Siliconeer: August 2002

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Volume III Issue 8

Publisher's Note:

Siliconeer prides itself in presenting stories about science and technology of particular interest to the South Asian community, but let’s face it: It’s pretty rough out there in the job market.

So this month, although we have interesting stories about Indians and technology this month as well — an engineer-turned-activist we presented in August 2002 has just won the Magsaysay award, while India has, for the first time, elected a scientist for president — we figured a few tips on how to write a killer resume would be of the greatest interest in these precarious times.

At a time when IT companies are taking a beating, telecom firm stocks are tanking and economists are gloomily contemplating a double-dip depression, it is clear that IT professionals are chasing fewer jobs than ever. This is a time when a mistake on a resume could be fatal, and Mikhail Portnov, a veteran software instructor and observer of the Silicon Valley IT industry, offers some very useful tips with candor, warmth and some delicious wit.

As we mentioned, Sandeep Pandey, who got a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, has received Asia’s most prestigious award, the Magsaysay, for “emergent leadership.” Sandeep’s is a remarkable story of beginning a self-help group in the U.S. from scratch which has to date raised and disbursed over $1 million to support various basic education projects in India.

Siliconeer also likes to offer readers glimpses of cultural issues: This month we present poet activist Ved Prakash Vatuk’s passionate anti-war essay which draws inspiration from an ancient Indian myth. Even if you do not always agree with Vatuk, we are confident you will be impressed with his ability to draw universal lessons from an ancient myth.


Main Feature

IT Resume Clinic
Five Pitfalls to Avoid
By Mikhail Portnov

At the latest job fair in Santa Clara, Calif., Mikhail Portnov conducted a two-day résumé critique workshop. Having analyzed over 150 résumés throughout the course of the workshop, he was able to narrow down several common problems, and he writes about how to avoid them.

PROBLEM 1: Desired Position

It should be clear from the first lines of the résumé which position or job title is being sought. Usually, for this very purpose, one of the first sections of the résumé is the OBJECTIVE, where one gets the chance to do just that — name the desired position. In that section, someone’s résumé might read “Looking for a senior position in the area of Software Quality Assurance.” The most commonly found problems are:

The section is omitted entirely. Apparently, the ingenious creator of such a résumé assumes that a recruiter or someone in Human Resources, having access to a number of various positions in need of being filled, will go through the full list of qualifications on the résumé and match them up to one of their available positions. Keep in mind, the probability of that happening is next to none, unless the recruiter or HR representative reviewing the résumé is a close personal friend.

Several positions / job titles are listed. An example would be something like: “Interested in a position of Software Developer, Test Engineer, or Database Administrator.” It is a bad mistake. It is easy to understand someone’s desire to find a job, whatever job, so long as it is in the right industry. But one can also understand the company’s desire to hire a true professional, rather than someone who is willing to do anything. Your résumé should not be a cry for help! It should be an effective marketing tool, designed to best represent your skills and experience to a potential employer. Any variation on this interpretation of your résumé’s purpose will lead to unnecessary and entirely avoidable problems.

An entire essay instead of a short description. It is sometimes necessary to read up to three or four lines of text to understand what kind of a job the person might be interested in.

A typical example might be: “A qualified professional with many years of varied experience in the computer industry is looking for work at a cutting-edge company that operates using some of the most current computer technologies, where my prior work experience, my ability to work well with others, to solve complex technical problems, and to find the most optimal solutions, will be of use to the company and its future growth.”

It should be obvious that to digest a sentence this long would take some major effort and intellectual investment — it is simply too convoluted. And it would hardly be reasonable to expect that a human resources department would be staffed by persons with doctorate degrees in English language and literature.

But what is most amazing still about this long run-on sentence, full of fancy clauses and sub-clauses, is that it yet fails to disclose what position its artful author was seeking in the first place. Does he want to be a programmer, a network administrator, maybe a customer service department manager? What does he want? Does he himself know what he wants? And if so, why did he not say so? Maybe he is unable to formulate his thoughts clearly?

Why is it important to be crystal clear on your desired job title when putting together your résumé? Because after the job title follows the summary of all the programming languages, technologies, operating systems, etc. in which you consider yourself competent. A recruiter compares each skill/technology off your résumé with the requirements for a SPECIFIC position he is trying to fill. For example, a company may have two dozen various openings for which it is actively recruiting for at the moment. Let’s say that it needs several software developers, a tester, a systems administrator, a secretary, and telemarketer, and a few others. Each résumé that a recruiter handles only warrants attention if it can be used to fill one of the available positions. If at the top of the résumé, let’s suppose it says that the person would like to apply for a position of vice president of technology, and the recruiter is simply not hiring for that position right now.

The recruiter will not read any further and put that résumé aside (or possibly in a trash can). If, on the other hand, it becomes clear that the person is looking for a position of a software developer, then the recruiter is going to take a closer look at the applicant’s summary of skills to see if she/ he will match up to any of the software developer positions open at the company. Suppose the company needs someone with strong Visual C++, working knowledge of COM/DCOM technologies, and a decent understanding of the Oracle database. The recruiter will check the summary section. Each line may either work to the applicant’s benefit or detriment, depending on whether the resume lists the skills the company is searching for. Line by line, the recruiter will compare the skills listed in the résumé with those given to by the hiring manager.

BUT, if from the very beginning the recruiter is not clear which position the person is applying for, then she/ he cannot run it against specific requirements is forced to dismiss it immediately. The recruiter simply will not read any further. And that is why it is so important, even vital, to indicate in a clear and concise manner the position or job title for which you would like to be considered.

PROBLEM 2: Résumé Length

How long should one’s résumé be is a question that continues to haunt mankind. Some repeat with a kind of religious fervor that anything over a page will never be read, period. Others are convinced that anything under four pages is simply embarrassing, even for a recent college graduate. But if you look through enough résumés, you will be sure to encounter some six-pagers as well. And contrary to what you might expect, there will not be work experience for the past hundred years in those longest samples. No, siree. Just for the past two years.

The problem itself stems from the desire to thoughtlessly follow formal guidelines, often imaginary or self-inflicted, as to how many pages is “just right.” Whereas, in fact, the physical number of pages makes no difference whatsoever. Yet you should just see how many tricks have been invented to stretch a half a page worth of real content into three, even four pages. Some resort to complicated font and margin manipulations. Others will list one technical skill per line and will add a couple of tables with a lot of space and little material. But what is most common is to describe every little project one has ever worked on, including one and two week ones, into half a page each, including college labs and coursework. Some will even include a list of grades for the full four years of college, so that the résumé grows to a bulky, bulging, and in the view of some, surely, very respectable size, of eight pages. These guys, they do not use email. Instead, they fax their masterpieces, so that when you pick it up, your hand would be weighed down by a good pound worth of résumé refuse.

It is simply insufferable to read the descriptions of some of these projects. About ninety percent of the material gets copied between positions without any change to the wording whatsoever. If ten projects are being described, there are seven to ten phrases or formulas that will appear exactly ten times. Why would anyone do that? When asked, the perpetrators explain that it is important to write down what was done for each specific project. And that, of course, is true, but only if the projects were different, very different. If you have nothing to say and have to resort to copying the same few lines over and over again, it’s not a résumé. It’s not an effective marketing material. It does not help to sell the product — the professional skill set of the candidate. Rather it does quite the opposite. It shows that the candidate wishes to waste the time of whoever will be reading his résumé. That whoever will not be happy!

