Siliconeer: September 2001

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SEPTEMBER 2001
Volume II •
Issue 9

Publisher's Note:

As we were going to press
we heard about the terrible terrorist attacks
on the World Trade Center in New York and
the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

We join all humane people in the world
in expressing our outrage, shock and
sadness at the events.

The reverse side of Rick Rocamora’s business card says it all: “Silicon Raj, a photodocumentary project to honor the contributions of Asian Indians in America.”

Rocamora is a Filipino American photographer whose impressive haul of awards includes being selected KQED local hero and awards from the New California Media, Media Alliance and the Asian American Journalists Association.

Three years ago the San Francisco Examiner sent Rocamora to take photos of a Silicon Valley CEO. Apparently the company had was all set to take off, thanks to some big innovation. When he reached the company, Rocamora ran into an Indian, and it turned out the Indian had developed the product.

That set Rocamora thinking. Why wasn’t he taking pictures of the Indian guy, he thought. He started researching and was stunned to find out how much Indian Americans had contributed to the technology revolution. He read about Hotmail inventor Sabeer Bhatia, fiberoptics guru Narinder Kapany and other Silicon Valley hotshots.

His interest blossomed into a broader inquiry into not only the achievements of Indian Americans, but their culture and lifestyle as well. His self-funded project already has resulted in gorgeous photographs, some of which are now on exhibit at the Doe Library at the University of California at Berkeley.

This issue’s main story presents Rocamora’s thoughts and some of the photographs from the UC Berkeley exhibit.

Rocamora says his passion on this issue stems from the fact that like Indians, he is also an Asian immigrant, and he wants mainstream Americans to recognize and honor the contribution of immigrants.

Rocamora’s pride in Indian American success reflects a mindset that sets a lofty example for the community to follow. All too often Indian Americans live in an ethnic ghetto where they like to wallow in self-congratulation. Yet it would be salutary for community members to reach out like Rocamora and build bridges across ethnic divides and ultimately broaden that kinship to include all people of goodwill.

Also, this month we present a thought-provoking article by an expatriate Bengali who has developed a user-friendly Bengali word-processing software. In the dynamic information technology age, his concerns about Bengali becoming irrelevant in the new digital age are doubtless shared by many South Asians who have an abiding love for their mother tongue, whether it is Bengali or not.

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Main Feature

Silicon Valley:
Desi Images -
By Rick Rocamora



Award winning Filipino American photographer Rick Rocamora explains why he got interested in Indian Americans. This brief essay presents comments he made for his photo exhibit on Silicon Valley desis at U.C. Berkeley.

Silicon Raj” is a photo documentary work in progress, a project to honor the contributions of Indians in America—in the high tech industry, medicine, biotechnology, publishing, academia, social service, arts and culture—and their entrepreneurial leadership in creating jobs and prosperity for all Americans. It is time for Americans to welcome their presence and help in their integration.

“Silicon Raj” is also my effort to provide the Indian community with a visual voice, so others will respect their ambitions, culture, music, and other social values, and to document the day to day life of a proud community.

According to Information Technology Association of America, engineers produced by U.S. schools typically are not as well trained as those from Indian technology schools. Fortune says: “Without the Indian hi-tech professionals and entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley would not be what it is today.”

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, Indian-led hi-tech companies generated $3.5 in sales and employed 16,500 people in 1998. Collectively, they have created companies that account for $235 billion in market value. Naren Bakshi, who heads Versata and Expede said in a newspaper interview: “I came here from India to seek a job and ask this country to give me something. It feels good to pay the debt by creating jobs for others.”

Thank you for allowing me to capture a moment of your life in America. I hope these images will improve our acceptance as immigrants and make our children proud of who we are and what we have done for this nation.





Rick Rocamora’s photographs are on exhibit at the Doe Library at the University of California at Berkeley. Readers wishing to support his continuing documentary project on Indian Americans can reach him by email at rbrocamora@earthlink.net

– Award-winning photographer Rick Rocamora lives in Oakland, Calif.

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Infotech India



One Point SolutionDream CompanyMultimedia DemandINFINET Selects Cisco
Sun Micro, HitachiNetkeralam.comHere is the latest on information technology from India

One Point Solution

Siemens Information Systems has entered into strategic tie-ups with some of the foremost global media solution providers like SAP AG, PPI and Omnixmedia to provide a single-point solution to the media including the electronic segment.

“The idea is to gain access to the highly competitive Europe and US media markets which have a number of media companies on the lookout for effective end-to-end software solutions,” company director A.S. Viswanathan told reporters in New Delhi Sept. 11.

He said it was expected that the company’s turnover would go up at least by Rs. 400 million in the next two years from its media solutions initiatives under these tie-ups.

The company, which had posted a turnover of Rs. 2 billion in the fiscal ended September 30, 2000, is expecting a 25 percent increase during the current fiscal ending this month.

Viswanathan said the tie-up with these international outfits enabled the company to offer customized end-to-end solutions covering production, circulation, programming, digital archiving and retrieval, advertisement and billing to the print as well as electronic media across the globe.

The company, which has at least four national newspapers as clients in India, was planning to tap the small and medium newspapers in a big way.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Dream Company

Software giant Infosys was ranked the best employer but could have been a distant second as IBM India chose to stay out of the survey conducted by Dataquest-IDC. Infosys was followed by Hewlett Packard, Compaq, HCL Tech and Cognizant technology solutions.

Infosys did report the lowest attrition rate and was reported as the ‘’dream company’’ by 25 percent of those interviewed and 82 percent of its own employees. In a previous survey, only 45 percent of Infosys employees had cited their own company as their ‘’dream company.’’

