind a civilization reduced to rubble.

Civil war in Afghanistan raged on. The jihad spread to Chechnya, Kosovo and eventually to Kashmir. The CIA continued to pour in money and military equipment, but the overheads had become immense, and more money was needed. The mojahedin ordered farmers to plant opium as a "revolutionary tax". The ISI set up hundreds of heroin laboratories across Afghanistan. Within two years of the CIA’s arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland had become the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source of the heroin on American streets. The annual profits, said to be between $100bn and $200bn, were ploughed back into training and arming militants.

In 1995, the Taliban - then a marginal sect of dangerous, hardline fundamentalists - fought its way to power in Afghanistan. It was funded by the ISI, that old cohort of the CIA, and supported by many political parties in Pakistan. The Taliban unleashed a regime of terror. Its first victims were its own people, particularly women. It closed down girls’ schools, dismissed women from government jobs, and enforced sharia laws under which women deemed to be "immoral" are stoned to death, and widows guilty of being adulterous are buried alive. Given the Taliban government’s human rights track record, it seems unlikely that it will in any way be intimidated or swerved from its purpose by the prospect of war, or the threat to the lives of its civilians.

After all that has happened, can there be anything more ironic than Russia and America joining hands to re-destroy Afghanistan? The question is, can you destroy destruction? Dropping more bombs on Afghanistan will only shuffle the rubble, scramble some old graves and disturb the dead.

The desolate landscape of Afghanistan was the burial ground of Soviet communism and the springboard of a unipolar world dominated by America. It made the space for neocapitalism and corporate globalization, again dominated by America. And now Afghanistan is poised to become the graveyard for the unlikely soldiers who fought and won this war for America.

And what of America’s trusted ally? Pakistan too has suffered enormously. The US government has not been shy of supporting military dictators who have blocked the idea of democracy from taking root in the country. Before the CIA arrived, there was a small rural market for opium in Pakistan. Between 1979 and 1985, the number of heroin addicts grew from zero to one-and-a-half million. Even before September 11, there were three million Afghan refugees living in tented camps along the border. Pakistan’s economy is crumbling. Sectarian violence, globalization’s structural adjustment programs and drug lords are tearing the country to pieces. Set up to fight the Soviets, the terrorist training centers and madrasahs, sown like dragon’s teeth across the country, produced fundamentalists with tremendous popular appeal within Pakistan itself. The Taliban, which the Pakistan government has sup ported, funded and propped up for years, has material and strategic alliances with Pakistan’s own political parties.

Now the US government is asking (asking?) Pakistan to garrote the pet it has hand-reared in its backyard for so many years. President Musharraf, having pledged his support to the US, could well find he has something resembling civil war on his hands.
India, thanks in part to its geography, and in part to the vision of its former leaders, has so far been fortunate enough to be left out of this Great Game. Had it been drawn in, it’s more than likely that our democracy, such as it is, would not have survived. Today, as some of us watch in horror, the Indian government is furiously gyrating its hips, begging the US to set up its base in India rather than Pakistan. Having had this ringside view of Pakistan’s sordid fate, it isn’t just odd, it’s unthinkable, that India should want to do this. Any third world country with a fragile economy and a complex social base should know by now that to invite a superpower such as America in (whether it says it’s staying or just passing through) would be like inviting a brick to drop through your windscreen.

Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being fought to uphold the American Way of Life. It’ll probably end up undermining it completely. It will spawn more anger and more terror across the world. For ordinary people in America, it will mean lives lived in a climate of sickening uncertainty: will my child be safe in school? Will there be nerve gas in the subway? A bomb in the cinema hall? Will my love come home tonight? There have been warnings about the possibility of biological warfare - smallpox, bubonic plague, anthrax - the deadly payload of innocuous crop-duster aircraft. Being picked off a few at a time may end up being worse than being annihilated all at once by a nuclear bomb.