PROBLEM 3: Content Consistency

Probably the most common problem is the discrepancy between those skills and technologies that are listed in the Summary of the résumé and the descriptions of the specific projects that the person participated in. For instance, the summary may say that the candidate works with five programming languages. We skim on down to the “work experience” and what do we see?

The candidate has worked in three companies. In the first he used one of the programming languages. In the other two companies, he worked with another one. What about the other three, then? Did he ever use them for work? Maybe he just read up on them and decided to include them in his résumé based on that alone? Or maybe he did not even bother with that — that happens plenty, believe me. And what about those two languages that he supposedly did use? Does he know them well or did he just include them to make his résumé look better, like he did with the others? Who should answer these questions? I am often told: “I did not explain on purpose; let them call and I’ll tell them.” Well, they won’t bother calling. There used to be a time when even a piece of scrap paper with two-three key words elicited calls from companies and recruiters. But now there are a ton of qualified résumés on the market, résumés that do not leave any questions unanswered. Times have changed, so if you want to stay competitive in this market, you have got to adapt yourself to the new standards and expectations!

PROBLEM 4: Project Description vs. Work Experience

Very frequently the description of the project itself is disproportionately bloated compared to the description of the work done on that project. I have seen résumés where there are ten lines of text describing in minute detail what a great thingamajigy was being developed at such and such company and exactly how it works and how it is put together deep in its innards. This long and colorful description is then followed by a two-line laundry list: (1) Developed…, (2) Worked with the client/customer to improve product quality. There is, of course, the opposite extremity. Some omit any kind of a description about the project that was being developed and only focus on the work they performed personally.

That leaves a lot of questions. For example, if you were a Software Tester, what did you test? Under what Operating System does the product run? What were the functional modules? Leaving the reader with all those questions unanswered is no less of a folly that the example before. Let’s refresh our memories. We are writing a marketing tool. We are NOT writing an autobiography or a declaration of accomplishments for a medal. The description of the project should be present insofar as it will help the hiring manager determine what you have done and what you might be able to do on his project. In effect, it will help determine how valuable you are, professionally speaking. This is why you simply cannot neglect at least a brief description of the project. You should describe it only to the degree to which it is still interesting for the reader. Not for you, because you might be very excited about that project and may want to talk about it at length. But your enjoyment is not, unfortunately, the purpose of the résumé. Therefore, think about what the hiring manager, the HR person, the recruiter might be interested in learning about you and include that, and only that!

There are such people, who are very qualified from the technical standpoint, but who are, nonetheless, unable to formulate but two coherent sentences about their experience. Job interviews with these people is sheer torture, for both parties. And then there are the writers. They can squeeze out several very worthwhile paragraphs out of hardly any experience, and what they say won’t look like fluff, either. But that does not mean that if you aren’t Steinbeck, you’re condemned to an eternity of job search with a résumé that needs improvement. Not at all. What you need to do is take a look at other, better written résumés, and borrow what works for yours. Sometimes you’ll have to switch the word order or substitute one word/concept/term for another. But with an hour or two of work your résumé can turn from an ugly duckling into a graceful swan.

With this purpose in mind, an up-to-date collection of résumé samples for a dozen or so various computer job titles have been created. For each job title there are ten to fifteen résumés to browse. They are selected from thousands of résumés that can be found on the Internet, and primarily on Dice. Only résumés with meaningful and bountiful content make the cut. You can look at each of them as a collection of handy phrases and formulas that can be inserted into your résumé with a minimal number of revisions. For obvious reasons, all personal identifying information and company names are taken out.

To access this database you need to go to our Web site: Across the top you will see a horizontal menu bar. Just click on the Résumé Center and it will take you there. Just in case, I would like to admonish you that thoughtless copying of résumés in their entirety, or even copying of considerable parts of résumés, will create other problems, no less serious than lack of succinctness. If a person, for example, cannot talk coherently about the experience described in his résumé, his job search will simply fail at the interview stage.

PROBLEM 5: A Good Résumé and Still No Work

While analyzing résumés at the Job Fair, I encountered another very important problem. About twenty percent of the résumés I reviewed were actually very good. Certainly, there is always room to make little adjustments or word substitutions, but this group of résumés stood out in that no substantial changes needed to be made. And yet, the proud owners of such excellent résumés complained incessantly of receiving barely any calls, much less invitations to interviews. We all understand, of course, that the market demand for labor in the computer industry has fallen dramatically and even those with excellent qualifications have ceased to expect their phone to ring off the hook every time they post their résumés. It is simply not enough to have a good, even a great, résumé these days. One needs to send it out aggressively to agencies and companies, and the more the better.

Over the past six to eight years we got used to being able to post our résumés on specialized job search engines or to send a dozen résumés to companies in order to secure two to three interviews per week. But, as we know, the market has indeed changed. Techniques that worked for many years in a row, no longer work. One can argue until he is blue in the face that it’s not about how aggressively you look — there simply isn’t work out there. One can always hotly debate over the idea that sending out résumés is pointless, as there are plenty of examples of those with more experience, who hadn’t been able to find any work in six months. But, alas, if a job seeker today is unable, or unwilling, to send out at least a hundred résumés in a day, his chances to find work are next to none. Arguments that there aren’t enough places to send that great a number of résumés may work on your girlfriend, but not on me, buddy. I know folks who send out several times that many résumés daily, both among SQAs and Software Developers.

Finally, I would like to wish some hearty good luck to everyone looking for work today. Sometimes, in addition to a good résumé and a great effort all you need is a tiny bit of good fortune!

Mikhail Portnov has 10 years experience in the
Software Programming Industry.
He is based in Mountain View, Calif.


Infotech India

Keen Kerala

Lagging behind its neighbors in industrial investment, Kerala has embarked on an aggressive campaign to overcome the gap by focusing on the three ‘Ts’ as thrust areas — information technology, tourism and biotechnology.

Though the promotional drive launched by the Congress-led UDF government within and outside the state has created a new-found interest about the state, political consensus on policy initiatives is missing.

The government strategy is to project the state as an investor-friendly destination by living down its decades-old militant labor image. A key labor law to end militancy among headload workers, passed by the assembly recently has, however, faced drawn flak from the LDF opposition.

A few months ago, the government announced an IT policy, throwing open the state’s infrastructural and human resource strength to investors the world over.

Industries Minister P.K. Kuhnalikutty went to the U.S. to lure major IT firms to set up business in the state. He says 50 IT giants had expressed interest in investing in the state.

To keep up the tempo, an IT expo is currently on at the Technopark here and a global investors’ meet is to be held in November.

According to the organizers, IT Kerala-2002, the biggest IT show after the Bangalore Expo, had grown three-fold in three years.

Industrial circles here, however, feel that what is urgently needed is the will on the part of the government to put the policy initiative into practice and promote entrepreneurial skills among the youth.

Oracle’s Expansion Plan

Eyeing aggressive growth, Oracle India plans to add 2,200 more employees, set up an Internet sales division and expand its e-consultancy services, a top Oracle executive said.

A shared services centre would also be set up as part of the expansion plans, Oracle executive vice-president for Asia-Pacific Derek Williams told reporters after the inauguration of Oracle Technology Park in Bangalore July 31 night.

Oracle has shared services centers in the U.S. city of Rockland, Dublin and Sydney and the India centre will begin functioning in September with an initial workforce of 70, he said.

