Siliconeer: December 2006

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Volume VII • Issue 12
To download the print edition, click here.

EDITORIAL: Sensex Sensation
NEWS DIARY: November
GRAPHICS: A German Tribute
SUBCONTINENT: Tackling Corruption
POLITICS: S. Asians in U.S. Elections
ETHNIC MEDIA: NAM Journalism Awards
DANCE: Kathak Tribute to Tagore
RELIGION: Building A Temple
TRAVEL: Mount Bachelor
HEALTH: Flu Season Tips
BUSINESS: What’s New in Business
AUTO REVIEW: 2006 Chrysler 300 C
RECIPE: Crispy Poha with Peas

Please Join us as we
welcome veteran
South Asian advertising guru Prem Dutt to the Siliconeer family.
Email Prem

Call Prem: (510) 797-8315

Click here for photos

Sensex Sensation

The recent spike of the Bombay Stock Exchange Sensex has made business analysts sit up. Any sharp rise in a stock exchange carries with it the peril of a bursting bubble in the future, but analysts say this bull market is based to a large degree on sold fundamentals, led by the excellent performance of the Indian banking and information and technology sector.

Foreign institutional investors seem to be eyeing India with greater relish. FII inflow in October 2006 (till 26 October) reached Rs. 64.99 billion compared to Rs. 46.43 billion in August 2006 and Rs. 54.25 billion in September.

Morgan Stanley says India strategy report has noted that as the demand is growing and Indian companies are operating at full capacity, they are now going for expansion.

The Indian economy is growing at around 9 percent and companies are showing better than expected results.

However, there is reason to be cautious. The heady bull-run at the start of the year sent the benchmark index to a peak on May 11, only to be savaged by an emerging markets sell-off that knocked it back 30 percent by mid-June.

At the end of the day, the element of chance and luck cannot be altogether ignored in the ups and downs of the stock market. How much this actually reflects the actual health of the economy is a matter of speculation.

But as our cover story details, the going is awfully good now, and investors are making a killing. Tomorrow could well be another day, but nobody cares about it right now.

What went wrong in Iraq? As the sickening, horrific news of grisly sectarian strife keeps pouring in, analysts and political observers have been scrambling to offer critiques of what could be America’s biggest foreign policy debacle since Vietnam, not to mention the trauma of the Iraqis themselves.

Amid a flurry of books and articles that have taken the Bush administration to task comes Washington Post managing editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s perceptive on book based on his own reportage of Iraq.

It is a credit to the quality of his reporting and analysis that even in a flurry of comment and analysis on Iraq his critique has drawn national attention.

Chandrasekaran’s book makes sobering reading. It is a shocking tale of hubris, partisan pettiness and possible malfeasance that have led to a mess in Iraq which has brought untold misery on the Iraqi people.

In a frank interview with New America Media journalist Sandip Roy, Chandrasekaran gave his take on the current mess in Iraq and what led to it.

Chandrasekaran says that there was a very clear screening process in the Pentagon which focused on people in who would be politically loyal rather than people with skills in Arabic, post-conflict reconstruction, experience in the Middle East.
We carry the detailed interview in this month’s issue.

Octogenarian author Mahasweta Devi is not only a literary institution in her native Bengal, but respected widely in India and even abroad. Winner of the Jnanpith, India’s top literary award, and the Magsaysay Award, she is one author who doesn’t just talk the talk, but also walks the walk.

For decades she has been a strident voice of protest against oppression of India’s most marginalized communities, issuing withering, unsparing critiques of her own Bengali community for its disgraceful treatment of Adivasis. She has also worked for them, helping them organize, and given voice to their hopes and aspirations in “Bortika,” the periodical she edits.

Devi went to Frankfurt this year at the inauguration of the world’s largest book fair, where India was the guest country of honor, and delivered a memorable lecture reflecting on India as well as her life and times, which we carry in this month’s issue.

It was a passionate, angry, loving, poignant conflicting rumination about being Indian.

“From the Indus Valley to the bluetooth handset, India has seen it all, contains it all within itself and its cultures,” she says. “There is room in India for all faiths, all languages, all people. Despite the communal crises, despite the fundamentalism, the backwardness of rural life, the memories of underdevelopment which are no memory but reality for us, the threat of AIDS, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and droughts, farmer suicides, police violence, environmental disasters wreaked by industries and farmland being bought over by multinational companies, despite the battering by history and circumstance, India still is. Its culture still is. Hence we all, still are. India has learnt to survive, to adapt, to keep the old with the modern, to walk hand in hand with the new millennium whistling a tune from the dawn of time. This is truly the age when the joota is Japani, the patloon Englistani, the lal topi, Roosi. But the dil — the dil is and always will remain Hindustani.”

Do drop us a line with ideas and comments about how we can make Siliconeer better serve you.

The Three Trillion Rupee Ride: Sensex Unbound

Driven by the banking and information technology sectors, the Bombay Stock Exchange 30-stock sensitive index has hit the giddy heights of 14,000, with investors making a cool Rs. 3 trillion in just six months, and analysts say more growth is on the way, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

The banking and information technology sectors have catapulted the Bombay Stock Exchange 30-stock sensitive index over the 14,000 mark for the first time in history, making the investor richer by Rs. 3 trillion in just six and a half months. Analysts say there is reason to hope for more as the India growth story is only bound to get better.

Since Sept. 15, 2006, the Sensex has gone up by around 8.4 percent, the BSE index for banking companies improved by 15.5 percent and that of IT companies also rose by 12.2 percent. The small and mid-cap companies, on the other hand, are yet to reach the previous high. Auto, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, metals as well as the PSUs, also remain depressed.

According to analysts, the skewed bull-run predominantly due to blue chips means that the small and mid cap stocks remain under priced and could make for good pickings for the retail investor. Total investor wealth has now risen to over Rs. 34 trillion from Rs. 31 trillion on April 20 when the Sensex first hit 12,000.

“It is another milestone. The market is backed by strong fundamentals (GDP growth over 8 percent). Corporate performances (over 15 percent) in the last two quarters have been by and large better than expected. Economic factors are also better than ever. The uncertainty over runaway inflation and higher crude prices are not there anymore,” said N Sethuram, chief investment officer at SBI Mutual Fund, in a comment. “If these factors are going to remain the same, the market is likely to go up further.”

The index for large cap companies has moved beyond the peak of pre-May 2006 crash level. Banking stocks, followed by IT, have emerged as the biggest gainers in the wake of robust quarterly results, strong credit growth and capital raising initiatives, adding more than Rs. 450 billion, during the 12,000-13,000 journey, to a total of Rs. 2,700 billion. Metal stocks drove the journey of the Sensex from 11,000-12,000, while up to 11,000 it was the capital goods stocks.

The BSE Bankex index, comprising 18 banking stocks, including giants like SBI, ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank, has risen more than 23 percent since April 20 when the market first hit 12,000.

According to Ravi Sardana of ICICI Bank, rise in the share prices of banking sector companies was a clear indication that the investors have confidence in the Indian economy. “As the general perception in the market is that Indian economy would perform well in the short- to medium-term, there is a demand for the shares of banking sector companies,’’ he said.

In a further fillip to the banking sector, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has announced a plan to introduce a bill in parliament to lift the 10 percent cap on voting rights for foreign banks acquiring stakes in private Indian banks. He said there was scope for expansion of the banking sector, as it contributes only 50 percent to the gross domestic product.

Earlier Chidambaram has said that the surge in the Indian stock markets was orderly and attributed it to improved corporate prospects and falling oil prices. “That means the movement is orderly,” he said.

In order to check inflation and high credit offtake, the Reserve Bank of India hiked the repo rate by 0.25 percent to 7.25 percent, which should have a further positive impact on the investor sentiments toward the banking stocks.

In other sectors, the combined market cap of 10 IT stocks (which again has reported very good quarter results) present on the index has increased by over Rs. 350 billion to near Rs 3.5 trillion.

India’s top software services companies, TCS, Wipro and Infosys Technologies, have overtaken market expectations by clocking nearly 50 percent growth in revenue (48.24 percent) and net profit (48.52 percent) during the quarter ended September 2006.

Infosys leads the chart with operating margins of 32.14 percent (32 percent), followed by TCS at 28.27 percent (30.25 percent) and Wipro with 21 percent (20.91 percent).

Among the large caps that boosted the index include Reliance Industries (Rs 300 billion surge), Bharti Airtel, Reliance Energy, Reliance Communications (increase Rs 400 billion), Grasim, Infosys, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank.

ONGC (down Rs 200 billion) and other old economy stocks such as NTPC, ITC, Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Hindalco Industries, Hero Honda and Ranbaxy have, however, lost during this period.

Foreign institutional investors have also increased buying in recent months, despite gloomy sentiments in the Asian, European and U.S. markets. According to the Securities & Exchange Board of India, FII inflow in October 2006 (till 26 October) reached Rs. 64.99 billion compared to Rs. 46.43 billion in August 2006 and Rs. 54.25 billion in September.

Foreign funds have returned to the market after dumping $2.5 billion worth of stocks after the May-June tumble. Their net investment so far this year is over $5.5 billion, still a slower pace than the $10.7 billion seen in 2005. However, since June 14, they’ve bought local shares over $3 billion, surpassing the amount they sold during the rout.

Morgan Stanley in its India strategy report has noted that as the demand is growing and Indian companies are operating at full capacity, they are now going for expansion. The report said capital expenditures by companies, are likely to go up by 50 percent in 2006 and 40 percent in 2007.

Chairman of DSP Merrill Lynch, Hemendra Kothari, has said India continues to be a great growth story. “The Indian economy is growing at around 9 percent and companies are showing better than expected results. Overall, it is a great opportunity for investors,” he said.

However, one has to be cautious still. The overall mood is still less euphoric after the heady bull-run at the start of the year that sent the benchmark index to a peak on May 11, only to be savaged by an emerging markets sell-off that knocked it back 30 percent by mid-June.

“The major difference is that this time there is no euphoria. The market may be at a new high but there are a large number of stocks not at a new high,” said Jayesh Shroff, fund manager at SBI Mutual Fund, to Reuters. “Retail participation is still not near where it was in May.”

Analysts have said that the rally this time is not broad-based and is restricted to a handful of stocks in select sectors. The rise is almost entirely driven by stocks from the services sector, mainly information technology, with manufacturing taking the back seat.

The momentum for the Sensex’s rise has been provided mainly by eight stocks of which three, Infosys, TCS and Satyam, are from the IT sector, two from telecom (Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications) and two from the finance sector, ICICI and HDFC Bank. Grasim Industries is the sole manufacturing company with a notable increase in value.

Mugged by Reality: The Iraq Mess
Washington Post managing editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran, whose account of the American occupation, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” was nominated for a 2006 National Book Award, says opportunities in Iraq were squandered long ago when Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon won the battle with the State Department over who would call the shots in Baghdad. He talked to New American Media’s Sandip Roy.

Who coined the term Emerald City?
A number of disaffected people who worked in the Green Zone began to come to the realization that they were living in a fantasy that bore no relation to the real Iraq. So they began to jokingly refer to the Green Zone as the “Emerald City.” It was kind of like going to Disneyland. It was like popping a Prozac.

I read even tomatoes from the fields of Iraq were not allowed into the Green Zone.

They didn’t want to buy food on the local market for fear it might be poisoned. No Iraqis were allowed to work in the kitchen.

Were there loyalty tests before you got a position in the Coalition Provisional Authority?
There was a very clear screening process that took place at the Pentagon. The Office of the White House Liaison to the Pentagon focused on trying to bring people in who would be politically loyal. People with skills in Arabic, post-conflict reconstruction, experience in the Middle East weren’t really valued. People were asked questions like, “What are your views on Roe v. Wade?” “Did you vote for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election?”

But political ideology aside, are you saying unqualified people were put in charge of ministries?
There was a view at the highest levels of the Bush administration that bringing in these veteran Middle East experts, would be to bring in people with old ways of thinking, people who were insufficiently committed to democratizing the Middle East. They wanted people with no baggage.

Take “Skip” Berkel, who was the foremost post-conflict healthcare specialist. He has a master’s in public health. He worked in Kosovo and Somalia and Northern Iraq. He’s a naval reservist with two Bronze Stars. The guy had a wall full of degrees, but he didn’t have a picture with the president. So he was replaced by a man who ran a large adoption agency that urged pregnant women not to have abortions.

Would it have been really different if the State Department had won out in the power struggle with the Pentagon?
There would have always been an insurgency driven by zealots. But it didn’t have to be this bad. Here’s a country with 40 percent unemployment. What do Bremer’s economic advisors suggest? A new tax code, and not just a new tax code, but the dream of neoconservatives in this country — a 15 percent flat tax.

But the goal was not just to build democracy, but also to build a free market.

Saddam Hussein had a very ossified, socialist system. It was a very subsidy-laden economy. Fuel was almost free. Fertilizer was so cheap, that Iraqi farmers made more money by smuggling their fertilizer to Syria and selling it than actually using it. The economy was rotten to the core.

But, the question is, how do you go about fixing it? A number of Bremer’s economic advisors felt you privatize things right away. You remove the subsidies. It’s destabilizing in the short term, but it’s what we did in Eastern Europe, and we should do it in Iraq. Their view was that multinational companies like Nestle and Unilever would come in and build big factories. Well, you didn’t have the same security problems that you did in Eastern Europe. The airport wasn’t open. The drive from Jordan was a treacherous 12-hour trek through the desert, Eastern Europe wasn’t under foreign occupation.

By the way, there are international treaties of warfare that prevent an occupying power from selling off the real assets of an occupied country - a set of international laws that was conveniently forgotten in the Green Zone.

Did anything go right?
In the world of higher education we promulgated a bill of rights that would provide academic freedom to professors. We did so little to rebuild Iraqi universities that were looted that most of the repairs were paid for by Shiite political parties. As a quid pro quo their activists hold sway on college campuses. So there may be a bill of rights but effectively the local Imam is in charge of what can or cannot be said.

Do you think democracy was too much too soon?
You can’t just pop the lid off the pressure cooker in one fell swoop. We Americans, have come to think that democracy is easy. It’s not. It requires institutions, a bureaucracy, a free press. John Agresto, a lifelong friend of the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, told me how he got very little money to rebuild looted universities and said: “I feel like a neoconservative who has been mugged by reality.”

Does Paul Bremer share that view?
I certainly think Bremer was mugged by reality. I am not sure he realizes he has lost his wallet.


