Siliconeer: August 2007

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Volume VIII • Issue 8
India, Pakistan Independence Day Special
REMEMBRANCE: Eternal Gandhi Exhibit
TRAVELOGUE: A Pakistani American Visits
Memories in India

The Rise of Dalits: Mayawati’s Victory
Mayawati has turned the old U.P. Congress alliance on its head — whereas the upper caste Congress leadership controlled the Dalits, now it is a Dalit controlling the rest, writes Sandeep Pandey.

Long Live Gandhigiri: A Floral Protest
And the USCIS

Does Gandhigiri work? Soon after 200 immigrants sent flowers to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to protest its rejection of applications, the USCIS changed heart. A Siliconeer report.

Hindu Prayer in Senate:
Rajan Zed Makes History

Reno, Nevada, resident Rajan Zed became the first person to offer a Hindu prayer in the U.S. Senate July 12. A Siliconeer report.

EDITORIAL: Dalits Rising
NEWS DIARY: July News Briefs
TECHNOLOGY: Reinventing the Internet
GEOPOLITICS: The Terror Fallout
COMMUNITY: BAPS: Practical Spirituality
ENVIRONMENT: Fighting Global Warming
HEALTH: Let’s Talk About Sex

REMEMBRANCE: Eternal Gandhi Exhibit
TRAVELOGUE: A Pakistani American Visits Memories in India

TRAVEL: Barcelona and Beyond
RELIGION: Mata Ka Jagraata
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
AUTO REVIEW: 2008 Chrysler Sebring
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Review: Amu
RECIPE: Meetha Kalash

USCIS Update:
USCIS New Fees Schedule
Effective July 30, 2007 (PDF)


Prem Dutt: Email
Call Prem: (916) 743-8316
Seema Gupta: Email
Call Prem: (408) 745-9663

Dalits Rising
After centuries of oppression, Dalits in Uttar Pradesh are beginning to flex their political muscle. For the first time, India’s largest state, which has given the nation most of its prime ministers, has a Dalit chief minister whose party has an absolute majority in the state legislature.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Byzantine caste calculus, elections are a complicated numbers game. Mayawati, its new Dalit chief minister, has shown remarkable political savvy in courting the state’s Brahmins.

This is not the first time Mayawati has been chief minister of U.P. However, her previous shaky partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party was a disappointment, not least to her own Dalit constituency because her administration was characterized more by personal quirks and ostentatious symbolism rather than any substantive improvement of the lot of the Dalits.

India, Pakistan at 60

As Indians and Pakistanis celebrate 60 years of independence in August, we present a special section to commemorate this happy occasion.

The two neighbors have fought several wars, and if truth be told, some of that bitterness has spilled over into the expatriate communities as well.

Happily, it is also true that more often than not both Indians and Pakistanis in the U.S. have rediscovered anew the enormous cultural and social ties that they share. This has often led to a warmth and camaraderie that has been in contrast with the petty bickering that has often characterized bilateral relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Whether it is a Bollywood film or a Ghulam Ali concert, Indian Americans and Pakistani Americans flock to enjoy it together here, a privilege that is denied to them at home.

The Indus Entrepreneurs, the prestigious flagship founded by high-tech South Asian entrepreneurs, now has chapters in Pakistan as well as in India. In the Silicon Valley itself Pakistani and Indian high tech entrepreneurs work together closely in TiE.

This is a wonderful example of fraternal kinship in a world all too often beleaguered by tension and conflict, and we at Siliconeer decided to celebrate it with a special section honoring both the South Asian neighbors on their Independence Day.

Veteran Birla executive Bharat Parekh and our own correspondent Ras Hafiz Siddiqui present two heartwarming, memorable articles for our special section.
This time around, though, the Dalit leader seems to have matured, and this administration could well be a different story. In this month’s cover story, our India editorial consultant Sandeep Pandey, himself a U.P. resident, reflects on what her victory could mean for the Dalits.

"Gandhigiri" is a new term coined by the runaway hit franchise of Munnabhai films. The concept, named after Mahatma Gandhi, has a quirky charm that would surely make the Mahatma smile. In a world of crooks and malingerers, Gandhigiri is a way where you use nonviolent techniques to take on malign forces to shame them into coming to the path of justice.

It’s all a fair bit of fun, but does this actually work in the real world as well as it does in Bollywood?

Well, irate desi Green Card applicants decided to give it a shot. When they heard the U.S. Customs and Immigrations Service had suddenly decided to stop accepting applications, they flooded the USCIS director’s office with flowers.

And guess what? Within a few days the USCIS reversed its decision. Of course, lawmakers pitched in to help as well, but we also think these protesters deserve credit for expressing their frustration with style, charm, and a gentleness that the Mahatma would approve.

Barring a minor if impassioned bark of protest from conservative Christians, a historic moment in the U.S. Senate passed without much untoward incident. Reno, Nevada-based Hindu priest Rajan Zed presented a Hindu prayer there, the first time something like this has happened in the U.S. Senate.

Hindus all over the world rejoiced, of course, but there is reason for all Americans to be pleased. As the United States gets more diverse, with people from all parts of the world bringing diverse cultural and religious values, the U.S. Senate’s gesture sends a welcome message of a warmhearted tolerance and acceptance that not only augurs well for the nation’s future but also does the Senate proud.

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

The Rise of Dalits: Mayawati’s Victory

U.P. Chief Minister Mayawati leads an alliance which once formed the bedrock of the Congress party, the only truly genuine national party in the country. The only difference is that whereas the upper caste dominated leadership of Congress was controlling the Dalits, this time it is a Dalit controlling the rest, writes Sandeep Pandey.

The rise of Bahujan Samaj Party and Mayawati to power in Uttar Pradesh is one of the most significant developments in Indian politics. There has been a corresponding rise in political consciousness of Dalits which has made a serious dent in the oppressive vertical system of exploitation based on caste hierarchy. This has, of course, been preceded by a similar assertion of backward caste politics in the post Mandal phase. Until 20 years back in Hardoi district an upper caste man could give a call to all chamars of a village to come to work on his field and it would have been very difficult for any of the chamars to defy the order. Similarly, the newly married bride in a fisherfolk community of Ballia district, until the previous generation, would have to spend the first night at the upper caste zamindar’s house because the entire community was living on a land provided by the zamindar. Once when this community had voted for a political party out of their own choice the zamindar had passed an edict banning them from using his land for the purposes of excretion. The community had to apologize and promise to vote according to zamindar’s wish in future elections. Such has been the tyranny of the caste system. These inhuman practices are slowly becoming history as Mayawati creates history of her own.

What Mayawati, representing the most vulnerable segment of the society, has been able to achieve is unthinkable even in American democracy or any other country of the world for a long time to come. She has wrested power from the powerful in a patriarchal feudal system entrenched in a casteist framework supported by mafia and criminals. The Congress party was trying its best to woo back its Dalit vote bank. It instead lost the Brahmins and Muslims as well to behenji, as Mayawati is known to her admirers. Mayawati is on top of an alliance which once formed the bedrock of the Congress party, the only truly genuine national party in the country. The only difference is that whereas the upper caste dominated leadership of Congress was controlling the Dalits, this time it is a Dalit controlling the rest. The Congress party remains a sorry bystander in this upturning of hierarchy. However progressive the Congress might be, it would have never tolerated an independent thinking Dalit leader.

With Mayawati’s coming to power everyone assumes that the law and order situation would improve and atrocities against Dalits would mitigate. She has already announced the long overdue increase in minimum wages of unskilled workers from Rs. 58 to Rs. 80 per day for eight hours of work. It is a definitely more progressive step than former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s dole of Rs. 500 as unemployment allowance per month to the educated youth. Whereas successive pay commissions have typically increased the salaries of service classes, nobody has paid attention to a proportionate increase in daily wages for unskilled laborers. The daily wages continue to be abysmally low compared to the incomes of other segments of society across the country.

However, Mayawati is known to be an idiosyncratic and erratic politician. Her autocratic ways allow little space for democracy within the party. Her methods of distributing election tickets to the largest bidder do not create the sense of loyalty for the party or its ideology which is needed in the time of crisis. Professionals who see politics as an instrument of making money can be easily lured away by a more attractive offer, as Mulayam Singh proved during the last term of U.P. assembly.

Having acquired political equality the Dalits are now hoping to climb the social and economic ladder as well. In fact, most of the benefits meant for poor Dalits in the form of various government schemes through the panchayats or through schemes like the Public Distribution System or National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme do not reach them, forcing them to live in situations of extreme poverty and deprivation. BSP must concentrate on these issues if it seriously intends to carry out upliftment of the Dalits. Mayawati must move out of the obsession to indulge in the symbolism politics of Ambedkar Parks to more concrete things which will impact the lives of ordinary Dalits in the state. There is no question that politics of symbolism has played an important role in the Dalit assertion. The statues of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in every village have given a sense of identity and self-respect to the Dalits. This silent movement for the assertion of Dalit rights stands in importance next to the freedom struggle and the JP movement in recent history. There has been a feeling of liberation just like in the other two struggles. But having accomplished the political victory the Dalit movement has to now chart a course for the social and economic wellbeing of the Dalits. Reservations in educational institutions and jobs can help only a small fraction of Dalits. We need a blueprint for the development of the ordinary Dalit who is too poor to compete. This is the challenge of the future.

The combination with upper caste, especially Brahmins, which is being hailed as potent, has serious pitfalls. The political class which has always cornered all benefits flowing from the system is working overtime to subvert the BSP agenda. There is a danger of the take over of BSP by the contractor-mafia raj working through suave upper caste politicians and bureaucrats. Unless Mayawati and the Dalit leadership within the party is extremely careful of this attempt of subversion and can be guided by their absolute commitment to the cause of Dalits, BSP is in danger of being reduced to a party indistinguishable from any other opportunist political party.

In her past stints as chief minister, Mayawati has given little attention to the well being of Dalits. Dalits found it as tough to get cases registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the state SC/ST Commission provided no relief either. Matters related to violence against women also suffered neglect in her regime. Neither did the situation of landless Dalits, hoping to take possession of their legitimate plots of land allotted to them by the panchayats, improve. All the other benefits through the panchayats continued to be siphoned off by the unscrupulous elements. There was no crackdown on corruption in the various schemes which could have possibly resulted in more benefits flowing to the Dalits. With the possible exception of Ambedkar villages, there was no overall improvement in delivery efficiency of the administrative system or justice to the poor.

The hope is that a more mature Mayawati, having survived the Taj Corridor folly, will bring better governance and development on her agenda and go down in history as more than a politician who indulged in politics of symbolism.


Three Cheers for Gandhigiri
: A Floral Protest and the USCIS
Does Gandhigiri actually work? Skeptics may raise an eyebrow, but soon after 200 immigrants sent flowers to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to protest its abrupt rejection of applications, the USCIS changed heart. A Siliconeer report.

(Above, left): About 200 skilled immigrants sent flowers to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
(Above, right): The flowers sent to USCIS were transferred to U.S. soldiers recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. [All photos by XIYUN YANG/THE WASHINGTON POST]

The magic of Gandhigiri has apparently worked for Indian Green Card seekers with the U.S. immigration department July 18 announcing that it will accept applications from foreign professionals seeking permanent residency through an expedited process, reversing its earlier decision.

The campaign that directed around a thousand flower deliveries to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Emilio Gonzalez was modeled on a popular Indian film promoting the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi.

Inspired by the Bollywood movie Lage Raho Munnabhai, angry immigrant applicants had started a campaign to flood the Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters with flowers after an abrupt withdrawal of a measure that promised expedited processing of their request for Green Card.

Thousands of holders of H1-B visas — reserved for skilled workers in computing and other special professions — scrambled and spent money on lawyers and medical exams to prepare green card applications as priority dates became current after a backlog of almost five years.

On July 2, 2007, USCIS announced that it would not accept any additional employment-based applications for this fiscal year.

The abrupt closure of this path to a green card — proof of lawful permanent resident status — sent the applicants back to the queue for 2008, when they will have to spend more time and money, organizers of the protest said.

“The gist of the campaign was to peacefully convey disappointment and concern at how things have evolved in the last month,” said Sivakanth Mundru, a Virginia-based computer systems analyst who was affected by the policy.

Gonzales said in a statement on the USCIS Web site that the agency would forward the flowers to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C., the main facilities treating U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We welcome the fact that the director at least acknowledged this campaign and we are happy that our flowers will be bringing some color to our soldiers in those two medical hospitals,” said Vikas Bajaj, a software developer in Wisconsin who helped organize the flower protest.

“The public reaction to the July 2 announcement made it clear that the federal government’s management of this process needs further review,” USCIS director Emilio Gonzalez said.

The USCIS said it would immediately start accepting employment-based applications to adjust status (Form I-485) filed by aliens whose priority dates are current under the July Visa Bulletin, No. 107. USCIS will accept applications filed not later than August 17, 2007.


NEWS DIARY: July 2007 Roundup
Pratibha Patil Becomes India’s First Female President | Nepali Goddess Likes Instant Noodles | Strange Justice | Goodbye, Shambo | Legal Nightmare | Questions about Nuke Deal | Former Bangla PM Charged | Lanka Rally

Pratibha Patil Becomes India’s First Female President

Pratibha Patil

India’s first female president was sworn in on July 26, after a vitriolic campaign which undermined the symbolism of the appointment and raised doubts about Pratibha Patil’s suitability for the ceremonial role, Reuters news agency reports.

The 72-year-old Patil, dressed in a white and green saree draped over her head, took the oath of office inside parliament’s packed and ornate central hall, promising to uphold the constitution and devote herself to the people of India.

“Today India stands at the threshold of a new era of progress,” she said. “We must make sure that every section of society, particularly the weak and disadvantaged, are equal partners and beneficiaries in the development process.”

But her words may count for little given her lack of power and the manner of her accession to the job.

The governor of Rajasthan, she had been plucked from relative obscurity to become the government’s compromise candidate for the job, after the coalition failed to agree on a host of other, male candidates.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, the most powerful politician in the country, then billed the appointment as a historic day for India’s women.

Critics said it was a hollow gesture after a campaign marred by bitter partisan politics and unprecedented mud-slinging.