Oracle Corporation, the world’s largest enterprise software company, has more operations in India than in any of the 140 countries it is operating outside the U.S., Williams said. A subsidiary of Oracle Corporation, Oracle India, has 1,800 employees.

The Bangalore centre had filed patents for 10 products.

3.3 Million on Web

Only an estimated 1.65 percent of the Indian population uses the Internet, for which there are 3.3 million subscribers, the Lok Sabha was informed July 31.

Assuming an average of five users per registered Internet subscriber, estimated internet users is 16.5 million, Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sanjay Paswan said in a written reply.

The percentage of Internet users in the U.S. is 58.5, 55.32 in Britain, 53.26 in Canada, 39.16 in Japan and 2.65 in China.

The growth in IT spending has fallen from 33 percent in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 to three percent in 2001-02, mainly because of slowdown and reduction in IT spending by the major global players, he said referring to expenditure on IT.

On bio-informatics, he said a concept paper has been drafted for setting up a Digital DNA park to address the problem of acute shortage in the required hardware and networking infrastructure for the growth of high-end genomics, bio-informatics, proteomics and cheminforatics.

Computer Literates

St. Albert’s College, one of the oldest institutions in Kerala and affiliated to Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala’s Kottayam, has achieved an important milestone, becoming the first 100 percent computer-literate college in the state.

Addressing a press meet in Kochi July 30, Prof. M.R. Joseph, its principal, said the intensive drive to attain complete computer literacy among the students of the college was aimed at making the new generation ready to face the world in this IT era.

Military Satellite

India has started building a dedicated military satellite, a top defense official said Aug. 2.

V.K. Aatre, scientific adviser to the defense minister and chief of the Defense Research and Development Organization, replied in the affirmative when asked if India was building a dedicated military satellite.

Aatre, who was speaking to reporters after inaugurating a seminar on Information and Network Security, organized by the Indian National Academy of Engineering, declined to give further details.

“It’s too early to talk about it,” he said. “I won’t go into a project which we have just started.”

To a question, Aatre said DRDO would recruit 700 scientists in the current financial year.

On 331 scientists of DRDO quitting over the last three years for greener pastures in the West, Aatre said, “331 scientists leaving in three years is not much,” However, he admitted, “It has certainly affected us.”

U.S. Slowdown Hits Karnataka

Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna Aug. 1 said the “slowdown” in the U.S. and the general economic recession in the country had affected the Karnataka IT industry by about 25 to 30 percent.

“It has affected every state which is involved in this industry, especially in the software field,” Krishna said at the airport on his arrival to participate in “IT Kerala 2002,” an information technology fair being hosted in Thiruvananthapuram.

Karnataka and Kerala would explore the possibility of joint development of IT and tourism industry.

“The tourism potential in Kerala and Karnataka is high. In IT we have done fairly well. The combination of these two would certainly be helpful to both states,” he said.

District Courts to Be Wired

Madras High Court Chief Justice B. Subhashan Reddy said Aug. 3 all district courts in Tamil Nadu would be connected via computer to the Madras High Court by the end of this year and sub-courts, by 2003.

Speaking to reporters in Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu after laying the foundation stone for the Cuddalore District Legal Aid Foundation Centre, he said the district had attained the top spot in the state in conducting legal literacy camps in 259 villages within two months.

These camps had been organized to provide support, including free legal assistance, to the poor, he said.

He said setting up of Lok Adalats would benefit the people, since they could get speedy justice and free legal services, and asked state ministers to give publicity for these and the legal literacy camps.

In association with Chennai Online


The Scientist President
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is the first scientist to be India’s president. Here are excerpts from his speech on July 25 at his inauguration.

Indian civilizational heritage is built on universal spirit. India always stood for friendship and extends warm hands to the whole world.

We have made significant achievements in the last fifty years in food production, health sector, higher education, media and mass communication, industrial infrastructure, information technology, science and technology and defense. Our nation is endowed with natural resources, vibrant people and traditional value system. In spite of these resources, a number of our people are below the poverty line, undernourished and lack primary education itself. Our aim is to empower them to be poverty free, healthy and literate. A country needs to have the characteristics as defined in Thirukkural, composed over 2000 years ago : “Pini inmai selvam vilaivinbam emam aniyenba nattirkiv vainthu. That is, “the important elements that constitute a nation are: being disease free; wealth; high productivity; harmonious living and strong defense.” Today our country is facing challenges such as cross border terrorism, certain internal conflicts and un-employment. To face these challenges, there must be a vision to ensure focused action of one billion citizens of this great country with varied capabilities. What can be that vision? It can be none other than transforming India into a developed nation.

I recall the saintly poet Kabir’s wisdom to us: “Kaal kare so aaj kar aaj kare so ab.” That means, “What you want to do tomorrow do it today, and what you want to do today do it now”.

This vision of developed nation needs to be achieved with parliamentary democracy, which is the core of our governance system. The first and foremost task is to respect and uphold the constitutional processes.

I wish to emphasize my unflinching commitment to the principle of secularism. During the last one year I met a number of spiritual leaders of all religions. They all echoed one message, that is, unity of minds and hearts of our people will happen and we will see the golden age of our country, very soon.

Along with speedy development aimed at elimination of poverty and un-employment, national security has to be recognized by every Indian as a national priority. Indeed, making India strong and self reliant — economically, socially and militarily — is our foremost duty to our motherland and to ourselves and to our future generations.

When the child is empowered by the parents, at various phases of growth, the child transforms into a responsible citizen. When the teacher is empowered with knowledge and experience, good young human beings with value systems take shape. When an individual or a team is empowered with technology, transformation to higher potential for achievement is assured. When the leader of any institution empowers his or her people, leaders are born who can change the nation in multiple areas. When the women are empowered, society with stability gets assured. When the political leaders of the nation empower the people through visionary policies, the prosperity of the nation is certain. The medium for transformation to developed India is the empowerment at various levels with power of knowledge. A roadmap for realizing this vision of developed India is in front of us.

Jai Hind.

Re-engineering Society
Magsaysay Winner Sandeep
A Siliconeer Tribute

Engineer-turned-activist Sandeep Pandey has just won Asia’s most prestigious award, the Magsaysay. Siliconeer presents a fond tribute.

Sandeep Pandey is an engineer trained at the University of California at Berkeley but he never eyed Silicon Valley. Instead he went back to his roots, literally. He went back to his grandfather’s ancestral village in Ballia in U.P. Instead of using his engineering skills for training IIT students, he preferred to do something more basic: address the basic needs of the villagers and provide them basic education.

Now, the world has taken notice. On July 30, the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Foundation announced that it had given Pandey Asia’s most prestigious award. The foundation said it had given him its “emergent leadership award” for “the empowering example of his commitment to the transformation of India’s marginalized poor.”

(Sandeep wrote a detailed, riveting account of his transition into full-time social work for the August 2001 issue of Siliconeer.
Click here to read it)

It was the summer of 1991, and the place was the University of California at Berkeley.

A few Indian graduate students got together, toying with the idea to transfer the latest scientific know how to India. The idea was V.J.P. Srivatsavoy’s. He was a post doc fellow who had previously been with Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

It sounded like a good idea. Sandeep Pandey, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, however, said that it didn’t make sense to think about state-of-the-art technology transfer when millions of Indian kids were deprived of basic schooling. The focus, he said, should be on basic education.