NEWS DIARY: November Roundup
Bangla Protest | Marriage Maoist Style in a Nepal Village | Seven Wonders | Pollution Reducing Rice Harvest | Pakistan Elections | The London Allure | Dignity March | Widows Sell Booze

Bangla Protest

Students activists of the Awami League shout before a police barricade near the Election Commissioner Secretariat in Dhaka.

Bangladesh’s main opposition has threatened to stage fresh protests with up to two million supporters unless its demands for electoral reforms ahead of January elections were met.

“Unless our demands are met within a few days we will hold an indefinite siege of the election commission office and the presidential palace and bring two million people from across the country to enforce the blockade,” said Awami League official Ashim Kumar Ukil.

“We will completely isolate the offices from the rest of the city and continue until our demands are met,” he added.

Some 15,000 opposition supporters gathered close to the election commission office to stage a short demonstration, police said.

There were no reports of any violence.

The main opposition Awami League and its 13 leftist allies suspended the latest indefinite national transport blockade.

The opposition lifted the crippling protest after the interim government, in place to hold free and fair elections, requested the country’s controversial election commission make a number of reforms in line with opposition demands.

The election commission, accused by the opposition of being biased in favor of the outgoing government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said it had agreed to review the voter list.

The opposition says the list is flawed and contains 14 million ghost voters.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Marriage Maoist Style in a Nepal Village

Guns, uniforms part of wedding festivities.

The ceasefire between Nepal’s government and the Maoist rebels appears to be encouraging fighters to get married — in dedicated Maoist style, according to a report by Charles Haviland of BBC News in the land-locked Himalayan country.

One evening in the hills, as the sweet smell of herbs fills the air and the shadows lengthen, in a small village built on a hill, military men and women, mostly young, troop into a school.

Some wear camouflage fatigues, others garish T-shirts. Some carry rifles, others are empty-handed.

This is a wedding party with a difference. Once they get to the school, the first thing on the menu for these 60 or so Maoist soldiers is their usual military drill.

Village children stare from the rooftop as the troops get a lecture on marriage from their commander and hold a minute’s silence for those they recall their martyrs, all arms clenched in what the Maoists call their Red Salute.

The wedding venue is the school veranda, decked with pictures of the iconic figures of communism. On a rough wooden table sit garlands of mauve flowers and four candles.

Two grooms and two brides are sitting among the assembled company. They look deadly serious, and seem reluctant to get up as they are called to the podium amid rhythmic clapping and solemn drumming.

The two grooms are to make speeches. The first, Comrade Samjok, now with a shy smile on his face, a red and black T-shirt visible under his uniform, urges workers of the world to unite and wishes long life to the People’s Army. Then he comes to the point.

“Comrade Anima and I have fallen in love and request a wedding,” he says.

It is then the turn of the other groom, Comrade Sayjan, but his speech is read by a senior Maoist while he and his fiancée stand giving the Red Salute. Then at last the couples allow themselves the luxury of a big grin. Each in turn lights a candle. Bride and groom exchange garlands and apply red blessing powder to the forehead.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Seven Wonders

The Taj Mahal at Agra

India’s world famous monument to love, the Taj Mahal, officially entered the race to be one of the new seven wonders of the world, Indian officials said.

The “certificate of candidature” of the 17th-century white marble mausoleum was handed over by Bernard Weber, the founder of the New7Wonders Foundation, to D.K. Burman, a senior tourism official.

The Taj was chosen as one of the 21 finalists out of 77 nominees by online and SMS polls in which millions of people across the globe took part, a statement posted on the New7Wonders Foundation Web site said.

The Indian monument is on a list that includes the Acropolis in Athens, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House, among others.

“The voting (to select the final seven) is to continue till 6th of July 2007 with final declaration to be made in grand gala function on the next day,” the Swiss-born Weber told reporters here.

“It is an golden opportunity for Indians in the final phase to vote for their choice” he said.

The new seven wonders of the world will be announced in the Portuguese capital Lisbon, on July 7, 2007 or 07.07.07.

The magnificent Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child.

Some 20,000 workers toiled for more than 20 years to build the tomb in an age of opulence when Muslim rulers mined precious gems to fund construction of grand projects.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Pollution Reducing Rice Harvest

A satellite image reveals brown clouds over India.

Pollution-laden clouds may be partly to blame for India’s dwindling rice harvests, according to research, reports the BBC News Web site.

A U.S. team found that brown clouds, which cloak much of South Asia, have a negative impact on rice output by reducing sunlight and rainfall.

They discovered elevated levels of greenhouse gases also reduced yields.

The study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, came a day after researchers said new crops adapted to a warmer climate are needed.

Since the 1980s, India has faced ever-declining growth rates in harvests of its staple food, raising concerns that shortages could occur.

To investigate the cause, researchers looked at the impact of the “brown clouds” or “Asian haze” which cover the region.

South Asia has one of the most widespread atmospheric brown clouds on the planet.

These layers of air pollution, which contain soot and other fine particles, are primarily created from burning fossil fuels and other organic matter.

The clouds interfere with the local climate by blocking the sun’s radiation from reaching the ground, leading to cooler and dimmer conditions. Recent research has revealed the polluted haze can also reduce rainfall.

The team concluded the clouds had a negative effect on rice yields.

A team scientist said while the cooler night-time temperatures caused by the clouds were beneficial for the rice, the negative impact of the decreasing rainfall outweighed these benefits.

Yields would also have been higher under lower concentrations of greenhouse gases, the researchers found.

Many researchers had been worried that reducing brown clouds could boost temperatures and so further diminish rice yields.

The government-run Indian Council of Agricultural Research, however, said it was not immediately concerned with the findings. An ICAR official said that global warming and air pollution could not be limited to a specific country and would have a global impact.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Pakistan Elections

Pervez Musharraf

It may sound like a wedding without the bride and groom, but that’s the way it’s going to be, says Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf.

Ending weeks of speculation on the issue, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has declared that former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif would not be permitted to contest the general elections in the country scheduled for November 2007.

In an interview to NDTV’s Prannoy Roy, Musharraf also stated he would continue to wear his army chief’s uniform till the elections but left hanging what would happen after that.

Significantly, he hoped religions “obscurantists” who now rule one of Pakistan’s four provinces and had an overall representation of 17-18 percent in the assemblies would be “defeated” at the general elections.

The Pakistani media has been rife with reports that Bhutto and Sharif were set to return to Pakistan to sink their differences and forge a grand alliance ahead of the general elections.

Both are currently in exile, Bhutto dividing her time between London and Dubai, while Sharif lives in Saudi Arabia.

There were even reports that they would dramatically fly into the country to send a powerful message to their supporters to unite to defeat the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) that has Musharraf’s tacit backing and was referred to as the ‘King’s party’ during the 2002 general elections.

Musharraf has now firmly put paid to these grand plans.

“If they come to Pakistan, Nawaz will be sent on next flight back out and Benazir will have to stand trial,” Musharraf said during the interview.

Bhutto faces corruption charges while Sharif left the country under a deal brokered with Musharraf a year after the army chief overthrew him in a bloodless coup in October 1999.

As for his uniform, Musharraf admitted he would “have to take” a “very key decision.”
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

The London Allure

India is the second biggest foreign investor in London, and will contribute over £33m to the capital’s economy in 2006/7, according to a new estimate.

Inward investment agency Think London said India accounted for 18 percent of foreign investment this year, behind the U.S.

It has helped 36 Indian firms set up in the capital since mid 2005, creating 840 jobs.

London was voted the top European city to locate a business this year, for the seventeenth time in a row.

“London attracts over half of all Indian investment into Europe and provides Indian businesses with a gateway to the continent,” said Think London chief executive Michael Charlton.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone recently launched a “Year of India” campaign to attract more Indian companies to London.

Recent demographic figures show that people of Indian origin constitute the largest single minority group in multicultural London.

Some of the biggest recent bids and acquisitions by Indian companies are:
  • The Tata Group trying to pull off the biggest-ever Indian takeover of a foreign company, offering 4.3 billion pounds for Corus, formerly known as British Steel. If it goes ahead, the deal will create the world’s fifth-biggest steel company.
  • Tetley Tea, the company that invented the teabag and remains the world’s second-largest producer of teabags, was bought by the Tata Group for 270 million pounds in 2000.
  • Apeejay International followed Tata into the market for British tea businesses last October when it bought Typhoo for 80 million pounds from Premier Foods.
  • Tyco Global Network, one of the world’s most advanced submarine cable systems, was bought by Tata for 69 million pounds in November 2004.
  • Tata also bought Incat International, a British software company, for 53 million pounds last year.
  • Indian liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya’s United Breweries is seeking to buy whisky major Whyte & Mackay, which it values at around 400 million pounds.

|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Dignity March

A large number of men, women and children from across the country participated in a Dalit Dignity March in New Delhi, seeking social and political reforms for their emancipation.

Issues such as the Dalit killings in Khairlanji and the desecration of a statue of B.R. Ambedkar in Kanpur were raised during the rally, held to observe the World Dignity Day.

The participants raised slogans against the Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh governments for their “failure” to book the culprits in these incidents. Political leaders, cutting across party lines, extended their support to the Dalits.

Addressing the rally, Communist Party of India national secretary D. Raja said: “Dalits and adivasis are the most oppressed sections of society. Khairlanji is not an isolated incident. Atrocities against Dalits are on the rise and have become more brutal than before.”

Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh expressed his solidarity with the Dalits. “Governments need to clear the backlog of vacancies in the category of reserved jobs. They must also take affirmative action to give Dalits economic independence.”
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Widows Sell Booze

The death of their spouses due to alcoholism has failed to deter hundreds of widows — in villages near Surat in Gujarat — who have taken up bootlegging as a means to make a living for the family.

There are some villages with a large number of widows who brew country liquor and sell it either from their homes or supply it to other bootleggers. Sukhi Rathod, who lost her alcoholic husband about three years ago, was one of the many arrested by Task Force officials from Dabholi village for bootlegging.

She admitted that it was her third arrest, but said she would continue bootlegging, which gets her Rs. 100 per day.

According to data from TF officials, in the current year, 42 women bootleggers were arrested from Udhna, Limbayat,Varachha and Kapodra police stations, 78 from Salabatpura, Mahidharpura, Katargam and Chowk and 41 from Rander and Ichhapore.

For the likes of Sukhi, death of males due to alcohol addiction is nothing shocking, as in the villages where country liquor is brewed, male children take the first sip of liquor at the age of 10.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

A Writer’s Realm: Mahasweta Devi’s India
‘I see one India in the pattern. You see another. Light and shadow play. History and modernity collide. Superstition and myth, Rabindrasangeet and rap, sufi and shia and sunni, caste system and computers, cinema and theatre, song and dance, text and sub-plot, laughter and tears, governments and oppositions, reservations and quotas, struggles and captivity, success and achievement, hamburgers and hari om hari, Sanskrit and SMS, the smell of rain and the sound of the sea.’ Such were the impressionistic, passionate, conflicted, affectionate, angry reflections offered by Magsaysay Award winning author Mahasweta Devi at the inauguration of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Left: Mahasweta Devi delivering a speech at the inauguration of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Bengali author and activist Mahasweta Devi has won many national and international awards including the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary award and the Magsaysay Award.

Repetition and recollection are the same movement, only in opposite directions, for what is recollected has been: it is repeated backwards, whereas repetition properly so-called is recollected forward.
— Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition

At eighty-plus I move forward, often stepping back into the shadows. Sometimes I am bold enough to step back into the sunlight. As a young person, as a mother, I would often move forward to when I was old. Amuse my son. Pretend that I couldn’t hear, or see. Flail my hands about like in a blind man’s game, or make mockery of memory. Forget important things. Things that had taken place but a moment ago! These games were for fun. Now they are no longer funny. My life has moved forward and is repeating itself. I am repeating myself. Recollecting for you what has been. What is. What could have been. May have been.

See the tree, the forest, the field lush with crops, a stream dazzling in sunlight. And see, the spotted deer are jumping and fleeing to the forest, the mothers are filling the pitchers from the stream, clutching their children. And the houses are the ones they left behind at Badihatta. The sun is leaning to see the earth. The peasants are irrigating their fields. What an expanse of forest. How green the hills are.

Nothing happens unless you know how to dream. The Establishment is out to destroy, by remote control, all the brain cells that induce dreams. But some dreams manage to escape. I am after those dreams that have escaped from jail. The right to dream is what allows mankind to survive. If you end the right to dream — which the entire world and everyone is doing — you destroy the world. The right to dream should be the first fundamental right. The right to dream.

I hate middle class morality. It’s such a sham. Everything is suppressed.

Considering the setup from which I came, it was very unexpected that I would turn out to be like this. I was the eldest in the house. At that time, I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience, every woman’s first sex experience came from the family. And from a young age, I had a strong physical attractiveness, as I’ve been told — and this also, I knew, I felt it. At that time we were very influenced by Tagore. I was in Santiniketan, falling in love. Whatever I did was with great gusto. This kind of experience I’ve had a lot. From 13 to 18, I was deeply in love with one of my remote cousins. There was a suicidal tendency in his family, and he also committed suicide. Everyone started blaming me, saying that because he had loved me and hadn’t got me, he had killed himself, which wasn’t true. By that time, I was in close contact with the Communist Party, and felt that it was such a waste at that young age. I felt, Why did he do this? I was crushed. The whole family accused me. From 16 onwards, my parents and especially my relatives would despair — what can we do about this girl? She’s so outgoing, she doesn’t understand her body’s attraction — it was considered vulgar. Writing became my real world for me, in which I lived and survived. Forward. Backward.

There’s a story about Nanak — how his father made him sit in a shop, told him to sell goods . . . dus, gyarah, barah, tera . . . tera, tera, tera and he gave everything away. Everything is yours. With me, everything became tera . . . nothing touches the inside. Material things don’t touch me, I remain an outsider, I can’t always be an insider. Genuine human warmth, real understanding, some friendship, a few strange things touch me, but I’m an outsider and an insider at the same time. Some childhood memories, when I was a child in Dhaka, it’s raining heavily, pouring, I’m sitting at the window, the big house, raindrops on the leaves, I love it. I hate cut flowers. Flowers should be left on the tree or bush. My love for nature has always been there.

Somehow, from when I was very small, whatever I wanted to do was considered deniable, not done. I would go out and get wet in the rains, play in the rain, play with boys. From the age of 13, I used to hear that you should not do this and that, you’re physically developed . . . even something natural like one’s periods, they would say, at such a time you should not touch this or that — what’s ‘should not’ got to do with it? By the age of 13, I had read “The Good Earth.” She had her child, picked it up and came back into the house, did the cooking and so on. It’s all part of nature’s process, why should one be disabled by it? What’s all the fuss about? The natural is what appealed to me, always.