The US government, and no doubt governments all over the world, will use the climate of war as an excuse to curtail civil liberties, deny free speech, lay off workers, harass ethnic and religious minorities, cut back on public spending and divert huge amounts of money to the defense industry. To what purpose? President Bush can no more "rid the world of evil-doers" than he can stock it with saints. It’s absurd for the US government to even toy with the notion that it can stamp out terrorism with more violence and oppression. Terrorism is the symptom, not the disease. Terrorism has no country. It’s transnational, as global an enterprise as Coke or Pepsi or Nike. At the first sign of trouble, terrorists can pull up stakes and move their "factories" from country to country in search of a better deal. Just like the multi-nationals.

Terrorism as a phenomenon may never go away. But if it is to be contained, the first step is for America to at least acknowledge that it shares the planet with other nations, with other human beings who, even if they are not on TV, have loves and griefs and stories and songs and sorrows and, for heaven’s sake, rights. Instead, when Donald Rumsfeld, the US defense secretary, was asked what he would call a victory in America’s new war, he said that if he could convince the world that Americans must be allowed to continue with their way of life, he would consider it a victory.

The September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card from a world gone horribly wrong. The message may have been written by Bin Laden (who knows?) and delivered by his couriers, but it could well have been signed by the ghosts of the victims of America’s old wars. The millions killed in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, the 17,500 killed when Israel - backed by the US - invaded Lebanon in 1982, the 200,000 Iraqis killed in Operation Desert Storm, the thousands of Palestinians who have died fighting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. And the millions who died, in Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama, at the hands of all the terrorists, dictators and genocidists whom the American government supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with arms. And this is far from being a comprehensive list.

For a country involved in so much warfare and conflict, the American people have been extremely fortunate. The strikes on September 11 were only the second on American soil in over a century. The first was Pearl Harbor. The reprisal for this took a long route, but ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This time the world waits with bated breath for the horrors to come.

Someone recently said that if Osama bin Laden didn’t exist, America would have had to invent him. But, in a way, America did invent him. He was among the jihadis who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 when the CIA commenced its operations there. Bin Laden has the distinction of being created by the CIA and wanted by the FBI. In the course of a fortnight he has been promoted from suspect to prime suspect and then, despite the lack of any real evidence, straight up the charts to being "wanted dead or alive".

From all accounts, it will be impossible to produce evidence (of the sort that would stand scrutiny in a court of law) to link Bin Laden to the September 11 attacks. So far, it appears that the most incriminating piece of evidence against him is the fact that he has not condemned them.

From what is known about the location of Bin Laden and the living conditions in which he operates, it’s entirely possible that he did not personally plan and carry out the attacks - that he is the inspirational figure, "the CEO of the holding company". The Taliban’s response to US demands for the extradition of Bin Laden has been uncharacteristically reasonable: produce the evidence, then we’ll hand him over. President Bush’s response is that the demand is "non-negotiable".

(While talks are on for the extradition of CEOs - can India put in a side request for the extradition of Warren Anderson of the US? He was the chairman of Union Carbide, responsible for the Bhopal gas leak that killed 16,000 people in 1984. We have collated the necessary evidence. It’s all in the files. Could we have him, please?)

But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden? He’s America’s family secret. He is the American president’s dark doppelgänger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilized. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America’s foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of "full-spectrum dominance", its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable. Their guns, bombs, money and drugs have been going around in the loop for a while. (The Stinger missiles that will greet US helicopters were supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America’s drug addicts comes from Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently gave Afghanistan a $43m subsidy for a "war on drugs"....)

Now Bush and Bin Laden have even begun to borrow each other’s rhetoric. Each refers to the other as "the head of the snake". Both invoke God and use the loose millenarian currency of good and evil as their terms of reference. Both are engaged in unequivocal political crimes. Both are dangerously armed - one with the nuclear arsenal of the obscenely powerful, the other with the incandescent, destructive power of the utterly hopeless. The fireball and the ice pick. The bludgeon and the axe. The important thing to keep in mind is that neither is an acceptable alternative to the other.

President Bush’s ultimatum to the people of the world - "If you’re not with us, you’re against us" - is a piece of presumptuous arrogance. It’s not a choice that people want to, need to, or should have to make.