Eleven years later, Asha has 35 chapters in U.S. alone with chapters as far away as London and Zurich. Over a million dollars has been disbursed to over a hundred projects all over India. Meanwhile Sandeep has gone back, and after an eventful few years in India, Sandeep is based in Lucknow, from where he helps run the Asha Ashram where he experiments with both techniques in village self-sufficiency and basic education.

After returning to India, he spent a brief stint as a professor at IIT Kanpur, but his social conscience and refusal to cut corners soon rubbed the authorities the wrong way. In particular, his effort to help organize laborers to bid for lucrative IIT contracts away from other contractors and his refusal to do research in areas which dealt with defense led to showdown. He ultimately left to go to his grandfather’s village in Ballia. Asha’s activities there have included primary education, sewing classes and self-help activities like production of candles, incense sticks, patchwork bed covers, chalk, hand made greeting cards, beekeeping, chyawanprash.. Presently chyawanprash, beekeeping, hand-made greeting cards are going on.

His Asha Ashram in Lalpur, situated in U.P’s Hardoi district, combines education with its holistic approach to address the quality of life of villagers. Here’s what the ashram says about its program. “Asha is developing its model of education based on a philosophy which essentially focuses on cultivation of values for a just human order and promotes skills which will help a person become self-reliant.

“To strengthen the right kind of values for happy and satisfying human relationships Asha is developing its own curriculum. The first book ‘Muskaan’ is being tried at out at various centers associated with Asha. The education program of Asha gives enough opportunities to its students to develop their creative talents. Art and craft activities form an essential part of the education process. Local craft and artisans find a place of pride in Asha’s education program.

“Asha provides health service to the villagers of the area based on a combination of homeopathy, naturopathy, ayurveda and allopathy. . .the village remains untouched by electricity grid and Asha is developing alternative energy solutions. In April, 2001, a workshop on alternative energy with focus on improved traditional chulhas was organized at the Ashram. A paddle-operated battery charging and water lifting device have been developed by another dedicated Asha supporter and innovator Ashok Jain, who first got associated with the Ashram in putting together a ferro-cement structure for it. Beekeeping has been taken up quite successfully at the Ashram.”

In addition to these grassroots activities, Sandeep is also involved in broader issues that are consistent with his passionate belief in nonviolence and social justice. He has marched against India’s nuclear tests in Pokharan, in protest against the Gujarat communal violence and has helped to organize a hugely successful trip of Pakistani children to Lucknow. His wife Arundhati Dhuru, an activist in her own right, is intimately involved in Sandeep’s social and philanthropic activities.

The Ramon Magsaysay Foundation’s Citation

It is a tradition exemplified by Gandhi himself. After years of sojourning abroad, an educated Indian returns home and, forgoing a comfortable career, applies himself to the great social questions. Mohandas K. Gandhi was a lawyer by training. These days, Indian sojourners abroad are more likely to be learning computer science and engineering and preparing to join India’s high-tech economy, or North America’s. Sandeep Pandey was such a person yet he has chosen Gandhi’s path.

Born to India’s middle classes, Pandey studied at Benares Hindu University before attending graduate school in the United States. While pursuing a Ph.D. in control theory at the University of California-Berkeley, he joined V.J.P. Srivatsavoy and Deepak Gupta to form Asha (Hope), to support education for poor children in India by tapping the resources of Indians abroad. The enterprising founders raised ten thousand dollars in one year, an auspicious beginning for an organization that now claims thirty six North-American chapters and has disbursed nearly one million dollars for programs in India. After launching Asha, Pandey himself returned to India, doctorate in hand. He taught briefly at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology and, in 1992, left the institute to devote himself full-time to Asha’s larger purpose: to bring about socioeconomic change in India through education.

In the Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh, Pandey confronted the impoverished world of low-caste families and dalits, or untouchables. In this world, few children went to school at all; even those who did, grew up to swell India’s vast unemployment rolls. With local volunteers in the villages of Reoti and Bhainsaha, Pandey has created schools that instill self-reliance and values for a just society. Asha’s teachers take no pay. Instead, they support them- selves with sidelines such as making candles and greeting cards from handmade paper. Students, too, learn useful arts and crafts. Older youths participate in community improvement as volunteers and health aides. They are part of what Pandey calls the first grassroots volunteer base of Asha in India.

A fuller expression of Pandey’s vision is the Asha ashram in the dalit village of Lalpur, outside Lucknow. There students live and study among traditional artisans and engage in bee-keeping, vegetable gardening, and cottage industries. They follow a special Asha curriculum and fill the air with songs and stories that convey the school’s philosophy. The ashram also serves as a retreat center for Asha workshops and provides simple health services for the community. It is introducing new technologies and livelihood projects. To break down caste barriers, the ashram community conspicuously violates upper-caste taboos against dalits and publicizes anti-dalit crimes and abuses such as bribe taking by local officials.

As these projects matured, Pandey built Asha’s network in India to twelve chapters and linked its grassroots endeavors to the larger task, as he puts it, of shaping the socio-economic-political future of the country. He denounced a government plan to favor Hinduism in state schools and called for an end to the politics of revenge that drives his country’s communal violence. Warning against militarist nationalism, in 1999 he organized and led a 400-kilometer Global Peace March to protest India’s nuclear arms program. These days he vocally supports reconciliation between Indians and Pakistanis. The voice of peace has to be louder, he says.

Thirty-seven-year-old Pandey shares his busy activist life with his wife Arundhati and their two children. He is soft-spoken but passionate, as he motivates Asha’s volunteers and young people and shepherds a multitude of projects. How does a one-time aspiring engineer manage such a life? I believe in the Gandhian thinking, he says, that once the path is chalked out, the means will follow.

In electing Sandeep Pandey to receive the 2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes the empowering example of his commitment to the transformation of India’s marginalized poor.

Interested readers can reach Sandeep at or


Weighing Your Options
Dangers of Obesity
– By Jatinder P. Marwaha

If you are Asian American you have a greater risk of obesity, and if you are already obese better watch out, warns medical doctor Jatinder P. Marwaha.

Health professionals worldwide agree that obesity is a significant public health problem. Experts say the condition is projected to rise at alarming rate worldwide, especially in the United States. Obesity is bad news; it is associated with increased risk for developing hypertension (high blood pressure), Type II diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease (heart problems), stroke, high cholesterol, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis (arthritis), sleep apnea, and certain cancers.

Obesity is one of the features of a metabolic syndrome which comprises of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and impaired glucose tolerance. A quick way of figuring out if a person is obese is to find out that person’s basal metabolic index, which is a ratio of his/ her weight and height. A person’s BMI is calculated by multiplying his weight (in kg) by the square of his height (in meters). So if a person weighs x kg and her height is y m then her BMI=xy2.

The hallmark of being overweight is a BMI higher than 25. A BMI above 30 indicates obesity. Abdominal obesity is defined as the waste circumference of more than 102 cm/42 inches in males and more than 88 cm/35 inches in females.

Obesity has become a major public health problem in the Indian-American population only in the past one or two generations due to relative abundance of high-fat food and rapid change from an active to a sedentary lifestyle. We not only use cars to go to the next street but also try to find the closest spot in the parking lot when we go to the store.

In males, the body fat distribution is more visceral, and male obesity is also called abdominal obesity. In females, the body fat distribution is more subcutaneous (right under the skin) and less visceral. Visceral fat accumulated near the liver can lead to a fatty liver, which causes an increase in cholesterol and thus leads to an increase in coronary heart disease due to increase in triglycerides, low density lipoprotein, and decrease in high density lipoprotein. Visceral fat also affects the beta cells of the pancreas and therefore leads to Type II Diabetes Mellitus. There appears to be a strong role of insulin resistance and abdominal obesity, both of which are highly prevalent in Indian-Americans. Obesity and weight gain also leads to more insulin resistance.

