Siliconeer: July 2007

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JULY 2007
Volume VIII • Issue 7
EDITORIAL: Ayurveda in America
NEWS DIARY: June News Briefs
CULTURE: Bangla Theatre
SUBCONTINENT: Mayawati, Future PM?
DIASPORA: Indian Arrival Days
ENTERTAINMENT: A.R. Rahman Concert
HEALTH: The HPV Vaccine
TRAVEL: A Trip to Provence
HEALTH: End-of-Life Care
ENTERTAINMENT: Bollywood in Yorkshire: 2007 IIFA Awards
Click here to view IIFA Awards 2007 Photo Gallery
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Ford Fusion SEL
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Review: Apne
TAMIL CINEMA: Sivaji – The Boss
RECIPE: Garden Samosa


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

Ayurveda in America

It must be one of the mysteries that amid all the hoopla in this country regarding alternative medicine, Ayurveda, the ancient school of medicine from India, remains behind in official acceptance in the U.S. compared to other alternative schools of medicine like, say, Chinese acupuncture.

One of the reasons is demographics and history. The Chinese have been here for a longer period and in greater numbers. Indians came here later, and the big push happened as late as the 1960s.

To be sure, there was a lot to be admired when it comes to Western medicine. However, today there is a growing realization that even Western medicine has its limitations, and here Ayurveda can make a real contribution in some of these areas.

Ironically, it is the relative lack of interest of expatriate Indians in Ayurveda that has doomed any mainstream acceptance of the benefits of Ayurveda in this country. Maryland-based urologist Dr. Navin Shah, a co-founder of the American Association of Physicians from India, has taken a commendably astute move to establish the credentials of Ayurveda in this country.

He has rightly figured out that the best way to introduce Ayurveda is to take a two-fold approach: Introduce it in the mainstream medical curriculum of this country, and do it by using scientifically verifiable evidence of the benefits of Ayurveda.

What’s particularly creditable is that he hasn’t just talked the talk, but he has been walking the walk. He has been indefatigable in following up with the Indian government, and an Ayurveda expert who is also trained in Western medicine was on a tour where he gave lectures in several medical schools and met officials at the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Shah has written about it in this month’s cover story.

Pakistan has the misfortune of being in the eye of conflict and turbulence for decades now, what with the Afghan crisis and murder and mayhem in Karachi where ethnic and sectarian conflict has crippled that port city. Yet that’s never the whole story. Like any nation, it has its share of civic minded citizens who have lofty dreams about where they want to take their country and society, but their stories get lost in the somewhat dubious bias that journalism has for bad news, disasters and sensationalism.

In the Bay Area, Pakistanis are also very much part of the South Asian success story, and it has its share of highly educated and successful entrepreneurs and professionals. There is no better exemplar of this than OPEN — The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America. It’s a sort of a Pakistani version of The Indus Entrepreneurs, the rightly-celebrated organization of predominantly Indian high tech honchos. (It’s great to know that the two organizations are not mutually exclusive; Pakistani high tech entrepreneurs are an important part of TiE itself, which has chapters in Pakistan).

OPEN’s Silicon Valley chapter recently held its fourth annual gathering in Palo Alto and it highlighted not only the tremendous strides some Pakistani Americans have made, but also a civic-spirited commitment to society that is an essential ingredient for a well-rounded prosperous community.

So in addition to the pep talks of Silicon Valley hot shots and, say, a panelist like Raghib Hussain, who co-founded a company which recently  had a huge IPO on NASDAQ, you also had the likes Khalid “Paniwaala” who is trying to promote water cleanliness in the slums of Karachi.

We carry a detailed report on the conference in this month’s issue.

It’s perhaps no exaggeration to say that the enactment — and more importantly, the implementation — of the Right to Information Act is arguably a landmark achievement of people’s empowerment in India since independence.

As we celebrate the achievement of people to hold government accountable — and news keeps continuously pouring in how ordinary people from all walks of life are using their newfound power to make government officials accountable.

The movement for the RTI Act, which is very similar to the Freedom of Information Act in the U.S., has underscored the point that continued, diligent civic engagement is vital for the health of a democracy.

India’s superb record in electoral democracy can be somewhat illusory; it is easy to forget that while the nation conducts elections with a degree of fairness and transparency that does the nation proud, what happens in the interregnum between polls is less salubrious.

The RTI is a profoundly important step in the right direction to rectify this deficiency, and now Indian Americans can (and should!) get engaged too, because the Indian embassy is under the purview of the act, and any Non-resident Indian can file a request.

Read more about it in a feature article in this month’s issue.

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

Ayurveda in America: The First Steps

India’s 5,000-year-old system of medicine, Ayurveda, can bring remarkable benefits to patients suffering from chronic ailments. Now the first steps are being taken to introduce Ayurveda into mainstream U.S. medical education, writes Navin Shah, MD, who is spearheading efforts in this direction.