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A Truck for a CEO
2001 Lincoln Blackwood
– Al Auger

Ford Motor Company has itself embroiled in a very profound social conundrum. How many bank presidents or CEOs will buy a $60,000 pickup truck? With the introduction of what must be considered the (only) premier pickup on the road today, it’s going to be interesting to watch. The 2001 Lincoln Blackwood has engendered much in the way of commentary from the hoi polloi.

One of the most interesting reactions came from numerous Generation X-ers in their more pedestrian trucks: all favorable. The opposite pole was represented by many who questioned the logic of such a mammoth machine in these times: most of them from women, thank you very much. One has to admit the Blackwood, with its deep-gloss, lustrous black paint scheme with pinstriped charcoal gray side panels, has the austere businessman look. But it looks sexy at the same time. With big four doors for easy access to the posh leathered interior, it gives more impression of a car with a truck bed than a truck with a car cab.

Basically a Ford 250 Crew Cab with the smaller bed, there’s nary a voluptuous goody on the option list other than the DVD Navigational System ($1,995). Everything is finished in deep black touched by low-keyed faux-African Wenge wood appointments. Although there are only four generous bucket seats, the Lincoln people vow the cab will hold six adults. I just hope they like one another a lot. The truck bed (Ford calls it a trunk) with its power-tonneau cover is a wonderland of niceties as well. Entry is accessed by side-hinged Dutch doors and features well-located storage bins with industrial metal covers. The Blackwood is a plethora of small surprises.

Everything about the Blackwood seems big. From the P275/55R-18 all-season tires to the DOHC, 32-valve, 5.4-liter InTech V8. Rated at 300 horsepower and 355 lb.-ft. of torque that kicks in at a low-entry 2,750 rpms, the Blackwood is a perfect luxury "mule" for towing the yacht or executive Air Stream plane. Towing is made easy with a maximum capacity of 8,700 pounds with aftermarket weight distributing equipment.
You know that old maxim: If you need to ask "How much?" you can’t afford it. So don’t ask about fuel economy.

The engineers have taken an interesting tack on combating wheel spin. Instead of using the braking system, the Blackwood relies on reducing engine output by retarding the spark and reducing fuel flow until traction is restored. Even so, the 4-wheel power disc brakes are backed up by 3-channel ABS.

No one is perfect and the Blackwood comes with some picayune gripe points. The 6-CD changer is one of those slide boxes usually stored in the trunk. In this case the pop-out box is in the center console, taking up a lot of space and for the fumble-fingered, a lot of work. Maybe after being christened with a name like Blackwood, some attitude is expected, so a bit of separation of station has to be taken in stride. Thus, the remote door lock operation has no friendly wink of the lights or beep of the horn to acknowledge a successful operation. You should simply expect it has been achieved.

What is user-friendly is the unexpected nimble footwork the Blackwood exhibits under power. The acceleration-sensitive rear suspension system, tuned spring rates and air springs that automatically adjust for ride height and weight, gives the Blackwood a nicely balanced ride. The steering is quick and responsive, but any vehicle of this mass and weight comes with a rather dramatic caveat. Even so, the ripples and potholes are ingested and quiet is maintained at all times.

Trying to find a niche for the Blackwood seems intimidating. Even Lincoln is taking precautionary steps marking the 2001 as a limited production badge. But, if you think this Blackwood is something distinctive, wait until you see the Nieman-Marcus edition.

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Bollywood

Guftugu

STRANGER NO MORE

It hasn’t been long since Ajnabee has hit the screens and while opinions about the film is somewhat mixed, one thing is clear: one star is not going to be an ajnabee—stranger—for long. If initial reports are to be believed, Bollywood fans can’t get enough of newcomer Bipasha Basu.

Kareena Kapoor, eat your heart out. Critics sneer that the latest Kapoor kid has all the nakhra of a Bollywood star without quite establishing her credentials as an actress, and now she has got her come-uppance.