The poor success rate of adult obesity treatment in the Indian-American population, points to the need to develop “prevention approaches” aimed towards kids and adolescents. Preventive programs should be targeted towards increasing physical activity and healthy eating habits from a very young age. Fat in the diet is very important in the first few years of life but beyond that, extra fat in the diet leads to weight gain and obesity.


These are the best approaches to treat obesity:

Control your diet. The aim is to reduce the number of calories by eating

  • Lean protein
  • Decreased starches (low carbohydrates)
  • Increased fruits and vegetables
  • Decreased fat content by avoiding butter, ghee etc. and instead use olive oil and corn oil (canola oil), etc.

Modify your behavior. Make sure you:

  • Stick to the plan of limiting calorie intake
    And remember that decreased compliance is the main factor for recurring obesity.
  • Exercise. Aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, biking, treadmill and swimming etc. on a regular basis 4-5 times a week; at least 150 minutes a week is recommended
  • In extreme cases seek medical treatment. There are some prescriptions available in the market which can be used for extreme obese patients and for whom diet and exercise have not worked.
  • As a last resort, seek surgical treatment. Roux-en-Y surgery is one of the main surgical techniques used..

A judicious diet incorporating Indian food items and regular exercise will go a long way in the primary prevention of obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, and Type II diabetes mellitus. The alarming rise in the incidence of heart attacks in very young age even in 20s and 30s, and in the incidence of diabetes should be a wake-up call for all of us Asian Americans especially Indian Americans to watch our dietary intake and start a regular exercise program. We strongly recommend that you see your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.

Jatinder P. Marwaha, M.D., practices internal medicine.
He lives in Pleasanton, Calif.


The Story of Bahubali
The Battle against Warmongers
By Ved Prakash Vatuk

What relevance does an ancient Indian myth have in today’s high tech world? Poet and folklorist Ved Vatuk, who has written a long poem on the story of Bahubali, argues that this ancient Indian tale forces us to examine the wisdom of the obsessive, violent quest for power.

Humanity is today cursed to live amid many contradictions. It is said that we live in the age of science — but it is an odd scientific age where material and technological progress have left our dreams and imagination far behind. Today science has handed to man, along with an unexpected promise of development, the capability for the total destruction of the world. This gift of science has been given to a society whose intellect and outlook still resides in the barbaric darkness of historical times.
We live in an age when sants and mahants crisscross the globe in jets and live in wealth as they constantly talk about building newer temples, but remain silent about the challenge of providing a minimum amount of potable water to the underprivileged and marginalized. We live in an age where all religions, languages, ethnic groups, regional are used for political gain. We live in an age where all platforms are used for declarations of the loftiest principles by people whose lives exemplify the most sordid lack of decency and morality. Millions become the cannon-fodder for the religious and political agenda of rulers.

Even in this information age, man’s heart is not in touch with his fellow man’s. On top of this, the surging tide of privatization and liberalization is in reality nothing but a new ruse for capitalist oppression. The affluent nations of the West are replacing yesterday’s transnational imperialism with the capitalist colonialism of multilateral organizations. The Western world raises no slogans against this kind of terrorism, except crushing those in the Third World who dare to dream of independence. Whenever the oppressed and the helpless raise their heads, demanding their rights, they are crushed in the name of terrorism. The West’s attainment of military and economic supremacy is considered promotion of democratic values; but when Third World nations attempt to become self-sufficient in their defense by acquiring nuclear weapons, it is considered getting weapons of mass destruction by evil forces.

Briefly, what I want to say is this: Today, as man stands on the brink of global destruction, his hunger for power makes him refuse to face up to what he already knows. The tendency to resolve every conflict with brute force and violence, borrowed from an older, barbaric age, is still with us. The world’s self-centered rulers still fail to realize that if they do not cease to use violent force to resolve every problem, one day they themselves will become the fuel in the yagna for power.

In the context of these questions I wrote “Bahubali,” a story in verse — a khanda-kavya — borrowing a unique story form a myth from ancient Indian history. This story is about Bharat and Bahubali — the two sons of the apostle of non-violence and peace, the adi tirthankar Rishavdev. The elder brother Bharat, the ruler of Ayodhya, girded his loins to conquer the world in the name of world peace and found the Chakravarty rajya. However, his younger brother Bahubali, the ruler of Podanpur, considered sacrificing the lives of his subjects to protect his kingdom a policy preferable to accepting the primacy of his elder brother. The battle between these two feuding brothers could have been as horrific as the war in Mahabharat, had not the blameless subjects and its leaders stood up to protest the imminent bloodshed of the innocent in the impending dharmyuddh. This message of the pointlessness of war and lust for power, and the proposal of an alternative, nonviolent society — this is the essence of my poem.

The story of this poem at once echoes the rising people’s protest against expansionist imperialism and is a historical document for the creation of a republic committed to egalitarian values.

While this tale of Bharat and Bahubali is very ancient, it is relevant because the essential questions it raises are timeless. In this story, there isn’t really a hero or a villain. All are captive to their circumstances and social systems. The battle of Bharat and Bahubali is not just a fight between each other in the name of each person’s duty and right, it is, in a deeper way, a battle of each person within himself. This story forces us to fundamentally change our notions of the fate of power, war and morality, victory and defeat, valor and cowardice.

Let our wars not be violent efforts for power, but be waged against the many social inadequacies that afflict our societies and nations. Valor and heroism is not to be found in mass-slaughter with an aim for territorial expansion, but in protecting the innocent and promoting the well-being of each subject.

The life of Bahubali forces us to jettison old notions and rethink the necessity of a new yardstick for values. In the end, Bahubali refuses to accept the primacy of ideology for the emancipation of man. Only man can emancipate man. It isn’t that Bahubali’s disillusionment with ideology led to his flight from violence, it happened after he took on the battle and got everything he wanted. His elder brother Bharat, on the other hand, experiences a remarkable victory even after losing the battle for power.

The story makes it clear that all religious wars — call it jihad, dharmyuddh or crusade — causes disaster. War doesn’t protect, it kills religion, truth and justice. This is the timeless message of this poem. To seek an alternative to war is not a sign of weakness, it is an inevitability in human history. This is the lesson of history and the essence of this poem. The inevitability of war is a defeat of his intellect. Power makes the powerful its slave, too. It gives freedom to none. War doesn’t resolve conflict, it gives rise to new conflicts. The character of Bahubali symbolizes a dream for peace. This dream is not an intellectual luxury; it’s a necessity, particularly in the contemporary nuclear age.

Copies of Ved Prakash Vatuk’s book “Bahubali” are available. Readers can email at for more information.

Ved Prakash Vatuk is a poet, activist and folklorist
whose poetry has won an award from
the U.P. government. He has taught and
researched at Harvard, University of Chicago
and the University of California at Berkeley.

Auto Review: 2002 Mercedes-Benz G500
Pugnacious, Practical, Arcane
By Al Auger

It doesn’t come cheap, nor does it win any environmentalist friends, but the Mercedes SUV is a pugnacious, decadent charmer, writes Al Auger.