“Don’t mock our intelligence and call it a victory for women. It is a selfish victory for the Congress party and its leadership,” columnist Suhel Seth wrote in the Asian Age newspaper.
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Nepali Goddess Likes Instant Noodles

Sajani Shakya

As goddesses go, this 10-year-old Nepali girl has modest ambitions. Some religious authorities threatened to strip Sajani of her “goddess” title after she promoted a film on her life, the Reuters news agency reports.

“I want to become a photographer,” said the shy Sajani Shakya as she jumped from the couch and grabbed an envelope with photographs of her recent visit to the United States.

Sajani hit world headlines this month as some religious authorities threatened to strip her of her “living goddess” title after she visited the United States to promote a British-made film about her life.

Nepali priests had enthroned Sajani as the Kumari or “living goddess” of Bhaktapur eight years ago — a position worshipped by thousands of Hindus and Buddhists alike in a deeply religious nation.

Sajani enjoys the more everyday pleasures of many kids — toys, dolls, and instant noodles for food.

The bright-eyed Sajani visited the Capitol in Washington, met with Nepalis living in the United States, toured a school and met American children.

Under the living goddess tradition followed for centuries in the three ancient cities in the Kathmandu valley, young girls are selected by priests to serve as incarnations of Kali, the Hindu goddess of power.

They remain in their “divine” role until menstruation when they must retire and rejoin the family. A new girl is then chosen.
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Strange Justice

Australian demonstrators protest the arrest of Mohamed Haneef.

Indian-born doctor Mohamed Haneef was moved to a safe house after the case against him dissolved into fiasco, with Australia’s chief prosecutor admitting it had been bungled and there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction.

Dr Haneef was spirited out of prison hours after the charge against him was dropped and a clearly embarrassed Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said he was seeking legal advice about whether the latest development meant he should reverse his decision to cancel the doctor’s visa.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Damien Bugg, could not explain how a prosecutor falsely told a court that Dr Haneef’s SIM card was found in a burnt Jeep Cherokee at Glasgow Airport.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said police had done their job professionally and refused to apologize.

Andrews said Dr Haneef could leave prison and live in “residential detention” at his apartment on the Gold Coast or another place of his choosing.

Andrews said he would seek advice from the Commonwealth Solicitor-General on whether the decision to drop the charge against Dr Haneef had any bearing on his earlier decision to revoke his 457 work visa and deport him.

As immigration lawyers expressed fury about the way Dr Haneef’s case had been handled and minor-party politicians demanded that Andrews resign, the Labor Opposition, which until recently had supported the Commonwealth’s stance, called for an independent inquiry into the affair.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said Dr Haneef was welcome to return to his job at the Gold Coast Hospital if the Federal Government restored his work visa.
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Goodbye, Shambo

Shambo the sacred bull

The battle to save Shambo the sacred bullock ended July 26 after police overcame chanting protestors protecting the Friesian at a Hindu monastic community in Wales.

Dozens of praying campaigners had built a shrine for Shambo at the monastery and vowed to save him.

But after a 12-hour stand-off with Welsh Assembly officials, the six-year-old bullock, which has tested positive for bovine tuberculosis, was finally led away to slaughter after police intervened.

“At least everybody that has campaigned for Shambo’s survival can go to bed with a clear conscience, having tried everything they could,” said a spokesman for the Skanda Vale temple near Carmarthen.

The standoff at the Community of the Many Names of God had followed months of legal wrangling over the fate of Shambo.

An Appeal Court ruled this month that the bullock must die in accordance with government policy of slaughtering TB-positive cattle.

An Indian charity had agreed to take Shambo out of the country and more than 23,500 people signed a protest petition.

Cows are sacred to Hindus and the monastery spokesman said it would be “an appalling desecration of life” if the bullock were killed.

The National Farmers Union says no animal should be exempt from the rules governing TB and that to spare Shambo would be unfair on farmers who have had to see their stock slaughtered.

A spokesman for the Welsh regional government said the option of allowing Shambo to go to India was not possible because it would put other animals and people at risk.
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Legal Nightmare

Iftikhar Chaudhry

The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s ruling that the country’s military ruler was wrong to sack the court’s top judge is, many Pakistani legal experts say, a “landmark judgement.”

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was suspended by President Pervez Musharraf in March, facing charges of misconduct and abuse of powers.

The case was dealt with by his fellow judges. Now they have restored the chief justice with full powers.

The government’s response has been one of passive acquiescence. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the government would abide by the court’s verdict.

The more than 1,000 lawyers who attended the court were ecstatic following the announcement of the verdict. They chanted the now traditional cry of “Go Musharraf go,” but this time more in euphoria than anger.

Legal experts are of the opinion that the judgement marks a watershed in Pakistan’s legal history and will have far-reaching implications for the rule of law in the country.

“The country has been reborn today,” said an emotionally charged Ali Ahmad Kurd, one of the lawyers who represented the chief justice. “Until today it was a body without a soul.”

The message for the government of Musharraf is not even remotely comforting.

“The court has completely demolished the government’s case and has put an uncomfortable question mark on its moral standing,” says Wasim Ahmad Shah, a legal affairs correspondent who works for Dawn newspaper.

“In coming days, the government will find it increasingly difficult to deny that it tried to get rid of a constitutional office holder with malafide intentions.”
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Questions about Nuke Deal

George W. Bush (l) with Manmohan Singh

U.S. lawmakers have warned President George W. Bush of “inconsistencies” amid reports Washington has agreed in principle to allow India to reprocess spent nuclear fuel under a landmark deal.

The warning came after U.S. and Indian officials finalized the implementing agreement for Washington to provide nuclear technology and fuel to India under a deal agreed upon by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago to highlight ties between the world’s two biggest democracies.

Details of the so-called “123 agreement” has been kept under wraps but unconfirmed reports say the United States has agreed in principle to New Delhi’s proposal to reprocess spent fuel in a dedicated national facility under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

But Washington reportedly is reluctant to provide such reprocessing technology to India, which has been under three decades of US sanctions for nuclear tests. Nor is India a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The letter from 23 members of the House of Representatives warned: “Any inconsistencies between the so-called 123 agreement and U.S. laws would put final Congressional approval of the deal in doubt.

“If the 123 agreement has been intentionally negotiated to side-step or bypass the law and the will of Congress, final approval for this deal will be jeopardized,” said Edward Markey, co-chairman of the House Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation.
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Former Bangla PM Charged

Sheikh Hasina

Bangladesh authorities formally charged former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and two relatives with extorting $435,000 from a businessman as part of a corruption crackdown, an official said.

Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League party, was accused with her sister and cousin in a charge sheet submitted to the court, said deputy police commissioner Shahidul Haque Bhuiyan.

“Sheikh Hasina has been charged by the investigating police and a date will now be fixed for the trial,” Bhuiyan added.

The Awami League chief was arrested last week in an early morning raid on her Dhaka residence.

According to the allegations, a company named East Coast Trading Ltd was given permission to set up a power plant in 2000 while Sheikh Hasina was prime minister, the private UNB agency said.

Associates of the then prime minister, however, allegedly pressed the firm for money and threatened to cancel the project if it refused to pay, UNB said.

Sheikh Hasina is one of 150 high-profile figures who have been arrested as part of an anti-corruption crackdown by Bangladesh’s military-backed emergency government, which took power in January following months of political violence.
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Lanka Rally

Thousands of opposition supporters rallied against Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa and demanded snap elections in the capital Colombo.

Protesters chanted “We want a UNP (opposition United National Party) government” and “Save the country from the Rajapaksa brothers.” The president’s three brothers are also in his administration.

Police said there were 15,000 protesters. The UNP were expecting 100,000.

“We are starting our mass agitation campaign to call for an election,” said UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who narrowly lost the presidency to Rajapaksa in November 2005 when Tamil Tiger rebels boycotted the poll and blocked residents in areas they control from voting.

Rajapaksa’s government is now embroiled in a new chapter of the island’s two-decade civil war with the rebels. An estimated 4,500 people have been killed since last year.

Wickremesinghe’s own party split earlier this year when 17 members, including his deputy, crossed over to the government, helping to give Rajapaksa a long-elusive parliamentary majority.

Protesters said they were fed up with high inflation, which hit 17 percent in June as measured on a 12-month moving average.

“It’s really difficult, people can’t bear the cost of living,” said 38-year-old businessman Ranjith Udumulla, who traveled to attend the protest from the gem-mining town of Ratnapura 65 km southeast of Colombo.
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Hindu Prayer in U.S. Senate: Rajan Zed Makes History
Reno, Nevada, resident Rajan Zed became the first person to offer a Hindu prayer in the U.S. Senate July 12. A Siliconeer report.

(Left): File photo of Rajan Zed offering the first-ever Hindu prayer in Nevada State Assembly in March 2007. He is flanked by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and his wife Shipa Zed. Zed offered the first-ever Hindu prayer in the U.S. Senate July 12.

Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain from Reno, Nevada, opened the session of United States Senate July 12 with the Gayatri Mantra from Rig-Veda, the oldest Hindu text composed around 1,500 BCE, according to a press release from Zed. This was the first Hindu prayer ever delivered on the Senate floor since its formation in 1789, the release added.

With his wife Shipa Zed watching from VIP gallery of the Senate, he sprinkled a few drops of water around the podium from the Ganga before the start of the Senate prayer. After Sen. Robert P. Casey, D-Penn., introduced Zed, three protesters in the visitors gallery tried to disrupt the prayer and were arrested. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, thanked Zed for the prayers

The prayer included recitations from Brahadaranyakopanishad and Tattiriya Upanishad. Reading from third chapter of Bhagavad-Gita, the philosophical and spiritual poem often considered the epitome of Hinduism, he urged senators to strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world, performing their duties with the welfare of others always in mind, because by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. May they work carefully and wisely, guided by compassion, and without thought for themselves, he added.

Sporting a saffron robe, rudraksh mala, sandal paste tilak, and a yellow shawl inscribed Hare Ram Hare Krishna, he ended his prayers with an English translation of the last mantra of Rig-Veda, “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.” His concluding line was “Peace, peace, peace be unto all.” Although Zed wanted to recite the mantras in Sanskrit, the Senate chaplain’s office clearly stated that the prayer must be given exclusively and entirely in the English language.

Zed has received congratulatory messages from all over the world.

The City of Reno issued a proclamation to Zed during the city council meeting July 5, where Mayor Robert Cashell declared July 5, 2007, “as a day to recognize Rajan Zed” and “encourage all citizens to congratulate Rajan Zed on his latest professional accomplishment,” mentioning the July 12 Senate prayer in the proclamation. Reno police chief Michael Poehlman presented him with a Chief’s Certificate of Commendation July 9 to recognize his contribution in “promoting peace and tranquility for all, regardless of race or faith” and to commend him for continuing his work in promoting interfaith dialogue.

People of Fazilka, a town of southwestern Punjab in India, celebrated July 12 with fireworks at the same time the prayer was read in the Senate, hawan, fluttering of “Om” flags on rooftops, free langar (community lunch) in the local Hanuman Temple, Ramayan path (recitation), in honor of Zed, who once worked in this town as public relations officer for Punjab.

The Shiva Vishnu Temple of Lanham, Md., invited and recognized Zed July 12 evening and presented him with a silk shawl and his wife a silk saree. Dr. Nigel Subramaniam Siva, one of the trustees of the Murugan Temple of America, said, “This is a great moment in history for all Hindus.”

When Zed delivered the first Hindu prayer in Nevada State Assembly and Nevada State Senate in March and May last, many clergy from various Christian denominations attended the prayers as a gesture of support for him.

Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has no datable beginning but some scholars put it around 3,000 BCE. It has no founder, no one authoritative figure, no one deity worshipped by all, and no single prophet or holy book. One of its scriptures, Mahabharata, is the longest poem ever written, comprising over 100,000 couplets.

Zed is the director of public affairs and interfaith relations of the Hindu Temple of Northern Nevada. He is also the public relations officer of India Association of Northern Nevada. He volunteers as a chaplain in various hospitals of northwestern Nevada and nearby California, and is active in interfaith dialogue in the region.

Christian Fundamentalist Protest Draws Criticism

While many rejoiced at the generosity of the U.S. Senate for allowing Rajan Zed to offer a Hindu prayer, some conservative Christian fundamentalists were outraged.

As Zed stood at the lectern, two women and a man began shouting “this is an abomination.” Police officers arrested them and charged them disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. The male protester said “we are Christians and patriots” before police led them away. Police identified the protesters as Ante Nedlko Pavkovic, Katherine Lynn Pavkovic and Christan Renee Sugar.

For several days, the Mississippi-based American Family Association urged its members to object to the prayer because Zed would be “seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god.”

The three protesters are associated with Dallas-based Operation Save America, anti-abortion Christian group. In a statement, Operation Save America president Rev. Flip Benham praised the three protesters. “Not one Senator had the backbone to stand as our Founding Fathers stood. They stood on the Gospel of Jesus Christ!”

“The falsehood of Hinduism was eloquently challenged . . . by those who know the truth that sets people free— Jesus,” the organization said in support of the protesters. “May the hallowed halls and chambers of the Congress of the United States of America never again entertain the false religions of this age.”

“No one can legitimately challenge the fact that the God America refers to in the pledge, our national motto, and other places is the monotheistic God of the Jewish and Christian faith. There is no historic connection between America and the polytheistic creed of the Hindu faith,” wrote Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, an influential conservative Christian advocacy group.

Not true, said secular groups. “Thomas Jefferson, the author of the concept that the United States should maintain a ‘wall of separation’ in order to avoid the development of a state religion of the sort that had existed in the monarchies of Europe, was a student Hinduism,” wrote John Nichols in the left-leaning periodical The Nation. “His library included Hindu texts, and when he wrote the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom, which laid the groundwork for the Constitutional protection of religious practice and pluralism, he specifically avoided making reference to the Christian faith — though its adherents dominated the public life of Virginia and other colonies — because he wanted it to be known that all religions, including Hinduism, were respected and welcomed in the United States. . . .

“Jefferson’s respect for religious pluralism in general, and Hinduism in particular, led him to compare notes with other founders of the American experiment.”

Other critics were more scathing. Americans United for Separation of Church and State executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn told the AP, “The disruption and complaints from the Religious Right revealed their intolerance and the fact that the only religion they want paraded around in the public square is their own.”


Reinventing the Internet: The Desi Touch
As scientists mull reinventing the Internet, Indian Americans are in the thick of the cutting-edge deliberations. A Siliconeer report.

