Siliconeer: March 2002

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MARCH 2002
Volume III Issue 3

IN THIS ISSUE

MAIN FEATURE
India Welcomes Telephony : ISPs Raring to Go
BY DEEPAK GOYAL


INFOTECH
How Hot are Your Skills? : Sizing Up the IT Job Market
BY MIKHAIL PORTNOV


COMMUNITY
Welcome, Spring : Baisakhi at Great America
BY BIREN CHOWDHARY


Publisher’s NoteInfotech IndiaSocial Security
Culture: Cycle of Beats Web: Bollywood AwardsBeauty Pageant
Community: Futurist NovelleteAuto Review: 2003 Toyota Corolla
Recipe: Batata VadaMusic ReleaseBollywood
Tamil CinemaHoroscope
Publisher's Note:

April 1 may be celebrated as All Fools’ Day, but that’s the day the Indian government will take a wise step: It will open Internet telephony to the public, and this could well be a much-needed shot in the arm for the Internet-based firms which have been reeling from the double whammy of the U.S.-led meltdown of the giddy, euphoric information technology industry, as well as the economic depression in the world’s only superpower.

In India, fevered speculation has centered around Internet telephony. Some have suspected diabolical machinations of land-based telephone companies who could lose lucrative business if Internet telephony comes to pass, on the other hand exaggerated rumors suggest that it will cost next to nothing to make phone calls.

As always, the truth lies somewhere in between. It is true that telephone companies, particularly the government monopoly Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, has opposed the move, but it is also true that it is the government-run regulatory body that has given the final nod. The claims of telephony boosters could be exaggerated. Prices will indeed come down, but probably not as dramatically as many expect, and there are still a few wrinkles in telephony that are yet to be sorted out.

What is to be celebrated is the victory of a principle. An innovation useful to the consumer was being artificially throttled to suit a telecom monopoly. This disgraceful policy has now been happily jettisoned. We are not blind worshippers of the market; indeed, we concede that an unregulated market can sometimes threaten the public interest. But Internet telephony isn’t such a case. This is where the marketplace can indeed be an effective tool to benefit the consumer, and we are glad the Indian government has recognized this.

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Main Feature

India Welcomes Telephony
ISPs Raring to Go –
By Deepak Goyal

Seldom has a technology issue been so bitterly debated in India. After critics charged that the government ban on Internet telephony let VSNL price-gouge, Delhi has relented. Deepak Goyal looks at the issue and the parties in the fight.

The buzz about the legalization of Internet telephony in India is less about technology and more about dollars and cents. Or rather, rupees and naye paise. A long-distance call from Mumbai to New Delhi currently costs Rs. 9 per minute at peak time. With the use of Internet telephony, depending on the quality of service, telephony enthusiasts say that cost could come down to as low as Rs. 10 per hour, though it could be as high as Rs. 150 per hour for better service. But even that is a huge savings, if it turns out to be true.

Internet telephony, simply put, uses the Internet to carry voice messages. It can be done in three ways: PC to PC, for instance when two persons with computers with multimedia capability use voice-activated instant messages to communicate. Or it can be PC to phone, where on one end one is using a computer, while on the other end the other person is using a phone. Then there is phone-to-phone telephony, where the voice message from a phone goes on the Internet and then again goes on to the phone line of the recipient.

In India, PC-to-PC telephony was never illegal; and the government continues to ban phone-to-phone Internet telephony. What has been legalized is PC-to-phone telephony, the PC being in India.

Leading Indian Internet service providers like Satyam Infoway, Data Access and HCL Infinet are raring to go. Satyam Infoway CEO R. Ramaraj has said Sify is ready to offer the service the day it opens up. Data Access has announced is going to go for the market aggressively as well, and ISPs are delighted to find a new revenue source in a grim economic situation where the initial shine has become history. Internet subscribers across the country have only marginally increased during the year 2001. In Gujarat, for instance, state information technology department estimates show Internet subscribers remained stagnant at around 60,000 during the year 2001. The state has the maximum number of ISP license holders, but the Rs. 350 million industry is currently on the verge of a collapse. However, industry estimates, say Internet telephony can power the industry’s to revenue of Rs. 1.3 billion within one year of the launch of IP telephony.

Although globally the share of telephony in the total telecom traffic is meager, the industry is hoping to get a substantial chunk from the 10 million minutes per month of overseas telephone calls made from Gujarat.

”Internet telephony will be an additional source of income for the existing bleeding ISPs,” said Amitabh Singhal, secretary of the Internet Service Providers Association of India.

The international and domestic long-distance phone market in India is estimated to be around Rs. 330 billion, of which Internet telephony might grab a share of 2 to 3 percent, some analysts say. Internationally, the share of Internet telephony is around two percent of the voice market.

If it’s so cheap, then why is the share so low, a skeptic might justifiably ask. The reasons are manifold. For starters, in the international market long-distance charges are considerably lower than in India, so the cost incentive is less strong. Also, Internet telephony technology is far from perfect.

Internet telephony is done through a technology called Voice Over Internet Protocol. While the quality of Internet telephony calls has improved over the years, the biggest drawback of these calls is a perceptible delay during conversation. VoIP needs high bandwidth, something the ISPs are not in a position to supply immediately. India is bandwidth starved and with implementation of VoIP, telephone networks and switches could get severely clogged.

All the same, Indian ISPs are chalking out a slew of strategies to take advantage of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s decision to allow telephony.

HCL Infinet, the Internet arm of HCL group, and Net4india are planning to tie-up with international Internet telephony service providers like Dialpad, Net2phone and Phonefreephone.

HCLInfinet is targeting big business houses with a payment model and is evaluating options like payment through credit cards, checks and cash on delivery.

At present, the company has international bandwidth of 40 mbps and domestic bandwidth of 180 mbps. “In order to provide good Internet telephony services, we will have to increase the international bandwidth every quarter by 25 percent,” HCL Infinet official K.S. Shivkumar told the Financial Express.

HCL Infinet prefers the pre-paid service model and expects that most of the ISPs will follow suit, dumping the post-paid model.

Net4india chief operating officer Uday Sodhi sees Internet telephony services being bundled with the Internet access service of the various ISPs.