From childhood I’ve been a great listener to old people talking, old people’s lives of woe. I can never forget . . . I once wrote a story about a woman . . . she was always considered a cursed person, widowed; the same thing happened to her as always happens to such widows. Outstandingly beautiful, but because she was widowed at a young age, she couldn’t save herself from everyone lusting and so on. The sin was always hers. I saw this kind of a hunted woman . . . she lived all alone, far away in a shack at the edge of the village, all by herself. She had been thrown out. Even there she wasn’t left alone. She was summoned and asked — do you want us to exile you in the forest? She told the zamindar: Even if I live in the cremation grounds, people will knock at my door and I’ll have to open. You know who they are. The zamindar was also amongst them. No one thought that she might need rice, food. My maternal grandmother had a regal nature. She called her, saying, You come to me. She gave her rice, vegetables, all sorts of stuff — at that time, my mother wasn’t married — and told her daughters, She can’t carry all this herself, go with her, reach these things to her house. At that point her senior brother-in-law intervened. You shouldn’t have done that. She told him, she can’t leave the village, can she? She has nowhere to go. And she has to eat. Men are always visiting her. Today some women are going. The woe of widowhood.

The process of writing is very interesting. It comes from so many things: childhood rhymes, proverbs, containing so many stories. They’ve become part of my system. I’ve been able to get a glimpse of a vast human society — tribal and non-tribal, all of them. Also because I wrote for newspapers — investigative sort of writing. I often say that my world is divided between two things — the needful and the needless. I am interested only in the former. I don’t have much use for the needless. And there was a time, the amount of household chores that I did, you’d be astounded. The heaps of clothes that I washed, the amount that I cooked, the utensils that I scrubbed and washed! I’ve done all that.

The subject of my stories, the people — they use those very words. My editor told me the other day: You have used so many sorts of words. No other Bengali writer does. So a glossary has to be created of all the words that you’ve used. Another thing I have believed is that I write something, and if you alone understand it, it does not serve my purpose. It has to reach the common people. Common readers. That’s why I write. For mass circulation. Many of us face this difficulty nowadays. That we can’t communicate with the people anymore.

Since the 1980s, I have been vocal about the daily injustice and exploitation faced by the most marginalized and dispossessed of our population, the indigenous peoples or tribals, the landless rural poor who then turn into itinerant labor or pavement dwellers in cities. Through reports in newspapers, through petitions, court cases, letters to the authorities, participation in activist organizations and advocacy, through the grassroots journal I edit, Bortika, in which the dispossessed tell their own truths, and finally through my fiction, I have sought to bring the harsh reality of this ignored segment of India’s population to the notice of the nation, I have sought to include their forgotten and invisible history in the official history of the nation. I have said over and over, our independence was false; there has been no independence for these dispossessed peoples, still deprived of their most basic rights.

How to save and protect one’s culture in these circumstances? Which culture do we protect? And what do we mean when we speak of Indian culture in the 21st century? What culture? Which India? Sixty years after our hard-won Independence, the khadi sari is India just as the mini skirt and the backless choli is. A bullock cart is India just as much as is the latest Toyota and Mercedes car. Illiteracy haunts us yet the same India produces men and women at the forefront of medicine, science and technology. Eight-year-old children toil mercilessly, facing unimaginable working conditions and abuse as child labor. That is India. On the other hand, there is another lot of eight-year-olds who spend their time in air-conditioned classrooms and call their mothers at lunch break using their personal mobile phones. That too is India. Satyam Shivam Sundaram is India. Choli ke picchey kya hai is also India. The multiplex and the mega mall is India. The snake charmer and the maharishi — that too is India.

Indian culture is a tapestry of many weaves, many threads. The weaving is endless as are the shades of the pattern. Somewhere dark, somewhere light, somewhere saffron, somewhere as green as the fields of new paddy, somewhere flecked with blood, somewhere washed cool by the waters of a Himalayan spring. Somewhere the red of a watermelon slice. Somewhere the blue of an autumn sky in Bengal. Somewhere the purple of a musk deer’s eye. Somewhere the red of a new bride’s sindoor. Somewhere the threads form words in Urdu, somewhere in Bengali, somewhere in Kannada, somewhere in Assamese, yet elsewhere in Marathi. Somewhere the cloth frays. Somewhere the threads tear. But still it holds. Still. It holds. The pattern shifts, flows, stutters, forms again and changes shape from one season to the other. I see one India in the pattern. You see another. Light and shadow play. History and modernity collide. Superstition and myth, Rabindrasangeet and rap, sufi and shia and sunni, caste system and computers, cinema and theatre, song and dance, text and sub-plot, laughter and tears, governments and oppositions, reservations and quotas, struggles and captivity, success and achievement, hamburgers and hari om hari, Sanskrit and SMS, the smell of rain and the sound of the sea. A seamless stitching. Many many hands have stitched, are stitching and will continue to stitch India. My country. Torn, tattered, proud, beautiful, hot, humid, cold, sandy, bright, dull, educated, barbaric, savage, shining. India. My country. And its myriad cultures. From time immemorial to now, the 21st century.

From the Indus Valley to the bluetooth handset, India has seen it all, contains it all within itself and its cultures. There is room in India for all faiths, all languages, all people. Despite the communal crises, despite the fundamentalism, the backwardness of rural life, the memories of underdevelopment which are no memory but reality for us, the threat of AIDS, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and droughts, farmer suicides, police violence, environmental disasters wreaked by industries and farmland being bought over by multinational companies, despite the battering by history and circumstance, India still is. Its culture still is. Hence we all, still are. India has learnt to survive, to adapt, to keep the old with the modern, to walk hand in hand with the new millennium whistling a tune from the dawn of time. This is truly the age when the joota is Japani, the patloon Englistani, the lal topi, Roosi. But the dil — the dil is and always will remain Hindustani.

As we face the future, and as I stand here, invited to speak of my country’s culture before such an eminent gathering and at such an honorable occasion, I wish to share my dream of where I would like to see my India go. I have spoken of the fundamental right to dream. I would now like to exercise that right.

I dream of an India where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls. Where words come out of the depth of truth. Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary sand of dead habit.

I dream of an India to which the word ‘backward’ does not and cannot ever apply. I wish to be Third World no more but the First, the only world. I wish for children to be educated. I wish for women to step into the light. I wish for justice for the common man. Survival for the farmer. Homes for the poor. And hope for all. I wish for debts to cease. For poverty to vanish. For hunger to become a bad word that no one utters. I wish for the environment to be protected, to be loved and restored. I wish the land to be healed, the waters to be pure again. For the tiger to survive. I wish for self reliance, for self respect, for independence from the shackles of superstition. I wish for equal medical aid for all. For light and water and a roof above every head. I wish for more and more books to be written, to be published, in every language there is in the country. Let the words pour out. Let the stories be told. Let the people read. Let them learn to read. To trace their fingers over each alphabet until they can spell their names. Their addresses. Until they can write for themselves, “I know. I can. I will.” Let us fight ignorance with knowledge. Let us battle hatred with logic. Let us slay evil with the sword of the pen.

I wish for no more satis, no more dowry deaths, no more honor killings, no more flesh being bought and sold. Let no more parents sell their children to survive. Let no more mothers drown their daughters in the dead of night. Let the downtrodden awake, let the ignored and marginalized, the forgotten faces and the muffled voices arise to claim their own. Let the pattern make room, let these new threads find place, let new colors set afire the tapestry. Set ablaze the future. Into that heaven of freedom let my India awaken again and again. It is a big dream, I know. But not an impossible one.

When I speak of Indian culture, then, I speak of all this. Culture is what will take us into the future yet keep us in close contact with our roots, our history, our tradition, our heritage. Culture will let us take a quantum leap and land on the moon but first, before all that, it must help us take a few small steps towards understanding ourselves better, towards knowing each other better. Culture must once again remind us to be a tolerant and truly secular people.

I have tried in my own way to give you a picture of this culture. But how am I to even to begin arriving at a nuanced definition that will be acceptable to all across the North South West East of an India that is so chaotic. So calm. So flexible. So rigid. So rich. So poor. So understanding. So easy to be misunderstood. After all, there are many Indias, as I say over and over again. Simultaneous. Even parallel.

And whose culture is it anyway? Yours? Mine? Theirs? There are so many ‘theirs’ in the land of my birth who have nothing but the harsh landscape of surviving from day to day. The dispossessed remain with us after six decades of becoming possessed of a freedom we all fought for. They all fought for.

I claim elsewhere to have always written about the ‘culture of the downtrodden’. How tall or short or true or false is this claim? The more I think and write and think some more, the harder it gets to arrive at a definition. I hesitate. I falter. I cling to the belief that for any culture as old and ancient as ours to have survived over time and in time there could only be one basic common and acceptable core thought: humaneness. To accept each other’s right to be human with dignity.

This then is my fight. My dream. In my life and in my literature..

Immigrant Health Issues: NAM Workshops

Panelists at three workshops in Washington, D.C organized by New America Media offered valuable insights on immigrant health issues ranging from how difficult it is to get on Medicare to the existing health disparities between the mainstream community and those in the ethnic communities to the graying of the “rainbow” population. A Siliconeer report.

Top: Some of The California Endowment healthcare fellows at the Nov. 14 NASI workshop in Washington, D.C.;
Bottom: Dr. Gooloo Wunderlich, NASI’s senior program officer (right); Bob Rosenblatt, a senior fellow at NASI (far right).

From how difficult it is to get on Medicare to the existing health disparities between the mainstream community and those in the ethnic communities to the graying of the “rainbow” population in the U.S. panelists at the three workshops in Washington, D.C., organized by New America Media around the First National Ethnic Media Awards banquet Nov. 14 offered valuable insights to the The California Endowment Fellows and the many others who attended them.

Additionally, on the morning of the awards banquet, the eight fellows, all from ethnic media outlets in California, participated in a symposium on health care policy hosted at the headquarters of the National Academy of Social Insurance. Panelists discussed a wide range of health care issues, particularly those relating to ethnic communities. All agreed that the health care gap between minority and mainstream Americans has not only persisted over the years, but has increased.

Bob Rosenblatt, a senior fellow at NASI, walked the fellows through the complexities of Medicare — the federally funded health care insurance for those over 65, some disabled people and people with end-stage renal disease — and Medicaid — the program for those under 65 who cannot afford to pay for health care.

“I was not knowledgeable of the difference between Medicare and Medi-Cal and the impact (the programs) had on immigrants,” before attending the symposium, noted health care fellow Sundust Martinez of Native Voice TV.

Dr. Gooloo Wunderlich, NASI’s senior program officer, talked about how U.S.-based ethnic minorities for a variety of reasons are less likely to seek preventative treatment than their white counterparts. She also pointed out that immigration trends, as well as the aging baby-boom population, is likely to dictate health care policy in the future.

Dr. Wilhelmina Leigh, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, pointed out that there are disparities in accessing health care between men and women, with women clearly at a disadvantage. They are more likely to work in jobs that provide no access to health care, she said.

Additionally, many of them “have time constraints, sometimes because they have to provide both child care and elderly care,” Leigh said.

Later, that same day, health care fellows visited the Capitol where they met with key legislative staffers involved in health policy from the offices of lawmakers, including Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif.

On the morning of day following the awards banquet, Fellows participated in a workshop on “Health Care in an Era of Pandemics.” It was co-sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, The California Endowment and Hewitt Associates, and moderated by TCE’s vice president of communications Dennis Hunt. Discussions focused on how to present technical health issues in a reader-friendly language.

Discussions at the workshop also focused on the importance of letting ethnic communities know what services were available to them.

“Ethnic minorities are less likely to take the flu vaccine because many of them do not know the flu vaccine was important for them,” asserted panelist Dr. Graham Garth, deputy assistant secretary for minority health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “That is why African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by the flu.”

Other panelists at the workshop included Tom Rosenblatt, senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance and Andres Tapia of Hewitt Associates.

Now “it is up to us to educate our communities to access and understand the health care process in a form that is palatable to them,” said fellow Miko Santos, an editor with Asian Journal Publications, at the end of the workshop.

Later that day, the health care fellows attended the “Growing Old in an Alien Culture” workshop, where panelists talked about America’s rapidly growing “graying rainbow” of ethnic communities and the need for the ethnic media to develop an “aging” beat.

Panelist Barbranda Walls, consulting editor of the AARP Bulletin, said AARP’s publication, which is chockfull of such important issues as Social Security and Medicare, “cut across all ethnicities” and reaches 22 million U.S. households each month.

With the aid of role playing, Dr. Karyn Cole, Aetna’s medical director, showed how easy it was for the elderly to not understand the medical jargon many doctors tend to spew out when the elderly go to them for treatment.

“Because there is a low level of understanding, there is a low level of compliance and therefore, higher health care costs,” Cole pointed out.

Paul Kleyman, editor of “Aging Today,” warned about how the nation’s immigration policies are going to keep younger people from coming to the U.S. to take care of their aging immigrant relatives.

“Fences are going to create a shortage of health care workers for the elderly,” he asserted.
Aside from Martinez and Santos, other ethnic journalists who were awarded a health care fellowship were Nahid Kobbani of Lighthouse TV, Amardeep Gupta of Siliconeer, Shana White of De-Bug magazine, a project of Pacific News Service, Young Kee Ju of Korea Daily, Shirley Hawkins of Our Weekly and Kai Ping Lui of World Journal.


Ode to India: A Designer's Tribute
This year, the Frankfurt Book Fair honored India, its authors and culture. The country was also celebrated with some fetching graphic designs. Siliconeer presents a few samples.

E-cards designed by students of the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden, part of a cultural initiative by the University, the Frankfurt, the Indian Consulate General and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Trend Reversed?: Tackling Corruption
While still ranked low at No. 70 on its Corruption Perception Index out of 163 nations, thereis a perceptible improvement over last year, when India stood at No 88, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

The latest report by Transparency International, the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog, has brought some cheer in India. The country is still ranked low at No. 70 on its Corruption Perception Index out of 163 nations, but this is a perceptible improvement over last year, when India stood at No 88. Importantly, it is for the first time that India has turned around its downward slide on the CPI.

In last year’s TI report, India was slotted with some of the most corrupt places on the planet, along with such unlikely companions such as Gabon, Mali, Moldova, Tanzania and Iran. India now shares the 70th rank with nine other countries including China, Brazil and Egypt, all of whom have scored an identical 3.3 in a scale of 10 (lesser score implying more corruption).