(Left): The ORBIT radio grid at Rutgers’ WINLAB was first made available to research users on an informal basis in Oct 2005, and since then, has rapidly become a de-facto community resource for evaluation of emerging wireless network architectures and protocols.

Can you drive a Lamborghini on a dirt-road made for the sturdy Model-T? That’s exactly the problem with the infrastructure of the Internet, technology experts say.

Today, a major rethink is going on about how to fix it, and some university researchers with the U.S. government’s blessing want to scrap all that and start over, reports the Associated Press.

The idea may seem unthinkable, even absurd, but many believe a “clean slate” approach is the only way to truly address security, mobility and other challenges that have cropped up since UCLA professor Leonard Kleinrock helped supervise the first exchange of meaningless test data between two machines on Sept. 2, 1969.

As a shake up seems imminent, Indian American researchers are in the thick of the cuttine-edge science.

Guru Parulkar will become executive director of Stanford’s clean-slate initiative after heading the National Science Foundation’s clean-slate programs for years.

Dipankar Raychaudhuri is a Rutgers University professor overseeing three clean-slate projects.

No longer constrained by slow connections and computer processors and high costs for storage, researchers say the time has come to rethink the Internet’s underlying architecture, a move that could mean replacing networking equipment and rewriting software on computers to better channel future traffic over the existing pipes.

The National Science Foundation wants to build an experimental research network known as the Global Environment for Network Innovations, or GENI, and is funding several projects at universities and elsewhere through Future Internet Network Design, or FIND.

Rutgers, Stanford, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the universities pursuing individual projects. Other government agencies, including the Defense Department, have also been exploring the concept.

“Almost every assumption going into the current design of the Internet is open to reconsideration and challenge,” said Parulkar, the NSF official heading to Stanford. “Researchers may come up with wild ideas and very innovative ideas that may not have a lot to do with the current Internet.”

The Internet “works well in many situations but was designed for completely different assumptions,” said Raychaudhuri. “It’s sort of a miracle that it continues to work well today.”

“Yes, the Internet has wrought wonders: e-commerce has flourished, and e-mail has become a ubiquitous means of communication. Almost one billion people now use the Internet, and critical industries like banking increasingly rely on it,” comments the MIT’s Technology Review.
“At the same time, the Internet’s shortcomings have resulted in plunging security and a decreased ability to accommodate new technologies.”

Indeed, for the average user, the Internet these days all too often resembles New York’s Times Square in the 1980s, says the Review. It was exciting and vibrant, but you made sure to keep your head down, lest you be offered drugs, robbed, or harangued by the insane. Times Square has been cleaned up, but the Internet keeps getting worse, both at the user’s level and, according to some scientists, deep within its architecture.

Over the years, as Internet applications proliferated — wireless devices, peer-to-peer file-sharing, telephony — companies and network engineers came up with ingenious and expedient patches, plugs, and workarounds. The result is that the originally simple communications technology has become a complex and convoluted affair. For all of the Internet’s wonders, it is also difficult to manage and more fragile with each passing day.

Parulkar says the Internet today faces challenges in three broad areas.

“There are three areas, one is fundamental limitations of the architecture,” he said. “The second is incorporating emerging technologies into Internet, and there are limitations in that area and then there are issues that have to do with ability to support new class of applications on top of the Internet.

“So those are three broad areas, and in each one of those broad areas we are finding out that we are stretching the Internet architecture as much as we could and still we are not able to incorporate these three things appropriately.”

Parulkar estimated that GENI alone could cost $350-million, while government, university and industry spending on the individual projects could collectively reach $300-million. Spending so far has been in the tens of millions of dollars.

Dipankar Raychaudhuri, director of WINLAB at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., has overseen several clean-slate projects.

WINLAB is an acronym for Wireless Information Network Laboratory, an industry-university cooperative research center focused on wireless technology, whose research mission is to advance the development of wireless networking technology by combining the resources of government, industry and academia.

“The idea is to take the present constraints of Internet IP and then design completely new protocols which are designed for the purposes intended,” Raychaudhuri explained. “Each of this has some set of applications in mind, and the idea is to rethink the entire architecture.”

He said that some of the innovations could rub off into today’s world.

“The idea of all these projects is that if you can show large improvements when you do something new then there are more practical ways of introducing it without completely changing the protocol,” he said. “So it usually influences the practicing engineers to rethink some of their design components and maybe some of them can be added (to today’s Internet).”

The use of mobile Internet is turning the Internet on its head, and innovation in wireless technology will be critical in keeping the Internet accessible in future.

“It is true that the total number of portable devices is growing exponentially, while the number of fixed devices is flattening or even decreasing,” he says. “Mobility becomes crucial.”

Access and mobility become critical issues, he said. “As more and more people start using the Internet in this way, frequency becomes a major challenge,” he said. “Everybody is trying to use the same channel.”

The other issue was mobility, he said.

“A classic problem of mobility (is) that the network needs to know where I am, and it needs to give an address which it can connect as I move around,” he said. “Cellular networks do that very well. But cellular networks were designed for telephony and data transfer, not the Internet. One of the challenges that we look at is how to add efficient mobility.”


The Terror Fallout: Indian BPOs Fear Global Backlash
The involvement of Indian doctors and an engineer in a recent failed terror plot in Britain has India’s outsourcing industry on the defensive, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

(Left): News of a terror attack in Glasgow Airport spread all over the world through television and radio and sent shock waves of concern.

Already under fire by the anti-outsourcing lobby in the West, the involvement of Indian doctors and an engineer in a recent failed diabolical terror plot in London and Glasgow has put India’s business process outsourcing industry on the defensive.

The reports related to the U.K. attacks do not look very encouraging, making Indian firms working with Western clients vulnerable to a possible backlash.

It has been revealed that Glasgow suicide bomber Kafeel Ahmed worked for Bangalore-based Infotech Enterprises, a BPO and software solutions firm with 5,000 engineers and a global client base that include Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and Airbus Industrie.

Apart from aircraft parts design, it also provides security solutions to clients based in U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific.

What is interesting is that the company provides software and solutions to the home office, a British government agency that takes care of domestic security in U.K. and is also investigating the Glasgow airport attack.

Following his M. Phil. from U.K., Kafeel was enrolled in a high-paying aircraft design project, considered a dream job by many, given his aeronautical engineering background.

Reports suggest that Kafeel was already associated for long with al-Qaeda activist Abbas Boutrab who wanted to blow up planes in U.K. four years ago. Kafeel is reported to be already indoctrinated when he joined the Bangalore-based company, thus raising questions about the risk profiling of employees.

Police in Bangalore have seized Kafeel’s high capacity 320 GB hard disk that reportedly contains an animation film on how a syringe can be used in a bomb, the technology that was employed in London. Luckily, the bomb failed. Other jihadi material is also reported to have been seized.

Kafeel’s brother Sabeel, a doctor, is being held by the police in U.K., while their cousin, also a doctor, has been arrested in Australia. More doctors and friends of the three reportedly in touch on cell phones are being questioned.

According to reports, at least two potential contracts involving a hotel and a defense firm from Britain have been put on hold following the failed June 29-30 attacks. The value is in the range of $10 million.

Given the incidents of data theft at BPOs involving Indians in the past, one line of reasoning is that such illegal activities could be a front for collection of terror funds.

The access that technology and communication links, the basis of BPO functioning, provide to international client information that can range from train and air timings to complicated software codes has also raised questions. Many international airlines have their call centers in India.

India’s IT industry is playing down the impact on business. According to S. Gopalakrishnan, CEO of software giant Infosys: “Our clients are not disturbed. Terrorism is a global phenomenon. We have taken measures to safeguard our employees, clients and business.”

A spokesperson of Mindtree Consulting has been quoted: “A single instance of terror suspects from here will not damage the reputation of Bangalore as an IT destination.”

However, it remains to be seen how the latest events will impact election campaigning in the U.S. During the previous U.S. presidential campaign in 2004, Democratic candidate John Kerry launched a vicious attack on outsourcing, the impact of which is still being felt in the form of reduced high-skilled H1-B visas.

Conscious of a repeat this time Indian Americans are backing candidate Hillary Clinton who is known for her pro-outsourcing views, but even she has gone on record, saying that she is concerned by outsourcing.

Recently, she addressed via live video an alumni meet of the vaunted Indian Institutes of Technology, and reiterated her call for more H-1B visas.

There was some speculation in the media that Hillary may not go ahead with the address following the failed terror plot in England.

However, it is apparent that immigration laws, employment norm and new resident rules for Indians will be tightened across Europe, America and Australia. The already bothersome airport security checks are only likely to be strengthened further.

In what has become a worldwide phenomenon now, terror cells seek out tech savvy and technically qualified professionals to carry out operations in a more scientific way, using codes and messages that cannot be easily deciphered.

The Internet is one widely used medium, which also helps to form radical online groups that can regularly hold discussions and enabling virtual indoctrination.

Technical expertise has become even more necessary for these terrorist groups ever since security forces, including in India, have installed e-mail and other tracking devices to seek out suspicious material.

In such a situation, India can be a good catchment area. It is estimated that India’s export-oriented software, technology and outsourcing revenues should hit the $50 billion mark by March 2008, employing nearly 10 million professionals by 2010.

There is no doubt now that Indian Muslim youth can be particularly vulnerable.

The U.K. attacks are the first in which Indians have been involved in an international terror incident since the blowing up of an Air-India flight from Canada more than two decades back

So far security agencies in India have emphasized that money and not ideology has been the driving factor in the involvement of local elements in terror attacks in India, which made Indian Muslims less vulnerable to pan-Islamic fundamentalism and influence by al-Qaeda terror cells.

The police have not ruled out involvement of Hindus in the last leg of attacks in the country.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had famously informed U.S. President George W. Bush that no Indian Muslims were involved with the al-Qaeda. That statement underlined the improving relations between the two countries and also highlighted India’s success as a democracy and a growing economy that provided equal opportunities. Kafeel’s attack casts some shadow on that claim, but if this turns out to be an isolated incident then India can well argue that overall the Indian prime minister has a point.

On the other hand, terror attacks in India have been planned abroad, especially Pakistan and Middle East, and India has often been a victim.

Indeed, Manmohan had every reason to showcase his countrymen. Indians abroad have acquitted themselves well globally. The $25 billion sent home annually is one of the drivers of the high growing Indian economy, including real estate.

The U.S. Census Bureau has pegged the Indian American median family annual income in 2005 at $74,000, almost 60 percent higher than the national average. Indian Americans have the highest percentage of people in management, professional and related services.

But economic success is not a panacea in today’s troubled world, and the failed attempts in U.K. raises new questions about the notion that terrorism thrives only amid economic doldrums. Plans for the strikes seem to have been drawn up at India’s information technology hub Bangalore, home to over 1,500 technology companies and 500,000 employees. The attacker’s family is based in the city.

The perpetrators are global Indians exposed to international education, good lifestyles and successful icons to many.

So simplistic formulae will not suffice to deter future attacks. The answer is likely to be as complicated as the causes that have led to terrorism: In addition to more effective policing and better global communication between security agencies, some attempt also has to be made to address the deeper socio-political grievances on which terror movements feed, but that’s a task more easily said than done.


Practical Spirituality
: BAPS in Milpitas
BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is a worldwide organization dedicated to the spirituality of the individual while promoting harmony. Its new temple and cultural complex will open in Milpitas, Calif., in September, writes Ajay Patel.

(Above): BAPS spiritual leader Pramukh Swami Maharaj. (Left, top): BAPS youth during a music practice session. (Left, bottom): Art and decoration preparations go on at a frenzied pace as the festivities to celebrate the opening of the BAPS center in Milpitas, Calif., nears.

This summer the Bay Area will be witness to over five days of festivities Sept. 3-9 to mark the inauguration of the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple and Cultural Complex in Milpitas. The highlight of the festival will be the Murti Pratishtha or the idol installation ceremony performed by BAPS spiritual leader Pramukh Swami Maharaj Sept. 8 .

The new BAPS Swaminarayan Temple and Cultural Complex will include an auditorium with a large stage that will be used to hold weekly assemblies. These will be an ideal opportunity for individuals and families to come together every week, make new friends from other members of the community and build on current bonds.

The assemblies touch on subjects like spirituality, our cultural roots and family values. They also consist of life transforming and life enhancing discourses affirming the truism: “The family that eats together, prays together, stays together.”

BAPS has a rich heritage of celebrating Hindu festivals and the auditorium will also be used to celebrate cultural programs like Diwali, Ramnavmi, Janmasthmi, Shivratri and Hari Jayanti. These will be done through inspirational discourses and speeches, multimedia presentations, devotional music and skits that blend drama and comedy.

BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, established in India, in 1907, is a worldwide organization dedicated to the spirituality of the individual while promoting harmony. With over 3,300 centers worldwide and over 55,000 volunteers, it helps to carry out a host of spiritual, cultural and social services activities.

Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, the BAPS centers and its volunteers reach out far and wide to address the spiritual, moral and social challenges and issues we face in our world. BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. This is done by mass motivation and individual attention, through elevating projects for all. Its universal work has received many national and international awards and affiliation with the United Nations.

The Milpitas chapter of BAPS was established in 1991, with blessings from the current spiritual leader of BAPS, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who is currently touring the U.S., and will arrive in the Bay Area Sept. 3. Over the course of 17 years, the center has flourished and become a hive of activity.

“In the good of others lies our own,” says Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who has personally counseled and comforted over 610,000 people. He has also delivered over 20,000 discourses on subjects that touch many people in some facet of their lives. He travels from village to village, continent to continent, inspiring people of all ages to center their lives on moral values and sound judgment. He emphasizes the importance of family harmony, community service and spiritual progress amongst others.

A core philosophy in BAPS is that children and youth are the future. BAPS youth activities focus on the relevance of connecting spirituality in their daily lives with emphasis on teamwork, character building and leadership activities.

With 19 classrooms, the new BAPS complex will have more opportunities to expand on its current range of children and youth activities, which include classes in music, language, art and cooking. These activities span a wide range of learning levels and ages with children as young as 5 years, to young college adults benefiting from them.

Through the years, those children growing up with BAPS grow up to become young adult mentors and teachers of the newer generation. They work with other parent volunteers to ensure that children thrive culturally, spiritually and socially in an atmosphere that is both friendly and conducive to learning.