“Eventually the ISPs will have to bundle Internet telephony services with the basic Internet access service but that will take time as it is not possible with the present pricing,” Sodhi said.

Telecom service providers and ISPs have been slugging it out ever since the government regulatory body TRAI announced its decision to allow Internet telephony. Land-based telecom service operators have been crying foul: they want the right to be able to offer the service without a separate license, and they want ISPs to require a license. The Association of Basic Telecom Operators fears that companies will be loath to make the enormous investment required for building telecom infrastructure because they will be able to make cheaper calls through the Internet. Indian cell phone service providers have joined in support of ABTO. The Cellular Operators Association of India, in a lengthy document to TRAI, demands a level playing field where all providers of Internet telephony are bound by the same terms and conditions as other telecom service providers.

“Are we fools that we have paid so many millions in license fees? Why should they not be treated on par with telecom service providers and made to pay license fees and revenue-share?” asked COAI director-general T.V. Ramachandran.

Meanwhile the Internet Service Providers Association of India has unsurprisingly called for the Internet telephony sector to be thrown open without any restriction and entry fee.

“The telecom service operators — including ISPs — should be allowed to offer Internet telephony services by suitably amending the scope of their respective licenses,” said Siddharth Ray, ISPAI president and managing director of Data Access.

ISPs have reason to be angry with telecom companies. Even as ISPs in the country bleed, they are emerging as big revenue generators for telecom giants like MTNL and BSNL, adding close to Rs. 40 billion every year to MTNL and BSNL’s revenues.

In contrast, ISPs themselves are saddled with losses of around Rs. 13.5 billion against investment of over Rs. 55.70 billion, according to data collated from all ISPs of the country. While some have already shut shop, others are seen scrambling for revenue streams. Small wonder, then, ISPs are looking at Internet telephony the way a drowning man looks at a life-line.

It’s still too early to tell how all of this will play out financially, because in India, even the rosiest prognostications can hit unforeseen hurdles.

It remains to be seen whether after all the hype it generated, Internet telephony manages to actually catch on, given the formidable infrastructural and technical challenges. It never did manage to capture more than a smidgen of the world phone market. Will it be different in India? For that, we will have to wait and see.

Deepak Goyal is a freelance writer based in Kolkata.

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Infotech India

New Antarix Service

Global Application Service Provider Antarix’s unique voice portal service has been gaining popularity with some banks, insurance and other companies in India and abroad showing interest in it as an alternative to the Interactive Voice Response System, a top official of the company said.

“Presently we have two customers and some companies are conducting evaluation. We are also holding discussions with Chennai-based and Mumbai-based banks and railways for offering the service, through which customers could speak and get information,” C. Mohan Ram, its chief operating officer, said in Chennai.

Some of the bigger ones might own it while the small and medium enterprises might sign up with Antarix for the hosted model,” he said.

The company, which provides application in the areas of supply chain management, customer relationship and enterprise resource planning, was also negotiating with various airlines, airports and telecom companies abroad to offer its service, which no one was offering on the hosted model.

Antarix commenced operations in 2001 August and has made revenue of about Rs. 3 crore till this month, he said.

Compaq, IIT Mumbai Ties

Compaq India March 15 announced the launching of an e-commerce expertise lab at the IIT Mumbai campus to architect cutting-edge solutions on Compaq technologies.

It would also offer proof-of-concept and benchmarking facilities for Compaq customers and partner community.

Announcing the launch of the lab, Compaq India in a release here said the lab would enable further exploration of Internet and e-commerce-related technologies, research and business opportunities.

It would also be used jointly by the IIT and Compaq to research and develop cutting-edge applications in the Alpha Unix environment for the e-commerce industry. The IT infrastructure for the lab had been completely provided by Compaq.

Compaq India sales and enterprise business group director Neelam Dhawan said Compaq would evaluate select technologies and products that result from research at the lab and help customers in their deployment.

Oracle Won’t Shift R&D

Oracle said March 13 it was not relocating its Indian research and development centre to China. India remained an important market for Oracle and “we are committed to our research and development operations in Bangalore and Hyderabad,” the company said in a statement in Bangalore.

Oracle’s development centre had been operating in India for eight years and it had no plans to alter its aggressive growth plans in either Bangalore or Hyderabad, it said in a clarification, following reports about relocation.

Elected to African Academy

The African Academy of Sciences, with the head office located in Nairobi, has conferred its honorary fellowship on C.N.R. Rao of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore, in recognition of his scientific research work and contribution to development of science in the Third World.

A press release from JNCASR said that Rao is one of very few non-Africans who have been given this award which is one of Africa’s most distinguished scientific honors.

Wipro, Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments Inc announced March 13 that Wipro Technologies and Sasken Communication Technologies would serve as independent OMAP technology centers in Asia.

By working with TI, Wipro and Sasken would help bolster development support for wireless handset manufacturers who use TI’s OMAP application processors and modem technology for 2.5G and 3G mobile phones, personal digital assistants and mobile Internet appliances, senior TI officials told reporters in Bangalore.

In addition, the new centers would enable leading application software developers in India and other countries to quickly create multimedia-rich wireless applications that take advantage of the OMAP platform, TI senior vice-president Gilles Delfassy said.

TI is a world leader in digital signal processing and analogue technologies, the semiconductor engines of the Internet age. Wipro Technologies is the global IT services division of Wipro Ltd, while Sasken is a leading provider of telecom software solutions and services to mobile terminal manufacturers, network equipment vendors and semiconductor companies.

TI March 13 held an OMAP technology Summit where about 150 top executives and developers from some of the leading software development firms and wireless device manufacturers in India gathered in Bangalore to discuss the future of 2.5G and 3G mobile communications.

Making Film Stars Teach Lessons?

A Thiruvananthapuram-based company has developed a software that can change the body of a program based on the personal likes and dislikes of its users.

The software, termed Interface-I-Want, also enables students to easily learn difficult topics.

“Most of the students can easily recall the lengthy dialogues of film stars and at the same time, find it difficult to memorize their portions properly. Now, they can learn their not-so-easily-digestible study materials directly from the horse’s mouth i.e. the film star’s. If the user is fond of the film world, the software will find it out and select a filmi user interface,” said Roshin Mathew, CEO of Redwaters.com, the company that developed the software.