India now also has the lowest perceived level of corruption among South Asian nations. Bangladesh, ranked 156, is the most corrupt, followed by Pakistan at 142 and Sri Lanka at 84. Finland emerged as the least corrupt nation with an overwhelming score of 9.6.

The reasons for India’s better place range from the enactment of the Right to Information Act, which has empowered citizens against public officials, and advent of technology that allows seamless and online access to services ranging from banking services to booking rail tickets, paying utility bills, filing taxes and even getting a passport in some cities.

However, it is the RTI Act that seems to have made the difference. “The marginal improvement in India has been brought about by the untiring efforts of the civil society organizations and the RTI Act, which came into effect Oct. 12, 2005, is a big step toward countering corruption,” said a release by Transparency International India on the occasion.

Vice-Admiral (retd.) R.H. Tahiliani, president of TI-India, said the slight improvement was welcome but there was a long road ahead. “Indians give Rs. 210 billion every year as bribes,” he said. He attributed the RTI Act with bringing in more transparency in the government.

TI’s CPI is a composite index that draws its conclusion from multiple expert opinion survey polls that compiled perceptions of public sector corruption from across 163 countries.

A total of 12 agencies acted as source to the survey, which includes World Bank, Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, UN Economic Commissions for Africa, World Economic Forum and the World Markets Research Center.

The CPI index is a shot in the arm as the recent TI’s Bribe Payer’s Index 2006 showed that Indian exporters are more willing than their counterparts from other countries to pay overseas bribes to secure business, clinch contracts, do deals and move ahead in the world.

Of the 30 countries surveyed by the index, India was the worst, or most willing to bribe, followed by China and Russia. With Brazil also clocking very low rating as the eighth biggest bribe giver, the BRIC nations, Brazil, Russia, India and China, forecast to turn into the biggest economies in the world by 2050, seemed to be willing to employ any means to bolster their business chances.

The league table was compiled after asking 11,000 top business executives in 125 countries to rank foreign companies in order of their propensity to bribe in the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey. TI said the executives ranked India at the bottom of the list of 30 countries. Indians seemed more ready than anybody else to do business by paying bribes or making extra payments.

Piqued by the report, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, a leading business body, said: “We are very, very transparent in our business practices. As a matter of fact, transparency in Indian businesses is much better than many European countries.”

Despite the criticism of India, there was also some cheer, as it is the first time India has featured in the BPI index, which is the third after 1999 and 2002. India was seen as too economically insignificant earlier. Unfortunately, as business has prospered, so has the trend to garner contracts at any cost, including bribes, as per the report.

The BPI ranked Swiss companies as least likely to use under-the-table promises. No Asian country figured in the list of the ten cleanest countries. Japan figured eleventh followed by Singapore, while Sweden and Australia topped the list.

There is no doubt though that India still has a way to go. Attempts to put a figure on the dimension of corruption in India make depressing reading: government loss of $50 billion due to tax evasion; $10 billion due to delay in projects due to bureaucratic red tape; corruption costs the Indian taxpayer nearly $7 billion a year. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi famously said that for every rupee spent by the government for development less than a tenth of the amount actually reaches the beneficiary and this, too, is an exaggerated figure.

Earlier this year, the World Bank decided to hold back over $1 billion meant for health programs in the county due to allegations of fraud and corruption. The World Bank has labeled Delhi Development Authority that oversees urban housing and commercial property in the national capital as the most corrupt organization in India. A Planning Commission study has revealed that less than 50 percent of food grains meant for people living below the poverty line actually reached them, which is a subsidy of almost a billion dollars pilfered.

Much is expected from the implementation of the RTI Act that has been backed by mass movements in the country that is bringing the lethargic, often corrupt bureaucracy to its knees with the potential to change power equations completely.

From issues related to ration cards, passports, driving licenses, civic problems, government aid money for poverty alleviation to flood relief, notices are being filed across the country, with government officials, for a change, at the receiving end.

If they do not reply satisfactorily within a month, their salaries are liable to be cut, as per the new law. Many have already faced the worst. Some officials have complained of being victimized, but there is no sympathy for them, as it is the large number of the masses who have had to kowtow to dictates and non-performance for so long.

The legislation gives Indians the power to ask officials about almost anything, except issues of national security, cabinet papers and information protected by the courts. For a nominal fee, officials have to deliver reports on the progress of applications for voter’s ID card, water and electricity connections.

“This law has instilled a fear among the officials,” Manish Sisodia, a campaigner with the NGO Parivartan (change) has said. “In a democracy, we say the common man is the master but it is rarely so. RTI gives them this power — to open any file, any document and any door. It’s proving to be a very effective tool to fight corruption, though corruption can never go from India.”

Growing Success
: South Asians in U.S. Mid-term Elections
After years of attending fundraisers for U.S. politicians, South Asians are showing signs of political savvy. After the recent midterm elections there are now one South Asian Congressman and eight lawmakers spread out in seven state (Maryland has two). A Siliconeer report.
(Left): Maryland state lawmaker Saqib Ali (2nd from r) with heavy Democratic supporters including U.S. Sen Jon Corzine of New Jersey (l) and senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada (3rd from l).

The South Asian community is showing growing signs of political maturity as not only more members of the community are willing to throw their hats in the numerous electoral races in the U.S., but several are actually winning.

After decades of limited political participation that primarily consisted of emptying their wallets in political fundraisers as politicians of various hues came and offered pleasant platitudes of family values and hard work, South Asians are actually beginning to get involved themselves.

The recent midterm elections Nov. 7 show clear signs of that. To be sure, South Asian lawmakers and elected officials are still a handful in a sea of lawmakers, but new enthusiasts are joining electoral races every year and some are even winning.

This year debutant candidates Jay Goyal in Ohio and Raj Goyle in Kansas, both Democrats, won statehouse races to join veteran lawmakers Democratic Farm Labor party state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary in Minnesota and the longest serving Indian American state officeholder Democrat Kumar Barve, leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, who were both reelected easily.

Meanwhile Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal was reelected to remain the only South Asian in the U.S. Congress, beating his opponent Democrat David Gereighty by winning a crushing 88 percent of the votes cast — 130,277.

In state legislatures all over the U.S., there are now nine South Asian members — seven Democrats and two Republicans — in eight states: Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire New Jersey, Ohio and South Carolina.

The statehouse representatives are: Swati Dandekar in Iowa, Raj Goyle in Kansas, Kumar Barve and newly-elected Saqib Ali in Maryland, Saghir “Saggy” Tahir in New Hampshire, Upendra J. Chivukula in New Jersey (who was not on the ballot this year), Jay Goyal in Ohio and Nikki Randhawa-Haley in South Carolina. All are Democrats except Tahir and Randhawa-Haley, who are Republicans. Satveer Chaudhary of Minnesota is the only South Asian state senate member.

While it is true that South Asians have a long way to go before they can be recognized as a politically influential group like other ethnic minorities like African Americans or Hispanics, the midterm election results nevertheless augurs well for the community for at lease three reasons.

(From top): U.S. Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal; Minnesota state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary; and Maryland state lawmaker Kumar Barve.

Firstly, South Asians are not only running for electoral office, they are doing it the right way, starting from the grassroots and working their way up. These campaigns are different from the occasional futile runs for Congressional seats in past years; many of these seats had terrible odds against well-entrenched incumbents and major parties were often ready to allow novices from the South Asian community to run in races that ended up being an exercise in vanity. Things are beginning to change as South Asian candidates are running for more smaller offices with specific campaigns and agendas and it’s beginning to pay off.

Secondly, more and more younger South Asians are being drawn into political campaigns, which is a promising sign. Many have decades of political activism ahead of them, and with skill and perseverance, many will almost certainly work their way up in politics.

Thirdly, virtually all South Asians have won on the merit of their campaigns, with no backup ethnic support that African American or Hispanic candidates enjoy with large concentrations of those minorities. Some have even braved racially-charged attacks from opponents in states like Maryland and Iowa, but managed to win, all the same.
Many won overwhelming victories.

Nikki Randhawa Haley was reelected unopposed to the South Carolina state legislature. In Minnesota, state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary swept every city in his district, getting 64 percent of votes cast to beat Republican opponent Rae Hart Anderson, who won 36 percent.

In Ohio, debutant candidate Jay Goyal won in the 73rd District, a seat once held by U.S. Congressman Sherrod Brown, who beat incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Wine to win a U.S. Senate seat. 7. Goyal got 22,695 votes (63.29 percent) to just 13,144 (36.71 percent for Republican Philip R. Holloway, a former city councilman and aide to U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley.
For some candidates it was a tighter squeeze.

In New Hampshire, Republican statehouse member Saghir Tahir won reelection in a close race as he squeaked by his Democratic challenger Catherine Hackett 1,342 votes to 1,323.
In Kansas, Democrat Raj Goyle won in District 87 in Wichita against incumbent Republican Bonnie Huy in a traditionally “red” state. Goyle won 3,216 votes (56.36 percent) against 2,490 (43.64 percent) cast for Huy.

In Iowa, Democrat Swati Dandekar who survived attacks targeting her Indian descent by her Republican opponent Nick Wagner the first time she ran for the House, also received some personal attacks this time. She won by a 54.5 percent to 45.5 percent margin.

BAY AREA: How South Asians Fared

In the San Francisco Bay Area, appointed Fremont City Council member Anu Natarajan became the first Indian American to be elected to the council. She finished second, with two seats open, garnering 17,403 votes (35.13 percent), trailing newcomer Bill Harrison (43.51 percent), but far ahead of two unsuccessful challengers.

Dr. Jacob Eapen (inset) easily won a second term on the Fremont Washington Hospital board. He finished third, with three positions available. Eapen pulled in 24,096 votes, just 168 votes behind the second place finisher, but more than 13,000 ahead of the fourth place candidate in the five-person race.

In Northern California’s Yuba City, which has a large Sikh population, Republicans Kashmir “Kash” Gill, a farmer and vice president of Butte Community Bank; and Tejinder “Tej” Mann, an environmental health director of Yuba County and TV host of a Punjabi program, made history by becoming the first Sikh American elected to the city council.

In Reno, Nevada, Rajan Zed, who ran unopposed, was reelected to the office of General Improvement District trustee of Verdi TV District.

Real estate broker Balbir Singh Dhillon will start his term on the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District’s board of trustees in District 2 in December. He advanced unopposed and is the first Indian American to serve on the board.


Celebrating Ethnic Journalism: NAM Awards

The first ever New America Media awards recognized the best ethnic reporting across the nation at a gala in Washington, D.C. Siliconeer presents a photo essay.

(Clockwise from right): Sandy Close, New America Media executive director and indefatigable champion of ethnic journalism with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; Award winners and guests at the NAM awards banquet at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.; The Jamaican envoy looking at copies of Siliconeer at the NAM banquet; and NAM journalist Viji Sundaram, who won an award for reporting on health issues. (Photos by NAM & Siliconeer)

Yeh Dosti: Friends of Pakistan
The Friends of Pakistan, USA held its Northern California inaugural Dec. 1 with the warm hand of friendship proffered across all ethnic, religious and national backgrounds, writes Ras H. Siddiqui.

(From top): Taranum Naz, an able disciple of melody queen Noor Jehan; Sarfaraz Khan, president of Friends of Pakistan, USA; and a part of the audience attending the launch of the Northern California chapter of Friends of Pakistan, USA.

The Friends of Pakistan, USA launched its Northern California chapter Dec. 1. A cultural-friendship grouping which invites participants from all ethnic, religious and national backgrounds, it was a long time in the making. A number of Indians attended, rekindling old relationships.

FOP president Sarfaraz Khan explained how important it was for our Pakistani-American community to engage in outreach work to counter the negative image that Pakistan has frequently acquired in the post 9/11 world. “We need friends now more than ever before,” he said. “Dost hi dost ke kaam aata hai,” he said. (Good friends do help their friends).

Sarfaraz Khan said that he envisioned 100 operating chapters in the near future

FOP local leaders were introduced, including. Shahab Siddiqui, Samina Khan, Asma Hamdani, Zahid Saif, Nasir Bashir, Zeeshan Ansari and Malik Younus Awan.

The entertainment segment featured Anisha Bakshi and Alka Bhatnagar, two Indians who are now almost permanent fixtures at Pakistani programs. Southern California Pakistani resident Tahir Hussain rendered Mohd. Rafi songs, and the best was saved for the last — Pakistan’s “Pride of Performance” winner Taranum Naz who continues the tradition of her teacher the late malka-e-tarannum Noor Jehan to eerie perfection.

Kathak Tribute to Tagore
: Kshudhito Pashan
Tarangini School of Kathak Dance presented a visually stunning Kathak performance based on Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “Kshudhito Pashan” (The Hungry Stones). A Siliconeer report.

(Left): Asimbandhu Bhattacharjee, Anuradha Nag and an unidentified performer during a performance of Tarangini School of Kathak Dance’s “Kshudhito Pashan.” (Photo by Tapan Kundu)

Enhanced by superb light, stage design and music, Tarangini School of Kathak Dance presented a memorable dance drama based on “Kshudhito Pashan” (The Hungry Stones), a much-loved short story of Nobel laureate poet philosopher Rabindranath Tagore.

Presented Nov. 11 at Foothill College’s Smithwick Theater in Los Altos Hills, Calif., the evening’s performance also included over a dozen performances presented by scores of students, and excellent performances by India-based Kathak dancers Ashimbandhu Bhattacharjee and Luna Poddar.

However, the evening’s main attraction was the dance drama based on Tagore’s short story. “Kshudhito Pashan” is a gem of a short story (a literary form in which Tagore excelled; he was a pioneer in perfecting the genre in Bengali) which mixes the spooky, ghoulish mood of a horror story with some sober, poignant ruminations on the fleeting nature of human passion.

Set in colonial India, “Hungry Stones” follows a newly appointed tax collector as he comes to a small town with a river running through it. An old Mughal palace, a bare collection of dilapidated ruins, stands by the river. Once it was the home of the Mughal ruler Mahmood Shah, a luxurious haven of pleasure and joy.

From top, downwards: India-based Kathak dancers Asimbandhu Bhattacharjee and Luna Poddar a duet Kathak performance; Tarangini School students during a performance; and Tarangini school founder director Anuradha Nag.
(Photos by Swagato Basu Mallick)

Now, it is an eerie, empty place with a malevolent power to pull in an unwary outsider. In fact, the caretaker warns the tax collector about the place. But the tax collector chooses to live in this deserted palace. As night descends, he is drawn to its beauty. The dilapidated rooms and courtyards that appear so plain in daylight begin come to life at night, he feels, as it reflects the unfulfilled passions and dreams of the past. The stones have preserved an age of ungratified desires and his curiosity turns into obsession, and possibly madness.