Beyond the spiritual and cultural needs of the youth, BAPS also hosts Education and Career Days where industry professionals and college students provide guidance and advice on issues such as the college application process, career selection, tips for success in high school and financial aid options. These forums have proven to be very useful for both students and parents alike.

BAPS youth activities also involve physical development. For this, the new BAPS complex will also house a high school-sized gymnasium where various activities such as basketball, indoor soccer and sporting tournaments can take place for children of all ages.

Being a socio-spiritual organization, BAPS has a strong spirit of volunteerism. Its centers around the world, including the one in Milpitas, carry out a host of community based social activities. Everyone regardless of age contributes. By devoting their time for the good of others there is a sense of giving back to their community.

With the time and dedication of volunteers who are doctors, college students, young professionals and parents, activities such as Health Fairs, Blood Donation Drives, Walkathons, Food Drives, Bone Marrow Drives and Parent Awareness Forums, have been made possible. There is also going to be a blood drive during the festival

The BAPS Complex will also house a dedicated temple with the hand-carved idols of Sita Ram, Radha Krishna, Shiva Parvati, Akshar Purushottam and the BAPS succession of gurus. The murtis will be housed in an intricately carved Sinhasan, a decorative bounding made from wood.

The temple will offer moments for a quite personal prayer, meditation and murti darshan in a peaceful and tranquil environment.

There will be a walk-in book stall. The books are supplied by the publishing arm of BAPS called Aksharpith. They supply books in Hindi, English, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil and Gujarati. The books are on culture and spirituality and include topics such as Hindu rites and rituals, pathways to peace, social and spiritual care.

In addition there will be library that will stock various books and magazines published by Aksharpith such as Bal Prakash. Bal Prakash is a magazine for children and consists of puzzles, children’s stories and basic spirituality.

For the high school youth and older there is the magazine Bliss, which covers topics on culture and spirituality, but also includes subjects on self improvement such as discipline, anger management, focusing and executing on tasks, time management. It also has features on some of the relief activity that BAPS carries out.

Preparations are now in full swing for the temple inauguration celebrations. The youth wing of BAPS has now been practicing for weeks on various dances and skits they will be performing during the event. Stage decorations are being made ready which will feature a kaleidoscope of colors and intricate designs. Food planning and preparation is underway to ensure that all visitors are served with mahaprasad for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj will preside over the inauguration of the new BAPS Temple and Cultural Complex. The festivities will be free and will kick off Sept. 4 ,and during the course of five days will include an exhibition on Hinduism, devotional musical performances, dances and skits by the children and youth of BAPS. There will also be a grand ritual of the Vishwashanti Mahayagna, or prayers for world peace.

This year marks the centenary of the BAPS, and festivities will also look at the history and accomplishments of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha during its first 100 years that will also focus on the global charitable activities of the organization. Over the years, BAPS has assisted hundreds of thousands of victims of natural and man-made disasters around the world, including floods, earthquakes, and famine. Food, shelter, and economic aid have all been dispensed to the needy.


Global Warming: Five Steps to Fight it
Making a few smart choices at home can save kilowatts and keep pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air. A Siliconeer report.
Of all the pollution in the United States that contributes to global warming, one-fifth comes from the energy we consume at home. Making a few choices at home can save kilowatts and keep pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air. And what you do sets an example for your family and friends. Here are five ways you can reduce America’s carbon footprint.

1. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. Thirty-seven percent of the electricity used in most California homes is from lighting. Not only do CFL bulbs last about 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, they save an incredible amount of energy. If all of California’s 12 million households changed five incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, we could save 6.18 billion kilowatt-hours and keep 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the air — that’s the equivalent of taking more than 400,000 cars off the road.

2. Turn the thermostat up in summer, down in winter. The average household produces about four tons of heat-trapping pollution every year. It sounds small, but by setting the thermostat two degrees higher in summer and two degrees lower in winter, you could keep 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air every year.

3. Unplug it. Even when turned off, your television, DVD player, coffee maker, phone charger and other electronics are sucking energy with those tiny red, green and yellow “vampire lights.” Taken together, they can use as much power as your refrigerator. If half of all California households (about six million) unplugged just five electronic devices, we could save over 900 million kilowatt-hours and keep 330,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the air every year. Make it easy by plugging electronics into a power strip so you can switch them all off at once.

4. Turn off your computer. Shut down your computer when not in use, rather than putting it in sleep mode. If you can’t turn off the whole computer, turn off the monitor and printers. If half of California households simply turned off a home computer when it’s not in use, we could save more than 120 million kilowatt-hours and 45,000 tons of carbon dioxide. And tell your coworkers!

5. Use less hot water. Heating water requires a lot of energy. Install a low-flow showerhead and wash clothes in warm or cold water. When you’re buying a new clothes washer or another appliance, look for the Energy Start label to choose the most energy-saving model. And imagine this: if all California households with 10-year-old clothes washers (about 1.8 million) upgrade to Energy Star qualified models, that’s the equivalent of taking about 30,000 cars and their polluting emissions off the road.

Facts and figures found at, and This column was sponsored by Flex Your Power and produced by New America Media for its ethnic media partners.


Let’s Talk About Sex: Raising Kids in the U.S.
When it comes to sex, keeping the communication lines open better prepares children to make good decisions writes Gonzalo Garreton, M.D.

As an obstetrician and gynecologist, my three daughters have been around health and sexuality since they were little. They’re now grown and in college, but I still get calls from them asking for advice on behalf of their friends. What I’ve learned as a parent and as a doctor is that keeping the communication lines open better prepares children to make good decisions.

Many parents, especially first generation immigrants, who may have considered sex a very private subject, are overwhelmed by its openness in the U.S. media. But we must face the reality that our children are going to school, watching TV and becoming adults among all of the influences of U.S. culture.

In my gynecological practice, I’ve seen many patients whose first lesson in sexual responsibility has come from the experience of contracting an STD or getting pregnant at a young age. Wouldn’t it be better if their first lesson came from their parents?

So how do you prepare for this? Start with informing yourself. Talk with your child’s health care provider about what you need to know and how to talk about these touchy issues. School nurses are not only a great resource for students, but for parents as well. Ask the school nurse what issues they’re seeing kids dealing with and how they recommend parents bring up these issues at home.

Use the media as an opportunity to talk with your kids about sex. If a TV plot starts with a sexual topic, use that moment to start a conversation about the responsibilities that come with sex — pregnancy and protection against STDs — and stay away from personal questions.

Stick to neutral ground when starting the conversation. Ask what your child hears about sex at school and through friends. Talk with them about the experiences of their peers. That could be hearing about someone getting pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Ask what their friends think about it and whether your child agrees with them.

At the doctor’s office, let your child fill out forms in private so that if he or she wants to ask the doctor about sensitive issues, all she has to do is check a box on the form. Allow your child to be alone with his or her pediatrician so your child can talk freely with the doctor about concerns that might be hard to talk about around you. It’s often easier to talk to adolescents about sexuality as a pediatrician than it is as a mother or father.

As a parent, I know how much you want to protect your child from getting old too fast. All I can say is start the conversation and keep it going.


India, Pakistan Independence Day Special
REMEMBRANCE: Eternal Gandhi Exhibit
TRAVELOGUE: A Pakistani American Visits
Memories in India

Eternal Gandhi: Multimedia Exhibit
His patriotism and all-encompassing humanism made Mahatma Gandhi widely revered all over the world. But how much do India’s youth know about the life, struggle and values of Bapu? With the hope of rekindling in today’s generation the regard previous generations have felt for India’s apostle of peace, the House of Birla has opened a widely acclaimed multimedia exhibit on India’s beloved leader. Now the museum founders want to bring it to the U.S., writes Bharat Parekh.

(Clockwise from top): In this installation, visitors choose a doll representing a world leader and playback quotes by that leader on the contribution of Gandhi; in this installation, visitors can explore stories of Gandhi composed by children by peeping into a kaleidoscope; the e-prison installation enables a visitor to recall the scenes of Gandhi’s life in prison through three interactive prison rods; and one of the stambhas of an exhibit, representing each of the eleven vows for satyagraha.

Mahatma Gandhi, our beloved bapu, left us in 1948, but over half a century after his death his message remains as relevant as it was in the height of India’s freedom struggle. Recently in the U.S. Senate, when a Hindu prayer was offered for the first time July 12, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of Gandhiji: “Here is a man who changed the world, a man who believed in peace. . . . If there was ever a time, with this international war on terror that we are fighting now, where people have to understand how important peace is, think of Gandhi, a man who gave his life for peace, a tiny little man in physical stature but a giant in morality.

“Gandhi is the man that Martin Luther King, Jr., followed. His nonviolence was all based on the teachings of Gandhi. As a result of Gandhi, we had the civil rights movement.”

From Martin Luther King, Jr., in the U.S. to anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Gandhi’s message of nonviolence and peace has drawn the respect and admiration of the entire world.

In today’s turbulent world torn apart by sectarian, violent strife, Gandhi’s message needs to be reiterated anew.

Yet a sad fact remains that even in Gandhiji’s homeland, India, today’s younger generation, without firsthand knowledge and exposure to Gandhiji’s commitment to truth and nonviolence, remains largely unaware of his life, work and his powerful, vital message.

How can this be rectified? Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla Group worriedly wondered and his mother and director of the group, Rajashree Birla, rightly expected the answer from old and trusted yours truly, i.e. Bharat Parekh. Times change; what worked yesterday will not work today. Pious sermons and well-intentioned books will not work for today’s younger generation. This is a generation hooked on multimedia, Internet and all sorts of technical wizardry.

This is why the Aditya Birla group decided to present Gandhiji’s eternal message in state-of-the-are multimedia format.

Inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in April 2005, the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum or the Shasvat Gandhi in Hindi, is one of the world’s first digital multimedia museums. Located at the site where Mahatma Gandhi attained martyrdom, it not only preserves the historical events of Gandhiji’s life but presents a spectrum of information technology visions inspired by Gandhian thought.

The project revives the values by which India obtained freedom; it also redefines those values in order to animate modern products and design.

The project presents a language of physical interface actions derived from the classical symbols of the spinning wheel, turning of the prayer wheels, touching symbolic pillars, the act of hands touching sacred objects, collaboratively constructed quilts, sacred chanting in the collective group, the satsanga and the touching and rotating of prayer beads. All these beautifully and creatively executed in the language of today —multimedia.

These tradition-based interactions inspire a rich panorama of tactile interfaces that allow people to access the multimedia imagery and multidimensional mind of Gandhiji.

The response in Delhi was so stupendous that one can’t believe it. Over a million people in India have seen the exhibition.

Now we want to take the exhibit further, let it go places and let people see and know the teachings and values of Gandhi.

Let his belief in nonviolence get thoroughly known to the maximum number of people in today’s world of so much violence. Let our children get to know of his life, his values, his beliefs and what he lived and died for.

We are sure people in the U.S. want to know more about Gandhiji. We want to bring Gandhi’s ideas to public attention to the West. We may host it at UN headquarters in New York.

The Aditya Birla Group has no commercial interest besides wanting Gandhi closer to the hearts of this generation and generations to come in the West. We just want to create a sense of belonging to Gandhi and his ideals.

We shall offer the whole museum for exhibiting without any fees and we are looking for some major corporation or foundation to locally host this exhibition at a couple of major places in the U.S.

Do you wish to help? Feel free to share any idea with us on how to make this happen. For the man to whom India owes its freedom, the least we can do is to make sure his message endures.

Feel free to send me an e-mail to: or


India, Pakistan Independence Day Special
REMEMBRANCE: Eternal Gandhi Exhibit
TRAVELOGUE: A Pakistani American Visits
Memories in India

Walk Down Memory Lane: A Pakistani American in India

Today, as the 60th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan approaches, Ras Hafiz Siddiqui wishes many more Indians and Pakistanis will get the opportunity to go to each other’s countries and revisit their fading ancestral memories and connections.

The call came a few months earlier. Cousin N was going to be married in late November and the wedding was going to be in Aligarh. The year was 2004 and as one who had not visited the region for over 15 years, and had been contemplating taking the plunge back into memory lane, this seemed like a great opportunity. The stars that make up life, career and family appeared to be somewhat aligned. Along with that, several troublesome identity questions had also begun to appear, like those faced by many an immigrant who comes close to the age of 50. International events certainly added to this quest. And last but not least my mother was very happy about the prospect of my going with her. So the forms were downloaded from the Indian Embassy Web site, and it was time to test the waters.

Now is a good time to elaborate since the preceding introductory paragraph about this trip will elicit nothing more than a shrug from any Indian reader. So what? What I have failed to mention was that I had lived in the United States for over 30 years then, and as a person from Pakistan, who had not visited India in over 40 years, the visit would be an attempt to revisit many childhood memories. This was my late midlife “Roots Tour” as one friend so accurately put it. It had been so long since I had been in India that the prospect of going there now even seemed scary. Cousin N was not even born when I visited our ancestral town there last. Many immediate relatives of my parent’s generation were no longer with us, and my mother was my last connection to the remainder.

Since my father had passed away long ago, the thought of visiting one of his most cherished places on earth made my decision a little easier. All my life with him in Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh, I had interacted with people who were often called “partner.” Their sense of identity was tied to one unique place in India called Aligarh Muslim University.

But as is often the case, there was more to it than that. The Partition of India in 1947 was not only a political event. It was a division of culture, family and memories as well. A question can be asked: Can memories really ever be divided? Or are they really only to be passed on? In either case the answers may appear to be simple, but they are not, as I was about to find out.

The plane landed in Delhi from Taipei in the darkness as it was around 4:00 a.m. By 5:30 in the morning I was in Okhla, a Delhi outgrowth which includes my uncle “S” amongst its founders. As I walked out of the house of my hosts (after contemplating long on how to use an Indian toilet) the sheer shock of being in another world hit my senses. It was both strangely alien and familiar. The narrow streets, the closely built houses and most of all the architecture and window designs were something that I had seen before. For someone who had grown up near the Delhi Colony or the area around Riaz Masjid in Karachi, Okhla was a certainly a reminder of where some of my neighbors had come from. The connection was there even for Karachi’s Nazimabad area. Strange as it may seem, as I carefully looked around for an Internet Café to email my wife in California, Okhla appeared to be a reminder of where I grew up. And there was more.