He claimed that the software could revolutionize the way people interacted with their computers.

He said the company was currently working on another revolutionary technology, which changed not only the shape of the software but also the sound it generated. It would enable the users to hear their favorite songs in any voice they liked.

In association with Chennai Online

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How Hot are Your Skills?
Sizing Up the IT Job Market
By Mikhail Portnov

Gone are the golden days of explosive demand of IT skills and commensurate compensation. In a depressed job market, it’s vital to know what skills are in demand. Mikhail Portnov reports.

For the past two years, I have been continuously keeping track of the relationship between supply and demand for the Silicon Valley job market in high-tech specialists. Tracking the demand has been easy — all I had to do was use any one of a number of web-based job search engines, such as dice.com or brassring.com, to look for advertised positions.

But how do you track the supply? Not everyone can. Because a large part of my business has to do with job placement, I have purchased a recruiter’s license for dice.com, which allows me to search the resumes posted on that service, based on parameters that I can specify and change as needed. Those resumes, naturally, represent the supply. Certainly, not every position currently on the market can be found using a single job search engine, nor the resume of every available candidate. But we are not after every position or every resume. Instead, my preoccupation has been with tracking the tendencies of the job market, which can be followed quite closely by analyzing just this one representative site.

In the fall of 2000, when high-tech specialists were in great demand, the ratio of the number of positions offered to the number of available resumes — for any skill set, anywhere in the country — was 10 to 1 (For our purposes we will call it INDEX). Thus, in the fall, just a year and a half ago, the INDEX equaled 10.

Let us look now at what we have for February 18, 2002. What are the supply and demand statistics for the more common or popular skill sets of the high-tech industry? I have put together a list of these based on some general thoughts. If you would like to see any additional skill sets added to this chart, please feel free to send requests to mikhail@portnov.com, and I will be sure to include them in the next publication of this journal. You will note that there are 2,809 resumes for 1,940 jobs. The INDEX is 0.69, which means there are 69 jobs for every 100 resumes. The INDEX has to be greater than 1 for jobs to outnumber resumes.

Mikhail Portnov has 10 years’ experience in the software programming industry.
He is based in Mountain View, Calif.

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Social Security
Tips for Taxes
By Cal Gee

March is the month to do your taxes, and Cal Gee offers a few tips to make sure Social Security issues do not mess up your tax returns.

Americans should be aware of the Social Security information and requirements that affect their federal income tax returns. Leaving out certain information or getting it wrong could delay your tax refund.

Here are some tips for taxpayers for Social Security purposes.

Make sure all the dependents you list have Social Security numbers:

All dependents listed on your federal tax returns will need Social Security numbers. If any of your dependents needs a Social Security number, you can get an application by contacting Social Security at (800) 772-1213.

Check the Social Security numbers you use to make sure they are the correct numbers:

The Internal Revenue Service checks all the names and Social Security numbers on your tax return against Social Security’s records. If the names and numbers do not match Social Security’s records, you will receive a letter from IRS asking you to explain the discrepancy. You cannot receive a tax refund until the discrepancy is resolved.

If you are self-employed and net $400 or more a year, you must pay Social Security taxes:

You must report net earnings of $400 or more a year on schedule SE of your federal income tax return and file it with your income tax return. Even if you don’t owe any income tax, you may owe Social Security tax.

If you paid a household worker at least $1,300 in wages last year, you are required to report those wages and pay Social Security tax on them with your tax return:

Workers covered by this law include maids, cleaning persons, childcare providers, gardeners and others who provide household services. However, if the worker is under age 18, you do not have to report the wages unless household work is the worker’s principal occupation. Under this rule, for example, most teenagers who baby-sit or cut your grass are excluded.

If you already receive Social Security benefits, you may have to pay income taxes on part of your benefits:

You may owe taxes on some of your Social Security benefits. Contact the IRS to see if you do.

For more information about Social Security, visit their Web site at www.ssa.gov or call Social Security’s toll-free number, (800) 772-1213. If you have tax questions, call the Internal Revenue Service at (800) 829-1040.

Cal Gee is works in public relations in the Social Security Administration.

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The Cycle of Beats
Dance and Culture
– By Vinita P. Kumar

Vinita P. Kumar says she is passionate about dance and spends hours training young children for her dance group Aavartan
.

To pave a path for our youngsters so that they can proudly identify themselves as having Indian roots is what I am trying to achieve. What better way to stay in touch with our culture than through music and dance? I have formed a dance group called Aavartan. Aavartan means “cycle of beats”. Rhythm (beat) is an essential element of life. We breathe in rhythm, we walk in rhythm. A similar concept is common across dance, be it classical, folk or filmi.

I derive a lot of energy when I work with children. There is a lot of positive energy in the air. Kids are innocent, non-judgmental and really understand love in its purest form. Young children prefer to learn dance on Bollywood filmi numbers. Sometime it becomes difficult to teach folk dances. It requires a bit of coaching in order to help them understand the significance of folk dances. Once they get it, the sailing becomes smoother.

Bay Area-based sitarist Habib Khan who was honored by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown with a proclamation of “Ustad Habib Khan Day” in 1999 joined Aavartan to present a performance March 1. Aavartan, Habib Khan Saraswati Temple and Gurukul presented a three-hour-long program at the Cubberley Theater at Palo Alto, Calif. This evening was a fundraiser for Habib Khan Saraswati Temple and Gurukul. Habib Khan wants to create a gurukul to provide his students an environment for obtaining a rich learning experience in America. About 100 children of ages ranging from 4 to 16 participated in this event. Several classical songs and ghazals composed by Ustad Habib Khan were sung by his students.

I had choreographed twenty dances for the evening. There were several folk dances, which provided glimpses of cultures from several Indian states such as Bihar, U.P., Kashmir, Gujarat, Maharastra, and Punjab. There were many popular Bollywood numbers also. Beautiful costumes and props enhanced the presentation to the show.

Interested readers can reach Aavartan at (408) 528-0362.

Vineeta P. Kumar is an engineer who runs Aavartan,
a dance school for children. She lives in San Jose, Calif.

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Welcome, Spring
Baisakhi at Great America
By Biren Chowdhary

Bay Area-based Federation of Indo-American Associations and
Paramount’s Great America amusement park will celebrate Baisakhi this year on April 14, writes Biren Chowdhary.