The performance, choreographed by Anuradha Nag, founder and artistic director of Tarangini School, took the story as its artistic core as built it into a lush audio-visual spectacle with virtuoso Kathak moves, enhanced by Urdu ghazals and some dazzling lighting and fog. The two key roles of the tax collector and the ephemeral lover of the past were played by two superb dancers, Bhattacharjee and Nag, who were joined by numerous other dancers.

Nag’s interpretation stressed on the romantic aspect of Tagore’s short story.

“I have read . . . (the) story . . . on multiple occasions while growing up in Kolkata. Since then, it has been my dream to create my personal interpretation of the underlying theme of this powerful fiction,” Nag informs in her program notes. “While many readers tend to place this story under the genre of ghost or fantasy literature, I view this as an in depth query into the human mind and into one of the most powerful of human emotions — desire.

“Every time I have read it, I could not help being moved by the intense desire and longing felt by these two individuals, their overpowering passion which disregarded all conventional and artificial constraints of time and space. Today, more than ever, we need to believe in something extraordinary, something grand which can transforms us and our lives forever by allowing us to follow our dreams with conviction.”


Building a Temple: Sunnyvale, Calif.
The tens of thousands of devotees who throng the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple for many festive occasions throughout the year can now look forward to a well-planned, multi-million dollar temple coming up in the heart of Silicon Valley. A Siliconeer report.

(Top): An architect’s impression and the floor plan (bottom) of the proposed temple.

The Sunnyvale Hindu Temple and Community Center is a flagship project for the Indian American community of the Bay Area with a vision envision of providing a multi-purpose center for the community in the heart of the Bay Area.

Its present property was acquired in Sunnyvale in December 1993 and the temple was formally opened to public in July 1994.

The first phase of the project was completed in 1999 by opening a state-of-the-art community center. The second phase was completed in 2001 by completing the parking lot and the landscaping.

The third phase includes renovation of the temple. The city planning commission has unanimously approved the $5-million proposal of renovation of the temple in its meeting Nov. 27.

For more information or to make a donation, visit Sunnyvale Temple's Web site at:

Building for Tomorrow: ICC Fundraiser
Over 800 people attended the India Community Center’s Annual Banquet Nov. 3 at the San Jose Convention Center. The event raised over $350,000. A Siliconeer report.

(Clockwise from top, left): California Medical Association president and ICC board member Dr. Anmol Mahal talks about ICCs new free medical clinic; ICC founder Anil Godhwani with Bollywood dance students; Sitarist Shujaat Khan in concert.

The India Community Center’s banquet raised over $350,000 to fund the center’s diverse programs and services. The event stressed the center’s vision of a legacy for future generations, and also next year’s move to a new facility in Milpitas, roughly double the size of its existing 20,000 square foot headquarters there.

Emceed by NBC11 sports anchor Raj Mathai and KTVU reporter Priya David, the evening featured Jollywood Dancers — ICC’s troupe of seniors, none under 65 — as well as performances by children and teens.

India Community Center founder Anil Godhwani jumped on stage with a group of ICC dancers.

Dr. Anmol Mahal, president of the California Medical Association and ICC board member, spoke of the center’s plans to open a new medical clinic — free and open to all — at the new Milpitas site mid next year.

A live auction fetched over $55,000 — packages included dinner for 10 with actress Shabana Azmi and her husband poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar, at the home of ICC chair Talat Hasan. The evening ended with a performance of sitar and ghazals by Shujaat Khan.


Shangri La for Skiers: Mount Bachelor
Part of the raw-boned Cascade Mountain range, Mt. Bachelor is a Shangri-la for California, Washington and Oregon skiers, writes Al Auger.

(Left): A skier revels in the joys of Mount Bachelor. (Below, top): The sign is enough to set the pulse racing of many a ski enthusiast; (below, bottom): A keen skier ready to race through the snowy whiteness

Part of the raw-boned Cascade Mountain range, Mt. Bachelor was for years one of skiing’s best kept secrets: A Shangri-la for California, Washington and Oregon skiers. Located in the geographical center of Oregon, today Bachelor is a major ski resort catering to skiers from all over America and Asia with numerous awards and critical acclaim from major ski publications.

The verdant valley stretches literally forever into the southwest, interlaced with twisting, chrome-sparkling rivers, the land sheathed in a coverlet of white. In the distance are the stately peaks of Rainer, Hood, St. Helena and the grandeur of Mt. Shasta.

Bachelor regulars rightly boast of having some of the most dramatic bowl skiing in North America. A mountain that can be skied 360 degrees over 3,686 acres, features sheltered tree-skiing to gut-sucking double-diamond drop-offs high above the trees. I had to be impressed with the seduction of Mt. Bachelor’s eclectic terrain when my companion, a hard-core Sun Valley habitué, told me: “This is as close as you can get to the magnificence Sun Valley skiing.” High praise, indeed.

The consistency of long skiable seasons makes Bachelor a favorite training site for ski race teams.

The tree level trails are abundant and mostly middle and high intermediate in ability. In fact, the majority of the runs off the Summit Express quad and most of the runs off 10 lifts are long, long and intermediate. A new Marten Express High Speed quad has replaced the original. Mt. Bachelor has also gone “green” by joining with Mid-State Electric and Bonneville Power Administration to wind power the new Pine Marten Express and Sunshine Express. All of their shuttle buses are powered by bio-diesel. The grooming fleet will be retrofitted to bio-diesel next year.

But, for a change of pace, follow us off to the right of the Summit Express unloading point situated at the 9,065-foot peak. Head off to your on the first “step” of the Outback. Or you can take a right turn and you’re staring into the depths of the Cirque. Turn left at the unloading point and you’re on the long, long high blue runs down the face of the mountain to the tree line.

At the top of the Cirque, our skis jutted but inches over a curled cornice, our stomachs churning in delighted anticipation. Below us a narrow drop that could be mistaken for the sides of the TransAmerica building in San Francisco. The notch demands quick snap turns that lead into a broad bowl easily managed with wide turns crowned by rooster tails of soft powder behind. Without a tree or rock to break our sweeping turns in the soft snow, the feeling of free flight sent tingles down my spine.

At the bottom, it’s back up the Summit Express and an expedition down the spacious fields of the backside that lead, stepladder style to the bottom of the Northwest Express quad. The Miles Davis recording of “Seven Steps to Heaven” kept reverberating in mind and feet. Appropriately, as I counted seven bowls as we rounded the backside.

Finishing up at the Northwest quad it was time to check out the 2,000 vertical feet of steeps, chutes, bowls and tree skiing as we meandered back to t he main lodge. The runs serviced by the Outback and Northwest Express quads are mostly at the black diamond level, but barely so. All are interesting, though I especially enjoyed capering down Devil’s Backbone and Spark Lake Run.

The next day we had planned to take the short hike to Bachelor’s legendary Cinder Cone, but were told it was unskiable. A strange, but natural phenomenon in this volcanic country, the Cinder Cone’s bald dome only comes into its skiable own after a fresh snowfall.

Glade skiing has returned to Mt. Bachelor with a US Forest Service clearance to open the area around Sunrise Express lift and Marshmallow. They gave their permission allowing Mt. Bachelor crews to clear second growth trees. The project has been started and will continue through next year.
The snow at Mt. Bachelor is so righteous, so ready and can stay that way in weather you simply wouldn’t believe. A few years ago on my first encounter with Bachelor, my son and I skied straight through to lift closing in pouring rain. The snow was so protected by the trees it deteriorated only slightly throughout the day.

Cross-country skiers and snowboarders are not to be denied at Mt. Bachelor, either. Nordic skiing buffs are offered 56 kilometers of groomed trails, suitable for both skating and sliding. There is also a separate lodge catering to XC skiers and an enlarged telemark instruction program.

When You Go.
Mt. Bachelor: 10 lifts, 21,000 skiers/boarders per hour; 3.686 acres skiable terrain. 70 runs, 1,600 acres groomed daily. Longest run is 2-miles long, vertical drop 3,365 feet. For mountain facilities call 800-829-2442; lodging and travel information, 800-987-9968. Web site: Alpine lift tickets rates: All-day adult, $52/holiday, $58; Youth, (6-12), $32/ $37; Teen, (13-18), $44/50; Children under 5 years free; Senior (65-69), $44/50; Senior (70+), Free; Adaptive, $26/$29; Half-day tickets available after noon. Point system per ride and multi-day discounts available.

Cross-country trail tickets: All-day adults, Midweek $13/Weekends/Holidays, $16; Youth/Teen, $8.00; Children under years, free; Seniors, $8.00; Senior (70+), free.

Getting There. Mt. Bachelor is located 22 miles southwest of Bend on the scenic Cascade Lakes Highway. Daily flights to Redmond (RDM), approximately 20 miles from Bend and served by Alaska/Horizon and United Express/Skywest airlines. Shuttle service is also available from Portland (PDX).
First timers from the outside will tell you with passion the extent of the downhill and cross-country skiing, ’boarding to be found at Bachelor. They will also tell you of the ambience, the lack of attitude from the regulars and the people-oriented peripherals such as the innovative food selections and fine dining all topped off by their superb Sunday Brunch.

At the main lodge you will find a most unusual self-serve dining experience for a ski area. Their menu is a broad brush of the world. Tuck this away for your trip to Bachelor: rich, hearty red bean taco soup, shrimp bisque, yakisoba noodle stir fry. For leisurely gourmet sit-down dining, there’s the Skier’s Palate Restaurant with fine food and vintage wines. Featured in all the restaurants and at the wine bar in the main lodge are a long list of prize-winning, world-class wines from Oregon-grown grapes and wineries.

Scapolo’s Italian restaurant is located in the Pine Marten lodge on the mountain at the 7,000-foot level. While soaking in the dramatic view, diners can enjoy oven hearth pizza, soups and other fine dining choices.

Twenty miles to the east is the cozy city of Bend. The center of the city is filled with a cornucopia of eateries from multi-starred to blue-collar munching. Multitudes of lodging venues are available at a wide range of prices. To the south of Bachelor is the entrancing valley resort of Sunriver. One of the most successful year-round resorts in Oregon, Sunriver is the home to golf courses, private and public lodgings, a skating rink, boutique shops and restaurant and its own airport.

Healthy Habits for Flu Season
Vaccinating against the flu virus is an important way to avoid illness, but there are many ways to combat the virus before and after becoming sick, advises Dr. Steve Black, MD.

Every year as fall comes around, the headlines start talking about the flu. This year the vaccine shortage has many families worried their kids and elders won’t get the protection from illness they need. Vaccinating against the flu virus is an important way to avoid illness, but there are many ways to combat the virus before and after becoming sick.

The best way to combat the flu is to understand how it works. The flu is a viral illness that comes on suddenly, usually in late fall and winter. Symptoms include fever, shaking chills, body aches, headache and fatigue. The most straining symptoms usually last for three to four days, then turn into a cough, scratchy throat and a runny nose.

If you have had the flu before, your body developed antibodies. These antibodies help your body fight off the virus the next time you come in contact with it. Why does anyone get the flu twice, you ask? Because viruses evolve constantly. When there is a shift in the virus’s genetic makeup, the natural resistance most people have against the flu may not be effective against the new strain. Today, the “avian flu” recently discovered in Asia could signal another shift, and doctors and scientists are working hard to prevent it from spreading.

The vaccine works in a similar way, getting your body to produce antibodies, but the advantage is that doctors develop the vaccine to combat the latest types of flu circulating.

The flu can lead to more severe illnesses like pneumonia or worsen heart disease and diabetes. Respiratory viruses like the flu thrive on cool temperatures. The flu season in the southern hemisphere is the opposite of the winter months in the northern hemisphere.

The supply of the flu vaccine this year in the United States about half what is needed. This makes it even more important for everyone to take steps to prevent getting sick.

The average healthy adult recovers from the flu easily with home remedies. Doctors recommend vaccination especially for people with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly or people with a pre-existing condition like diabetes.

During the flu season, follow these good health habits:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for up to 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes to avoid spreading germs.
  • Throw away tissue after coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Stay home from work if you are sick.
  • If you are traveling, be sure to know when the flu season is in your destination and ask your doctor how you can prepare for your trip.

If you get the flu, there are many ways to keep the illness at bay. Antiviral medicine is effective but only if started within a day or two of becoming sick. It can reduce the symptoms and length of your sickness.

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Drink a lot of water and get plenty of sleep.

For more information, visit the Center for Disease Control Web site ( where you can read about the flu in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Thai, French, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Romanian.

COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Thanksgiving at Badarikashrama | Gandhi Jayanti in San Francisco | Community Center | NFIA Hosts Biennial Convention | Fundraiser for Dr. Jacob Eapen | Heart Advice | Inter Faith Concert | Fundraising Campaign


Thanksgiving dinner at Badarikashrama

San Leandro, Calif.-based Badarikashrama celebrated Thanksgiving Nov. 2 with an all-afternoon program of events, according to a press release.

The afternoon began with an address by Swami Omkarananda, who welcomed the artists, speakers and devotees to this annual multicultural celebration event.

The celebrations continued with the main cultural event, a veena recital concert by Srikant Chary, joined by Akhilesh Sista.

Srikanth Chary is the founder of Nada Nidhi Music School. He began his training at the age of six in Mumbai under the Veena Vidwan Devakottai Sri Narayana Iyengar. At the age of eight, Srikanth was presented the first prize by M.S. Subbulakshmi in a veena competition held at Shanmukhananda Sabha. After moving to the United States, Srikanth has been receiving advanced music training from Padmabhushan Lalgudi G. Jayaraman.

Srikant and Akhilesh were accompanied on the mridangam by Natarajan Srinivasan. The group performed several classical pieces.

Dr. Jagdeesh Srivastava, professor emeritus from Colorado State University spoke on the Bhagavat Gita’s message for peace. Srivastava a professor of mathematics and philosophy does research in science and spirituality.

Srivastava spoke of Krishna’s advice to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where he explains to Arjuna the need to adopt a sense of detachment when performing one’s duty supporting the greater good and ushering in peace.

The program concluded with Swamiji and Sri Vishnu performing Puja.

Gandhi Jayanti in San Francisco

A small group of Gujarati hotel-motel entrepreneurs pay respect to Mahatma Gandhi on his birthday at the Gandhi statue in San Francisco. (Photo: Pravin Desai)

The 137th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi was observed in San Francisco Oct. 2 by a small group Gujarati hotel-motel entrepreneurs. The event was led by the founder and president of the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple and Community Center Naranji Vitthalbhai Patel, who were joined by Vishva Gujarati Samaj’ California chapter secretary general Jaksi Bharwad, Navinbhai Patel, Sudhir Patel, Dinesh Amin, Ratilal N. Patel and Vijay D. Patel.