Women go ga-ga over it; men give forth with a blood-chilling Tarzan yell while beating their breasts. I think I’m Stewart Granger looking for King Solomon’s Mines. One person even complimented me on the primo condition of my classic SUV. What is it? I’m not sure; it has the architecture of the Trans-America building, luxurious appointments throughout the cabin and is selling like the proverbial Bavarian torte throughout Africa, the mid-east and Asia.

What we’re talking here is the puissant (a Hamlin word, to be sure) Mercedes-Benz G500 sport utility vehicle, a limited edition with only 1,000-2,000 sales planned for the U.S. But the G500 is a rolling dichotomy of practicality and the arcane. For instance, how many 6,000 pound vehicles do you know that can blow off an Eclipse Spyder sports car (I really did)? The answer, of course, is the G500’s heart and soul: the 292-horsepower DOHC V8 with 336 lbs.-ft. of torque spread from 2,800 to 4,000 rpms.

We’re talking attitude, pugnacious attitude. M-B considers the G500 a compact “only 4-inches longer than the M-Class.” Let’s just say the word compact has been a bit stretched here.

But they’re right on when they call it a “go-anywhere vehicle with (proper) off-road credentials and a liberal dose of sumptuous on-road comfort.” Thanks to a unique setup of full-time 4WD system and three separate mechanically lockable differential locks for off-road use, the G500 can maneuver grades up to 36-degrees and lateral slopes up to 24-degrees. If you’re slogging through the muck and mire, the AWD has an electronically controlled low range that can be powered-up on the fly.

Riding on 18-inch tires and assisted by a host of high-tech gewgaws such as 4-wheel electronic traction control and ESP stability control, the G500 can fool you as well as help you through potentially intimidating situations. I can’t count the times I found myself on local autobahns unknowingly pushing 80 or more miles-per-hour. Even when such a road faux pas happens, it’s nice to know you have at your command M-B’s 4-wheel disc anti-lock-brakes and new brake assistance.

Sumptuous is as good a word there is to characterize the interior. Leather seating, Standard 9-speaker, 6-CD-sound system, 10-way power front seats, front and rear heated seats, appliance controls on the steering wheel, wonderfully supportive seats and a 5-speed automatic transmission with Touchshift. Driver and passenger safety is enhanced with dual front and side airbags and side curtain airbags.

But, wait, there are some caveats to be explored. Even a $74,000 wunderkind as the G500 may very well be, it has some questionable appointments. The most mind-boggling is the complicated console with a multitude of buttons only a smidgeon bigger than the head of a pin. Also, could someone who can afford the rather large price tag live with windows that only operated automatically in the “down” mode? The sound is well dampened at on-road cruising speeds from wind and engine noise; although the engine can get quite thrashy on hard acceleration. One touch I appreciate is the ignition in the dash with its easy accessibility.

As you might expect, the G500 is no friend of the conservationists, but certainly a friend to the petrol industry. Besides, how many people who think nothing of putting down nearly $100,000 for an SUV with an EPA estimate of 12/14 mpg check out the gas station price signs?

So there is the tale of one of the most singular motorcars on the road today, the Mercedes-Benz G500. The lead is apt, I think. If the frivolous Hummer is Rambo, the Mercedes-Benz is certainly Stewart Granger.

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.


The Gentler Approach:
History of Homeopathy
– By Reena Chopra

Right from its onset critics have been hostile to homeopathy, but it has passed the test of time, says Reena Chopra as she presents a historical sketch of its founder.

Physicians tend to adapt their practices to prevailing dogma. Modern allopathic medical practice has followed the emergence of pathology and operative surgery in an endeavor to identify disease and eliminate diseased organs. Modern theory practices and advocates analgesics, antacids, antibiotics, corticosteroids, tranquilizers or behavior modifiers and has led to an outlook which emphasizes a specialized, fragmented focus on a patient’s ailment. This specialization has become the hallmark of contemporary theoretical and practical medicine.

One has to concede that modern medicine has given us spectacular chemical, physiological and pathological data in regard to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases with drugs like sulfonamides, streptomycin, etc. But, can we forget the side effects, sometimes irreversible, which these powerful medicines have on the human system?

Fortunately, for our ailing population, a principle of cure based on the laws of nature was discovered and propounded by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. Hahnemann was born in April 10, 1755. He was a practicing allopath himself and an M.D. in medicine. In 1790, while translating William Cullen’s Materia Medica in which the cure of intermittent fever by cinchona was mentioned, Hahnemann tested the effects of the drug first on himself and then on other healthy humans. He came to the conclusion that “cinchona cures intermittent fever by virtue of its power to produce in the healthy human similar affections.” This experiment led him to subject the same test with other medicines which experience had shown to be curative and in certain well defined diseases, and led him to formulate the famous maxim “similia similibus curentur” a Latin phrase which means, “Let likes be cured by like.”

Hahnemann was the founding father of homeopathy. An M.D. from the University of Erlangen in Germany, he was dissatisfied with the medicines given to the sick and the various systems being used to cure them which often made them worse. So, he discovered a new system of medicine, which would ensure rapid, gentle and complete cure.

He conducted a series of experiments on a large number of healthy persons and recorded the symptoms. It took him 20 years of experimentation and reflection and 11 more years of laborious testing of medicines before. Hahnemann first promulgated the principle in a paper published in 1796. Four years later, convinced that drugs in much smaller doses than were usually employed had effective curative powers, he advanced his doctrine. His chief work, “Organon der Rationelle Heilkunst” was written in 1810, and it contains expositions of his system called “Homeopathy.” The term is a conjunction of two Latin words: “homeos” means similar, “pathos” means suffering. In 1821, due to hostility from established interests, he was forced to leave Leipzig.

Homeopathy has a long and distinguished history in the U.S. The first national medical association in the U.S., the American Institute of Homeopathy, was established in 1844. Medical schools also taught homeopathy.

Homeopathy offered a different approach to healing but it faced stiff opposition and hostility based less on scientific issues than on personal ones.

It almost died in America till there was resurgence in the late 1970s and 80s when European homeopathy companies established offices in America and sales of these medicines increased. Today homeopathy has withstood the test of time and is a testimony to the pioneering spirit and genius of Dr. Hahne-mann.

Dr. Reena Chopra is a homeopath and
acupressurist. She practices homeopathic
medicine in Fremont, Calif.




Shah Rukh Booked

The Badshah of Bollywood apparently lost it, if you believe Mumbai police. The Khan apparently stepped in to restrain an overzealous Zee News cameraman, resulting in a scuffle involving the cameraman, Shah Rukh and his security guard.

It all happened July 28 night at an event in Crossroad Mall in central Mumbai where Shah Rukh was present to unveil a collection of costumes from Devdas. Shah Rukh’s security guard apparently asked the Zee cameraman to take a hike when the latter tried to tape footage of the Khan. But you know the paparazzi. They don’t know how to take no for an answer. A fierce argument resulted, and then the Badshah stepped in, a la Bollywood, to teach the cameraman a lesson.

Alas, real life is less rather glamorous than Bollywood. Instead of a packed cinema rooting for the Khan, the decidedly unimpressed Tardeo police lodged a complaint accusing Shah Rukh and his guard of “insult with intent to provoke breach of peace” and “criminal intimidation.”