There are a host of conditions — ranging from chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension to iatrogenic diseases and mental illnesses — where Western medicine is less than satisfactory. This is where Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of medicine, could play a useful role, provided its claims can be verified scientifically.

After some voluntary efforts, beginning steps have been taken to introduce American physicians and health policymakers to this ancient Indian health system.

Ayurveda, (Sanskrit for “knowledge of life”), is being practiced in India for over 5,000 years. Ayurveda not only provides treatment of disease but also guides to prevent illness, helps to maintain wellness, and creates harmony of the mind, soul and body. With its unique concept and practice of yoga and meditation, this ancient system helps to maintain proper mental and physical health. By virtue of identification of individuals’ biologic constitution Ayurveda provides personalized preventative and therapeutic treatments. Ayurveda stresses the importance of foods and fluids intake in health and diseased states.

Modern Western medicine as practiced in the U.S. has its limitations causing some iatrogenic diseases and treatment-related complications in the patients. In order to improve patient care the U.S. medical community, some eight years ago, explored the assistance of other traditional local remedies especially of India, China, Africa and other ancient lands. Some of these medicines and medical practices are being incorporated under Complementary Alternative Medicine to improve the treatment outcomes. Of 125 U.S. medical schools, about 80 schools have some form of CAM teaching.

Five years ago, then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asked me to help promote Ayurveda in the U.S. I suggested two avenues to introduce Ayurveda in the mainstream U.S. medicine:

  • A. Teaching a short course on Ayurveda by eminent Indian Ayurveda professors in a few willing U.S. medical schools for medical students, faculty members and practicing physicians at no cost.
  • B. Conduct joint Indo-U.S. research in Ayurveda with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

In the following years, I visited New Delhi several times and had meetings with the prime minister and the secretary of health in pursuit of this project.

In January last year, I met and discussed the project with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair and joint secretary Shiv Basant. They all supported the project.

In December last year, during our meeting, Shiv Basant agreed to depute two eminent Ayurveda professors to teach a short course of 12 hours on Ayurveda and meet with various medical schools’ faculties for joint research projects in Ayurveda. In April  this year I visited New Delhi and met with the prime minister.

(Above): Dr. Navin Shah (r) seen here at a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
in New Delhi.

Dr. H.S. Palep , professor of Ayurveda and an authority on Ayurveda, was selected to visit the U.S. Palep visited the U.S. from May 1 to June 3. With the help of multiple medical school faculty members, science counselor of embassy of India Dr. K.K. Dwivedi, AAPI past president Dr. Balasubramaniam, AAPI president Dr. Hemant Patel and treasurer Dr. A. Singhvi, I arranged a five-week program.

AAPI provided for Dr. Palep’s  local hospitality expenses. On May 3, Dr. Palep and I visited with Dr. Jack Killen, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine/ NIH for joint Indo-U.S. research in Ayurveda. Dr. Killen was very supportive of joint research projects and invited proposals. Dr. Palep alluded to some of the work he is involved in and also suggested some important areas of research.

In the following five weeks during his visits with various medical schools faculties (including Harvard, Hopkins, Uniformed Services, Georgetown, George Washington, Howard and university medical schools in New Jersey) Dr. Palep had multiple discussions on various joint research proposals.

Dr. Palep (seen here on the right) and I will follow it up with respective faculty members for possible NIH submission. Dr. Palep conducted four 12-hour courses (Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey) and made several presentations to various medical schools. He delivered the course with great clarity and covered important aspects of Ayurveda including;

A. Basic concepts in Ayurveda; B. Ayurveda anatomy and physiology; C. Process of disease formation; D. Ayurveda pharmacology; E. Ayurveda clinical examination: pulse reading and individual constitution identification; F. Diagnosis and treatment — both preventative and therapeutic; G. Detoxifying and rejuvenation therapies — Panchkarma Yoga and meditation; H. Evidenced-based Ayurveda — both in Ayurveda and in integration with allopathy

Palep is uniquely qualified to teach the U.S. medicos as he has graduated from both Ayurveda and allopathy medical colleges. His mastery over the subjects as well as his communication skills helped attendees to understand the 5,000-year-old ancient Indian medical system in the modern medical language. Palep May 19 delivered a three-hour course on Ayurveda to about 50 physicians attending the AAPI annual convention in Philadelphia.

At the Harvard Medical School Palep met with various important officials and faculty members for both Ayurveda education and joint research in Ayurveda-including Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, dean of Continuing Medical Education; Dr. Om Ganda, professor of medicine; Dr. Robert Saper (CAM and integrative medicine); Dr. Russell Phillips ( Prof. chief of general medicine ),and Dr. Vikas Sukhatme (chief of nephrology).