The group paid their respect to the father of the nation with a traditional offering of a flower garland to the Mahatma Gandhi statue at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, followed by devotional songs.

The statue of the Mahatma Gandhi at the Pier No.1, Ferry Terminal of San Francisco is the first of its kind in the West Coast of America. While the San Francisco Bay Area has a substantial and successful Indian community, the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations here are typically attended every year by a handful of Gujaratis.

— Pravin Desai


Community Center
Ravi P. Desai with his mother Pramila, wife Parul, daughter Chandni and son Vinit are seen placing cornerstone at the new premises of BAYVP in Mountain View, Calif. (Photo: Shashi Deasai)

On Sept. 24, in the presence of Goswami Indirabetiji Mahodaya, an auspicious ground-breaking or “Bhoomipoojan” and “Purushottam Yagna” was performed with traditional Vedic rituals by Washington, D.C..-based priest Shastri Shantilal Bhambaniya to mark the launching of the community center for the Bay Area Youth Vaishnav Parivar.

Over 160 devotees participated in the Purshottam Yagna including in Vishnu Sahastra Namamam Havan or Yagna for more than three and half hours.

According to BAYVP president Suresh Gandhi, the planned community center has wide support from local residents, neighborhood and city authorities and many sponsors, commercial supporters and donors. Among the various donors Prashant Mehta and his wife Vaishali Mehta donated $100,000. Community members have pledged close to $800,000, and the goal is to raise $2 million by the end of 2006 before construction begins.”

BAYVP vice president Saumil Bansilal Shah said that it has been the kind support of many courteous volunteer group who made this event a success.

— Pravin Desai


NFIA Hosts Biennial Convention
Over 200 delegates from all over the United States and 600 guests attended the 14th biennial convention of the National Federation of Indian American Associations Nov. 17-19, 2006 in Long Beach, Calif., according to a press release.

The convention featured a dinner Nov. 17, four conference sessions and honored five individuals for their outstanding accomplishments in their chosen field. Attendees included Vayalar Ravi, Indian Minister for Overseas Indians Affairs; Rep. Gary Miller, India’s San Francisco Consul General B.S. Prakash and Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster.

The recipients of the NFIA Awards were Dr. Mani Bhaumik, Dr. C.R. Viswanathan, Giriraj Rao, Viji Prakash and Hillol Ray.

Bhaumik achieved international recognition as the co-inventor of the laser technology that made the use of LASIK in vision correction. Viswanathan, a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA, was responsible for taking the department to the fifth rank among the top electrical engineering departments in the nation in 1993. The recipient of the Community Service Award was Giriraj Rao who headed the Gandhi Task Force, which led to the installation of the first Gandhi statue at a federal property, the Martin Luther King National Historic Site in Atlanta in 1998. Prakash, who distinguished herself as an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer and teacher of Bharatanatyam, operates her school to teach the dance to young girls. An environmental engineer and manager of the Drinking Water Supply Enforcement Program with EPA, Ray’s lyrics from his poem “Diversity” were included in the song album, Star Route U.S.A., released by the Hollywood based Amerecord.

The awards were handed out by Ravi.

Fundraiser for Dr. Jacob Eapen

FREMONT, Calif. — Friends and well wishers at a fundraiser hosted for Dr. Jacob Eapen (6th from l) who ran successfully for a spot on the Washington Hospital board here. The fundraiser was hosted at the residence of Fremont attorney Mahesh and Sudha Bajoria (seen standing to right of Eapen. Eapen’s wife is also seen. (Siliconeer photo)

Heart Advice
Seven world-renowned physicians will serve on the South Asian Heart Center Physician Advisory Board, which held its first summit Nov. 14 in Chicago during the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, according to a press release. The SAHC, launched earlier this year at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California, is the first nonprofit center in the world devoted to the prevention of coronary artery disease in people of South Asian descent.

The Physician Advisory Board members include:

  • UC Berkeley Professor Naras Bhat, M.D., F.A.C.P., a specialist in metabolic cardiology who has done extensive research on how stress affects the heart;
  • Dr. Kanu Chatterjee, the Ernest Gallo Distinguished Professor of Medicine at UCSF Medical Center, a world-renowned researcher in vascular reactivity and heart failure;
  • Dr. Enas A. Enas, one of the world’s leading researchers on heart disease in South Asians and director of the CADI Research Foundation;
  • Dr. Thomas Fogarty, a former Stanford University Medical Center professor of surgery whose minimally invasive Fogarty embolectomy catheter revolutionized vascular surgery;
  • Dr. Anmol S. Mahal, a gastroenterologist and president of the California Medical Association;
  • Dr. Prediman K. (PK) Shah, internationally renowned cardiologist, clinician-teacher and researcher;
  • Dr. Robert Superko, director of the Cholesterol, Genetics, and Heart Disease Institute and a leading expert and teacher in Far East lipid disorders.


Inter Faith Concert
Over 1,200 persons experienced the sacred songs, dances or chants from eight world religions at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in the Interfaith Conference’s 27th Interfaith Concert recently. The sound of rhythmic and melodious spiritual music of Sikh Kirtani Jatha and the Shiv Stuti Hindu dance and many other faith traditions were part of the celebration. Musicians, singers and dancers from eight other faiths participated, including Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu-Jain, Jewish, Islamic, Mormon, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.

The event began with an opening prayer by a Sikh woman, Dr. Balbinder Kaur, who recited the following, “O God, we, your children of diverse religions who call you by many names have gathered here this evening to sing songs of your glory. …As we begin to witness this transformational moment, May we all sing with the choirs that surround us; Dance to the music in our souls. God keep our hearts attuned to laughter; God keep us from bitterness; God keep us always loving and believing.”

The Sikh Kirtani Jatha of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation has been participating in the event for 19 years.

Dr. Rajwant Singh, executive director of the foundation said, “This concert help create a better understanding of each other’s beliefs and convictions. This certainly fills one with the genuine feeling of goodwill towards each other.”

The Sikh Kirtni Jatha consisted of 35 men and women who donned spotless white dress with kesri satin palla (scarf) around their necks.

The Hindu faith was represented by the dancers from Lasya Academy. Kathak Dancers with their traditional attire, presented Shiva Stuti – an invocation devoted to Shiva; the Hindu god of destruction also known as the king of dancers. This devotional piece was choreographed by Purvi Bhatt and performed along with Shimaliya Aurora. Purvi Bhatt, the artistic director of the Academy, said, “It was an honor for Lasya Academy to represent the Hindu/Jain faith at an event where many other diverse faith communities were also showcased.”

Fundraising Campaign
Sarva Dev Hindu Mandir, the only Hindu temple in Central and Western Massachusetts, has announced that it will double the size of its existing building on its premises in Oxford, Mass.

“We’re very excited to report that devotees of the temple have already paid off the mortgage of the existing temple, and have raised an additional $313,000 towards the new foundation, infrastructure, steel frame of the main hall and four back rooms as well as for electrical services and main skylight,” said Ishwara N. Sharma, president and one of the founders of the Sarva Dev Hindu Mandir. “We’re very excited about our expansion plan and our new fundraising campaign in order to complete the expansion in a timely fashion. We wish to raise about $1 million.”

Founded in 2001, Sarva Dev Hindu Mandir is a tax-exempt organization, and is the only Hindu place of worship in Central and Western Massachusetts.

“Due to an increasing need for an expanded Hindu place of worship in our community, we have embarked upon this ambitious plan,” added Dr. I. Sharma. “We’re very thankful to our generous supporters for their past contributions, and we’re counting on their blessings during this new fundraising campaign.”

The executive committee of the temple plans to complete the expansion project by Spring 2007. The foundation for expanded building has been completed and steel frame has been already erected.

BUSINESS: News in Brief
METLIFE: Bollywood Campaign | DIRECTV: Cricket Plus: 24-Hour Cricket Channel | SAMMA Convention | EVA Air’s Mumbai Passenger Services | TRAVEL: Yosemite Bug

METLIFE: Bollywood Campaign
MetLife, in conjunction with IW Group, Inc., won top honors, Asian category, for its Bollywood campaign at the annual Association of National Advertisers’ Multicultural Excellence Awards, held Nov. 12-14, 2006 in Santa Monica, Calif.

The annual ANA Multicultural Excellence Awards program recognizes outstanding multicultural advertising campaigns and is sponsored by the ANA Multicultural Marketing Committee. The committee, which was established in 1998, helps ANA members share knowledge and best practices in marketing to America’s burgeoning ethnic markets. A portion of the proceeds collected from the awards submission fees funds scholarships for high-potential multicultural students who plan to pursue careers in advertising and/or marketing.

“We are both honored and excited to join the prestigious rank of winners, and pleased that such an organization as ANA recognizes our innovation, creativity and above all, our dedication to excellence in all that we do,” said Phil Salis, vice president of MetLife.

Airing in the spring of 2006, the spots were produced by MetLife and IW Group, Inc. with film director Prasoon Pandey, lyricist Prasoon Joshi and score composers Ehsaan & Loy. The new commercials were filmed at the heart of Bollywood in Film City, Mumbai.

MetLife is a subsidiary of MetLife, Inc., a leading provider of insurance and financial services with operations throughout the United States and the Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific regions. Through its domestic and international subsidiaries and affiliates, MetLife, Inc. reaches more than 70 million customers around the world and MetLife is the largest life insurer in the United States. The MetLife companies offer life insurance, annuities, auto and home insurance, retail banking and other financial services to individuals, as well as group insurance, reinsurance and retirement and savings products and services to corporations and other institutions.

DIRECTV: Cricket Plus: 24-Hour Cricket Channel
DIRECTV, already the leading provider of cricket programming in the United States, has launched the nation’s first 24-hour cricket channel dedicated to in-depth coverage of the sport.

Cricket Plus will showcase rebroadcasts and same day highlights of ICC events including the Cricket World Cup 2007, as well as cricket from the West Indies, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe. DIRECTV will continue to broadcast matches live, on a pay-per-view basis, through its CricketTicket package.

The channel is being offered by DIRECTV through an agreement with Dubai-based Taj TV and is available free to subscribers to DIRECTV’s HindiDirect and HindiDirect II packages.

“With more than five million cricket fans in the U.S., we expect Cricket Plus to be a popular addition to our already extensive lineup of cricket programming,” said Aaron McNally of DIRECTV, Inc. “Cricket Plus, combined with our DIRECTV CricketTicket subscription package, provides fans with unparalleled coverage of a sport that continues to grow in popularity in the U.S.”

Along with in-depth cricket coverage, Cricket Plus will also broadcast daily sports news bulletins, as well as other sports relating to the South Asian community living in the U.S. such as hockey. Cricket Plus has acquired the rights to broadcast live all the major international hockey events including the men’s and women’s world cups and the Champions Trophies.

The launch of Cricket Plus and DIRECTV’s acquisition of international cricket rights over the past year has been part of an expansion of DIRECTV programming services for the diverse ethnic population within the United States.

SAMMA Convention
South Asians in Media and Marketing, the first national trade association for South Asian executives in U.S, marketing and media companies brought together top thinkers in New Media for a panel titled “New Media Revolution: How Media and Mobile is Changing the Game of Advertising” Dec. 4t in New York City.

Panelists included Manish Jha (ESPN Mobile), Nick Pahade (president, Denou Group), Deepak Srinivasan (24/7 Real Media) and Nihal Mehta (CEO, Ipsh! Mobile Marketing).

“South Asians are now extending their dominance in software technology to the consumer marketing arena,” said SAMMA co-founder Bhavesh Patel of digital media, NBA. “SAMMA is proud to be bringing attention to this growing trend of South Asians in marketing and helping network this rapidly growing community of leading media and marketing executives.”

Among other leading South Asian executives in U.S. marketing and media companies are: Bina Brianca, executive director, global consumer marketing, Clinique; Nusrat Durrani, SVP and general manager for MTV World; Indra Nooyi, president and CEO, Pepsico; Ivan Menezes, president, North America, Diageo (marketers of Smirnoff & Guinness); Vivek Shah, president, Fortune/money group and Rishad Tobaccowalla, chief innovations officer, publicist and founder, Denuo

The South Asians in Media and Marketing Association is dedicated to promoting and connecting the growing numbers of South Asian professionals working in the media and marketing industries.

EVA Air’s Mumbai Passenger Services

EVA Air is launching Mumbai passenger services on Dec. 10 with three flights per week. The Taiwan-based airline will serve the route with one of its spacious Boeing 747-400s configured with four cabins, including Super First, Super Business, Evergreen Deluxe and Economy Classes. Passengers can book and buy tickets now through their travel agents, EVA reservations offices worldwide and online at

EVA flight BR71 will depart Taipei on Wednesday and Friday at 11:00 p.m. and Sunday at 11:30 p.m., arriving in Mumbai seven hours later. Return flight BR72 will leave Mumbai on Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 6:30 a.m., and arrive back in Taipei at 3:00 p.m. the same day. Connecting services fly travelers onward to San Francisco, Los Angeles and other gateways in the United States.

EVA’s new Mumbai service will make travel between India and Taiwan faster and more convenient, requiring just one easy stop in Taiwan on trips both to and from the US.

EVA initiated cargo services to Mumbai in 1999 and to Delhi in 2003. Almost one-third of India’s total export volume passes through Mumbai, the largest city in the country and the biggest seaport. Mumbai is already a thriving cargo gateway for EVA and offers increasing market potential. The airline’s expansion of service to include passenger flights gives it a more complete network and makes it more competitive within the airline industry.

The burgeoning economic strength of the BRICs, i.e., Brazil, Russia, India and China, has created a huge demand for trade and transportation. India is the second-largest software exporter in the world. It is also well established as an exporter of talent, especially engineers and highly educated experts in technology.

Taiwan’s high-tech giants have recruited Indian engineers and experts, creating a steady stream of travel back and forth. On a larger scale, East Indian communities in the Silicon Valley and Los Angeles are flourishing and fueling expanding demand for business and leisure travel between India and the US. To better accommodate these travelers, EVA has adjusted its schedule to shorten connection time through the Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan and make its frequent service between the US and India even more convenient and comfortable.

TRAVEL: Yosemite Bug

A cabin (top) and the interior of room (bottom) at the Yosemite Bug Rust Mountain Resort.