There’s been a dramatic turnaround from the previous DQ survey just four months ago, when we talked to software professionals. At that time, the biggest motivator by far was money. Also, foreign postings and training opportunities were very high on the priority list. ‘’Today with pink slips and lower increments the norm is job security and stability that IT pros are most concerned about,’’ DQ group editor Prasanto K. Roy said.

A surprise was Wipro’s fall from number three position in the previous survey to number eight this time. This could partially be due to the inclusion of hardware giants HP and Compaq in this survey. A crucial issue that has emerged this time is employee worry about job security. Wipro is one of the few top companies that have scored low on this attribute.

And the slowdown certainly took its toll. Yesterday’s fast-track IT professionals, always on the lookout for change of job for higher salary and perks are today’s cautious and worried movers. The survey indicated that apart from career development and job content, another significant factor that now figures high on the priority list is job security and stability.

Also, employee satisfaction levels seem to be at an all time low now. Employee ranking of their own satisfaction put Infosys in 11th position and the company ranked eighth on peer satisfaction scores. Much of this came from a significant amount of dissatisfaction with salary levels and issues with job content and career development.

Also, it is likely that fed on high expectations, Infosys employees can’t seem to get enough of a good thing. Despite one of the best employee stock option plans in the industry, Infosys employees have expressed a great deal of dissatisfaction on this score.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Multimedia Demand

There was an immediate requirement of over 300 audio engineers and 12,800 multimedia professionals in India, a survey carried out by SAE Technology College, one of the leading formal trainers in entertainment education, has said.

With the country making big leaps in the entertainment industry, the requirement for professionals would be five-fold in another three to five years, Rathish Babu, chief executive officer of the college in India, told reporters in the Tamil Nadu city of Coimbatore Sept. 10.

Rathish, who was here for the opening of branch of SAE, said that the television and broadcast industry was expected to employ over 300,000 people by the year 2008. He said the growth potential of entertainment industry would be around Rs. 40 billion by 2005 from the current Rs 12.54 billion.

The college had a unique partnership with Walt Disney for internship programs for the audio students and also an agreement with Middlesex University, Southern Cross University in Australia for accreditation degrees, Rathish said.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

INFINET Selects Cisco

Cisco Systems, the worldwide leader in networking for the Internet, Sept. 11 announced it has been selected to provide the communications and networking equipment for a new terrestrial network for INFINET—Indian Financial Network.

The network is owned and maintained by IDRBT, India’s first autonomous Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology.

The terrestrial network will cover the entire breadth of India and seamlessly connect 21 major cities of India, including the metros through a Leased Line Network, a Cisco release said.

The LLN will provide gateways to the member banks for inter-bank applications such as Simple Messaging, Delivery against Payment, Government Transactions, to a centralized-funds querying for banks and financial institutes.

The terrestrial network will compliment the already existing INFINET VSAT network, the release said.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Sun Micro, Hitachi

Sun Microsystems India and Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly-owned Indian subsidiary of Hitachi, Sept. 5 announced their global relationship in India.

Sun has signed a distributor agreement for certain high-end Hitachi Data systems products. Sun and Hitachi Data systems will cross-license and distribute each other’s storage software. Both companies will collaborate on the development of storage software and the companies will work on expanding integration capabilities worldwide.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Netkeralam.com

Netkeralam.com, a Web site offering a broad spectrum of services to Malayalees and their relatives abroad, has been launched by AIWA Technologies, the frontline firms in Internet and Intranet solutions.

The Web site will create highly profitable business opportunities to the entrepreneurs in Kerala and Lakshadweep, according to AIWA.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

FINANCE

Securing Your Financial Future
Rules of Investing By Ashok Gupta

What, me invest? Too many of us are used to the ways of the old country, where provident fund, pension schemes and fixed deposits rule. In the U.S., you have to take advantage of the dynamic financial milieu. Ashok Gupta offers a few useful tips.

With all due apologies to Noah Webster, recent financial market developments have shown that you can’t spell investment without “R-I-S-K.” But experience suggests that simply by concentrating on two A’s – Allocation and Averaging – personal investors can continue to write success stories.

Time has shown that asset allocation and dollar cost averaging can be integral elements in a long-term investment strategy. Those who stick with a well-designed plan, with clear financial objectives, that fits both their financial situation and tolerance for risk are generally rewarded for their discipline. Their overall track record is normally superior to those who try to time their investments by flipping in and out of the market or by concentrating their investments in “hot” markets.

Monitoring the Mix: Both allocation and averaging are somewhat rigorous approaches that at times require a strong stomach. For example, once you’ve decided on a suitable asset allocation, you and your financial planner will need to watch your portfolio results closely in order to keep the right mix. You’re likely to face some pretty tough decisions. Say you’ve decided on the following allocation for your portfolio: 60 percent stocks/30 percent bonds/10 percent money market instruments. But the stock portion’s growth quickly outpaces the increase in value of your bonds. Now you’ve got a dilemma if you stick to the plan – Should you sell off a portion of the successful stock segment in order to buy more of the bonds and money markets, which aren’t doing as well?

That kind of question can give even disciplined and experienced investors a quick dose of indigestion. Complicating matters, you also have to evaluate the tax and transaction costs of buying and selling, and you need to consider allocation changes whenever your personal circumstances change.

You might be able to make your life somewhat easier, and still benefit from the time-tested advantages of asset allocation by buying mutual funds that practice allocation strategies similar to yours. Even so, that still won’t excuse you (and/or your financial advisor) from regularly monitoring your portfolio if you intend to maintain a truly diversified and appropriately balanced portfolio.