The advent of spring is greeted with great joy by Indians all over the old country. The ebullient Punjabis call it baisakhi, Bengalis celebrate the nababarsha, or Bengali New Year, Maharashtrians mark gudli padwa. In Tamil Nadu it’s pongal and if you are in Andhra Pradesh, you will celebrate ugadi. The names are different, but the mood is the same: It’s a wondrous, joyous welcome to spring.

The roots of the various festivals in the richly diverse nation of ours run deep in our culture.

It is a time to welcome the new, a time for family, friends and community to come together to celebrate the love and affection that brings us together.

Many of us have traveled far from the old country, but in our hearts we bring with us a piece of India. The demands on our time in this country are considerable, yet Indian American somehow manage to find the time to nurture and promote their culture. I marvel at this deep cultural commitment every time I see parents juggling their professional and domestic responsibilities and finding time to teach their children classical dance and music. Indian Americans flock to cultural events, melas and Indian cinemas.

Paramount Great America amusement park has already been the venue of several marvelous events hosted by FIBA. Not only have the events been hugely successful, it has also showcased our culture to the mainstream community. The massive turnout of the Indian American community at these events is a compliment that FIBA treasures.

Hosting an event in a mainstream amusement park, in a way, epitomizes the bridging of cultures we all attempt. There are few things as quintessentially American as a roller coaster, fewer things as Indian as a bhangra performance. At FIBA’s Baisakhi, you can experience both together, and maybe find a moment for samosas while you are at it.

These events take a lot of background work, long discussions and coordination with vendors, performers, and the ethnic media. Great America deserves special praise for allowing us to use their ever-popular premises for hosting our events and bringing Indian Americans and mainstream Americans closer.

FIBA volunteers gladly give their time and effort and I think I can tell you why: In each of this events, when we see happy families enjoying themselves, whether it’s kids shrieking with joy in one of the rides, or youths performing in gorgeous Indian costumes, we feel that all our hard work, all our effort, has been given the most supreme recognition imaginable. Do join us for Baisakhi, for at this troubled time we need to reaffirm the bonds of love that tie us all.

Interested readers can visit www.fibaonline.com.

Biren Chowdhary is the president of the
Federation of Indo-American Associations of Bay Area.

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Virtual Bollywood Fest
People’s Choice Awards
By Raj Baronia

With NRIs playing an increasing role in Bollywood success, their voice should be reflected in deciding Bollywood’s best, says Raj Baronia.

It is about time Bollywood fans around the world had the ultimate voice in choosing the best of Bollywood. Well, folks, that’s already been happening for seven years. San Ramon, Calif.-based ethnic Web media company INDOlink has been running the People’s Choice Awards on the Internet for last seven years through its entertainment Web site PlanetBollywood.com.

Bollywood fans around the world can again participate this year in the People’s Choice Awards and cast their votes over the internet for the best Bollywood film, best actor/actress and various other categories.

The remarkable success of Lagaan, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Dil Chahta Hai in North America and Europe has proven that the overseas markets for Bollywood films is not only huge, but the taste of the overseas audience is quite different from the general masses in India.

Various old-style award shows held in Mumbai are increasingly biased and rarely reflect people’s choice — especially the overseas audience. Therefore, it is only appropriate that all Bollywood buffs from various parts of the world have an equal opportunity to participate in selecting the best of Bollywood. And what better medium to do that than the Internet, which the net-savvy global desi has made his or her very own?

Best of all, even voters get to win prizes if their selection matches all or most of the winning nominees. In order to participate, visit the Web site www.planetbollywood.com and select from a list of nominees under various categories such as best film of the year, best director, producer, etc. The online voting will continue for about six weeks. At the end of the polling period, all the votes will be electronically tabulated and the nominees receiving the maximum number of votes will be declared winners of the People’s Choice Awards.

“It is a unique interactive experience involving a vast global community,” said Ramesh Kainthla who manages PlanetBollywood.com.

The number of online votes for People’s Choice Awards has ballooned from 3,000 in 1995 to over 300,000 in 2001. This year half a million votes are expected to be in by the April 22 deadline, and it could include yours, too. All it takes is a click.

Raj Baronia is an information technology entrepreneur based in San Ramon, Calif.

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Zee TV Presents
Mr/Miss India America Pageant 2002
– By Sonali Merchant

Talented, beautiful and young? The premier pageant is coming to town, and this is your chance to walk away with the crown, writes Sonali Merchant.

ZEE TV will present Jinder Takhar’s 11th Mr/Miss India America 2002 pageant April 6 at the Flamingo Palace in Fremont, Calif.

The show’s national promoters are Mehta Brothers Entertainment and it will benefit Jagriti, a charitable organization that deals with domestic violence in the Indian American community.

Mr. & Miss India America 2002 pageant winners will each win a $1,000 scholarship, a round-trip ticket to India, among other prizes. Contestants must be single, at least 16 years old and a resident in America. Applications are being accepted nationwide. Interested contestants can email info@MissIndiaAmerica.com (female applicants) or info@MrIndiaAmerica.com (male applicants).

The talent competition for the children, Mr/Miss India America Prince & Princess 2002, is for ages 5-11. Parents of talented children should email info@spiritofindia.com for an application.

A special addition to the program is a nationwide search for Mrs. India America 2002. Applicants for Mrs. India America must be married. Contestants should email info@MrsIndiaAmerica.com for an application.

The Mr & Miss India organization has simple goals: to provide young Indians an opportunity to display and enhance their talents, to heighten their self-esteem, and to enhance the image of the Indian American community. The contest provides a rewarding experience for participating youth; positive role models for the younger Indians; enriches cultural experience and entertainment for the community; promotes parent and community involvement; and provides opportunities for Indian youth to enhance their respective careers. The contest also reinforces the values of teamwork and camaraderie in a quality, structured environment. These values are especially important when considering the popularity of the contest.

The evening will begin at 6:00 p.m. with a reception followed by an Indian buffet dinner. The audience will be treated to an opening number by the semifinalists, led by Sachin Piplani, Mr. India America 2001, and Shaifali Prakash, Miss India America 2001.