The Yosemite Bug is a classic rustic resort offering beautifully appointed new private rooms with baths in cabins, according to a press release. It also offers private rooms with shared bath in cabins and Yosemite-style wood frame tent cabins, hostel/group dorm beds in cabins as well for families, young and older guests, couples, backpackers and groups of all types.

The Bug complex was historically a dorm camp and lodge catering to work crews, scouts and church groups. Since the Bug opened in 1996 it has been called a resort, a camp and a gem; but the social, fun nature of the Bug, the staff, the value of accommodations, and the 50 acre forested location on a hillside with views, makes the Bug a place of true hospitality.

“If you are looking for a personally isolated, standardized hotel/motel experience, your expectations may not be met!” warns the release good naturedly.

The Yosemite Bug is also well-known by guests and locals as a great place to eat. The Cafe at the Bug serves dinner, lunch and breakfast. It has long been recognized as a great gathering place for high-quality fresh foods at a value. The resort does not use pre-processed foods. The Cafe is the focal point of the Bug with its wood-burning stove, comfortable sofas, games, bookshelves, instruments, and shady summer decks.

Bug bus Yosemite tours are now running from San Francisco to Yosemite with activities and sightseeing of the local area starting at $140.00 This picks up visitors from San Francisco Monday, Wednesday and Friday for two day two night tours. There are Yosemite day tours from the bug at $50.00 and include lunch and park fees.

More info is available at

ODC for Sony | Cisco Plans New Plant in India | R&D Lab | Eyeing Indian Mobile Space | VSNL to Support Yahoo! | Earnings May Slowdown | Google Launches Operations in Gurgaon | Hong Kong Firm to Invest

ODC for Sony
Global consulting and IT services giant Satyam Computer Services has launched a 40-seater offshore development centre at its Bangalore campus to cater to Sony Europe.

The centre will provide Sony Europe with SAP application development and support, enterprise application integration, and testing services across its entire business — sales and distribution, warehouse management, finance, and business intelligence systems, Satyam said in a release.

The ODC is expected to enhance Sony Europe’s IT development and support capacity, and enable the Sony Infrastructure Services team to focus on core activities, such as platform enhancement, optimization, and innovation. Sony Europe will also be able to leverage a skilled workforce, reduce IS costs, and manage its growth.

“Satyam’s deep expertise and proven track record with SAP will enable Sony Europe in meeting its objectives... we will enable Sony Europe to integrate key business processes and increase operational efficiency,” said Keshab Panda senior VP of Satyam Europe.

Cisco Plans New Plant in India
U.S. network equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc. is looking to set up a manufacturing plant in India, the company’s chief executive said. Cisco CEO John Chambers, who was meeting with government officials in New Delhi, said he would make some announcement later.

“India offers the opportunity for manufacturing in many areas. (But) I will comment later today,” he told reporters ahead of a meeting with Indian Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran.

In October 2005, Cisco said it planned to invest $1.1 billion to expand its operations in India and triple its workforce here by 2008. Much of that money is being spent on the company’s research and development center in Bangalore, India’s technology hub.

At the time, Chambers said San Jose-based Cisco was also exploring the possibility of setting up a manufacturing facility that could support local sales.

Cisco has seen its revenue from India grow rapidly in recent years. This year India sales are likely to grow more than 30 percent, and at the current rate India could soon become Cisco’s biggest market in Asia.

The company is already helping the Indian government in its efforts to provide residents of rural areas with online access to government services. Cisco is setting up 100 service centers that provide such access.

R&D Lab
Nearly 10 years after it opened its last R&D lab, the $15-billion global consulting and technology giant Accenture has chosen Bangalore for its fourth such facility. The lab will provide more muscle by innovating on better ways to deliver on projects, both for its Indian and worldwide clients.

This fourth lab joins sites in the U.S., (Palo Alto, Chicago) as well as France (Sophia Antipolis). It will have access to nearly 2,000 of the latest software development projects across Accenture and plans to employ nearly 100 researchers and developers. The lab will undertake R&D in systems integration and software engineering, which will in turn provide quality control and timely delivery of projects.

“It is very important to have R&D personnel working closely with practicing personnel at the field level. Bangalore was the obvious choice as it is already home to one of our largest base of delivery agents,” said Donald J. Rippert, chief technology officer of Accenture.

The firm has close to 25,000 people at delivery centers across India. Lin Chase, director, Accenture Technology Labs, India, said some of the company’s employees in the U.S. are interested in moving to this facility, given that the work done here will be very challenging.

Eyeing Indian Mobile Space
Buoyed by the growing wireless market in India, Japan-based electronics and technology major Toshiba is planning to tap the country’s mobile segment by the end of this year.

“India is a very large market for us and is growing very rapidly. Japan has already achieved 70-80 percent mobile penetration, which is forcing us to look overseas to meet our corporate demands,” Toshiba Corporation executive Takeshi Aoki told the media.

The company is looking to tap the mobile market in India, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the European countries, he said.

“We will initially launch one GSM mobile handset in India within a few weeks, which would be marketed and distributed by the company along with a UK-based trading company in the country,” Aoki said, adding that subsequently the firm would roll out other phones.

The company currently sells laptops, printers and flat panel display televisions in India through its national distributor HCL and has also recently forayed into home appliances through its wholly owned subsidiary Toshiba India.

VSNL to Support Yahoo!
VSNL International, the overseas arm of Tata-controlled Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, has announced that it will provide international retail call facilities for popular internet portal Yahoo’s voice services.

Yahoo has chosen VSNL International’s Teleglobe voice peering and termination services to exchange high quality VoIP traffic on a global basis, a company release said.

As per the understanding, Yahoo will use the Teleglobe VoIPLink service, to bridge interoperability between VoIP networks, to terminate traffic anywhere in the world, it said.

Yahoo is also utilizing the Teleglobe VTS Service to ensure high quality, cost effective retail termination for users of Yahoo! Voices Phone Out (PC-to-Phone) service worldwide.

Teleglobe’s premier voice peering product, VoIPLink, is currently being utilized by over 450 customers across the globe.

Earnings May Slowdown
The robust earnings shown by corporate India in the first half of this year may not sustain the momentum due to slowdown in performance of IT and telecom sectors, making it difficult to match the forecasted growth for the entire fiscal.

“The street expectation for corporate India of 34 percent growth for the financial year 2007 seems stretched as incremental risks are emerging for key sectors, including IT services and telecom,” says global equity research firm J P Morgan.

The risk to earnings disappointment is building up, because the base effect would be more challenging in the second half with key sectors like IT and telecom facing some hurdles on their way, J P Morgan said in its latest Asia Pacific Equity Research report.

“The current street expectation of 34 per cent growth for financial year 2007 seems stretched in the backdrop of 31 percent growth reported in the first half, particularly as the base effect would be more challenging in the second half,” JP Morgan analysts Bharat Iyer and Bijay Kumar said in the report.

Google Launches Operations in Gurgaon
Internet giant Google has launched its online sales and operations in Gurgaon.

The new operations will showcase Google Hyderabad in managing advertiser campaigns across the world and provide support on all aspects of Google advertising, a company release said here.

“We are experiencing tremendous success with our online operations in Hyderabad and with another operation in Gurgaon, and we will continue to attract the best talent from throughout the country,” company online sales and operations director David Fischer said.

He said the goal of the company was to find the best people globally to provide the best search experience for users, partners and advertisers around the world.

The operations at Gurgaon are led by Thomas Arnold.

“We are looking for creative people with strong analytical and English writing skills to manage and guide our advertisers on all aspects of Google AdWords,” Arnold said.

Google, through its advertising program AdWords, enables advertisers and businesses of all sizes to show targeted advertisements to users as they search the web. AdWords matches text-based ads to users’ search queries, providing them with relevant information.

Hong Kong Firm to Invest
Hong-Kong based job search portal will invest about $3 million over the next year in India to set up a software development facility and also expand its presence in the country.

“We will invest $1.5 million to set up a software development facility cum sales and marketing office in Bangalore. The facility will be operational by the end of the first quarter of 2007. The rest of the amount will be used in expanding our presence in the country,” founder Maneck Mohan told the media.

To tap the market in India, it has recently launched its India-specific job Web site India.

The search engine will index job listings around India from multiple sources including job recruitment sites, newspapers, companies and executive firms and enable job seekers to instantly search multiple sites.

“The Indian market is witnessing an unprecedented robustness on the job market front. The portal has been well received in its trial period here with about 200,000 jobs listing in the last one month,” he said.

Firm Command on Road: 2006 Chrysler 300 HEMI C
The Chrysler 300 HEMI C handles beautifully, makes road trips a delight — whether they are just to the store or another state, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

If you spend a lot of time in your car, as parents, traveling salesmen and real estate agents usually do, you’re probably in the market for a vehicle that is beyond accommodating. You want a driver’s car, one that has a firm command of the road, comfortable seats and ample creature comforts.

Best check out the Chrysler 300, then.

We had an opportunity to test drive the Chrysler 300 a few years ago when it first made its debut, and we were impressed then. This time, we really put the car to the test when we took it on a trip north up and over the Siskiyous. Our test car was equipped with the HEMI engine and all the latest in braking technologies. That powerful engine and those braking enhancements resulted in an effortless ride over mountain passes, and complete command of wet and slippery roads.

Then you toss in all the entertainment variety available with Sirius satellite radio — or the rear-seat DVD entertainment center — and the miles just fly by.

The 2006 Chrysler 300 model lineup includes the rear-wheel drive 300, the 300 Touring and then HEMI-powered 300C. If you want all-wheel drive, it is available on the Touring and 300C models. With this option, you find the car smoothes out the rough corners under all driving conditions, whether the roads are wet or dry.

Whether you opt for all-wheel drive or only rear-wheel drive, you’ll find the 300 handles beautifully and delivers a spectacular command of the road. You know how driving over mountain roads and two-lane country lanes can leave you swaying and — possibly — carsick? With the 300’s all-wheel independent suspension, along with the Electronic Stability Program, All-speed Traction Control System and the Anti-Lock Braking System, we hardly felt the twists and turns.

Just what are ESP, Brake Assist and TCS, anyway, and why does this combination smooth out twisty roads and do so much to protect you? ESP helps the driver maintain directional stability on uneven or slippery pavement. It is sensitive enough to apply selective braking and throttle control when it detects the car is slipping out of the driver’s intended path. It’s calibrated, so you shouldn’t notice it under normal driving conditions. ESP, with Brake Assist, detects when maximum braking is required and applies it to improve stopping distances. TCS prevents the wheels from slipping when accelerating on slippery surfaces and also helps with directional control. ABS helps keep the vehicle straight and helps prevent wheel lock up. This alphabet soup of technology translates into one simple sensation: Control. Subconsciously, you suspect the car has it all handled.

While the ride is smooth and the HEMI delivers exceptional performance, you and your passengers are treated to comfortable seats, plenty of leg and hip room, good visibility in all directions, and a seven-speaker sound system. We had the radio tuned to Sirius satellite radio the entire trip, subjecting my husband to country music on the way up north. He got even with us and kept the dial turned to Channel 5 — Fifties music — the whole way home.

The Chrysler 300 has a good-sized trunk, and the trunk lid lifts back and away. Suitcases, a week’s worth of groceries and even sets of golf clubs are easily accommodated.

Even if the only driving you do is around town, picking up kids and delivering them to school, birthday parties and sports practices, you still want a car with all the safety features. The Chrysler 300 offers, as standard, the previously mentioned braking features, as well as front advanced multi-stage air bags, and three point safety belts. The test car was equipped with the optional Protection Group II, which included supplemental side curtain front and rear air bags, a cabin air filtering system, self-sealing tires and a rear arking assist system, for an additional $840.

Overall, our impressions of the Chrysler 300 HEMI C remain positive. This is a car that handles beautifully, makes road trips a delight — whether they are just to the store or another state — and has all the latest in safety features to assure even the most worrisome parent.

- Sally Miller Wyatt is a freelance writer who writes family-oriented auto reviews for newspapers, magazines and the Web.


No Kisses, We are Indian | Bollywood Rallies to Support Munnabhai | Image Problem | Angry Bips | Lock Kiya Jaye? Zaroor, Says King Khan | Madhuri is Back | Gung Ho | Love Hurts

No Kisses, We are Indian
Bollywood stars Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai are in big trouble, it seems. You would think they had done something awful, since they are facing criminal prosecution. Well get this—they are in trouble for an on-screen kiss.

The romantic duo’s lips clinched briefly in Dhoom 2 and that has irate moralists up in arms.
Please give me a break.

A pompous prig by the name of Shailendra Dwivedi, a lawyer from Madhya Pradesh, has filed a criminal suit, accusing the actors of lowering the dignity of Indian women and promoting obscenity among the nation’s youth. Does this guy really believe this? You have to wonder where this cartoon has been living. At a time when in all media, women have been baring so much that very little is left to the imagination, anybody who can be corrupted by a kiss must have been living in Mars.

“I think it’s so ridiculous,” filmmaker Karan Johar told The Guardian. “It’s true what they say: idle minds make a great devil’s workshop. These people have nothing better to do with their time so they pick on a big film with an all-star cast.”

One hopes the judge has the good sense to pack off Dwivedi to Afghanistan where he will find much in common with the curmudgeonly Taliban.

In the meantime, the filmmakers of Dhoom 2 may have the last laugh after all. “The end result of all this will be to increase the box-office for Dhoom 2, which is fantastic,” Johar said. “Plus it’s a really, really good kiss.”

Wink, wink.
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Bollywood Rallies to Support Munnabhai
Life can be ironic. Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt, whose role as Munnabhai, the goon with a golden heart, has given the two films on Munnabhai almost cult status, now finds himself in a real life jam with a long spell behind the slammer a serious possibility.

While the judge of a special court cleared him of conspiracy, he found Dutt guilty of illegally possessing firearms.

He was originally charged with five offenses, including criminal conspiracy and possession of illegal weapons. He faces a prison sentence of between five and 10 years.

However, Bollywood is organizing a signature campaign Dec. 12 at Film City in his support.

Pahlaj Nihalani, president of the Association of Motion Pictures and Television Program Producers, said, “ Sanjay is a nice person, always helpful and has already undergone punishment by spending some time in jail and going to TADA court regularly for the last 13 years.”

Sanjay, who has pleaded for leniency and asked the judge to consider his humanitarian work and clean record since being let out on bail in 1995, reportedly cried when he heard of the support from Bollywood.
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Image Problem
New item girl Sambhavna Seth, who featured with actor Upen Patel in the hit song “Aashiqui mein teri” in 36 China Town is one angry girl. She blames fellow traveler Rakhi Sawant for tarnishing the image of all item girls.