She co-stars in this well-made thriller, but all eyes—mostly male, if you must know—apparently are on the beautiful Bipasha. The debutant beauty apparently manages to steal the show despite Kareena’s great screen presence, and audiences apparently can’t get enough of her. Ah, dear Bipasha, you are a stranger no more, and producers and directors are surely going to scramble to give the audience what they seem to have an insatiable appetite for—which, in the near future, is apt to be an eyeful of Bipasha.

FEISTY GHAI

After his much ballyhooed Yaadein sank like a stone after release, critics had a field day skewering show man Subhash Ghai. But if they thought they could silence
Bollywood’s show man, they better think again.

Turning the Bollywood tradition of cancellation and postponement on its head, the feisty Ghai has pre-poned his announcement of his next film.

Yes, you heard that right. Ghai has announced the his next film earlier than was expected, and he isn’t stopping at that. In an effort to stop tongues wagging over rumors that Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor, the stars of the Yaadein debacle, are angry with him, Ghai has roped in the two hot Bollywood stars in for his new film.

So instead of announcing his new film in January as planned, the announcement will come sometime next year.

If you thought you could keep Subhash Ghai down, think again. A little bird tells us that the film will not only be under the old Mukta Arts banner, it will have the usual characters, action and music. Let’s hope it has the usual success, as well. Ghai never needed it more.

HAPPY NANDITA

Sultry beauty Nandita Das is thrilled, and for good reason.

Sure, her film Bawandar has drawn her rave reviews in London, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose and Santa Monica in sunny California, but somehow an accolade from someplace nearer to home is sweeter, especially if it’s Pakistan, not really known for handing out awards to Bollywood folks.

Bawandar, about a real-life rural Indian woman’s fight for justice after she is raped by upper caste men of her own village, simply bowled over the jury at Karachi’s International Film Festival held after a gap of 40 years, which gave her the best prize award.

And it isn’t just the jury that’s been bowled over. So is Nandita. Just listen to her, who came back just before the terror attacks on the World Trade Center from Pakistan. "It was wonderful trip," she said. "I had been to Lahore last year as part of the Human Rights Committee but it was a very short visit. But in both my trips, my belief was reaffirmed that we, the people of these two countries, are the same and want peace, not war. Seeing is believing, there is so much warmth and curiosity among the Pakistanis about our country."

Meanwhile, Nandita has brushed off her recent debacle in Aks, and she can afford to. She has offers from National Award-winning film makers like Mrinal Sen and Rituparno Ghosh. Not that she has sworn off commercial films—as far as she is concerned there is only good cinema and bad cinema.

DESI GODFATHER

The return of the big B has not been smooth. Just when he was teetering on the brink—the TV game show Kaun Banega Crorepati—proved once again his class as he towered amid a frenzy of audience adulation. But the recent Aks has not been well received, so the roller coaster ride continues.

Not that the Big B is daunted. Rather like his Bollywood blockbuster masala films of yesteryear, Amitabh is planning to shake up Bollywood with a desi version of Godfather. The big-budget Kutumb will have him play the role of Marlon Brando to son Abhishek’s Al Pacino, hoping to create the same kind of buzz that Hollywood director Martin Scorcese did when he created his blockbuster based on Mario Puzo’s novel. Shooting begins early next year, and producer A.G. Nadiadwala says it’s going to be a desi version with songs, action and comedy. Shooting begins early next year. The filmi kind, that is.

SUNNY SIDE UP

How about something different? Not a party, or some big publicity splash to celebrate a landmark for a movie, but a bit of social work?

Well that’s exactly what fans of Sunny Deol have done in Maharashtra’s Akola after his partition saga Gadar completed 100 days in the town’s Vasant Cinema.

The Akola Deol Fans Club distributed meals to the poor, and the management of Vasant theatre distributed a bonus worth 15 days’ salary to their employees.

Traders in Akola are expecting a bumper opening for Sunny Deol’s next film Indian. Film buffs are already clapping and enjoying the preview of the film, which is being screened at the theatre.

Does that mean the poor can expect another fete in the not-to-distant future?