From the very beginning of my various encounters with numerous relatives, I got the distinct impression of how much they cared, and that made me almost feel guilty. In Delhi it seemed that my mother had immediately found a caring comfort zone within all of these people who were complete strangers for me. But the love and respect they showed towards her (their apa/phuppo/chachi) moved me greatly. We all live in relative comfort here in America, but the affection, charm and cultural richness that I found amidst these new surroundings was something truly wonderful to experience. The fact that people there try and feed you ten meals a day can become trying (and here let me leave the subject of the Indian toilet because sooner or later you are bound to use one).

I got a chance to rest for a while and let “Dilli” take over my senses. This was no longer my country (Pakistanis are a separate line item for the government here and if you have ever been one you cannot own property in India even though you are an American now) but if this was not home, the sights, the sounds and even the aromas were very familiar.

Our caravan took off for Aligarh for the wedding festivities and I was with several people who were still strangers who called me either by my old nickname (almost everyone there had one here) or bhai (brother). They must have been puzzled by my blank reaction to all of this and things got even more surprising for them as the journey got under way. We passed through NOIDA which is certainly a picture of the new and future India, leaving me quite impressed.

But what I loved more was the journey beyond. On the way to Aligarh the countryside was both colorful and beautiful. And my only request along the way (because I already carried Chota Bisleri bottled water) was for amrood (guavas), sold on carts on the roadside. The other high point of the trip was a two-rupee roti I had with my chai at a small eatery in Bulandshahr. Now my relatives were either really appreciative or amazed, I do not know which, yet some of them certainly must have been thinking that I was a bit eccentric. But that was one of the best tasting rotis and tea that I had had in a long time. It almost made up for my fear of the traffic on the road and the thought that I would not make it to our destination alive.

It was dark by the time we arrived in Aligarh as I tried to absorb the fact that we had just passed the walls and one of the gates of the AMU campus. Within a few more minutes, in Doodhpur when I viewed for the first time the distantly familiar faces of my cousins, whom I had never seen before that day; it was indeed a moving sight. Cousin N was getting ready for her wedding as everyone present at the festive house looked at me with equal wonderment. That was the day that I discovered that memories cannot be divided. It also brought me back to AMU.

It was the early 1940s. A group of young men had just made history by being amongst the first few engineers to graduate from Aligarh Muslim University, a real feather in the cap of not only their families but the institution that a visionary named Sir Syed Ahmad Khan founded. This feat gave them an opportunity to acquire much needed technical skills. One from this group was near and dear to me. He was my late father. And now, over 60 years later, in November and December 2004, my mother and I visited his cherished AMU ourselves for the first time in search of his long faded footsteps. It also brought back many memories.

Sir Syed stressed the need for a “modern English education” because people could not survive on grand memories and the Urdu language alone. Urdu poetry is beautiful and its verses will continue to reflect the spirit of our people and express the sentiments of a unique culture. But even poets need to earn a living and have to acquire other marketable skills. Our family feels to this day feels that it was Aligarh that made the difference for us and that whatever we can do to appreciate the impact of AMU and Sir Syed’s vision in our lives (through my father) is not enough.

We tapped on the resources of many memories to try and locate where my father lived while he was in Aligarh. Memories become weak over the years but the final verdict was that it was at Mumtaz House at AMU. And it was to Mumtaz House towards which we walked. I just regret that we did not know which room he lived in there or else we would have knocked on that door too. My father loved this place. It was a part of him and he carried AMU with him wherever he went. The liberal modernist streak in religion in my father was of Aligarh origin. And for that one educator who founded this campus was responsible.

My mother and I walked slowly through the AMU campus. We started off at Strachey Hall and went on to the main university mosque. In its main compound we were directed to the area where Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his grandson Sir Ross Masood are buried along with other dignitaries. Under the grass topped grave before us were the remains of a great man. He was neither a politician nor a military figure. He conquered minds instead of land and reached into the heart and soul of a dejected community to offer it hope. He offered his people the wealth of education and for that millions today are grateful. And as we stood in front of his grave, the idea was not far from my mind as to where we would be today without his immense contribution to our lives?

I finally visited my ancestral town in Uttar Pradesh and father’s house (thankfully still standing) a week later and slept in the same spot that Jawaharlal Nehru once sat (my grand-uncle was a leading Congress Party leader). Cousin T now lives in a part of that house with her family. Her hospitality was truly amazing. Another plus was the visit to my grandfather’s mango orchards (too bad that I was there in winter).

Due to length constraints (I could go on and on) let me conclude here by mentioning that when this middle aged Pakistani-American walked down a road in India named after his great grandfather, several thoughts came to mind. Today as the 60th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan approaches, I wish that many more Indians and Pakistanis will get the opportunity to go to each other’s countries and revisit their fading ancestral memories and connections. And most of all, our collective wish should be for a lasting peace between the two homelands, so that they do not spend the next 60 years foolishly.


Barcelona and Beyond: Mediterranean Magic
Barcelona is an open air museum of Antoni Gaudi’s brilliant and bizarre architecture. He designed apartments, community buildings and interiors, writes Al Auger.

(Above): The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, simply called the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, is one of the most famous architectural creations of Antoni Gaudi. Believe it or not, the still on-going construction began back in 1882. The next year, at the age of 31, Gaudi took over as lead architect.

If When you first enter Barcelona your eyes do a double-take at the mélange of dark factories spewing forth toxic emissions by the ton. “This is Barcelona?” you ask yourself. Stay strong of heart for just a few miles ahead lies the true Barcelona, a city like no other. Deciding against camping we found ourselves a pension near the Plaza Catalunya and Los Ramblas.

The Barcelona from an earlier visit had changed visibly. Most of the changes were a result of the 1992 Olympics held there. But it is still the vibrant, history-loaded city it has always been. There is so much to see it is impossible to see them all in just a few days. The center of our attraction was the numerous buildings and parks designed by the master Gaudi.

Barcelona reminds me of San Francisco, sitting on the edge of the Mediterranean and a great city for walking. As we strolled down Les Rambles it was absolute evidence Barcelona is the most literate city in all of Spain. Although it is one long street, it is actually a series of five ramblas. Book and magazine kiosks lined both side of the cobbled street. Added color came from exotic birds for sale. The street lights themselves were works of art wrapped in delicate filigreed wrought iron, just another lovely touch of a lovely street.

What a lot of visitors to Barcelona don’t know is just behind the kiosks on the right side is a large open air marketplace. Here you can buy anything from fresh meat or fish to fruits and vegetables. But flowers are the stars of the all-day show; so much so it is called Rambla de les Flors. On weekends there is free entertainment from local bands, gymnasts, singers, etc. Les Rambles is a showplace all its own, the hustle and bustle of the people, kiosk owners hawking their wares, the musical mixture of bird songs.

It all begins at the Placa de Catalunya which is also a major underground station. The Catalunya Square is surrounded by bistros and bars with outside tables where one can sit and enjoy the people as they swarm over the square crowd into the Ramblas. The Spanish are proud people, gracious and generous. Don’t be offended at their chuckles as you try your best English-Spanish book Spanish. They will gently correct you and slowly give you the directions you sought.

Barcelona is, in its own way, an open air museum of Antoni Gaudi’s brilliant and bizarre architecture. He designed apartments, community buildings, interiors such as the mythical figurines that circle the interior of the Gran Teatre dei Liceu.

Most famous, of course, is Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, simply called the Sagrada Familia or the Holy Family. Believe it or not, the still on-going construction began back in 1882 designed by Francisco de Paula del Villar. The next year, at the age of 31, Gaudi took over as lead architect.

If Paula del Villar could see his building today, he wouldn’t recognize it. Gaudi added his own creative sense of form based on his own idea of dimensions for such a grand edifice. Unfortunately Gaudi died in 1926 leaving few plans and lack of funds and the civil war brought the construction to a virtual stop. So, here we are, some one hundred and twenty-five years later and the building continues — with a bit more exuberance and pace.

Today you can take a lift and after a long walk end up in one of the completed towers. When we were there no such accommodation existed, but with the foreman’s permission we climbed the skeletal framework to the very top. Here we were surrounded by not only a world’s miracle of architectural wonder, but the creative and singular sculpture of Gaudi. Beyond all this is the greatest overview of Barcelona. The master’s crypt is located in the Sagrada Familia.

(Right): Fruit stalls like this add color to open markets in Barcelona.

But, the touch of Gaudi’s genius can be found everywhere in Barcelona. He designed apartment houses, commercial buildings and his most ambitious creation, Parc Guell. In 1900, a well known and successful businessman from Catalan, Eusebi Guell commissioned Gaudi to develop what he conceived to be residential garden village and business park. By 1914 the development proved to be a failure and the city acquired the property and turned it into a park.

Gaudi loved working with tile and the entry staircase will stop you instantly in your tracks as you absorb the bright reflections of the sun on the thousands of tiles meticulously framing the grandeur of the staircase. Above is the famous serpentine bench, designed by Gaudi’s secondary architect, Josep M. Jujo. Following Gaudi’s staircase design, the curving bench is considered the largest bench in the world.

Older people sit on the serpentine bench while young men strum their guitars and smile at the lovely senoritas passing by. The park sits high above Barcelona and your view reaches as far as the Mediterranean. Barcelona is spread below you like a carpet of the old and the new. The 1992 Spanish Olympics has changed the port area of Barcelona for eternity, but the romance that embellishes this fabled city will never disappear. It is everywhere; in the air, palpable in the beauty of the plazas, such as the Placa de Catalunya and its rich history.

One of the only two houses built in the Parc Guell for its original use is the Casa Meseu Gaudi. Here you will find much of Gaudi’s work such as furniture and drawings. UNESCO has declared a world heritage. But, be forewarned, you will want to return again, if only to sit on the bench while young men play sentimental songs on their guitar and look over the Mediterranean and dream of further adventures.

Before the civil war and Franco became the power, Barcelona was the center of Spain’s major industries. Even after Franco moved most of the factories to Madrid, Barcelona remains a center of sophistication. Franco banned the speaking and teaching of the Catalan language which continued on in secret. There is now one of the great museums centered around the heritage of Catalunya.

(Above): Museu D’art De Catalunya (the Catalonia Museum of Art)

The museum began a series of embarrassing moments for me. I had bought a black beret worn just about by everyone and, all of a sudden, people would come up to me and speak to me in Spanish or Catalan. And this mojo followed clear across Spain, particularly in the Basque region. I began to take a closer look at the people, and being French-Basque, I could see the resemblance: big nose, short legs and wide frame. It added a touch of intimacy that is usually lacking as a tourist.

We both agreed Spain was our very special place and Barcelona the crown jewel. This was just the first cross-country trip of three we took, each time taking a different route and discovering the diversity of this wonderful nation. Even though the names were the same, each region made its own version of paella, zarzuela, tapas. Their children were a delight and the old people full of verve and energy and questions about America.


Jai Mata Di: Mata Ka Jagraata
About a thousand people assembled at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple recently to listen to devotional songs performed by Narinder Chanchal. A photo essay by Som Sharma.

(Clockwise from top left): A performer dressed as Shiva; visiting Indian performer Narinder Chanchal presents devotional songs; a young performer dressed as Krishna; and a devotee waves the Indian tri-color as Chanchal (l) sings.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Happy Birthday, Dr. Karim Hussain! | Siliconeer’s Fourth of July Picnic | AMUAA Annual Picnic | Asian Show | Teen India | Desai Medical Center | IAAC Film Fest

Happy Birthday, Dr. Karim Hussain!

Dr. Karim Hussain, president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, about to cut the birthday cake.

Friends and family gathered at a warm, informal dinner party July 8 at a Santa Clara, Calif., restaurant to felicitate Dr. Karim Hussain, MD, a veteran Fremont, Calif.-based physician who specializes in internal medicine and cardiology.

Hussain is also the incoming president of the American Association of Physicians if Indian Origin, and the party was hosted both to celebrate his birthday as well as to felicitate him for being elected AAPIO president.

In brief remarks, Hussain urged the doctors at the gathering to support AAPIO.

“As we are about to celebrate AAPIO’s 25th anniversary this coming year, we are proud to announce that our membership strength has reached close to 1,000,” he said. “Our theme of the year is going to be ‘Ask not what AAPIO can do for you; but ask what you can do for AAPIO.”

He encouraged all AAPIO members for continued participation and support, and to contribute the best way they can to the organization to make AAPIO  even more strong and successful.

Along with friends and family, several prominent Indian Americans attended the event including California Medical Association president Dr. Anmol Mahal, MD, and noted hi-tech entrepreneurs Kamil and Talat Hasan. Many of his friends roasted him amid much laughter, which Dr. Hussain accepted with a warm smile and good grace.

Siliconeer’s Fourth of July Picnic

Dr. Firdos Sheikh frying pakoras at Siliconeer’s Fourth of July picnic in Elk Grove, Calif. Also seen is her sister, Arshia Farzana (l).

About 50 people from the South Asian community in Sacramento, Calif., braved the scorching heat, well into three digits, and joined the mainstream community at Elk Grove Park in Elk Grove, Calif. July 4 for the first ever South Asian community picnic in this area to celebrate America’s Independence Day.

Hosted by Siliconeer with support from members of the Indus Valley American Chamber of Commerce, the event offered participants a socially stimulating way to mark the day.

As attendees mingled and socialized, organizers also hosted popular parlor games like antakshari and musical chairs. The event also included a pot luck meal, and various participants brought different items, which added up to a delicious, diverse picnic meal.

Dr. Firdos Sheikh, MD went one better and served participants with piping hot pakoras made right there — just like at home.

The park itself was filled to capacity with kids and adults running marathons. Other festivities included open-air concerts and traditional fireworks.

AMUAA Annual Picnic

Kids having fun at the annual picnic hosted by the Aligarh alumni association of northern California.

The Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California organized their annual summer picnic in the open greens of Lake Elizabeth Park in Fremont, Calif.,  June 24, according to a press release from AMUAA – Northern Calf. In addition to having an afternoon of fun and sports on a nice summer day with fellow alumni and friends, the chapter has decided  to publicize the association’s upcoming events .The chapter also had a general body meeting and annual elections.

By 1:00 p.m., the park’s chosen spot was brimming with attendees. As the adults chatted or played cricket, children had the most fun running around with delighted abandon.