Manisha’s Market

Ah, our Nepali princess! Much loved though she is by her fans, nasty rumormongers say she is simply too undisciplined to regain her lofty perch. Well, Manisha Koirala is going to show them all, it appears. On July 23 director Prakash Shaw and producers Rama Adhikari and Atif Khan launched their Tirumalai Pictures’ maiden venture Market. Guess who was in the muhurat shot? Manisha, along with Yukta Mookhey, Shweta Menon, Arun Vardhan and Govind Namdeo.

So what’s the big deal, you say? Well, Market is not your run-of-the-mill potboiler, it’s a serious film which is looking at a serious issue — prostitution.

And Manisha is determined to do a serious job as well, after hapless producers, directors — not to mention her fans — had given up any hope that she was capable of being serious about anything.

Well, wonder no more. The film is serious, and so is Manisha.

Which is all great news, because everybody in Bollywood knows Manisha has enough talent to outshine them all if she can just get her act together. She has shown what she can do before and she can do it again. Seriously.

Aamir the Judge

What a difference a film makes. Lagaan didn’t quite make it to the final lap after being nominated to the Oscars, but hey, it won the viewers’ award in Locarno last year. Apparently the audience weren’t the only folks who were impressed with this dapper star. Aamir has been invited to sit on the jury. Yes, we mean the jury that will make decisions on who gets which award in the upcoming Locarno Film Festival. It’s the first time an Indian has been invited to sit on its jury, Aamir said. But then, trailblazing is becoming a habit for this fastidious star. After all, last year Lagaan was the first Bollywood mainstream film ever to be shown at the festival.

Miffed Madhuri

What’s up with Devdas? The film appears to create more drama outside the cinema than inside. Take the party after the premiere of the film at Insomnia, a posh Mumbai pub. Madhuri arrived at the party after attending maverick painter M.F. Husain’s exhibition on Chandramukhi, the Devdas character she has played so memorably. She and her family turned up early at the party, and she graciously acknowledged the congratulatory comments of arriving guests until Ash walks in. Then Madhuri simply disappeared.

A little bird tells us that Madhuri is quite cross following the fiasco at Cannes where she felt she was treated shabbily by her co-stars. She is particularly annoyed by Ash’s uncharitable observation that she was jealous because Ash had more exposure. Being a lady, Madhuri refused to get involved in a public spat, but decided simply give the Devdas folks the silent treatment. Goodness, this feud is beginning to sound like a genuine Bollywood script.

Waxing Fame

Even the Brits are beginning to realize what a big star Big B is. At Madame Tussaud’s, the famous London wax museum, the Bollywood star’s likeness, sporting a black suit, black shoes and an embroidered shawl stares right at the audience in the august company of the Duchess of York (the wax statue, not the real article, silly). Apparently a whole lot more Asians are coming in for the privilege of staring right back.

Says Diane Moon, publicity manager for the museum: “In the last year there has been a drastic rise in the number of Asian visitors who come to see this statue; almost 45 percent more than before. The Bachchan statue has been so popular and successful that now we have planned to install another waxwork of a Bollywood personality but this time it will be a woman. Also, we have received thousands of letters from Indian tourists asking us to keep many more Indian film stars here.”

Move over, Duchess of York, we need room for Amisha.


No, we don’t mean your average Hindi cinema buff going ga-ga over a Bolllywood star. We mean the obsession of film stars with celestial bodies.

Everybody knows Bollywood and politicians are the safest bets for astrologers. Given the fact that both are precariously dependent on the fickle mood of the public, it’s perhaps understandable. Now you have numerologists all over the place as well, which means every week you have to check if any actor has changed the spelling of his or her name.

Shilpa Shetty has gone one step further. While mercifully she hasn’t mauled her name yet, she is religiously avoiding rahu. During Rahu Kaal, which prevails for a few hours everyday, she simply refuses to do anything really important. Given the fact that her career never really took off, her apprehension is not surprising, but can all the astrology in the world salvage a career when what she actually needs is a dash of acting ability? That answer, alas, is not in the stars.


Hindi Film Review
Snatches of Brilliance


Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, Jackie Shroff, Kiron Kher
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Music: Ismail Darbar

Now as the ear-shattering din of the hype is coming to an end, and the dust is beginning to settle after the hoopla, the time has come to take a studied, reasoned look at this film.

There is no question that Devdas is a phenomenon. The hype surrounding the film, alas, has less to do with its cinematic quality than more extraneous considerations: The fact that the film has distinguished predecessors — Pramathesh Barua and Bimal Roy have made previous versions; the fact that at a whopping Rs. 500 million it’s India’s most expensive film ever; the fact that it brought together three top Bollywood superstars — Shah Rukh, Aishwarya and Madhuri; the fact that it is a lavish costume drama of eye-popping opulence; and the fact that during its 30-month-long gestation Sanjay Leela Bhansali kept it so tightly under wraps that the curiosity factor alone was overpowering.

Buried under all these considerations are some key questions: whether this is a credit to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s filmmaking skills (Yes); if the film is faithful to the original novel by Bengali storytelling wizard Saratchandra Chattopadhyay and to its Bengali ethos for which Bhansali has reportedly gone to extraordinary, painstaking lengths (Not really); and finally, the only question that really matters: Whether it all hangs together, i.e., whether the film clicks (At best, the jury is out on that one).

Before addressing these issues in detail, here’s a synopsis of the film’s story (it largely follows the novel though it diverges at some crucial points).

Devdas (Shah Rukh) and Paro (Aishwarya) are childhood friends who are in love. After 10 years, when Devdas returns from a long stay in England, Paro has grown into a beautiful woman. Their love is rekindled, but social differences and in particular the intransigence of Devdas’s mother spells doom for any possibility of marriage. Devdas shrugs off Paro’s frantic appeals for help as her mother, smarting from a humiliating showdown with Devdas’s mother, is determined to marry Paro off to a zamindar.

By the time Devdas comes to his senses, it’s too late. Paro is married, and Devdas descends into an alcoholic abyss. Chandramukhi (Madhuri), a courtesan, is overwhelmed with tenderness and affection at Devdas’s predicament, and her feelings blossom into love. But Devdas only wants the one thing he cannot have anymore: Paro. Ultimately, Devdas dies in alcoholic squalor.

Very loosely, this is also Sarat Chandra’s story; but the rub lies somewhere else. The Bollywood star system and the novel just don’t mix, and here’s why.

In the novel, Devdas is 19, a youth barely past the threshold of adolescence, still feeling his way into adulthood, his character a touchingly endearing mixture of belligerence, apprehension and sentimentality. Paro is a 14-year-old teen, innocent and a little scared. Chandramukhi is rather older, all of 24. It is the dynamics of their ages that lend the novel a particular magic — it’s not quite mature love, but an indeterminate, uncharted area where adolescent kinship is evolving into a romantic relationship, shrouded in a confused, tentative uncertainty. (In the novel, Paro always addresses Devdas as Dev-da or brother Dev). Chandramukhi is older than the person she loves, Devdas; that taboo, added to her shaky credentials — what right does a courtesan have to expect love — adds a poignant anguish to her sorrow.
In Bhansali’s Devdas these delicate nuances are completely lost as the love triangle of Devdas, Paro and Chandramukhi gets buried under what ends up being a love triangle of Shah Rukh, Aishwarya and Madhuri.

Similarly, notwithstanding the little bits of Bengali dialogue strewn here and there, the sheer opulence of the sets and costumes create a fantasy world where the Bengali identity of the film is incidental. In fact Bhansali’s previous hit Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam casts too heavy a shadow for comfort, particularly in the same indulgence in costume and sets and even some of the lesser characters.