STAR’S ACCOLADE

The evergreen Madhuri Dixit recently saw Tabu’s performance in a special screening of Chandni Bar and she was overwhelmed. She was so moved by the film that she called Tabu as soon as she reached home to congratulate her on her performance. It wasn’t just any polite nod of approval, either. The veteran actress told Tabu that this was among the best performances she has seen in recent times.

Tabu, needless to say, was delirious with joy. The praise was particularly sweet, because it came from one of her idols.

What makes all of this so very interesting is Madhuri has also shown the world she can give any contemporary star a run for her money with her powerful performance of feisty nautanki performer in Lajja. Many critics are already saying that Tabu and Madhuri could will find themselves vying for the best actress award in this year’s film awards.

NOT-SO HAPPY DIWALI

Looks like it could be a not so happy Diwali for fastidious film star producer Aamir Khan, and we aren’t talking about the festivities that are approaching. It’s the film Happy Diwali that has our Bollywood star unhappy.

Aamir had virtually taken over the AB Corp film, which stars him and svelte Bengali star Rani Mukerjee. Now he has put those plans on hold, if rumors are to be believed. Apparently the way Aamir looks at it, his two productions, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan and Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai, have set a really high standard. Bollywood fans have come to expect a degree of excellence that they don’t from anyone else. Aamir is committed to respecting that, and Happy Diwali just doesn’t cut the mustard.

REALITY CHECK

Sometimes, a hint of real life can bring an amazing change of heart.

Just ask Raveena Tandon. Raveena is playing a TV newscaster who is madly in love with the hero, played by Kamal Haasan, in Kamal’s forthcoming film Abhay. Raveena plays an unwed mother who loves her man but is scared about having a baby out of wedlock.

Raveena felt it just didn’t make sense. She told Kamal her character had no justification for getting pregnant. She stuck to her guns, and Kamal tried to tell her this was just a film, but that didn’t work either.

At this late stage, changing the script would meant delay and added expenses, so Kamal went for the jugular, if stories about this are to be believed.

Justification, you say? Kamal postponed his shoot and took Raveena to lunch and decided to bring her face-to-face with messy reality. Look, he told Raveena, real life is messy, people do impulsive, silly things sometimes, OK? Take the instance of this Bollywood star who gave up her career to marry this Casanova film star.

That did it. Tears welled up in Raveena’s eyes. Of course, it brought back painful memories of her ill-fated relationship with Akshay Kumar, and with a bitter sigh she had to concede, people do all kinds of silly things.

Next day back went our chastened Raveena to shooting, without an iota changed from the script. A reality check can work wonders, even if it can be brutally bruising.

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Hindi Film Review
Govinda is the Crutch

Kyo Kii... Main Jhooth Nahi Bolta
Director: David Dhawan
Music: Anand Raaj Anand
Starring: Govinda, Sushmita Sen, Anupam Kher, Sharad Kapoor, Satish Kaushik and Rambha.

When one thinks of David Dhawan, one is reminded of the Energizer bunny which does not live up to its promise. Like the Energizer bunny, he goes on and on, rehashing the same old cliches and the same ribald humor, but unlike the Energizer battery, his jokes seem tired, his craft jaded, and his skill shaky, and unfortunately, this film tends to prove that unlike the Energizer bunny, Dhawan badly needs to recharge his batteries.

A key aspect of the plot is lifted from the Hollywood film Liar Liar with Jim Carrey, but originality has never been Bollywood’s strongest suit, so let that pass.

The desi concoction goes like this: Raj Malhotra (Govinda) is a small-town lawyer who dreams of practicing in the Mumbai High Court. So he comes to Mumbai, and quickly realizes what an impossible dream it is for a hick like him, because in Mumbai, status trumps skill.

However, Raj gets an idea when he runs into top dog lawyer Tejpal (Anupam Kher). He discovers that Adarsh (Sharad Kapoor), Tejpal’s son-in-law, was once a small-town lawyer like him. But not any more. Adarsh wooed Tejpal’s daughter and married her. Gradually he took over the Tejpal empire.