All the semifinalists will then compete in three segments: traditional wear, talent and formal wear, with only the top ten finalists competing in the last segment: questions/answers. After the announcement of the new titleholders, Mr/Miss India America 2002, the audience will celebrate to a DJ music party.

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Gujarati Futurist Novelette
Entering Other’s Body
– By Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar

At a recent event, literary enthusiasts gathered at a Silicon Valley community center to felicitate Bhushit Joshipura for his recent foray into science fiction, writes Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar.

About 50 people including non-Gujaratis gathered at the Indo-American Community Service Center in Santa Clara, Calif., to mark the introduction of “Parakaayaapravesha” (Entering One’s Body), a futuristic science fiction novelette written by Bhushit Joshipura in Gujarati. Gujarati is a language spoken by over 45 million people in the western Indian state.

On hand were Chirag Jha, editor of the Gujarati literary Web site www.zazi.com, and Gaurang Desai, president of the Northern California chapter of the Friends of India Society International.

Jayashree Merchant, founder-member of the North America Gujarati Literary Academy and a poet, gave an in-depth critical overview of the novel.

After an invocation to Ganesh and Saraswati, Aruna Chhaya welcomed the guests with a kumkum tilak. Congratulatory messages, which came from all over the Silicon Valley and from as far away as Melbourne, Australia, were read out by Jaykant Chhaya.

Chirag Jha gave an overview of the novel and congratulated the author for taking up an unconventional genre for his literary exercise.

Bhushit Joshipura, the author of the book, emphasized on need for de-emphasizing the past and re-emphasizing future in current Indian intellectual debate. He also drew parallels between the characteristics of science and their reflection in various well-known science fiction stories.

Gaurang Desai commented that while the writing of science fiction enriches a language, the reader’s mental horizon as well as linguistic faculty can be enriched by this novel genre.

The program concluded with a vote of thanks and Vedic prayer for peace.

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Auto Review: 2003 Toyota Corolla
World's Favorite Car

The new Toyota Corolla may not cause mass hysteria, but it ups the ante to remain remarkably good value for money, and will continue its tradition as the world’s best-selling car.

The Corolla is the world’s all-time best-selling car, but the small-car landscape in America has changed dramatically. With this new, ninth-generation Corolla, Toyota keeps it competitive with all-new, bolder styling, improved handling, and a longer list of standard features. Except for the same 1.8-liter engine, this is a whole new car. It is roomier inside with slightly increased exterior dimensions. In fact, it now has as much interior space as the first-generation Camry. The fit and finish has been improved to near-Lexus quality, and leather seats are now an option. A navigational system is now even an option. On the road, it feels more substantial, with an improved ride quality that feels more like that of a larger sedan. Its new group of standard features, including AC, a CD player, and split-folding seats, will surely help it hold onto its benchmark-status.

When the Toyota Corolla first launched in Japan in 1966, and in the U.S. two years later, it quickly earned a reputation for quality, and affordability, creating an archetype for every Toyota vehicle over the past 35 years. Today, Toyota has sold 25 million units of Corolla in 142 countries.

The big reason Corolla is the world’s best-selling passenger car is that it set the standard in the ‘60s and early 70s for “bang-for-the-buck” transportation. It was affordable, but high in quality. It sipped gas, and was low in maintenance. Its styling was simple and clean, and connected well with young buyers. And although it never aspired to be a sports car, it earned a reputation as a nimble and responsive get-around-town-commuter. “It’s a great little car” is how owners described it. And it was the very definition of value.

“In style and substance, the all-new Corolla will reach out to younger buyers with a strong, new identity,” says Don Esmond, Toyota Division senior vice-president and general manager. “It will be far more than merely the next-generation Corolla. For 2003, Corolla will establish the benchmark in styling, image, performance, and value in the subcompact sedan segment. In doing so, it will connect with a broader range of buyers and sow the seeds of long-term owner loyalty with the Toyota brand.”

“Corollas have stiff competition in the small-car segment these days, and some of the opposition—notably the Korean entries—are much better equipped at comparable prices and offer highly competitive warranties to offset the Corolla’s famous reliability,” says Car and Driver. “So Toyota has responded with a fresh, new, ninth-generation Corolla with higher equipment levels and a dramatic attempt at luxury-car exterior accents and interior ambience. There’s even leather upholstery available on one model.

“With styling that bears a resemblance to some Lexus models (although it was unkindly described by our Fred Gregory as looking like ‘a shrunken Malibu’), it is hoped that the Corolla’s new look will suggest something upmarket of the typical compact car.”

Visually and functionally, the new Corolla is longer, taller and wider. Its windshield and rear-window glass is extended more than nine inches along the belt-line.

The new Corolla is available in three grades, the value-driven CE, the upscale LE, and the sporty S grade. Value is improved in all three grades through increased standard equipment at minimal cost-up. An assortment of traditionally optional equipment is now standard on all Corolla grades. Standard amenities on the CE grade include:

• Power mirrors
• Air conditioning with clean air filter
• Color-keyed outside door handles
• P185/65R15 tires with full wheel covers
• Heavy duty rear window defogger
• Power steering
• Tilt steering wheel
• Intermittent wipers
• Trunk lamp
• Tachometer
• Dome light with delay
• AM/FM/CD with four speakers
• Outside temperature gauge
• Center console box
• Remote trunk, hood and fuel filler release
• Daytime running lights
• Digital clock
• 60/40 split folding rear seat
• And body side molding

Unfortunately, cruise control, ABS, and side-impact airbags are optional on all Corollas. ABS, at least, ought to be standard fare.

"Toyota’s Corolla was always servile, willing, capable, and dependable,” says Car and Driver. “Now it’s roomier, more stylish, and a little more involving. The 2003 model still might not induce mass hysteria, but hey, 25 million Corolla owners can’t all be wrong.”

Today’s Test Drive


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Bollywood

Guftugu

Patching Up

Urmila Matondkar not only starred in many films by Ramgopal Verma, she was also his heroine outside her reel-life performances as well, if you know what we mean.

Alas, when their real-life liaison had a less than happily-ever-after result, Urmila’s reel life presence suffered as well, as far as Ramu’s films went. Take Company, Ramgopal Verma’s most expensive project to date. Urmila would have given anything to have a piece of action in the film but it was Manisha Koirala who got to be heroine.