Come again? An item girl with an image is like a loan shark with a conscience.

She also thinks Rakhi isn’t so hot. “I don’t think Rakhi Sawant is hot at all. And whatever liking audience has for her, she has ruined it herself,” she said. “Moreover, she has made things worse for others. Now people have the same opinion about all item girls.”

To which, we can say, sweetie, let us be the judge of who’s hot and who’s not. And if you are so antsy about your image, you shouldn’t say stuff like: “Exposing to a certain limit is fine if it adds glamour.”

Really. And you are complaining why people have the same opinion of all item girls?
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Angry Bips
Bollywood siren Bipasha Basu is maha gussa on the rumor mongering janta.

As rumors fly about regarding her allegedly shaky relationship with studmuffin John Abraham.
Starwatchers have come up with all sorts of guesses after Bips walked the ramp with John recently. Some said she looked bored, so the relationship must be over. Others said she was clinging to John.

“If I’m not seen with John, it’s a problem. If I’m seen with John, it’s a problem,” fumes the pretty woman. “I think people should just stop speculating about my relationship with John. They said I was looking bored on the ramp and trying hard to cover it up.” Nothing could be further form the truth, she says.

“Let me tell you John and I am not the kind of people to put up a front. We didn’t walk the ramp together to prove to people that we’re together. We’ve enough confidence in our relationship and we don’t need endorsement from the outside. It’s ridiculous! If our split makes news, then there’s nothing much we can do about that.”

Tell her some folks say she is clinging to John and she bristles: “John is my boyfriend. Who else will I cling to? Certainly not to other girls’ boyfriends?”

Touché, my dear.
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Lock Kiya Jaye? Zaroor, Says King Khan
They say you can’t make the same soufflé rise twice, but Star Plus figures if anybody can make it happen, it’s Shah Rukh Khan, the badshah of Bollywood.

So as they decide to bring out the next avatar of the runaway hit television game show Kaun Banega Crorepati, there he was, fielding questions from eager Delhi journalists on why he wants to play anchor-quizmaster this time around.

But can Shah Rukh match the gravitas and class Bachchan brought to the show? It’s worth remembering, too, that the show came at a critical time for Big B, whose ABCL was about to tank and his films were all sinking like lead balloons.

Well, Kaun Banega Crorepati changed all that. The public was hypnotized by the classy persona of Big B, and Big B never had to look back.

Shah Rukh has his work cut out. However, the early signs aren’t all bad. When asked how he would fill the shoes of Big B, Shah Rukh replied with disarming modesty: “Bachchan saab ka joota waise bhi mere liye kaafi bara hai,” (Mr Bachchan’s shoes are much too big for me.)

Will it hurt him in the box office? What if Hrithik Roshan or Abhishek Bachchan took his place? Here Shah Rukh roared like a lion: “Without an abdication there can be no crowning of another king. Forgive me if I am sounding pompous, but I am here and I am staying.”
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Madhuri is Back
When Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit set hearts afire in Devdas, she also likely broke many hearts because many of her fans thought she would never return. After all, who goes to the U.S., gets married to a surgeon, and has kids, and ever comes back?

Well, never say never. So what if she has kids? Backed by hubby Sriram Nene, Madhuri will make her comeback in a Yash Raj film, which goes on the floors in January 2007.

She admits she is a bit nervous about being away from the kids. “I’m extremely nervous about that,” she said. “But there comes a time in a woman’s life when she needs to think of a world outside her home. Many women work and manage a career. My children are the most important part of my life. But they are growing and need to be a little independent. Also, my shooting in India will give the kids a chance to get in touch with their roots. They’ll be with my family, they’ll meet their cousins. I think they’ll have fun.”

She said she chose a Yash Raj film for a number of reasons. “I felt this would be the right film to do after a long break,” Madhuri said. “I’ve worked with Yash Raj before, and they know me so well. They know I’d never cause unnecessary delays.

“More importantly, Yash ji has worked wonderfully well with married actresses before. Whether it’s Raakhee ji in Kabhi Kabhie or Waheeda ji , or Kajol in Fanaa , he’s sensitive to the schedules of an actor who’s a wife and a mother. I feel comfortable with them.”
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Gung Ho
Hrithik Roshan (r) and Abhishek Bachchan

It seems too good to be true. Two competing matinee idols, yet one professes to be an admirer of the other. At least that’s what Hrithik Roshan says about is Abhishek Bachchan. “I’m not saying this for effect. But Abhishek really inspires me. He has the potential to be one of our truly great actors.

“I know he keeps saying that I inspire him. But I really look up to him. In fact we’ve made a pact.

Abhishek and I will do one film together every two years. You’ve no idea how much fun Abhishek, Uday and I had doing Dhoom 2.”

Good lord, it looks like a love fest. Can this be real? Hrithik assures it’s as real as can be. “There was never any one-upmanship between me and Abhishek. We were constantly giving each other inputs to better our scenes together.”
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Love Hurts
Salman Khan has been famous in the past for sowing wild oats but the poor guy has been fairly unsuccessful in love. He has been linked with everyone from Sangeeta Bijlani to Somy Ali and Aishwarya Rai but luck eluded him every time.

Salman’s high profile relationship and subsequent breakup with Aish appears to have left scars. Rai, when probed on the subject recently by TV host Simi Garewal, raised all her defenses, as she has often done in the past, and refused to talk about it.

Khan has suggested that he was not just hurt by the break up but felt cheated by it. Now, if tabloid reports are to be believed, difference have recently surfaced in Khan’s relationship with current squeeze Katrina Kaif. While Khan, 41, is keen to get married and settle down, Kaif, 22, is keen to focus on her career for now.
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Misunderstood Period Film: Umrao Jaan
(Rating *** Good)

Maybe the sorry fate of Umrao Jaan — the film, that is — will shake Bollywood out of its collective slumber and get it out of its silly fixation on remakes. Sequels may be a separate matter (though that’s not an easy task, either), but remakes are almost always a bad idea, and even in Hollywood Psycho, Cape Fear or Sabrina remakes left audiences decidedly underwhelmed.

Ditto Bollywood. A previous release, Don, has failed in the box office, and this film has also failed to attract a significant audience.

What makes it all so sad is that J.P. Dutta is not your run-of-the-mill director of masala potboilers.

He is a sensitive filmmaker with a fairly honorable track record, and it is clear that his aim in Umrao Jaan was less to ride piggyback on the audience loyalty to some previous original than to explore cinematically a bygone age of tehzeeb and nazakat, an age of tawaifs, ghazals and shayari, based on the rich Urdu novel by Mirza Mohammed Hadi Ruswa.

Trouble is, somebody did this before him. Whether you liked Muzaffar Ali’s film version or Rekha’s rendition of the star-crossed courtesan or not, the fact is that to a lot of the original film’s fans, that’s who Umrao Jaan is, and that’s who it will always be.

Rather like Sean Connery playing James Bond, audience fixation can be a terrible curse for a subsequent filmmaker trying to leave his or her own artistic mark.

Yet there is a whole lot to like in J.P. Dutta’s version. Dutta brings an old-school, deliberative style to telling the story of Umrao Jaan Ada, and it is an appropriate technique to tell this celebrated tale. He is particularly good at utilizing the excellent ensemble acting to develop nuanced, delicately drawn interrelationships that form the base of the poignant saga. Excellent music (Anu Malik) and beautiful lyrics (Javed Akhtar) add to the value of the film.

But in the end it is Dutta’s uncompromising honesty that proves to be his undoing. In an age of fleeting attention spans of the MTV generation, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect a film which disdainfully refuses to tart itself up with callow comedy or risqué item songs to hold on to its audience for long. Like the main character it tries to depict, the film is also the hapless victim of a cruel time and age. However, again like Umrao Jaan Ada, the film never gives in, never loses its self respect, and retains, even in the midst of its dire fate, a grace and beauty that is undeniable.

To be sure, Dutta’s attempt is far from perfect, but it does tell a heart-rending story of a young girl of modest means and her sorry fate with great sensitivity.

Amiran, a pre-teen daughter of a kotwal, is kidnapped and sold off to a Lucknow kotha run by a savvy Khanum (Shabana Azmi). Kothas weren’t just bordellos, they were also centers of performing arts where music, poetry and dance flourished. Amiran’s talents flowered here, and soon she became known as Umrao Jaan (Aishwarya Rai), a poet and a tawaif.

When nobleman Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan) sets eyes on Umrao, it’s love at first sight. Umrao reciprocates and refuses to entertain any other client. However, Sultan gets into trouble. He stabs a man, insults Khanum and leaves home because he loves Umrao. Meanwhile Faiz Ali (Suniel Shetty), posing as a nawab, desires Umrao as well, and manages to convince Sultan that she has slept with him.

Sultan, his pride deeply wounded, doesn’t even try to check the veracity of the allegations. He throws out Umrao, who is understandably shattered as she is forced to return to the kotha.

Poor Umrao’s misfortunes have just begun. A childhood friend rapes her, her beloved teacher (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) dies, and as the Sepoy Mutiny begins, British troops storm Lucknow and the kotha falls apart.

By chance, she lands in her hometown, but even her mother and brother refuse to accept her.

Umrao, though, is always graceful. And forgiving.

Alas, the same cannot be said of today’s Bollywood audiences. Umrao Jaan is by no means a classic, but J.P. Dutta’s did not deserve the cruel treatment’ from today’s audience any more than poor Umrao did in her day.

Slick, Racy Narrative: Vattaram
Director: Saran
Cast: Arya, Kirat, Napoleon, Adhisaya, Kadhal Dandapani, Avinash, Ramji
Genre: Action.

An unusual backdrop, characters that are well-etched, a screenplay and a narrative style that is slick and racy make neatly packaged, interesting fare.

The backdrop is the gun-trafficking mafia, lorded over by Gurupadham and his friend-turned-rival A.K. Samy. As the two men, suave and smart business tycoons to the world, vie for supremacy in their illegal weapons trade, a newcomer enters into their world: Burma, an orphan and a small-time gun dealer. Burma has his motive, which is to avenge the humiliation and death of his father. He also has an obsession to reach the top of his trade. Hollywood buffs will find shades of Lord of War and the character of Nicolas Cage here.

Burma earns the trust of Gurupadham, the latter ignoring the warning of his elder son Veera and confidante Iyera. Realization comes too late, as the wily Burma plans his moves, eliminates Gurupadham’s men one by one, and creates an air of suspicion between Gurupadham and Samy.

Arya should be appreciated for experimenting with roles that are varied and not typical heroic ones. The roughness and wildness he projects, and his natural aptitude for such roles, bring to life the character of Burma, scheming and devious, brutal and ruthless in reaching his goal. Unrepentant till the end, his constant refrain is “Give me just 5,000 rupees,” the amount his father was falsely accused of stealing years ago. Both the director and the hero should be commended for maintaining the consistency of the character till the end, and not going for any sudden change of heart.

Napoleon is dignified as the suave Gurupadham. Danadapani as Iyera, Avinash as Samy, and Ramji as Veera provide necessary support. Debutant Kirat (Lakme’s brand ambassador) just about passes muster. Adhisaya, with her spontaneous expressions and an unusual earthy voice, captures attention.

The backdrop is unusual for a Tamil film. The script is focused, with no silly comedy track or distracting scenes. Vattaram is one of Saran’s best efforts to date both as a screenwriter and director. There is a lot more maturity and consistency here than in his earlier films

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Quick Hot Snack: Crispy Poha with Peas

A simple snack that packs a spicy kick. Sudha Gupta shows you how to make it.

  • 2 cups thick poha (dry)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • salt to taste

    For the peas:
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 finely chopped green chillies
  • 1 inch ginger chopped lengthwise
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • pinch of asofoetida
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a pan, add poha, stir for 10 minutes till light pink in color and crispy. Add salt and black pepper and stir.

For the Peas:
Heat oil in a pan and add cumin seeds, asofoetida, green chili and ginger. Stir for 30 seconds, add peas and salt. Stir for 10 minutes in high heat. Add garam masala and stir for 30 seconds. Add lemon juice. Mix well and garnish with cilantro.
Serve with poha as shown.

- Sudha Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: December By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You will try your best to resolve issues involving a family member. Changes expected at work will be delayed and you will miss several opportunities that may come by at times. Negotiations with a reputed company will be progressive. A family reunion will take place this month.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): A major payment expected will get delayed. People prone to litigation should be very careful for the next few weeks. You will be working with new business partners soon. You may plan a last minute trip with family. Unanticipated travel together with bad weather may cause temporary health problems.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): You will overcome many obstacles with a new strategy. All you need to do is deal with one issue at a time. Do not disclose your plans to everyone. You will have the much needed finance available to you in time for your project. You will meet influential people. Money will come but disappear fast.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): You will sign several legal papers. All the hard work will pay off and you will be slowly inch towards your professional goals. You will make several smart moves in life and silence people trying to create hurdles. You will spend time on phone and may arrange a party at your place.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): You will feel isolated. Try not to stay indoors. You will purchase some expensive goodies for yourself. Cash flow will not be a problem as many overdue payments will start coming in during this month. You will meet old friends at a party. You will have active participation in social and community work.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You will have better grip over finances as planets indicate increasing revenues. Not wasting your time at home, you will go out with family and enjoy company of old friends. You will write several important letters and wait patiently for the response to come in. You will get great tips from a new contact.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): This may be the right time to deal with a government agency aggressively. You will hardly sit indoors this month and get several pending jobs done. There will be some last minute delay in an ongoing property deal. People working under or for you will give you hard time.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): You will spend money buying big ticket high-end gadgets for yourself. People prone to blood pressure problems should be careful for next few weeks. You will study some useful material. Stocks purchased recently will appreciate considerably.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will lack self confidence and patience. Impulsive actions will not help and you may end up losing a trusted friend in the process. Money will come at a slow pace. Your artistic quality will surface again. You will be starting another career soon. Keep an eye on the mail.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Someone close will try to take undue advantage of your generosity. You should be careful in all financial matters and keep an eye on your wallet when going to the mall. You will be invited to several parties. You will be attracted towards a person who is known to have a flirting nature.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will be offered a lucrative position. Any project started as a partnership at this point will go a long way. You will meet an interesting person at a party. Things will keep getting easy at work. You will be excited about a family reunion about to take place in near future.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): There may be slight delays in achieving desired results, but this is only temporary. Financial juggling will ease a lot of pressure. You may start an exciting project in association with younger people. You might make a small deposit towards a property. Value of stocks recently purchased, will appreciate.

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


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