So how does it all square up with this reviewer’s contention that the film is, all the same, a credit to Bhansali’s filmmaking skills? The answer lies in some captivating sequences he creates, where Bhansali’s extraordinary combination of lighting, color and mood creates some magical moments to capture sorrow, desire and death with breathtaking intensity. Here is a filmmaker who has a formidable grasp of the language of cinema, but at the end of the day the Bollywood idiom triumphed over Saratchandra.

To be sure, it is still a superb example of competence when you look at the pathetic potboilers Bollywood has been churning out lately, but that’s more an indictment of Bollywood than a compliment to Bhansali.

The fact that the film is doing well in the box office is neither here nor there. Titanic, despite a fawning New York Times review, was little more than a piece of special effects wizardry wrapped around a maudlin soap-opera tale. The fact that it packed the cinemas may have had more to do with millions of star-truck prepubescent girls seeing it over and over again to catch one more glimpse of Leonardo diCaprio than anything else. Who knows why people are going to see Devdas? Maybe the men are going to see Shah Rukh, and the women to see the costumes. The fact is that Devdas falls far short of what it could have been. But you should definitely go and see it and judge for yourself.

Rating: ***1/2 (Good)


Tamil Film Review:
Violence-ridden, Asinine Rehash


Director: Pushpavasakam
Cast: Surya, Shrutika, Gayatri Jairam, Vijaykumar, Srividya, Ilavarasu and Vadivelu.

If a hero has to be depicted as macho, then he either has to be a terrorist or a hooligan. Apparently that’s what many of our filmmakers seem to think, if recently released films are any indication. Sri adheres to this hackneyed formula, and has a protagonist with a gang accompanying him as he strides all over the place with a stereotypical gait. Quite a familiar scenario for those who’ve seen all those “rowdy” films earlier.

The debutant director fails to be convincing in the build-up to the scenes of Sri being forced to leave home and taking to violence. The activities of Sri and his gang also are quite ambiguous. It’s as if the director has taken inspiration from earlier films, but he isn’t quite sure what acts he could show the gang indulging in. The concluding scenes culminate in a courtroom drama with the scenes making a mockery of actual courtroom proceedings.

Here’s how the story goes: Wealthy contractor Pasupathi (Ilavarasu) comes to the agraharam to ask for the hand of Sri’s sister Gayatri for his son Sanjay who had fallen for the girl. A legitimate proposal brought in a decent formal way, one would have thought. But not Sri’s father, who for some unexplained reason hurls abuse at Pasupathi and humiliates him, instead of declining politely. Sri, who gets to know about the matter later, goes one step further. He rushes to Pasupathi’s house, and bashes up Sanjay and his cronies. In the encounter that follows between Sri and the gang, Sanjay tries to intervene and save Sri, losing his life. Pasupathi has his vendetta on the family when he torches Gayatri in public, with the whole agraharam watching passively as she burns to death. 

Sri’s father and the whole community hold Sri responsible for the state of affairs, and throw him out of the house. Well, apparently it’s time for Sri to have his own gang and take to violence. His father, however, makes it his life’s mission to lodge a complaint with the police each time he catches his son making a wrong move. Finally, Sri is hauled up to court on his father’s complaint. As the courtroom proceedings begin with the father and son standing on either side of the witness stand as accuser and accused, they suddenly have an emotional outburst, patch up their differences, come out of the stands, and have a sentimental reunion. All’s well that ends well, the director clearly thinks, never mind how illogical and asinine the route he took to get there.

Surya’s role is a repetitious extension of the one in Nandha. For a first-timer, Shrutika is adequate. Gayatri Jairam has an apology of a role. She has put on weight, her puffed-up face unsightly in close-up shots.

Sri looks like an extension of Nandha with a slight change in ambience. It’s almost as if the film crew had gone and shot a few more scenes for the earlier film. The result is not only stale, but also an insult to the audience’s intelligence.

— Malini Mannath
In association with Chennai Online


Recipe: Vanilla Ice Cream
Delicious Summer Treat
By Seema Gupta

The Bay Area weather is anything but predictable, but on a hot summer day, home-made ice cream can be quite a treat, writes Seema Gupta.


  • 2/3 gallon milk
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 pound sugar
  • 3 tbsp gelatin
  • 2-3 drops vanilla essence


Heat the milk till the volume is half. Gradually add the condensed milk and stir.

In a separate container, take yolks and add the sugar. Stir briskly.

Add this gradually to the milk. Bring to a boil and keep the mixture boiling for five minutes. Allow the mixture to cool. Add gelatin.

Beat egg-whites briskly. Add 1 lb whipping cream. Add vanilla essence. Add this mixture to the cooled milk. Pour in a container and freeze.

Seema Gupta is a homemaker
based in Sunnyvale, Calif.


August-September Horoscope

Aries (March 21-April 19): You will be blessed with true confidence that invites respect from people at work and at home. You will make a significant professional change. You will give generously. Personal relationships will be wonderful. Visitors from overseas can be expected.

Taurus (April 20-May 20):
Growing material wealth in business, positive changes in personal relationships is foreseen. You will take good care of possessions and follow new opportunities as they come. Travel is on the cards. Your are likely to spend time with loved ones. Set your priorities right.

Gemini (May 21- June 21): You will tend to be hesitant and procrastinate, feeling insecure for a short while before taking a quantum leap towards unknown opportunities. Change your attitude of pushing decisions on other’s shoulders. It will make you feel good and will be acceptable to others.

Cancer (June 22-July 22): Professional success and meaningful relationships are foreseen. You will be enthusiastic over creative projects. You can make mundane situations look exciting and interesting, and this ability works like magic in personal and professional life. Travel plans may take shape. A work opportunity will come as a happy surprise.

Leo (July 23-August 22): New beginnings are on the cards as you change your life-style and profession. You may be moving to a new town this month. Your thoughts will be fresh and futuristic and will take a bit to live your truth.

Virgo (August 23-September 22): A trip overseas is likely. Visitors and opportunities from other countries can be exciting. A balance of energies will manifest in good health. Success and happiness will be yours.

Libra (September 23-October 22): Adjustment in business and personal partnerships are possible. You will be aesthetic with an eye on the finer points of life. You'll let go of the past reluctantly. You'll achieve success by specializing in your field of activity. Don’t expand in new directions.

Scorpio (October 23-November 21): Tolerance for professional competition will show your maturity. Temporary disruption at work can be resolved with a positive approach. Family matters will remain strong despite conflict of interests. This is a good time to achieve a balance in all situations.

Sagittarius (November 22-December 21): Patience in business and a positive attitude in relationships will turn things around. Stay away from any subtle persons at work. You may have to split profits in a business project. Personal matters will take a back seat as heavy professional schedules will keep you active. Watch you calories.

Capricorn (December 22-January 19): Get ready to make commitments in personal and business relationships. There are likely to be alternation of moods, fluctuation in finances, before balance and stability are achieved. Trust your intuition about people and situations.

Aquarius (January 20-February 18): It is best to be realistic rather than set yourself up for disappointment. You can achieve your goals with current opportunities. Take one step at a time. Move forward as new opportunities await you. A short vacation will help.

Pisces (February 19-March 20): You will celebrate and share luxury, hospitality and the good things of life. Personal relationships will be expressed and promises fulfilled. Success and good fortune at work will open new horizons. Some changes at work are on the cards. You will be inspired be like-minded people and take a courageous step.


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