With the annual elections for new office bearers and board of trustees, the following individuals were elected, Nihal Khan. President;  Aftab M. Umar, secretary; Suhail Farrukh, treasurer; Tariq Anwar,  Aftab Iqbal  and Amtul Suhail, all members of the board of trustees.

Finally, kids took the shots at the Piñata and were showered, literally, with candies.

The picnic served a good purpose for the association by providing a means for a largely open-ended get-together. At this annual AMUUAA ritual, you can catch up with other Aligs, their families, and many more non AMU alumni friends and have some fun playing your favorite game of cricket, Antakshari, or just recap your favorite anecdotes, jokes or whatever pleases your fancy.

AMU Alumni Association would like to extend their invitation to every one to join  Sir Syed Day celebrations and Mushaira in Bay Area  Nov. 15 a success.

Interested readers can contact the association by calling (650) 212-2544 or sending an e mail at

— Shaheer Khan


Asian Show

New York Assemblywoman Ellen Young being presented flowers by AAC official Fred Fu. Also seen (l-r) AAC officials Sam Chang,  Sridhar Shanmugam, and Dr. Parveen Chopra.

The second Conglomeration of Asian Cultures Show of 2007, held in New York at the Hindu Temple/Community Center auditorium presented a four-hour-long cultural extravaganza and was attended by over a thousand people, according to a press release from the Asian American Coalition, which hosted the show.

The founder president of AAC is Indian American community activist Dr. Parveen Chopra. The AAC  membership includes people from from 14 Asian countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan.

The cultural show reflected that diversity. It included a 50-member chorus group from Taiwan, Indonesian harvest dancers, and performers from Nepal, Korea, Burma, the Philippines and China s well as the South Asian nations of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The highlight of the Indian segment was the presentation of  “Vande Matram,” based on Bollywood composer singer A.R. Rahman’s song and choreographed by professional dancer Sridhar Shanmugam which focused on India’s role  as a cradle of  many cultures and religions.

“The Asian community in America has a relentless desire to succeed and nurtures their dreams with hard work, family values and obsession to see that their next generation follows their values and culture,” said AAC president Chopra.  “This has put the Asian Americans in the forefront in America for achievements in education, profession, business and economic and social success.”

Teen India

Deeva Shah (Pic: Sanjay Patel)

Deeva Shah, a senior at Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, Va., was recently named Miss Teen India Galaxy 2007, according to a press release from Vijay Shah, her father. In July, Deeva will be going to Orlando, Fla., to compete for the international title of Miss Teen Galaxy. Her sponsors are her parents and Spirit of India, run by Jin Models in Oakland, Calif.

Deeva is a part of the international baccalaureate program which she says has “helped me become more aware of world around me and taught me that I can make a difference.” She is also an active member of the debate team, the mock trial team, and the state championship forensics team.  Her other major area of interest lies in the two language classes she takes, Spanish and Latin. She is the vice president of the Virginia Junior Classical League and the president of the PAHS Latin Club.

This June, as a delegate from Princess Anne High to the girl’s state program at Longwood University, Deeva met many of the leaders of Virginia and the nation and become interested in the role women play in government. She hopes to go to college and major in political science and then go on to become a lawyer. “I hope that competing in the Miss Teen Galaxy pageant will give me a chance to get my ideas out in the world,” she says. “Becoming Miss Teen India has already been a dream come true for me and I am glad to be a role model for all the Indian women.”

Desai Medical Center

Kartik J. Desai, MD

Desai Medical Center, a new state-of-the-art primary care internal medicine practice facility in Elliott City, Md., celebrated its opening July 20 unveiling a paperless office equipped with the latest technologies available, according to a press release from Dr. Kartik Desai, MD.

The office  uses electronic medical records, digital X-Ray, EKG , and spirometery to enhance and expedite patient care. Patients can benefit from the use of ePrescriptions, a service that sends prescriptions to the pharmacy digitally. This means patients no longer have to worry about waiting in line for their prescriptions to be filled. It also limits error and expedites the process. E-lab is another feature of the facility where lab request and lab result fly through the electronic system in secured web environment for expeditious patient management.

The Desai Medical Center hosts a Web site at . It lets patients make an appointment, get a referral, prescription, ask a nurse or doctor, fill out their medical history, among various other features, in the comfort of their home or office, no need to wait in the waiting area to fill out those details. They can even view their medical records online through a secure Web portal from anywhere in the world if required. The patient has help around the clock so they do not have to wait for the office to open. Patient medical record is available for dispatch electronically at click of button in case of emergency situation.

The practice is the vision of Kartik J. Desai, MD, who has been in the medical professional for more than 20 years. He will be joined by Smita A. Patel, MD.

IAAC Film Fest

The Indo-American Arts Council and Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd have announced their partnership to form the Mahindra IAAC Film Festival, according to a press release. Gearing up for its seventh year, the film festival promotes, showcases, and celebrates the unique voices and talent of filmmakers’ that tell compelling stories about the South Asian subcontinent. The Mahindra IAAC Film Festival will take place in New York Nov. 7 – 11.

With the firm belief that ultimately it is innovation and creativity which will make India a global powerhouse, the Mahindra Group has decided to support the IAAC Film Festival. Through its corporate social responsibility initiatives, the Mahindra Group has committed support to IAAC’s endeavors to promote the voice of new South Asian cinema.

“We are excited about the partnership with the Mahindra Group because they play an integral role in supporting the infrastructure and rapid growth of the Festival,” says Aroon Shivdasani, executive director of IAAC. “But more importantly they also bring a shared passion for and an understanding of our core values. Their continued support and dedication will enable the IAAC to present the work from the most diverse and original filmmakers from around the South Asian Diaspora.”

The Festival’s mission is to assist South Asian filmmakers to reach the broadest possible audience, enable the international film community and the general public to experience the power of their films. It includes film screenings, special events, and receptions for both opening and closing nights.

Commenting on the partnership with the Indo American Arts Council, Anand Mahindra, managing director of Mahindra Group, said, “The Mahindra IAAC Film Festival will be a unique platform for alternative independent cinema. We are proud to be working closely with the IAAC and with the help of Mahindra the festival is now ready to grow in both its breadth and the depth of audience it reaches. This is in keeping with the Mahindra philosophy of supporting and nurturing the unsung and the unknown. Not only will this festival promote the Mahindra brand in the U.S. but will also bring Indian talent to the world stage.””

BUSINESS: News in Brief
VAYAMA: Web Site Exclusively for International Travel | TECH CU: Blog Power | Entrepreneur Honored | Videocon Eyes U.S. | Aviation Shake Up

VAYAMA: Web Site Exclusively for International Travel

Vayama ( has launched publicly as the industry’s only dedicated international travel Web site that allows consumers to search from the largest selection of international airlines, flights and fares, many never previously available online, to find the best prices and most schedule options for all international travel, a company press release has announced.

“International travelers will also enjoy the fast and easy flight search features on Vayama thanks to an interactive world map and innovative 3-D seat maps.,” the release said.

“If you look at the world of online travel, most Americans are comfortable booking their own domestic trips, but international travel remained a complicated puzzle that has now been solved,” said Andre Hesselink and Wim Butte, co-CEOs of Vayama. “That’s why Vayama was built; we are 100 percent focused on international travel in order to give Americans the best fares available with access to the most flight and fare options to 191 countries and airlines and routes that they never knew existed.”

With Vayama, international travelers will be able to book specific fare and route combinations that have never been easy to book online before such as Iberia from New York to Rome, China Eastern from Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh or Hawaiian Airlines from San Francisco to Sydney. For further cost-savings and convenience, Vayama also allows international travelers to book flights to other cities and countries beyond their original destination.

“By incorporating powerful Ajax technology, flight comparisons on Vayama can be made in the blink of an eye and travelers can narrow search results in real-time based on personal preferences such as total travel time, connecting airports and price,” the release added. “In addition, Vayama’s technology connects international travelers to sources that other travel web sites don’t have through a combination of direct agreements with the airlines, global distribution systems and consolidators.”

TECH CU: Blog Power

One of the Bay Area’s leading credit unions, Tech CU, has announced another campaign aimed at encouraging individuals to give back to their community, according a company press release. Called the “Community Change Project: What Would You Change with $1,000?,” the campaign is centered around a contest that is being run through Tech CU’s new blog site at Individuals are invited to submit their ideas for a community project aimed at creating social or environmental change in the Bay Area through August 31, 2007. Details on how to submit can be found on the blog site.

A short summary of all project submissions will be posted on the Tech CU blog where visitors can review, comment and vote on each submission through Sept. 7. The top five vote winners will be featured during the week of September 10th. Tech CU will then select and announce the Grand Prize Winner on September 19th and sponsor their project with a $1,000 cash grant.

“Blogs have become such a powerful tool for the exchange of ideas,” said Kathleen Litman, VP of Marketing for Tech CU. “We thought it would be interesting to see what could happen if we created a blog event for social change. What if we gave people an incentive to share their own great ideas? Change can happen in many different ways, as much through the efforts of individuals as through great big organizations. Just because a project is small, doesn’t mean it can’t have a big impact, and so we’re very excited to see what people come up with.”

The Community Change Project is the latest campaign in Tech CU’s yearlong focus on social responsibility. The credit union launched its social initiative March 6 with its Tech CU Community Spirit Day. That event brought together more than 15 Bay Area nonprofits with people from the community who came to learn about how they could get more involved in 2007.

Entrepreneur Honored

Shri Thanedar

Shri Thanedar of St. Louis, Mo., has been selected as the winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 in the Central Midwest Region, according to a press release. Thanedar was recognized as the award recipient in the technology division by a panel of area leaders from business, academic and civic organizations. As a regional recipient, he will be eligible for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 national program, to be announced in November 2007.

Thanedar founded the Chemir group of companies in 1990, by acquiring a two-chemist analytical laboratory with annual sales of $150,000. Since that time, he has grown the company to 8 divisions, with over 250 employees, including 60 Ph.D. level chemists. Total sales are expected to reach $36 million in 2007, with an anticipated goal of $60 million by 2009.

Thanedar’s largest division is the Azopharma Product Development Group, a network of companies providing full pharmaceutical product development services, from preclinical assessments to first in human clinical trials. Thanedar also owns Chemir Analytical Services, a non-routine analytical laboratory that provides chemical analysis and material testing to solve challenging manufacturing problems.

Ernst & Young has been honoring entrepreneurs for over 20 years for innovation, financial performance and community involvement. “I’m honored to be included in this year’s list of distinguished winners, and to be selected for this prestigious award,” said Thanedar.

Chemir, Inc., headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., is made up of the Azopharma Product Development Group, as well as Chemir Analytical Services and CASMI. These companies consist of over 250 scientists providing contract research services both domestically and internationally.

Videocon Eyes U.S.

Consumer goods major Videocon, which prides in calling itself an Indian multinational, plans to list in the U.S. market in two years by when it dreams of putting its products in American homes.

“My dream is to enter the U.S. market... we would like to enter the market as soon as we are ready. Probably, in two years’ time. Once we enter the market we will ring the NASDAQ bell,” Videocon Group chairman Venugopal Dhoot said.

Videocon can then join the likes of IT giants Infosys, Wipro and Satyam, which are listed on U.S. bourses. With a U.S. listing, Dhoot will rub shoulders with tech czars N.R. Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji, who rang the opening bell at the NYSE and NASDAQ.

Dhoot, however, said at present the company was preparing itself for the entry into the world’s most competitive consumer electronics market.

“You cannot go haphazardly or half heartedly in the US market, because it is the market. It is 40 percent of the world’s market. So when you want to enter the U.S. market you have to be very cautious,” he said.

The company’s plant in Mexico could serve as the route to the U.S., he added.

Although the group has not yet decided on the amount to be raised from the proposed U.S. listing, Dhoot said the proceeds form it would be utilized for funding its mergers and acquisition activities.

Currently, 17 Indian companies are listed on the U.S. bourses, six on NASDAQ and the remaining 11 on NYSE. NASDAQ-listed Indian companies include Infosys Technologies, Satyam, Cognizant,, EXLService while those listed on NYSE include — HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Satyam Computers, Wipro, VSNL, MTNL and Dr Reddy’s, among others.

Aviation Shake Up

India’s aviation sector is in for a further shake-up as the airline companies move towards consolidation.

This trend was further confirmed by the recent acquisition of 26 percent equity stake by United Breweries Holdings, which owns Kingfisher Airlines, in Deccan Aviation, owner of Air Deccan, the country’s no-frills-flying pioneer and second largest domestic airline.

The market has three big players now — the Kingfisher-Deccan combine, Jet (together with its low-cost brand Jetlite) and Indian — that together control over 80 percent of the market.

Jet and Jetlite command a share of 34 percent, followed by the Deccan-Kingfisher team with 30 percent and Indian with 18 percent.

The trend towards consolidation in general and the Kingfisher-Deccan alliance, in particular, will have a big impact on the aviation industry in determining future trends in airfares.

Intense competition and introduction of no-frills air travel in India’s price-sensitive market has driven airfares to ridiculously low levels in certain segments.

The extent of irrationality in fares can be gauged from the fact that, even for the market leader Jet Airways, the ratio of discounted fares to full fares has reversed dramatically from 20:80 to 75:25 in just about a year.

The viewpoint in the industry is that mergers and acquisitions could bring about a level of stability in pricing airline tickets.

Vijay Mallya has already hinted that the scenario of selling tickets for free or at very low fares could come to an end. This may not be good news for the customer, but would definitely help the airlines.

Over Six Million PCs Sold in 2006-07 | CISCO: Sixteen Cities | IBM: Emerging Nations | Wireless Growth

Over Six Million PCs Sold in 2006-07

Driven by a near doubling of laptop sales, India sold 6.34 million personal computers in 2006-07, up 26 percent from the previous year, according to data by Manufacturers Association for Information Technology, the apex body representing all hardware players. PC sales are projected to touch 8 million units in fiscal 2007-08, given the strong macroeconomic conditions and buoyant buying sentiment in the market.

In FY07, notebook sales grew 97 percent while purchases of desktop units grew 19 percent, MAIT said. Laptops accounted for 13 percent of the total PC market in 2006-07 against about 9 percent a year ago. While notebook PC consumption in the business segment grew 41 percent, rising affordability led to a five-fold growth in households that accounted for more than a fifth of the total notebooks market, MAIT said.