Well, it seems that Ramu has decided to let bygones be bygones. As he gets ready to release Company, he has recently said he is going to have Urmila star in his next film, a suspense thriller. He brushed off media speculation about any break up: “Just because we didn’t work in one or two films doesn’t mean that we have stopped talking. In fact she is the heroine of my next movie.”

Oh, yeah? Skeptical reporters pounced on him, asking more probing questions, but Ramu refused to open his mouth on this. The same, it can safely be said, will not be the case with Bollywood rumor mongers.

Betting on Lagaan

Aamir isn’t the only one. While Mr. Perfect is honing his skills wooing the Academy of Motion Pictures to win India’s first ever Best Foreign Film Oscar, and betting on making it happen in the end, thousands of Lagaan fans are joining in. Literally. The Internet is rife with bets on whether the Lagaan XI will actually win in the end. There seems a sad inevitability about it all. After all, if a film celebrates cricket the way Lagaan does, can the punters be far behind?

Stranger No More

She was a stranger indeed in Ajnabee. She shook Bollywood with her sultry presence and enormous poise, upstaging even Kareina Kapoor in the film. Any doubting critics who attributed it to beginner’s luck were silenced effectively by her performance in Raaz. She has performed with style again, and her polished performance is doubtless substantially responsible for the film becoming a runaway hit, particularly as it’s hard to figure out why that flawed film has the audience flocking to the cinemas.

Bollywood is showering her with its most genuine compliment: a slew of films. The busy Bipasha has now in her hands David Dhawan’s Chor Machaye Shor; Sanjay Gadhvi’s Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai; Ajay Chandok’s Nehle Pe Dehla, Vikram Bhatt’s Aitbaar and Khel.

Not bad at all, considering the awful — often deserved — record of models turned stars.

Overexposed?

Luck has played tricks with Amitabh Bachchan. You’ll remember how his attempts to come back had hit a big roadblock with film after film crashing in the box office and his company ABCL going south. Then Kaun Banega Crorepati happened, and Big B became big news again.

Recently Bachchan expressed misgivings about too many of his films being crowded together and hurting him. The recent Toofan and Jaadugar hasn’t exactly set the cash registers ringing, as you all know.

Well, if that’s what the Big B thinks, he will have a few sleepless nights in the near future. Three of his films are releasing in the next three months: Aankhen in April, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin in May and Kaante in June.

If it’s any comfort, we beg to differ with Amitabh’s reasoning. It’s less a matter of overexposure and more a matter of quality, dear Amitji. The aptly named Mrityudaata would have been a disaster even if it had been his only release in 100 years, while on the other hand his urbane, classy delivery in Kaun Banega Crorepati kept the nation glued to television day after day.

As an aside, both the forthcoming Aankhen and Kaante have one thing in common: both revolve around a bank heist. For the Big B’s sake we hope it also has another thing in common: box office success.

Getting Real

Now us desi folks may adore watching Bollywood masala films, but few of us are fool enough to confuse reel world with the real world. But that’s what a good film is supposed to do, isn’t it? Don’t films win awards for taking a particularly incisive look at the human condition?

Well, surely not Bollywood. Unless you consider romping in Australia and Switzerland, wallowing in overwrought melodramatic pathos and engaging in bloody, violent climaxes a reflection of reality.

So what’s with Juhi Chawla’s latest habit of turning up on the sets without a make up man, hairdresser or dress designer? Apparently director’s orders. Director Nagesh Kukunoor, you see, is not your run-of-the-mill Bollywood phillum director. His Hyderabad Blues was a light-hearted, fetching tale of the expatriate experience, and Rockford, though less successful, was about life in a boarding school.

He has signed Juhi for his forthcoming Three Walls, and he has made it clear that it’s either going to be no make-up, or it’s gonna be no Juhi. Now Juhi hates acting without make-up, but surprisingly, she has acquiesced meekly to the director’s wishes. Apparently she loves the script. For her sake, let’s hope the audience does, too.

Sunny Side Up

Sunny Deol’s zeal for the motherland is no longer a secret. His fiery performances in Gadar and Maa Tujhe Salaam have made his name a byword for full-blooded, unabashed, take-no-prisoners patriotic fervor. It seems there’s nothing this guy won’t do for love of country.

Well, love of moolah must be a very close second, because what millions of Indians have recently seen on television is an intimate view of the Punjabi hunk. To the delight of smitten adolescent girls, Sunny appears in the briefest of clothing, in briefs, to be precise, courtesy Lux Underwear. A little bird tells us a cool 50 million rupees have changed hands in the process. Now for money like that, wouldn’t you do next to anything?

Artist’s Artist

Our Tabu seems to be an artist’s artist. Artist as in painter, that is. M.F. Husain, India’s best-known artist, has his eye on this talented actress, and she is starring in Husain’s next film. He is already shooting in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer.

Husain’s love affair with Indian cinema is nothing new. Way back he painted billboards for Bollywood films, and of course, he recently made a film with his favorite film star Madhuri Dixit. The film, Gajagamini, did not do awfully well, though. In fact, it did very badly.

Tabu is forewarned: An illustrious painter’s passion may do wonders for your ego, but by no means is it an unmixed blessing.

Angry Bobby

Bobby Deol is upset. His latest film, Kranti, has left Bollywood lovers cold, and Bobby doesn’t think it’s his fault at all. (So what’s new?) He says that the film was released at a bad time when people generally were not in the mood to see films. He may have a point, because many other film makers had postponed the release of films.

Well, Bobby is not alone in his unhappiness. A whole bunch of producers who had signed Bobby are also worried, because it’s hard to dream of laughing all the way to the bank when your top star’s last film has bit the dust.

Try Again

If you don’t succeed once, try again. What does the old Scots King Robert Bruce have in common with beauty queen Diya Mirza? Precious little, you might say, except a determination to stick to it.

Robert Bruce managed to escape captivity after 20 attempts, so an apocryphal story goes. Diya has had a run of flops — Rehna Hai Terre Dil Mein, Deewanapan and Tumko Na Bhool Payenge — and in Bollywood that’s almost equivalent to the kiss of death for a newcomer.