“Time in the Market is More Important than Timing the Market:” This old maxim states a basic truth for those looking to set up a portfolio for the long-term: the sooner you can begin an investment program, the better. And many professional financial investment advisors favor dollar cost averaging – the disciplined practice of making regular, periodic fund purchases by investing the same dollar amount each time you buy. In that way, you’ll be buying more shares when the price is low, and fewer when it’s high.

Dollar Cost Averaging: It can make market fluctuations work for, rather than against you. The inherent discipline of such an approach is generally regarded as far sounder than trying to time your purchases to market developments. Not only is that difficult to do, the hesitancy that may result could cost you some excellent opportunities as you sit on the sidelines.



Dollar cost averaging is extremely effective if the share price declines and then recovers, as illustrated by the accompanying chart, but the strategy demands that you have the fortitude to stick with it, even when the market sags.

This dollar cost averaging approach can be applied effectively to a host of investment programs, including annuities, mutual funds and IRAs.

Lump Sum Caveat: Averaging is a great way to invest in increments, but its effectiveness can wane over a period of years, as the impact of early returns tends to be diminished by the growing portion of your account that was purchased at later dates. If you come across a large lump sum or inheritance, you might want to think about investing it more quickly, especially if you have confidence in the stock market’s demonstrated ability to rise consistently over time.

Insurance Options: Some variable life insurance policies can conveniently blend allocation and averaging approaches along with your need for death protection. Variable contracts can be structured so that you can pay premiums when and in the amounts you want. You can also choose from among many investment options for funds credited to your policy. Moreover, many insurers offer an automatic asset reallocation feature that responds to the investment results credited to the policy. Note that if you make excess contributions to a life insurance contract, you may become subject to unfavorable tax treatment.

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

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INNOVATION

Bengali and Computers
A Software that Works By Abdus Shakil

Bengali (Bengalis call it Bangla) is the world’s fourth most widely spoken language after Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish, i.e. it is South Asia’s most widely spoken language. Yet Bengalis have failed to equip their language for the digital age, writes Abdus Shakil.

It’s good to see people celebrating Bangla cultural heritage abroad. However, no one apparently thinks of the future of our language. Think about 10 or 20 years from now when we all (at home and abroad) will be totally dependent on computers and the Internet. Bangla script will just vanish from the world. Think of Pali, or even Sanskrit. If a language is not used in writing, it will inevitably be lost. And if we lose our script, we actually lose everything—all culture, all art. This is going to happen as most of us (at home and abroad) do not know how to write our own language on a computer.

Speaking of modern technology, how many Bangla sites do you see on the net? Many Bangladeshi sites use the PDF format, which is really a cop-out. Those that use fonts follow no standardized system so you have to download separate fonts for each different Web site. Consequently you can’t do a search on the Web in Bangla, and as all written documents get progressively digitized, Bangla is left out in the cold.

Please wake up Bangalees/Bangladeshis. We are always in our dreams. And we certainly dream in Bangla; not in English, German or French. Let us bring our dream to reality.

It is true that typing in Bangla poses challenges, but there is a way around it. There are nations having thousands of characters in their languages (Japanese for instance). We can do what they do. Bear with me on this as I explain,

In Bangla we use 170 characters (in the most conservative count) in 300+ combinations. To be able to type Bangla on a computer at a reasonable speed one needs to memorize 170 keystrokes in different key combinations.. Memorizing keystrokes or keeping a chart on the desktop was the only way for Bangla typing before computers. This is the main reason why Bangla speaking people can not type in their own language. Sporadic amateur attempts by different young Bangla speaking programmers did not lead to anything.

A simple, logical solution to this problem was never considered.

I claim with full confidence that an average person can master the program I have developed in two hours and will be able to type Bangla at his/her own speed of English typing.

I have developed a transliteration scheme to represent each and every Bangla character by English letter(s). It is simple, but what is more important, it is consistent. I have implemented this in an application program and developed a Bangla word processing software. This is so simple and easy that it takes only few minutes to understand. A little practice and you can master it. This will completely eliminate the burden of mastering another keyboard to write Bangla on a computer, a fact that have driven us away from using Bangla in the electronic media. Anyone will be able to use it with the knowledge of the QWERTY keyboard.

Bangla words are not pronounced as they are spelled and vice versa, and this has made Bangla extremely difficult and is one reason why we hesitate to write Bangla.

I am a stickler for correct Bangla spelling. That’s why I have followed the traditional way of spelling Bangla words in English in most cases except that I have not followed the Hindi style of transliteration currently in vogue. I have modified the English spelling of a Bangla word so that it follows one consistent set of rules and is as close as possible to the way we pronounce it.

The problem of using Bangla on computers is not just limited to our inability to type it. Many other technical problems remained unsolved and even unidentified. The more dependent we get on computers, the more we will separate from our language. The technical problems will act as catalysts in this process. The reasons are as follows:

We do not have a standardized font that may be used to read any Bangla file. (Solution: Use standard English)

We do not have Bangla fonts/programs to work with Unix or Linux. (Solution: Use standard English)

We do not have a system that will support Bangla on the web. (Solution: Use standard English)

The unauthorized fonts that we have been using are having lots of problems as the Windows operating system is updating. (Solution: Use standard English)

The unauthorized fonts are workable in Windows 9x. The Bangla users, under circumstances, have to stick with Win 95 or 98 for the rest of their lives. (Solution: Use standard English)

So our first task is to start writing in Bangla in the digital age, and get others to do it as well. Then, when a critical mass of users has been achieved, we will be compelled to deal with the other issues. Necessity will breed a demand for solutions, and the solutions will come. Its not intelligence that we lack, it is commitment.