The business segment accounted for 74 percent of the total PC sales in FY07 while the home PC market grew about 23 percent. While the sale of PCs to factories and SMEs remained low, large enterprises registered a growth of 69 percent in buying computers, the association said. “Demand was highest from the telecom, banking and financial service sectors, education and BPO/IT-enabled services. Sales also rose on account of e-governance initiatives of the Union and state governments. Further, significant SME consumption contributed to the industry growth and consumption in the home market has remained buoyant.”

CISCO: Sixteen Cities

Global networking company Cisco said July 17 it will expand to 16 more cities in the country and launch a new program for SMB — small and medium business — partners.

The company is already present in nine cities. With the new program, the company expects to take the number of its partners to 2,100 from the present 1,500 in the next 12 months, Cisco India and SAARC senior vice president Pramodh Menon told reporters in New Delhi.

He said the company would follow a strategic roadmap to tap the rapidly growing IT and networking market in the SMB space, which would include focusing on new customized products and solutions, and financing schemes such as easy lease programs.

“The company’s new SMB strategy worldwide involves helping customers create a sustainable and competitive advantage, improve operational efficiencies and boost their revenues and profitability,” Menon said.

IBM: Emerging Nations

The emerging nations of India, China, Brazil and Russia are firing IBM’s growth and constituted five percent of the company’s second-quarter revenue.

“These emerging countries are among the fastest growing IT markets in world — and we’re investing to capture growth,” Mark Loughridge, IBM’s chief financial officer, told analysts during a conference call to discuss the vendor’s latest financial results for the three months ended June 30.

IBM revenues from these emerging countries grew 25 percent in the second quarter and IBM expects these revenues to double over the next four years.

“Our strategies to focus on higher growth emerging countries are paying off. Asia was our strongest contributor to revenue, up double-digits. Our ASEAN and South Asia region was up over 50 percent, led by India,” Loughridge said.

In the area of strategic outsourcing, IBM saw particularly strong revenue growth in India with an increase of nearly 150 percent.

Looking at IBM’s services business as a whole in India, Loughridge was extremely bullish. “We’re beating the local competition on their own turf,” he said, citing deals with Bharti Telecom, and Idea Cellular.

“This quarter, the momentum continued as we signed agreements with the Delhi Airport, the Indian Tax Authority, and additional scope with Idea Cellular. In fact a recent IDC study ranks IBM Global Services as the largest domestic IT services provider in India.”

Wireless Growth

Indian wireless telecoms operators added a record 7.34 million subscribers in June, lifting the user base to 185.13 million, the country’s telecoms regulator said.

Wireless phone subscribers in June were 65 percent higher than a year earlier, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said.

India is the world’s fastest growing market for mobile services. Analysts forecast the wireless user base will top 500 million in five years, as less than 20 percent of India’s 1.1 billion population own a telephone.

Including fixed-line phones, total telephone subscribers grew 47 percent from a year earlier to 225.21 million, the regulator said.

During the April-June quarter, 20.02 million wireless users signed up, but fixed-line connections witnessed a decline of 0.66 million, it said.

Bharti Airtel, which had a subscriber base of 42.7 million at the end of June, is India’s top mobile services firm, followed by Reliance Communications Ltd.

Other leading players include Vodafone -controlled Hutchison Essar and state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

Classy-looking Car: 2008 Sebring Convertible
Overall, the Chrysler Sebring Convertible matches its elegant looks with good handling and fuel efficiency, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

If you make all your decisions based on first impressions, beware your first glance of the all-new 2008 Chrysler Sebring convertible. This is a smart-looking car that, once on the road, further impresses with its solid feel and quality touches.

I’ll admit I am fond of the color blue, and Chrysler’s Marathon Blue Pearl exterior paint is an eye-catching hue. Combined with a cream-colored leather interior and an off-white convertible top, this creates an overall classy look.

The Sebring is Chrysler’s mid-sized sedan, tucked in the family line-up between the popular Chrysler 300 and the all-new Dodge Caliper, which represents the compact segment. With these new 2008 models, Chrysler has aimed to include in the Sebring the company’s signature exterior design with some of the latest in safety features, a performance-packed engine with improved fuel efficiency, and some nice-to-have amenities.

New for 2008 are such things as a Harmon/Kardon information, entertainment and safety navigation audio system; a heated or cooled cup holder; and a rear seat DVD entertainment system as an option.

Among the safety features are seat-mounted multi-stage front seat air bags, front seat side air bags, side curtain air bags, and anti-lock four-wheel brakes. Electronic Stability Program with Traction Control is available as an option, which consumers should seriously consider buying, in my opinion.

Other amenities on board the test car were six Boston Acoustics speakers, steering wheel mounted audio controls, a 12-volt power outlet in the center console and an in-dash six-disc DVD/MP3 Player system. The dashboard and steering wheel were appointed in satin silver and tortoise shell, which had a classy look, but beware of the tortoise shell steering wheel in really hot weather. It does a good job of absorbing the heat and can be hard to handle when the car has been left out in the sun, especially in recent triple-digit weather.

The test car also came equipped with Customer Preferred Package 26G, which included a 3.5-liter high output V6 engine, Auto Stick Automatic Transmission, dual bright exhaust tips and exhaust, and the Pebble Beige cloth top.

Behind the wheel, you’ll find that visibility is good to the front and sides, even for a convertible. As you would expect, the rear window is on the small side and visibility to the left and right rear is impacted somewhat by the convertible roof top.

The bucket seats are firmly supportive for all four passengers. For the driver, the seat can be adjusted six ways.

On the road, we found the Sebring handled well and, even with the convertible top, road noise is minimal. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine produces 235 horsepower, but hesitated a bit at very hard acceleration. For those who must drive an automatic transmission but miss the control of a manual, the Sebring is equipped with six-speed AutoStick, so you can have the best of both worlds.

The Sebring’s convertible top couldn’t be any easier to put up or down, with the car’s one-touch automation. With the engine on and the car in park, one press of a button launches the process: the trunk lid opens, the articulated roof folds and tucks away, and then the trunk lid closes. It’s an engineering marvel that allows you to quickly take advantage of any changes in weather.

The Sebring’s trunk is large for a convertible, but not terribly deep. You’ll be able to pack in a week’s worth of groceries in there, but tall items might have to go into the back seat. The trunk lid is surprisingly hefty and takes some additional muscle to pull down.

Overall, the Chrysler Sebring Convertible is a classy looking car that handles well and is fuel efficient. Not a bad way to travel for a family of four.

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


The Name is Shilpa, Doctor Shilpa | Anil Kapoor’s Film on Mahatma Opens | The Kiss that Wasn’t? | Conservative Khan | Land Woes | Better Late than Never | Kaun Banega Crorepati? | ‘Sholay’ Nahin, ‘Aag’  

The Name is Shilpa, Doctor Shilpa

Shilpa Shetty with Amitabh Bachchan at the IIFA Awards in Leeds, England. (Pic: Fotocorp)

Okay, we are not impressed. In its infinite wisdom, Leeds Metropolitan University has seen it fit to confer a honorary degree on Shilpa Shetty. A spokeswoman of the university told PTI that selecting Shilpa for the doctorate was part of its efforts to honor prominent Indian movie personalities who have contributed to the country’s emergence as a fast developing cinema-proud nation.

Oh, come on. May one ask what is this great contribution? Now we would be the first person to commend Shilpa for keeping a cool head after the racist shenanigans in the rightly criticized Channel Four reality slugfest “Celebrity Big Brother,” but the struggling Bollywood starlet’s contribution to India’s emergence as a cinema-proud nation is, to put it tactfully, one of the best kept secrets in the world.

Shilpa is milking her Big Brother debacle for all its worth, and this doctorate comes on top of a Special IIFA award for the global impact of her “Big Brother” victory at the India International Film Academy Awards in Yorkshire. Meanwhile, her perfume is one of the top sellers in the U.K.

Of course, it’s not all milk and honey. The British tabloids, not known for their probity, have dished out salacious details about her, and now a disgruntled NRI wife is claiming she broke her marriage.

Shilpa is livid. She has threatened to sue Kavita Kundra, after she claimed that the Bollywood starlet had wrecked her marriage and is now “an item with her film producer husband Raj.”

“If she continues to tarnish my name out of any insecurity or otherwise, I will consider taking legal action as I see no reason why my name is being dragged into this mess,” fumes Shilpa.

Well, Shilpa dear, as the French say, C’est la vie. Or as former New York Times columnist Russell Baker said: “God is a cosmic joke player.”

If you have no qualms accepting a doctorate given on a dubious pretext, you gotta take some bad stuff in stride as well, huh?
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Anil Kapoor’s Film on Mahatma Opens

Promotional poster for “Gandhi My Father.”

Give this guy some credit. He has produced the film, but Bollywood star Anil Kapoor is nowhere to be seen on screen. Nor is this your run-of-the-mill Bollywood potboiler.

Gandhi My Father is anything but. It has the guts to take on India’s most revered icons and cast an objective eye on a traumatic episode of his life.

The film tells the untold story of the Father of the Nation's tragic relationship with his eldest son. It will be globally released Aug. 3.

The film is a powerful study of the nature and suffering of the father-son relationship between one of the world's most loved figures — Mahatma Gandhi — and his eldest son Harilal, who was dogged by misfortune.

“It (movie) delves into a territory that has never before been visited by film and will spark debate,” says Feroz Khan, director of the film.

Based on his thought-provoking play, Mahatma v/s Gandhi, Feroz Khan has combined his talents as a writer and director with the production skills of fellow industry stalwart Anil Kapoor, to create an affecting film of modern times.

According to critics, it is far from a biopic account or portrayal of Gandhi's struggle towards India's independence.

The film focuses on the doomed relationship between a father respected by an entire nation but reviled by a son who was disowned, and whose bitter end was the result of years of abject alcoholism.

You’ve got to hand it to Anil. This guy isn’t making films for a quick buck, that’s for sure.
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The Kiss that Wasn’t?

Bipasha Basu in “Dhoom 2.”

Poor Bipasha Basu. Here she is, being a good Samaritan and going all the way to Lisbon to make the proud announcement that the Taj Mahal is included in the seven wonders of the world, and guess what? She ends up hogging the headlines, and not at all for the best of reasons.

A London tabloid ran a front page photograph of the Portuguese soccer star Ronaldo Cristiano kissing the actress, and the same photograph went on the Internet, and an outraged Bipasha struggled to control the damage to her image at home.

“All the joy of that meeting with my favorite footballer has evaporated,” says Bipasha bitterly. She was in Lisbon to announce the new Seven Wonders of the World July 7, when she met the Manchester United striker.

“The photograph is not doctored, obviously somebody clicked us on a cell phone, but we were just dancing in a crowded disco. This is not a kiss! I cannot even say I was drunk and don’t know when and how this happened. Ronaldo had leaned over to say something in my ear, and the camera caught him at that inopportune moment. That’s what this is,” explains Bipasha.

“For God’s sake, that photograph just cannot be taken seriously! Is that how newspapers define a lip-lock? I’m horrified,” fumed Bipasha. “Suddenly, because of that photograph, I am internationally famous. But do I want fame at this cost?”

Well sweetie, you can rave and rant all you like, but not all the blame can go to the sleazy tabloids. If films like “Jism” and provocative comments to the press have men salivating for you, there’s also a downside to all this. Once you use sex appeal to climb the greasy pole of fame, the press will look for a whiff of sex at the slightest pretext when it covers you — if that’s the right word.

John Abraham, meanwhile, must be eating his heart out over what happened. One could weep.
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Conservative Khan

Shah Rukh in “Chak De!”

Don’t get us wrong. We don’t mean the Baadshah of Bollywood has become a fan of Milton Friedman. It’s not about greenbacks, its about green. Shah Rukh Khan, after years of promoting a Korean automobile (albeit one with low fuel consumption), has now turned to use his formidable star power to raise awareness about the environment.

Actually, Shah Rukh is ready to do his bit by telling the country about the hardships faced by the forest guards to protect country’s wildlife.

“He is our nation’s unsung national hero — the India forest guard. He is a real-life hero because he does this to save the jungle, and the animals that live there. Day in and day out he is matching with and battling powerful enemies — wildlife poachers and timber smugglers, and he is willing to lay down his life for this,” says Shah Rukh Khan who has been roped in by an NGO.

But why the forest guard? Aneeta (Tykee) Malhotra of Sanskara Trust and Asian Conservation Awareness Program, the NGO which has launched this awareness campaign explains. “Forest guards, because they are the ones who put themselves in danger to protect the wildlife and the forest, they deal with poachers, they are the ones reporting the troubles in the jungle. Moreover, forest guards in India are working without proper facilities,” she says.

While Shah Rukh speaks about the forest guard, the campaign asks people to help the forest guards by shunning wildlife products.

The wildlife conservation organization has done similar campaigns in the past with celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Naseeruddin Shah, Sachin Tendulkar addressing issues like trade in ivory products and tiger trade.
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Land Woes

Amitabh in “Cheeni Kum.”

For all his success on screen, land troubles will not leave him. Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan will not be able to donate the land he was allotted in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh with the Allahabad High Court July 24 reaffirming its order of maintaining the status quo.

The single-judge Lucknow bench of the court headed by Justice S.N. Srivastava directed that the status quo order of the court must be honored.

Poor Amitabh must be ruing the day he agreed to do a promotional ad for ouster Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, because after his bitter opponent Mayawati came to power, the UP government has been on his case.

Earlier, Bachchan had filed a petition challenging the Faizabad additional commissioner V.S. Prasad’s order quashing allotment of land to him in Barabanki district.

The court had on June 8 last, while admitting Bachchan’s petition, stayed the order of the commissioner and given three weeks to the petitioner for filing a rejoinder.

Bachchan was allotted a farmland in Daulatpur village in Barabanki district during the previous Samajwadi Party regime.

The Maharashtra government is following all this with a keen eye, because another land controversy is brewing there over a plot of farmland that the Big B has bought near Pune. In both instances, Big B has raised eyebrows because he has called himself a farmer—yes, you heard that right—in order to get through regulatory hoops to get farmland.