Driven by ambition, Raj decides to follow Adarsh’s footsteps. He starts chasing another daughter of Tejpal, Sonal (Sushmita Sen). Ultimately he does marry Sonal, but in an ironic twist, it is Sonal who renounces her father’s wealth out of idealism. Adarsh has no compunction in rubbing it in as he proclaims to Raj that he, Adarsh, is going to be the sole inheritor of Tejpal’s wealth after all.

Raj refuses to accept defeat. So what if Tejpal has a huge mansion? He is going to build a bigger one, he says. He is going to show them.

And show them he does. In time, he gains everything he ever sought to, untold wealth, status, but loses his most precious possession in the process—his soul. In the process of reaching his goal Raj becomes a slick, double-talking, manipulative fraud who is willing to make any compromise, to utter any lie, betray any principle, to get what he wants.

His wife Sonal leaves him in disgust, and his heartbroken son, all of seven years, is inconsolable at the idea of his parents separating. Even the little kid has an understanding that it is his father’s duplicity that is the root of the discord between his parents.

He prays for a wish to come true: For one full day, his father will not lie. And lo and behold, his wish is granted, a la Liar Liar.

The rest of the film ties in all the loose ends with a pat happy ending.

Even then, it’s not a bad story, is it. Sure, it has more than its share of mawkish Bollywood pathos, but savvy film makers have made perfectly serviceable films with similar stories before, so what’s wrong with Dhawan’s film?

In a word, mediocrity. The first half hangs loose like the sagging belly of a hippo, so slipshod is Dhawan’s direction and editing. The music is not only irrelevant and intrusive, it’s also pretty bad. The story has more holes than a chunk of Swiss cheese, and even by the expansive standards of Bollywood, it’s excessive.

The humor is coarse at times but there are some funny moments, it must be said. However, the film is pulled down by the atrociously miscast Sushmita Sen. Wooden and poorly nuanced, her performance is unconvincing, to say the least, made worse by her poor Hindi accent.

The redeeming virtue of the film is the remarkable Govinda, who alone, carries the huge weight on his supple shoulders. But even with his superb, wacky charm that has an understandable large following, Govinda cannot, and must not, be expected to bail out a director who seems to be in a rut.

The film is much worse than Jodi No. 1, and the fact of the matter is the Govinda-Dhawan team’s days are going to be numbered if Dhawan fails to inject a dash of freshness, commitment and style to his craft.

I know it’s harsh, but I had to say it.

Kyo ki main bakwas nahi karta.

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Tamil Film Review
Engaging, Entertaining Film


Pandavar Bhoomi

Director: Cheran
Music: Bharadwaj
Starring: Arun Kumar, Rajkiran, Shamita, Vinu Chakravarty, Vijaykumar and Ranjit.

Like Cheran’s earlier films, Pandavar Bhoomi, is message oriented without losing sight of the entertainment factor, and has a rural setting. A freshness in the story line and narrative style makes the film engaging and different from routine fare. The story centers round Dhanasekharan (Rajkiran), a hardworking, prosperous villager, a man of the soil, who is very protective of his four younger siblings. When the younger sister (Shamita) elopes and marries the son of a rival, Dhanasekharan’s younger brother kills the duo and goes to jail. A heartbroken Dhanasekharan leaves the village with the family. But the yearning for his roots brings him back after a gap of twelve years. The director uses the analogy of the exile and the return of the Pandavas here.

Dhanasekharan’s desire is to build a dream house where his dilapidated ancestral home stood. Young architect Thamizh (Arun) is hired for the purpose. Thamizh falls in love with Dhanasekharan’s niece Jeeva (Shamita), but the family had decided on her marrying her uncle, who had served his sentence and was returning home. The rival landlord, too, plans his final vengeance. How the matter is resolved forms the rest of the story.

The director should be commended for daring to give the role of the heroes to artists who have been sidelined and are considered unsaleable by the industry. Rajkiran and Arun Kumar have justified the confidence of the director. Arun Kumar, as the young architect in love with his client’s daughter, is compelling in his role, and when he withdraws after learning that she is engaged to someone, he is natural and spontaneous.