But first you have to write in Bangla. Don’t just think about it. Do it! Get your near and dear ones to do it. And then we can go from there.

Abdus Shakil can be reached at shakil@bornosoft.com

Abdus Shakil has both MD and PhD degrees,
the latter from Hiroshima. He has developed
a user friendly Bengali word-processing software.
He lives in Portland, Ore.

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Law:

Hardly A Panacea
Temporary Worker’s Visa By Raja Ahluwalia

As the H-1B Visa becomes less attractive in these days of economic doldrums, some are searching for other alternatives, and some slick legal advisors are suggesting the H2A visa as a useful alternative. This is extremely dubious advice, and so Siliconeer asked attorney Raja Ahluwalia to give an overview of the rules and restrictions of the visa.


This category is for temporary workers performing “agricultural labor or services…of a temporary or seasonal nature,” as defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Workers under this definition typically are farm workers, orchard workers, and ranch hands. The requirements for this category are narrowly defined, stipulating that the applicant must be coming temporarily to the U.S. in order to undertake work of a temporary nature. A crucial element of the H2A category is that there be a temporary need on the part of the employer. Also the work must not be part time. The INS has denied H2A petitions where it has found that there was a chronic shortage of workers, giving rise to a continuous temporary need; such a continuous need was the equivalent of a permanent need. In addition, workers under this category must prove that they have a nonimmigrant, intent. There are several special requirements for employers of H2A workers, including providing housing, meals, and transportation costs.

To process an H2A application, the employer must also show that there are no U.S. workers in the local area who are capable of performing such services. The H2A process therefore involves a labor certification, somewhat similar to that used for permanent, employment-based immigration. Approval of the labor certification constitutes a finding that: (a) there are no U.S. workers available, and (b) the employment of the foreign worker will not affect the wage rate and working conditions of similarly employed workers in the U.S.

The temporary labor certification application is filed with the local state-level labor office, and processed in a relatively expedited manner. There is also what is known as a “50 percent rule,” which requires that the employer to hire U.S. farm workers who apply for the job until 50% of the work contract period has been completed. In this regard, the employer must make concerted efforts to hire U.S. workers, including the use of electronic data banks.

Advertising the job and consulting with local unions is required, and efforts to recruit U.S. workers must be documented.

The U.S. Department of Labor usually grants applications for no more than one year, although in practice it may be nearly impossible to obtain approvals for longer than 10 months. The DOL may even consider 6 months to be too long. Much is left to the discretion of the individual DOL officer.

Upon approval of the LC, a petition is then submitted to INS. Multiple beneficiaries can be included on the same petition as long as they are performing the same services, for the same time period and in the same location. A U.S.- based agent is required for the petitioner in order to file the petition, in the case where the employer is a foreign entity.

Admission and Extension:
H2A workers are admitted for the time on the Labor Certification, with a maximum of 1 year. Extensions may be granted, but for not more than 12 months at a time and with a maximum stay of 3 years. If an extension is required, a new Labor Certification is required or a notice that the Labor Certification cannot be made.

Dependents:
Dependents (spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age) of H-2 workers are entitled to H-4 status with the same restrictions as the principal. Dependents may not be employed under the H-4 classification.

Raja Ahluwalia is an immigration attorney
based in San Mateo, Calif.

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Culture:

Two Directors:
Chats with Goutam Ghose and Basu Chatterjee
- By Amardeep Gupta

Film makers Goutam Ghose and Basu Chatterjee were in the Bay Area to mark a Bengali film fest at Fremont’s Naz8 Cinemas. Former Indian festival guru Sankar Basu played a key role. Amardeep Gupta talked with the directors.

All of Goutam Ghose’s films have won national awards, and in addition he is a successful documentary film maker. He started with documentaries, and has just finished a documentary on Satyajit Ray. His latest film Dekha is on the global festival circuit, and was screened at Prabasi’s film festival.

Excerpts from an interview:

How long have you been making films?

I have been making films since 1973. My latest film is Dekha released in Kolkata recently.

What’s your most memorable film?

I don’t have a memorable film. It’s always my next film. It’s great excitement working with so many people. I am my own severe critic and find my own mistakes. However, one of the most memorable films is a documentary inspired by Ustad Bismillah Khan shot in Benares, who is a true artist who also has the humility of the artist. The film is Sange Mil Se Mulaqat (Meeting a Milestone). The film is in Urdu.

What else have you been working on lately?

I have finished a long documentary film on Ray called Ray. I happen to be the honorary chairman of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata.

How do you think the gap between commercial and art cinema can be bridged?

I don’t believe in the commercial and art divide in cinema. Cinema is a language and an expression of art. You can use this medium for personal expression and inspiration.

I try to portray the history of mankind. An integral part of impermanence is the most important phenomenon in the universe. The emotional appeal of the cinema is the way it makes us cry, laugh and experience time.

What are your driving forces?

Theater and photography are my driving forces: theater, because it enacts life, and photography because it captures life.

How do you deal with the obstacles and challenges that sentient film makers face in India? Is raising money a problem?

The more obstacles one faces the more innovative one gets. Budget is not an issue, because even with a small budget you can make a great film.

Is there any message you wish to impart?

Asia is a place of ancient wisdom. Don’t forget your own roots. Compassion, love for human beings is our heritage—our tradition is to make everybody our neighbor. Asians believe in Vasudeva Kutumbakam. (The world is your family). Market alone cannot give peace to humans. Economics is only a part of civilization.

Basu Chatterjee has made highly successful romantic comedies like Shaukeen, Chitchor and Baaton Baaton Mein. He has recently made a joint Indo-Bangladesh film, Chupi-Chupi.

Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you come back to Bengali films?

I am not exactly returning. This is my first film in Bengali. I am an expatriate Bengali living in Mumbai. That’s a place for Hindi movies. I was educated in Hindi. I never had an opportunity before.

In a Indo-Bangladesh joint venture, what are the pros and cons?

There are only advantages. The costs get shared, and my film, which would normally never have gone to Bangladesh, now will be screened there. I spend half the money, but my film does business in Bengal like all other Bengali films.

Tell us about how you made your first film?

My first film is Sara Akash. The film did very well and I never looked back.

What’s your favorite film?

I put in a lot of work in all my films. I am like a parent, and all films are like my kids. Which kid will you choose as your favorite? Having said that, I must say that my first film got me a lot of name and fame, so it has a special place in my heart.

How to you look at the difference between commercial and art cinema?

There is no contradiction here. There are two kinds of films, good films and bad films. I saw Lagaan recently, it’s a very good film.

Any special message for our readers?

It’s great that expatriate Bengalis are showing an interest in Bengali films. If Indian films do well here, and they make more money, then directors can make better films.

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Community:

In Fond Memory:
Songs for a Slain Artist

Tabla artist Suresh Mangoli’s murder stunned the Bay Area community. Siliconeer helped organize a cultural event to raise $10,000 for his family. Artists donated their performances free.

When over 500 people gathered at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple auditorium Aug. 24, it was not just to listen to music. Oh, it was a musical evening all right, but the 35 singers from all over the Bay Area had gathered for a nobler cause—to remember and pay tribute to a fellow performer, Suresh Mangoli. Siliconeer was a proud sponsor of the event.

At the end of the three-hour-long event which included dinner served gratis by Chandni Restaurant, thanks to the generosity of the performers and the attendees, organizers had raised over $10,000 for Suresh Mangoli, a talented Fremont-based tabla player who was brutally slain murdered June 27. His body was discovered in an irrigation canal in Tracy, Calif.

Mangoli was only 27 when he died. He had moved to the U.S. in 1996. Originally from Chandigarh, he took his first lessons in tabla from his father. He became fairly well known when he was in India, performing with famous singers like Jagjit Singh. After he moved to the U.S., he gave lessons in tabla and was active in volunteer work. He also worked for Kelly-Moore paints.

Mangoli is survived by his wife, two brothers and retired parents, all of whom live in Chandigarh, and all of whom were looking to him for support.

San Francisco Consulate General official O.P. Gutiala was present and expressed his condolence.

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Auto Review:



A Dash of Pizzazz
2002 Camry XLE-LE-SE By Al Auger

Solid but boring—the bestselling Toyota Camry reminds one you of spinach: It may be good for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s exciting. Well think again, says our automotive editor Al Auger, who was dazzled by Camry’s new avatars.

What’s a successful, multibil-lion-dollar automaker to do? No only do they manufacture one of the widest ranges of cars and trucks worldwide, but have the best selling passenger car in the United States. In the past few years though, competitors of the same sort of “rational and sensible” cars have been tickling the sensibilities of the consumer with a touch of automotive passion and fire. While the rational and sensible appeal to the majority, a large segment of drivers find that a definition of boring.

Not since the Supra and the ill-fated GT sports car has Toyota offered a pumped up, steroidal automobile for the fast flowing juices of the younger set. In the model year 2002 Toyota is edging back into that segment with the all-new Camry SE. On a recent ride and drive in the backcountry and hill roads of the Napa Valley, a current autocross ace and a past hotshoe tried out the three 4-door sedan badges, LE, XLE and SE.

The LE badge replaces the entry level CE and the SE fills the void of derring-do behind the wheel. My driving partner, a well-known and successful autocross driver from the East Bay, and I naturally were seduced by the promises of the V6-powered SE. My partner, who we will call David to protect the not so innocent, was first up. David turned the sinuous back roads into his own personal Solo I autocross course. I, in turn, got carsick for the very first time in my life. David is not a smoothly flowing river looking for the easiest escape route.

My approach was more attuned to the seamless, rhythmic curves of a road course. David did not get sick. David did a road tango; I tap danced through the turns. Toyota has joined the movement to sporty performance sedans with a definite purpose.

What we proved is that hyperbole is not always hyperbole. According to Alan deCarr, a Toyota vice-president, adding the SE to the fifth generation of Camry development moves the badge “from sensible to the sensual.” No matter what form our driving attack took, the SE handled it with aplomb and passion. Considering the test vehicle was in its strictly factory form with 16-inch street tires and the V6 in stock tune, the sport tuned suspension and 3.0-liter, 192 horsepower and 209 lb.-ft. of torque hardly shivered under its treatment.

Any sense of high speed oversteer was easily overcome with a tweak of the wheel and slight lift of the left foot. The all-season 215/60R16 tires grabbed the asphalt with tenacity and power came on quickly at command. No matter the velocity entering a corner, there was no plowing or loss of adhesion.

The visuals haven’t been forgotten, either. The SE sports exclusive cosmetics such as fog lights, blacked-out sport grille, rear spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, brushed chrome interior trim and sport gauges. Both David and I agreed, with a strong aftermarket, the SE could easily become the fourth musketeer in the growing ranks of street racers along with the Honda Civic, Acura and Ford Focus. Maybe they should rename it D’Artagnan.