Now he is having to face the music. Can’t say he wasn’t asking for it.
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Better Late than Never

Abhishek and Aishwarya at the IIFA awards gala in Leeds, England. (Pic: Fotocorp)

It’s not every day that big honchos in politics eat humble pie, but that’s exactly what Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh did recently when he was faced with a boycott by photo journalists.

The cause of the brouhaha was the alleged misbehavior of the politician at the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding. Apparently his commandoes had roughed up an overenthusiastic photographer or two — God knows bouncers can be overenthusiastic, too, and the result was an en masse boycott of photojournalists.

Well, asking a politician to live without publicity is like asking a fish to live without water, and soon enough, Singh was ready to apologize.

“What happened was unfortunate. I do not support it. However, the media should also exercise restraint. Amitabh Bachchan was driving the car and there were 100 press persons climbing on the bonnet of the car trying to click a photograph which could have caused an accident,” Singh said.

A day after the wedding on April 20, there was a scuffle between mediamen and commando guards who were with Singh, in which a couple of cameramen were injured.

“When there is a wedding in the family, nobody wants a untoward incident. I have informed DGP Lucknow about the behavior of the guards,” he added.

“When the incident happened, we were bringing Aishwarya home for the first time and Amitji was driving the car. With so many flashbulbs, the driver could have been blinded and there could have been an accident. Moreover, I myself was not well,” he added.
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Kaun Banega Crorepati?

Yep, you heart it right.  Mukta Arts and Subhash Ghai have announced an open offer of Rs. 1 crore to a screenwriter who can bring forth a complete, bound script and, on the first hearing by the Mukta Arts selection committee, is acquired by them.

This is just a glimpse of the future of good writers in the impending times of the Indian entertainment industry, says Ghai. “If we say that we are perpetually on the lookout for good scripts then why can’t we put our money where our mouth is and pay a crore for a brilliant script — which according to me is a fair price especially when we are going to spend 25 to 50 crore to make the film,” says Subhash Ghai, filmmaker and chairman of Mukta Arts Ltd. and Whistling Woods International.

Whistling Woods International Film and Television Institute, promoted by Mukta Arts, has extended scholarships and special loans to promising applicants for the screenwriting program.

“Screenwriting is going to be the highest-paid profession in media in the very near future. Hence now is the appropriate time for the youth of today to understand the importance of this profession and consider it seriously. The writer is the real creator of the media — be it films, TV or animation,” he added.

Ghai clarified that this was not a contest and thus there was no time limit. The evaluation would be in-house and various aspects would decide if the film was going to be directed by him or only produced by Mukta Arts.
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Sholay’ Nahin, ‘Aag’

The Delhi High Court has allowed Bollywood director Ram Gopal Varma to release the remake of yesteryear’s blockbuster Sholay by changing the title of the film from Ram Gopal Varma Ki Sholay to Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag.

The court gave the green signal for the release of the much publicized film after Varma filed an affidavit giving an undertaking that he would not use the title Sholay and the name of the popular characters like “Gabbar Singh” and “Basanti.”

The roadblocks for the release of the film in which superstar Amitabh Bachchan has assumed the role of “Gabbar Singh” had come on a lawsuit filed by grandson of G.P. Sippy, who had produced Sholay.

Taking on record the affidavit in which Varma claimed that the story-line, character, music etc., did not match with Sippy’s Sholay, Justice Gita said the director can release his film under the title Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag.

The popular characters “Gabbar Singh” and “Basanti" has been renamed “Babban Singh” and “Ghungroo.”

The court also gave liberty to Sippy Films Pvt Ltd and Sholay Media and Entertainment Pvt Ltd, owned by Sascha Sippy and Shan Uttam Singh, “to push for its remaining claims, if any, after watching the film’s remake.”
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A Powerful Message: Amu
- By Ras Hafiz Siddiqui
(Rating ***1/2 Superior)

Although no stranger to film festivals around the globe, the official release of this movie in North America (earlier this year) started off in Canada. In Toronto and Vancouver , the movie received a great deal of support from the overseas Punjabi community. From cab drivers to professionals, especially Sikh youth who had not reconnected with India in a long time, all expatriate Punjabis received Amu with an appreciative eye.

After viewing the film, it no longer comes as a surprise that many Indians, Punjabis and especially South Asian minorities along with Americans will find this movie worth watching.

From its Web site synopsis, “Amu is the journey of Kajori Roy, a 21-year-old Indian American woman who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 3. After graduating from UCLA, Kaju goes to India to visit her relatives. There she meets Kabir, a college student from an upper class family who is disdainful of Kaju’s wide-eyed wonder at discovering the ‘real India.’”

The movie starts off with an excited Kaju (Konkona Sensharma does quite a convincing job here) who finds much color and life in the India she identifies with. She is a bit of an oddball when camera in hand she visits places that are not on the tourist map. Her attempt to get on a public bus in Delhi is quite a scene. Kaju wants to relate to the people in the poor parts of Delhi, not from a “foreign lens” of a tourist, but as a part of the landscape. Her interest in roadside sales outlets, eateries and the people in the slum areas slowly coalesce into a yearning to learn about her own past. Her mother Keya (Brinda Karat), who adopted her, joins the family from the U.S. and tries to keep the terrible truth from her. The fact is that Kaju’s past leads to the year 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Thousands of innocent Sikhs were massacred in Delhi soon after that assassination under the very nose of the authorities of that time.

Excerpts from an interview with director Shonali Bose

What motivated you to make this film? Why did a Bengali feel that the 1984 Sikh riots in Delhi needed to be revisited twenty years later?
This is an issue for all Indians. An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us. None of us want a different section of Indians to be butchered at different times - no matter what religion they belong to. This is not the India we want. And because this is what it has been carrying with 1984 being a watershed - this film is relevant. It’s not about the past but the present. No one has still been punished for ‘84.

How has this movie been received thus far within the desi diaspora?
Fantastically. They really relate to the central protagonist and her quest. They feel one with her as Indian American’s. There is a really strong identification. People are also blown away by this history which most are finding out for the first time.

Who supported you most during this project? Who do you believe opposed it?
My husband - Bedabrata Pain - the executive producer - without whom the film could not be made. Film financiers and production companies in India opposed it - when they found out it was on ‘84. The government blocked it as soon as they found out - which was at the censor stage.

Have you ever considered showing this movie in Pakistan & Bangladesh (if that has not happened already?
Absolutely. it has been in festivals in both countries. I am very keen to have it released there if possible and also to go there for a screening. I am working on fixing that up.

What are you working on next?
Chittagong, on the Chittagong uprising against the British in 1930.

Why did you end the movie on Godhra and Gujarat in 2002?
The pattern of violence continues because nobody has been brought to justice for 1984. Gujarat is a direct parallel, which is why the film had to end on that note.

Kabir Sehgal (played by Ankur Khanna) becomes Kaju’s companion in her search for her past. Kabir’s parents Arun and Meera, from Delhi’s high society, also appear to have something to hide related to 1984 (wishing that its memory would go away like many in India would). Kabir develops an attraction for Kaju on the journey to her past.

Even though this movie is about that year, it is also about the present. The movie’s bold search for the unpleasant truth involves not just those amongst the authorities who aided and abetted that anti-Sikh shameful pogrom, but also asks if they will ever be brought to justice.
The film revisits a time when thousands of Sikh males in India were killed or forced to remove their turbans and cut their hair to survive. But it is also about today and about how the life of a young girl amongst many others changed. Its strongest characters in this movie are women. From grandmother, mother and Kaju herself along with her birth mother, women dominate this movie. It is from a female perspective that Shonali Bose has given the script its true strength. This movie is almost a narrative on surviving women, whether they are mothers, daughters or wives, suffering due to the sins of men against men.

There are powerful scenes in the movie especially when Kaju/Amu’s birth mother runs out for help as her husband is being assaulted. She reaches out first to indifferent people in uniform and then to a politician who instead of representing all of his constituents, is busy rallying them against Sikhs (and attempting to provide humanitarian assistance to them later).

Another powerful scene is the visit to Sikh widows and their story. The words delivered by a Sikh mother who lost males of her family, especially her most loved one, have to be the most moving part of Amu’s script.

This film is about horrible events, but contains few scenes of graphic violence. It delivers its message slowly, like a cup of tea, not a double shot of espresso coffee. The viewer will be encouraged to look back and think about injustices against the Sikhs in 1984 and injustices suffered by minorities anywhere today. This is a thinking person’s movie rather than Bollywood entertainment. It does not jolt you like Sabiha Sumar’s film Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) once did. There are a few flaws in its production and viewers will notice that this movie was made on limited resources. But for the message that it sends, it is worth watching.


Promising Effort: Mamadurai

Yet another industry kid tries his luck in tinsel town, but the results, it must be conceded, leaves something to be desired. Vasan Kartik, son of seasoned comedian Singamuthu, makes his debut in Mamadurai, a rich girl-poor boy love saga.

Vasan has got himself trained well in the dance-fight routine, and reveals himself to be a fairly competent actor who can emote as well.

Vasan plays Saravanan, an orphan who works as a railway porter. Saravanan falls for Nandini, a girl from a wealthy family. Opposition comes from the girl’s brother, Kumar, a politician. But after the initial opposition, Kumar thaws towards Saravanan, after he saves him from the murderous assault of some rivals. And then it’s turmoil of another kind for the hero as he begins a search for his identity.

Director K.K. Krishnan, who apprenticed under P. Vasu, moves his narration at a fairly interesting pace, lacing his scenes with humor and action. The second half is about Saravanan’s realization that he is not an orphan and his search for his mother.

The director, in an effort to give social relevance to his film, gives a finale that is different from the one the audience would have expected. An effort worthy of appreciation, though it could have been done in a more convincing way.

Mithuna (sister of actress Rajashri) has undergone quite a few changes of names (Bobby, Sona) since her debut some films ago. But unfortunately, for all her various avatars there seems to be few takers for this actress, despite her attractive looks and her comfort in the glamour-dance scenes. While there are a slew of comedians like Vadivelu, Karunas, Mayilsamy and Singamuthu for comic relief, apart from a couple of laughs, the comic antics are mostly old, retread material, offering little humor.

The film is certainly not a disaster, and had in it the potential of being a fairly decent film, but the filmmaker fails to translate potential into reality. At best, the film is a promising effort from a first-time, director-hero team.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Rakhi Treat: Meetha Kalash

August is the month of Rakshabandhan, a wonderful Indian tradition when brothers reaffirm their love for sisters. Sudha Gupta presents a beautifully crafted dessert to mark the occasion.

Mawa (thickened and dried whole milk)
  • ¾ cup whipping cream
  • 1½ cup milk powder
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • A pinch of cardamom powder

Mix whipping cream and milk powder and heat it in microwave for 5 minutes. This is mawa/ khoya ((thickened and dried whole milk). Heat the pan. Add mawa and sugar. Stir for 5-7 minutes in slow fire till mawa is smooth. Add cardamom powder, keep aside.

For the stuffing of the sweet kalash

  • 2 tbsp pistachio powder
  • 1 tbsp sugar

Heat the pan. Add pistachio powder and sugar. Stir for 3 minutes in medium heat.

For the bed of grated coconut

  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of yellow food powder.

Heat the pan. Add grated coconut and sugar. Stir for 5-7 minutes. Switch off the gas. Add yellow color.

For decoration

  • 2 tsp saffron
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • Pinch of yellow food powder
  • 1 tbsp chironjee seeds (available at Indian stores)

Final preparation
Take some mawa in hand and make in into 1.5 inch sized ball. Then shape it into a kalash (traditional Indian water vessel.) Make several such kalashes with the rest of the mawa.
Take some pistachio mixture and make into a half-inch ball, then shape into a coconut and place it on top of the kalash.

Mix yellow color, saffron and milk. Paint around the neck of the kalash opening and around the round belly of the kalash. Decorate with chironjee seeds.

Take a dish and make a bed of coconut mixture. Decorate with kalashes. The dessert is ready to serve.

- Sudha Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: August By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Someone close will move far away. You will be busy but less productive. You will continue to make progress in your efforts to find a better job. Money will come and disappear fast and you will need to take money out of savings. You will make friends with an influential person during a trip.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): You will start paying more attention to health and may even join a health club. Expect improvements in relationship matters as a final commitment is around the corner. You may be seriously thinking of changing your car. You will be getting ready to move to a bigger place. You will be signing profitable contracts.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): It is going to be an expensive month as you will need to make big payments. Spouse will feel exhausted due to extra work. You will have visitors from far off places. You will be looking for a major change in career. People who ignored you will try to patch up.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): You will rekindle a relationship with someone from a different caste or culture. You will finish important paper work in a hurry and mail them to a government agency. Children will do better. Some of you will start a new and big venture alone. You may postpone a trip.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): Hold your temptations and do not fall for a too-good-to-be-true offer. Believe in hard work and have patience and the world is yours. Boss will make an offer and ask for a quick decision. You will be spending a lot of money on children this month. Some of you will be getting ready to move into your own house.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You may finally let go of a relationship. There can be changes in business partners. You will spend money buying luxury items for family members. You will keep drifting away from spiritual life. Your projects will need more investment and time. Keep an eye on blood pressure.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Expenses will come down a lot and you will start moving forward. Some of you will be making a fresh start with a new job. Venus and Saturn in eleventh bring gains through land and property. You will also gain friendship of influential people. Boss will call you to discuss an important project.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): You will be introduced to some new associates at work. You will find cure for ailments. Boss will make necessary recommendations for a promotion. Listen to your spouse, it’s good for both of you. A new member will be added in the family soon. You will change your travel plans.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): Maintain confidence and keep working on your ideas. Success will come with time. You will be involved in research work for some time. You will be able to trim your expenses and start saving. Anxiety about a child will continue. You will meet old friends.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): You will call experts and old friends to seek advice. Rapidly slowing business will bring concerns. You may finally dispose off a property which was in the market for long. Saturn in eighth is tricky and worshipping lord Shiva can ease off sudden pressure in life. Avoid stocks and other speculations.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): Presence of Saturn and Venus in seventh can bring an exciting person too close. You will be traveling in connection with work and the meetings will bring instant results. Pressure at work will reduce suddenly and people creating troubles will be relocated. You may also finalize a big property deal.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will be working on a very challenging project. Competition will not shake your confidence as you have what it takes. New job opportunity will bring excitement and you may accept it soon. You will become more health conscious and may start going for a walk. Venture in partnership looks promising.

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


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