Rajkiran performs his role with impressive skill as the protective elder brother of the siblings, forced by a personal crisis to leave his village with the family. He is particularly compelling in expressing his yearning for his roots, which brings him back to his village. He performs his role with dignity and sensitivity, his well-modulated voice a plus point.

How a debutante with average attributes can be molded and projected impressively is evident in Shamita’s case. Performing a dual role, that of two contrasting characters, the actress has been presented particularly well by the director.

The characters of the rival landlord and his son could have been etched more convincingly. Their antics at times gives rise to some unintended humor. The cinematography of Thangar Bachan deserves special mention, which together with P. Krishnamurthy’s artwork makes every frame a treat.

Bharadwaj’s music is catchy, with the following songs standing out: the melodious "Thozha Thozha," the vibrant and well-picturized "Eh Sambha," and the philosophical number "Avaravar Vazhkayil."

— Malini Mannath • In association with Chennai Online

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Palak Kofta
Vegetarian Delight
– By Seema Gupta

Ingredients

• 1 lb boiled potatoes
• 1 lb boiled spinach
• 2-3 medium onions, grated
• 2 cups paneer
• 6 puréed tomatoes
• 5-6 ground green chillies
• 5-6 2-inch pieces of ginger crushed
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 tsp coriander powder
• 1/2 tsp turmeric
• 1/2 tsp red chilli
• 1 tbsp lemon juice
• Cooking oil for deep frying and sautéing.
• 1 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves

Method

For Kofta

Crush spinach into thick paste in a blender. Mash potatoes.

Add salt and turmeric to paneer. Make 1-inch diameter balls with the paneer and stuff it in a ball of mashed potatoes of slightly larger size. Make sure the paneer-filled potato balls are spherical.

Dip the balls in spinach and deep fry them.

For sauce

Sauté the onions. Add red chilli, coriander powder, crushed ginger and green chilli. Add a cup of water. Add the tomato puree and sauté till the sauce is thick. Add the koftas. Switch off the stove and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

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October-November Horoscope – By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You will receive a lot of bills in the mail. Legal issues will add to the stress. You will experience delay in almost all matters. A trip will be very rewarding. Spouse will be nervous. You will work longer hours.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): You might make quick bucks through speculation. A loan application will go through without a hitch. You will get several new offers. Some of you might go through a minor surgery.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20):
This month is very favorable for all financial matters. You will earn name and fame in the social circle because of your good efforts in the past. Some pending issues related to property will get resolved. Spouse must watch his/her health. Good news coming via mail.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22):
You will take bold decisions towards freedom from stereotype. There is a big chance of sudden wealth. Try your luck with lottery. You will severe relations with an old friend. Plans will fall in shape as time goes by. Take extra Calcium.

LEO (July 23 to August 22):
You will do better everyday. Income will improve and you will sign an important contract this month. Try to control your excitement and do not disclose your strategy to anyone if you want success to last for a longer period.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): A very comfortable month for you. You will stay cheerful and meet old friends. Your house will need repairs and you might replace electric gadgets at home. You will be offered a great opportunity in career, which you may accept.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): You will be in touch with an important person with political background. There will be a big change in religious beliefs. You will write an important letter using very aggressive language. An old friend will send an invitation for a big get together.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Financial pressures will increase as you waste money on things that could have been avoided. You may finally end an old relationship. Job will demand more attention and hours. Loan application on property will get slightly delayed.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): Health and personal issues will overcast other excitements in life. Some of you will respond to an opportunity from a distant place. Finances will stay on the edge. You will taking a short trip.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Major uncertainty will arise in career. Focus will stay on resolving career-related issues. You will be traveling for business. You may dispose off some assets for minor gains. A business partner will decide to breakaway.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): Mind will be more settled as tension about career will reduce a lot for the time being. Do not speculate. You will be traveling to meet old friends. Some of you may take up a job-related training.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Legal matters will be resolved favorably. An old appeal will be accepted by the government. Spouse may suffer from minor health problems. You will be tempted to take some risks in career to improve income. Family matters may take time to resolve.

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