On the other end of the spectrum, the LE and XLE have had a whole new rebirth both in looks and performance. Both the entry level LE and upper trimmed XLE have had formerly optional equipment added as standard. The XLE thus comes as a nearly fully equipped sedan. Even so, Toyota continues its Rubic series of optional packages with nine that move in and out depending on the model. Most of the packages are cosmetic and pleasure in content. Package #7 stands out with Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) with Brake Assist, 4-wheel ABS, driver/front passenger SRS side impact and curtain shield airbags. This is an across-the-board option package for V6-powered models only (ABS is standard on the XLE and all V6 models). All models come with your choice of either a 2.4-liter in-line 4-cylinder or 3.0-liter V6 engine. Both engines are EPA-certified Ultra Low Emission Vehicle rated.

Boring may be a too harsh judgement, but whatever trim you choose, the new Camrys are as solid, well equipped and sensible as always. Interior controls are big and easy to reach, gauges well-placed and quick reads.

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.

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Bollywood: | Guftugu | Hindi Film Review |

Guftugu

Venice Victory

She is the first woman and first Indian to do it. Mira Nair made history at the Venice Film Festival when she won the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, for her film Monsoon Wedding.

A delighted Nair exulted: “I am very pleased, especially tonight for India. We have a powerful cinema that is known in one half of the world and not in the other half. And this award comes from the other half of the world. It’s a matter of great pride and honor to us.”

Monsoon Wedding stars Naseeruddin Shah and Lillete Dubey and tells the story of four wet days and nights in Delhi that lead up to the wedding of the Vermas, a Punjabi couple. It is a complex story of love, morality that also brings out the darker sides of the family.

“I expected nothing from the movie. I just wanted to explore something in a very free way, with very little money, with very little resources, and go back to basics again and explore and use whatever influence I had. I didn’t want to make some big deal. I just wanted to make a small thing, which I am so happy to say has become big,” she said.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Filmi Fight

The knives are out as Chennai companies and Rajkumar Santoshi slug it out over his latest release Lajja. The companies went to court saying Santoshi had failed to pay outstanding loans worth Rs. 15 million, and Assistant Judge A.K. Annamalai of the Chennai civil court slapped a stay on the film’s release.

The film is already being screened nonetheless, and an angry Santoshi has hit back. “Nobody corresponded with me regarding this matter all this while,” he told the Times of India. “One fine day, you cannot wake up and make such a claim. they asked me for Rs 17 lakh which was cleared. If there were any more dues, why did they have to wait for the last minute? It’s all pressure tactics to jeopardize the films prospects.”

But one of the plaintiffs, Captain Kala of the Chennai-based Gemini Industries and Imaging, said: “A court notice has been sent to distributors, theatre owners, and satellite television operators, stating that prints of Lajja will be seized if they defy the order. It will be regarded as contempt of court and they would have to face the consequences.”

However, theatre officials and the movie’s distributor in Delhi claimed they did not know about the stay order. The film has already been released in Bihar, Mumbai, Bangalore and Central India and the distributors are going ahead with the screening. Santoshi has said he will challenge the court ruling.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Sizzling Aamir

Move over Shah Rukh and Hrithik, here comes Aamir. After the success of Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai in the overseas market, Aamir Khan is hot. The newest heartthrob of millions of Indians all over the world has proved just how popular he is to the overseas desi crowd during his recent shows in the U.S. Aamir Khan stole the show at the Craze 2001 shows in New York recently, charming the pants off the audience (not literally, so calm down) with his recreation from his two latest blockbusters. Anil Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai and Preity Zinta were also present, but everybody wanted Aamir. He also put on a spectacular show at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island.

Organizers had the entire Aamir XI cricket team from Lagaan for the show and the Lagaan act brought the house down. Khan re-enacted scenes from the film and threw a few humorous skits in, topping it off with the entire team bowling to him as he hit the balls into the crowd. He later even gave away the bat — with autographs of the entire celluloid team — to a member of the audience. The 20,000 capacity stadium was around two-thirds full.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Tit for Tat

It’s been payback time for the press when it comes to Kareena Kapoor, who has put off Bollywood with her snooty ways and abrasive attitude. But maybe she got a bit far when she thought she could treat the press like a doormat. When rumors flew recently about she and Hrithik were too close for comfort, she screamed at a magazine’s reporters with the edict: Get lost and stay there.

The very next week, when she signed a contract with soft drink giant Pepsi, she invited the press to come listen to her. But the press folks were not impressed. The decided to follow her advice and decided to get lost and stay there.

Now, if that is not an object lesson in humility, what is?
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Boy Toy

Poor Jimmy Shergill. So what if he’s made films like Gulzar’s Maachis and Aditya Chopra’s Mohabbatein? He’s career hasn’t been on the fast track, and he had to wait a year before signing new films. Well, there’s a silver lining for him now.

So what if his career is stalling? Hey, he’s cute. Just ask Preity Zinta. The starlet has just broken up with Marc Robinson, and Jimmy is absolutely smitten. Things have come to such a pass that the two get all cuddly and don’t care if the whole world watches.

Which isn’t such a simple and sweet love story because Shergill has a wife at home who happens to be a childhood sweetheart. In true Bollywood tradition, Shergill dismisses all rumors and says there is nothing romantic between him and Preity.

If you are raising your eyebrows in disbelief, believe me, you aren’t the only one. Bollywood cynics are having a field day over this “friendship.”
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Amorous Aftab

What do you call a guy whose heart seems remarkably intact after a break up? Well, you could call him Aftab Shivdasani. For months he has been seeing newcomer Esha Deol, albeit discreetly. After all, childhood sweetheart Jumana who was conveniently stashed away in London where she is studying.

Well soon enough girlfriend Jumana got fed up with her wayward beau and has reportedly dumped him.