But Diya is not one to accept defeat. So here she is, playing a middle-class woman in Mahesh Manjrekar’s Pran Jaye Par Chawl Na Jaye. She will make do with little make-up, trying to project a girl-next-door persona. With a bit of good acting, she might yet pull it off. She already knows her job is no less challenging than that old Scots king.

Advani’s Daughter

Pratibha who? Pratibha Advani, daughter of India’s Iron Man Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, that’s who. Pratibha already anchors a show in SaBE Television channel, so she does have some background, but the news of her foray into feature films has still come as a surprise to many Bollywood watchers. Yet rumors won’t go away. Apparently Pratibha is making a feature film on Kashmir. While it’s hard to say how well-crafted the end result will be, I suppose you could safely say it will be anything but dull, if Pratibha’s take on the issue approaches her dad’s bracing views on the issue.

Taken for a Ride

Poor Kajol has been taken for a ride, and it hasn’t come cheap. Raju Singh, her driver, allegedly stole Rs. 500,000 and escaped to his village. Not just that, he bought a Tata Sumo, a popular sports utility vehicle in India, with that money.

However, Kajol has had the last laugh. After a case was filed against him, Raju Singh was arrested. When the cops asked him about his new Tata Sumo, he couldn’t give any explanation. So Kajol ended up getting the Sumo, which she is fond of driving around.

Agashe Quits

Mohan Agashe, director of the Pune-based Film and Television of India, has quit one year ahead of his five-year tenure. A trained psychiatrist as well as a noted actor, Agashe is likely to return as director of the Pune-based Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health from where he went to FTII in 1997.

Agashe’s stay in FTII was controversial. Angry students struck several times Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt quit from an FTII panel.

Students boycotted Agashe’s proposed one-year integrated course with a 45-day strike in 2000. Ultimately, the government replaced the proposal with the regular three-year course.


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Hindi Film Review
Contrived, Illogical Story


Haan...Maine Bhi Pyaar Kiya

Director: Dharmesh Darshan
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan and Karisma Kapoor
Music: Nadeem-Shravann

Karisma Kapoor’s vacuous stare says it all. Much through the film, she appears to be in a daze, apparently not entirely sure what’s going on around her. While this doesn’t say a whole lot about her acting in the film, it does resonate with the audience, who also don’t know what the heck is going on most of the time in the film.

Suspension of logic may well be an essential attribute to enjoy Bollywood cinema, but one can’t really be brain dead. If you think I am being unduly harsh, listen to the story and judge for yourself.

Pooja (Karisma) and Shiv Kapoor (Abhishek) meet at a job interview. Both are after the same job, so Pooja pulls a fast one and cons Shiv into thinking that she is the boss’ daughter. Shiv gives her his resume and leaves, and Pooja gets the job.
When the company advertises another job Shiv applies and gets the job. Meanwhile he has been wooing Pooja. When he gets the job, he realizes

Pooja had lied. (Where had he been all this time?) His reaction: He asks her to marry him.

So now we know Shiv isn’t only easily fooled, he has bad judgment.

Well, the two marry, and off they go to Switzerland. How original.

Now guess what happens. Shiv runs into his college friend and ends up with her in a hotel room. What happens next is, to borrow a phrase much favored by American public officials caught in flagrante delicto, that the two engage in “inappropriate behavior.” So now we learn that Shiv isn’t only stupid, but a flake as well.

Pooja has a fit and dumps Shiv. She decides to start life anew, and lands a job as a secretary of film star Raj Malhotra (Akshay Kumar). Raj doesn’t take long to — you guessed it — fall in love with Pooja, and before you know it, the two are ready to tie the knot. These folks sure don’t let the grass grow under their feet.

Of course, you can’t drag on a Hindi film with as simple a story as that. So we meet our old, time-tested friend, the filmi coincidence. It turns out that Shiv is now a hotel manager at a hill station where Raj happens to go for a shoot. And Raj happens to confide in him, and asks him to be best man at his wedding. When Shiv finds out that Raj is planning to marry Pooja, he begs her not to marry Raj but get back together with him.

So you have a triangle at last: Pooja, Shiv and Raj. How this is resolved will be left unsaid for those masochist readers who wish to go see the film. Honestly, the rest of us don’t care. Without giving away the conclusion, let me say that Pooja makes a final decision which is keeping with the film’s main characteristic: It also defies logic.

A storyline as full of holes as this, riddled with clichéd dialogues and melodrama, is not even original. Dharmesh Darshan has borrowed liberally from Ek Hi Bhool and Chandni. The resulting mess, however, is entirely his own creation for which he can claim full credit, though that is not a word I would use.

Nadeem-Shravan’s music is passable, if the picturization is not, and the acting is not noteworthy either, though how much this is the fault of the actors and how much of it should go to the nonsense script is hard to pinpoint. The terrible trio of the egregious Kader Khan, Himani Shivpuri and Shakti Kapoor inflict much pain in the name of comedy, another hallowed Bollywood tradition.

Overall, Dharmesh Darshan must take the lion’s share of the blame — and there is a lot of it to go around — for foisting this piece of cinematic monstrosity on a blameless movie-going public. However, today’s savvy movie-going public is less inclined to turn the other cheek like Jesus and rather prefers the Old Testament dictum of “An eye for an eye.” They are becoming increasingly good at resoundingly rejecting films that don’t cut it. This one will get the boot it richly deserves, one hopes.

One only has to look at the dreadful box office record last year to realize that Bollywood will continue to be strewn with the fallen corpses of shoddily -made films unless its directors wake up and get their act together in a hurry.

Rating: * (Awful)

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Tamil Film Review:
Well-crafted Comedy Caper


Charlie Chaplin

Director: Shakti Chidambaram
Cast: Prabhu, Prabhu Deva, Abhirami, Gayathri Raghuram, Monal, Livingston

Comedy attempts in commercial cinema often end in tragedy. Many film makers lack the wit and sharp intelligence essential to actually make the audience laugh, and all too often they choose to fall back on slapstick humor or ribald double entendres that can be embarrassingly coarse.

Charlie Chaplin, happily, is an exception. Though hardly a work of art — commercial cinema has few pretensions to art anyway — this film is a laugh riot that is great fun to watch. Prabhu steals the show with his perfect timing and penchant for comedy, and Prabhu Deva is the perfect foil for him. The two strike good chemistry on screen to provide some unpretentious fun-filled moments to the viewers, leaving them no time to think or get bored. Livingston pitches in his own bit to form the comic-trio.