But if you are thinking the Aftab is drowning himself in booze to handle his heartbreak like many a jilted hero of yesteryear, think again.

The remarkably stout-hearted Aftab is now busy romancing Hema Malini’s daughter Esha Deol. Hema wasn’t awfully thrilled with her daughter’s choice, but the young gal apparently has a lot of spirit. Maybe that is something Aftab should remember as well, huh?
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Big B Quits

Amitabh Bachchan is on a roll, and is doubtless enjoying it enormously. But the angry young man who stole the hearts of millions with his on-screen guts and chutzpah in yesteryear’s blockbusters appears to have mellowed down a bit.

Among many things, the Big B was also on the board of directors of the well-known and aptly named news Web site Tehelka.com. But no more. After the recent controversy of the muckraking Web site using hookers to nail high-ranking officers, Big B has quit the board of the Web site. He has many corporate interests, and the last thing he wants to do is to rub the government the right way.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Lovebirds

Ah, the romance of these two lovebirds would warm the heart of the most jaded cynic. Twinkle Khanna was out promoting Swiss watchmaker Movado’s latest brands at the Taj Mahal Hotel, whose ads will grace the print media soon. Guess what studmuffin hubby Akshay Kumar was up to? Played the loving husband, no less, as he sat placidly through the entire event keeping a low profile as Twinkle basked in the limelight. How very sweet.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Hindi Film Review
Laughter-free Zone


LAJJA

Director: Raj Kumar Santoshi
Music: Anu Malik
Starring: Rekha, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala, Mahima Chaudhry, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Ajay Devgan and Danny Denzongpa

For the theme alone you are inclined to applaud Raj Kumar Santoshi. Sometimes when even in this 21st century Bollywood appears to regress to medieval times, Santoshi’s commitment to women’s rights is wondrous. Bollywood still has not entirely shed it’s infatuation with the docile and submissive bahu, who is devoid of every shred of self-pride and sacrifices herself to the needs of the family, a thinly veiled oppressive rule of patriarchy. Santoshi on the other hand, has chosen to come out and raise hell against the gross injustice against women that cuts across ethnic, caste and class lines. What a delightfully refreshing departure from Bollywood convention.

Alas, the same cannot be said about the film making. The film revives and embraces every Bollywood cliché under the sun, and the result is a marvelous message smothered in a putrid heap of cliches, melodrama and shrill pontification.

The opening sequence of Lajja is actually quite compelling. A fluttering, flaming red bridal sari gets caught in a barbed wire fence, and then it is cops trample it. Then it goes up in flames, an allusion to Sita’s agnipariksha—trial by fire—in the Ramayan.

Here’s how the story goes. Vaidehi (Manisha Koirala), a city-bred woman, is being hunted by her expatriate jerk of a husband who lives in New York. As Vaidehi flees, she runs into several women in extremely diverse circumstances in terms of social and economic position. Janki (Madhuri Dixit) is a theater actress. Ramdulari (Rekha) is a Dalit midwife. Maithali (Mahima Chaudhry) is a coy bride.

Yet they all have one thing in common: They get a raw deal in life solely because they are women.

Take Vaidehi. His husband is a brute who is after her only because she is carrying his child; he couldn’t care less about her. Janki is a cocky theatre with a heart of gold and a belly full of booze, who is carrying her timid lover’s baby in her womb. In one inebriated fit of frustration she brings a twist to Sita’s trial by fire during a performance where she pointedly, and poignantly questions the double standards of traditional patriarchy—and there is hell to pay. Ramdulari ends up being gang-raped by upper-caste brutes, and Mahima Chaudhry has to leave her home when her father refuses to stand by her when her in-laws try to smear her reputation and up the ante in terms of dowry.

All of this is admittedly rich material for a superb, gripping and heart-rending tale of a woman’s woes in present-day India, and Santoshi had a winner in his hands if he had only used a modicum of good taste and sense.

Well, he fails abysmally, and the film is laden with cliches, contrived sequences and shrill melodrama that would make even a seasoned Bollywood buff cringe. Like many Bollywood directors not only has Santoshi failed to learn the vital lesson in storytelling that when it comes to having an effect less is more, but even worse, he has failed to learn the equally important lesson that more is less. If he had allowed just the circumstances speak for themselves and made his points with subtle, nuanced allusions, his message would have been that much more powerful. Instead, he chose to pile cliché upon cliché and harangue the viewer with shrill lectures, reducing a powerful story into a loud, insufferable jeremiad.

The result is, sadly, quite appalling. Which is a great pity, because one is hard pressed to come across too many films with a positive and progressive social message in today’s Bollywood fare where light-hearted yuppie romance in never-never land and gory, amoral crimefests rule the roost.

What is particularly sad is that some superb performances are in vain. Manisha is wonderfully compelling in her role—it’s great to see this talented star back in full form—Rekha packs a wallop in her performance as the Dalit midwife, and Madhuri Dixit, oh Madhuri! She is simply unbelievably as the cocky, irreverent, spunky woman who is unfazed by the lousy deal that she has got out of life, and proves what a powerhouse of talent she remains to this day, with the capability to give any star today a run for her money.

In the end then, the lajja (shame) is Raj Kumar Santoshi’s—for making a pig’s breakfast out of a great idea.

Rating: ** (Mediocre)

|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Tamil Film Review:
Implausible, Unoriginal Story


Poovellam Unn Vasam

Director: S.Ezhil
Starring: Ajit Kumar, Jyotika, Yugendra, Sayaji Shinde, Sivkumar, Nagesh, Vivek

The storyline and incidents are hardly new, as many other recent films have drawn from the same source. All trace their inspiration to the Hollywood film My Best Friend’s Wedding. There was Parthein Rasithein, Piriyadha Varam Vendum, Bhadri. And now one can add Poovelam Unn Vasam to the list.

Two families live in identical, adjacent bungalows, and their friendship goes back forty years. Their respective progenies Chinna and Chella (Ajit-Jyotika) are childhood buddies, their easy camaraderie and strong bonding carried over to their adult years. The two study in the same college, same class, move around together on the motorbike. Their togetherness at home and college is as accepted a fact as it was in films like the they were in similar situations in the aforementioned copies like Piriyadha Varam Vendum, etc. Somewhere along the way, the duo fall in love, throwing soft glances at each other when the other is not looking. Their college mate Karna (Yugendra, son of Malaysia Vasudevan) makes devious plans to separate the duo and make Chella his. He doesn’t seem to have any running feud with Chinna, and is quite friendly with the duo, nor does he seem to be particularly in love with Chella. So his behavior is strange and he seems to be around for no other reason than the fact that the film needed a villain. Strangely again, Chinna laps up all that Karna tells him about Chella loving him, and is heartbroken. And Chinna never bothers to ask Chella about it, despite their great friendship. Chinna goes on a business trip.

Chella, persuaded by both families to marry an NRI, boldly informs them that she loved Chinna, and would marry him. The two families are of course happy. Why Chella never bothered to be open about the matter with Chinna is unexplained till the end. Chinna returns home and learns of the preparation for his engagement ceremony. Surprisingly no one seems to have informed him about it either. Feeling that since Chella loved Karna, it must be family pressure that must have forced her to agree, Chinna backs out. Now it is Chella’s turn to be indignant about Chinna’s mistrust of her love, and after giving him a piece of her mind, she backs out, with Chinna pleading for acceptance. After some more confusion of the forced kind, the director finally pushes the story to the desired end.

No effort has been spared to make it a lavish production. The songs are pleasantly filmed, with Arthur Wilson’s camera capturing the sumptuous sets and the colorful ambience. But what is lacking is a clear, credible script and freshness in narration. Ajit and Jyotika do whatever is required of them, which is not much. There are about a dozen top artists in the film, but there is no depth in the characterization. Sayaji Shinde (Bharati fame) has a perpetual grim look (as Jyotika’s father) as if he has just walked in from the sets of his Shool or Daman.

— Malini Mannath
In association with Chennai Online

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Recipe:

Something Sweet:
Coconut Barfi By Sadhana Agarwal

No matter how much we enjoy indulging in a bit of affectionate teasing as far as Bengalis and their love of rossgollas is concerned, the fact of the matter is Indians from all over the country have a sweet tooth. Sadhana Agarwal gives you a nifty recipe to indulge it.

Ingredients

  • Coconut 2 cups (grated)
  • Sugar 1/2 cups
  • Milk 2 tbsp
  • Ghee 2 tsp
  • Elaichi 3-4 crushed
  • Raisins/Nuts few

Method

1. Heat ghee in a kadai & add coconut then fry the coconut slightly.

2. Then add the sugar & keep stirring until the whole mixture becomes soft.

3. Then add the milk & again stir for 10 minutes.

4. Add the crushed elaichi & raisins/nuts. Mix very well.

5. In the meantime, grease a tray & then pour the mixture once it is

done. Pat it nicely.

6. Cut it in any shape you want and the coconut barfi is done.

Sadhana Agarwal is a homemaker
based in Fremont, Calif.

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September - October Horoscope

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): It will be an expensive month. You will make big payments. You should appeal a recent decision to avoid a major hurdle in career. Property issues may be solved with slight effort. Consult an expert to find the right solution.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Do not take self-destructive decisions. It is better to analyze the situation with a neutral attitude and listen to family suggestions. You will be lucky in all financial matters. A big contract will be signed in October.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Slow progress will cause panic in spouse’s mind but not yours. Stay put. You will spend quality time with children. An important issue involving family life will be resolved effortlessly.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): You will feel less confident. Some of you may have temporary skin rashes. Do not speculate. You will be paying more attention to children as you take charge of the family. You will be working on a new career path.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): There will be considerable progress in life. Partnership will grow. You may decide to start a new venture with people who have fresh ideas. You will get desired help from politicians. Read all contracts twice before you sign them.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You will get closer to your professional goals. A promotion is in the air. A project will require more investment. You may find yourself drifting away from a close aide. Siblings will need help.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Bachelors will meet some one interesting. New job offer could come during October. You will be working on an important property deal. Do not neglect your health. You will be changing your vehicle. Long awaited money will finally show up.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): You are very close to some major changes in life. You will be moving to a distant place soon. You may get into bad company which to lead to trouble with law. Expert advice is suggested on important issues involving your future.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will go on a fruitful trip. You may go to see a child who is staying away from home for education. Some of you will be change jobs in near future. You may get some gifts from in-laws and add another vehicle to your fleet.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Favorable transits allow you to take chances in professional life. You will gain victory over strong opponents in a big way. Some of you will be looking for a nice place to live. You will spend more time with family.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): It will be better to delay career-related decisions. New projects will need some last minute changes. Business trip will be profitable. You will meet a very influential person. There will be very little improvement in legal matters.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Spouse will spend more than your budget. You will spend on machinery and repairs of a property. Watch your health, relax. Your efforts will pay off.

Bay Area-based astrologer Pandit Parashar can
be reached by email at: parashar@ix.netcom.com.

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| Current Advertisers | Site Map | Employee Login |
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© Copyright 2006 U&I Marketing, Inc. • Siliconeer • All Rights Reserved • For Comments and Questions: info@siliconeer.com