Ramkrishna, a devoted husband, allows himself to be persuaded by his philandering friend Vishwa to have a rendezvous with Thilottama, a call-girl. But Ramkrishna gets cold feet at the last minute and backs out of the deal. To his ever suspicious wife Mythili, Ramakrishna explains the presence of Thilottama at his guest house by passing her off as their employee Thiru’s wife to the consternation of Thiru, who was getting married to his love interest Sushi. The resulting complications threaten to destroy marriages but all is well in the end.

While it is true that the film uses stock characters of Tamil comedy film writers and the theme is also familiar — the dominating wife suspecting her hen-pecked husband of infidelity — the film is successful in creating hilarious moments.

As far as other performances go, Abhirami fits in well. Debutante Gayatri Raghuram (daughter of veteran dance-choreographer Raghuram) carries herself confidently, has a cute face, but could definitely loose a few pounds. Monal is a surprise revelation: She is lively as Thilottama, perfectly at ease with her role. Bharani’s lively song numbers have been photographed against some eye-catching backdrops.

— Malini Mannath
In association with Chennai Online

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Music Review:
New CD Releases


Unsung
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi
Times Music
Set of four musicassettes

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi celebrates his 80th birthday with this never-before recorded collection of ragas. Joshi has himself selected these ragas, and the presentation has all the characteristics that have made him such a great artist: His boundless creativity and his passion that brings him ever closer to Naad Brahma—that quintessential sense of bliss which is the goal of every musician.

Raga Kaunsi Kanada

A night raga, Kaunsi Kanada is a combination of Ragas Malkauns and Darbari Kanada. It is a relatively new raga in our tradition and has become popular over the past five decades. The Raga is performed in either the Bageshwari Ang style or in the Malkauns Ang style. In this raga, the vaadi swara (the note most frequently used) is “Ma” and the samvaadi swara (the second most frequently used note) is “Sa.”

Raga Shuddha Sarang

As befits an afternoon raga, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi invests a true of sense of warmth in this exposition of Shudha Sarang. “Re” — the vaadi swara and “Pa” — the samvaadi swara are usually described as strong notes in this raga, while “Ni” is an important note on which phrases can begin or end. This is the first time he has sung it in his long and illustrious career spanning nearly sixty years. The traditional bandish in Vilambit — under Kanchan Barse, is conducive to elucidating the inner emotion entwined in this melody, which Panditji does ever so masterfully.

Raga Ahir Bhairav

A typical uttarang raga with its emphasis on the upper tetrachord, Raga Ahir Bhairav is widely considered to be a mix of Raga Bhairav and the rare Raga Ahiri. Since the melodic movements in the lower half of the octave manifest the characteristic features of Bhairav, this sober but appealing raga is included in the Bhairav group. The melodic movements of Ahir Bhairav are rather complex and oblique. The vaadi swara is “Ma” and samvaadi swara is “Sa.”

Raga Puriya

One of the more prominent hexatonic raga (as it avoids “Pa”), the movements of Raga Puriya are quite, unhurried and dignified. Usually sung at sunset, this raga’s slow and somber exposition is mainly elaborated in the mandra and maddhya saptak. Its vaadi swara is “Ga” (the note most frequently used) and the samvaadi is “Ni” (the second most frequently used note). Pandit Bhimsen Joshi unveils one of the finest interpretations of Raga Puriya, portraying with immense virtuosity the raga’s introspective and serious nature. In doing so, he brings out the feeling of peace and tranquility.

Recipe: Batata Vada
Hot Snack with Tea
By Seema Gupta

Need a quick snack? Here’s a delicious, savory accompaniment for tea from Seema Gupta.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds boiled potatoes (chopped)
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp black salt
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • A pinch of turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp sambar masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 10-12 green chillies (chopped)
  • Coriander leaves (chopped)
  • Juice of two lemons
  • Cooking oil for frying
  • 1/2 cup gram flour
  • Onion rings (for garnish)

Method

Mix all ingredients except flour and pat them and shape them into small, three-inch diameter tikkis (pies) of about 1/2 inch thickness.

Mix several teaspoons of gram flour to form a thin batter.

Dip the tikkis in batter and deep-fry.

Remove from oil after browning and serve hot with ketchup and chilli sauce. Garnish with onion rings.

Seema Gupta is a homemaker based in Sunnyvale, Calif.

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March-April Horoscope By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): It will be an expensive month. You will make plans for a vacation. Property deal may take final shape. You will be calling on old friends. Watch your blood pressure. Do not mess with the law.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): You may break an old relationship. Time is good for financial matters. You may make fast money in stocks. You will finally settle a loan. You will be taking a pleasure trip.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20):
Worries at work will reduce and business will improve. An exciting family trip may happen. Do not waste money on unnecessary litigations.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Positive changes in career are foreseen. Value of assets will appreciate. Money owed to you will come in mail. Pay attention to your child academics. You may successfully resolve some tricky legal issues.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): Take advantage of time, as planets look favorable. You may finalize plans for your own business. You might make money in stocks. Brokers have a very favorable time. A child will be admitted where you wanted.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): Changes in career are certain. Strong Venus could bless you with unexpected wealth. Spouse will spend heavily. Over-indulgence in work could have negative impact on health.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Financial tensions will be over but at a price. You will travel. You will do good things which were previously on hold. Right property will be hard to locate at this point. Have patience.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): You face strong competition but you will make it. You may sell property to reduce financial liability. An interesting relationship can go a long way. You will meet old friends.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): A major personal issue will be resolved through a mature person. You may switch jobs soon. You will hear good news from overseas. Mind will be very relaxed.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Expect some improvement at work. A new opportunity looks challenging but exciting. You will go on a pleasure trip and meet old friends. A child will get admission at a distant place. Home improvement is foreseen.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will finalize moving plans. A big check is in the mail. Financial gambles will pay off. You will buy new clothes and spend money on family. You will upgrade your knowledge.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Stay calm. Loan application will be accepted without difficulty. Serious thoughts about moving to another place will cross your mind. Left eye may stay red for some time. Try to spend more time with family.

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