On June 18 I met with six senior officials of the American Association of Medical Colleges and presented a proposal for introducing a short course on Ayurveda under Complementary Alternative Medicine in the U.S. medical school curriculum. I presented the details of the Ayurveda course and acquainted them with positive response to the recent courses conducted by Palep. In addition I discussed some of the important abstracts provided by Dr. G.S. Lavekar, proving significant role of Ayurveda in different disease managements as well as in some animal experiments. I stressed the evidence-based benefits of yoga and meditation in different diseases. Panchkarma treatments and its possible benefits were also cited.

Our discussion resulted in the following conclusions:

  1. Presently in the literature, more so in the U.S. and the U.K., there is a scarcity of well-documented scientific evidence (based on Western-style scientific studies) concluding significant benefits of Ayurveda treatments.
  2. Due to paucity of proven literature, U.S. medical school faculty members have not shown much interest in the teaching of Ayurveda
  3. Introduction of Ayurveda in the U.S. can best be done:
    • A. By introducing disease management in certain diseases where it has a proven track record (e.g. diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension, osteoarthritis, colitis, depression, etc.). Chronic diseases will be more helpful due to heavy patient load in the U.S.
    • B. By introducing drugs herbs with specific benefits
    • C. By providing practical training in yoga and meditation

    Once we have proven benefits in outcomes by utilizing Ayurveda in preventative and therapeutic areas, then regular Ayurveda course be introduced.

    I have suggested the following to Indian health officials:

    1. Search all the Indian as well as Western literature (Medline) for solid scientific evidence on beneficial effects of Ayurveda and present a report. In case of multiple studies, review articles need to be prepared. Important papers and findings should be published in U.S. journals to acquaint the U.S. medicos.
    2. Well planned and organized annual teaching visits of Ayurveda professors in willing medical schools and their teaching hospitals both for Ayurveda teaching (mainly evidence-based disease treatment, yoga and meditation) and joint Ayurveda research with NIH funding.
    3. The Indian government should invite a delegation of a few U.S. medical school CAM faculty members for discussions and visits to various Ayurveda colleges, hospitals, manufacturing and research facilities in India, so as to acquaint them of Ayurveda in detail.

    We must continue to pursue what we have initiated for a long-term goal of introduction of Ayurveda in the mainstream U.S. medicine. I am optimistic of its success as U.S. patients and population do utilize herbal medicines/products and services on their own by spending $40 billion annually and the U.S. mainstream medicine has accepted CAM in patient care based on the scientific evidence.

    Finally my plea to medical school faculty members, especially of Indian origin: Provide active assistance in this vital project which I believe will help both our profession and our patients.

    Rational Exuberance: OPEN Conference
    The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America Silicon Valley chapter’s conference in Palo Alto had three hundred people in attendance who took advantage of the experience and success of those that have already made their mark in the world of business, writes Ras Hafiz Siddiqui.

    (Top, left): Afternoon keynote speaker Bill Reichert, general partner at Garage Ventures.
    (Top, right): Keynote speaker Syed Babar Ali of Lahore Institute of Management Sciences (LUMS).
    (Below): OPEN-SV president Umair Khan (l) and Dilawar Syed welcoming delegates at the start of OPEN conference at SAP headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., June 16. [All photos by Ras Hafiz Siddiqui]

    The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America Silicon Valley chapter ( held its fourth annual gathering at SAP headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., June 16, by testing the “rational exuberance” of both the valley hi-tech industry and the spirit of enterprise within the Pakistani-American community today.  This full-day affair incorporated three keynote speeches, four panels and workshops each, during which approximately three hundred people in attendance took advantage of the experience and success of those that have already made their mark in the world of business. 

    The event started off with a registration period and a light breakfast followed by its formal opening by OPEN-SV president Umair Khan. Umair welcomed everyone and briefly touched on the accomplishments of the organization in the short time that it has been around, including its developing relationships with top notch universities such as MIT and UC Berkeley.

    Dilawar Syed next introduced us to the day’s schedule and their logistical elements of this forum. He started by introducing Professor Tom Byers, head of the tech ventures program at Stanford University. Tom started off on the question “Are entrepreneurs born or made?” and took a poll on that (almost a split vote). He presented a short introduction to the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. “I am trying to think about now and the future,” he said while addressing the strategic aspects of technology funding today. He said that U.S. venture capital is still watching IT and photonics, nanotechnology, environment and energy prospects today. Armed with statistics on capital availability Tom presented a Jeff Hawkins video on what it takes to be an entrepreneur. “You have to know a little bit about everything,” it said, and nothing could be truer in the world of business startups today. In other words, entrepreneurship is a management style that involves pursuing opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. Byers added that only a few universities taught entrepreneurship in 1970 and today hundreds of them are doing so. He shared his thoughts on what makes a great business opportunity, a good business plan and necessary wisdom: “Success comes after much toil,” he said.

    Panel 1: “Alternate Paths to Success,” consisted of Monis Rehman (CEO Naseeb Networks), Rehan Jalili (president TSRF), Khalid Saiduddin (founder Saafwater) and Sophia Qureshi (news producer Al Jazeerah). Moderated by Imran Sayeed, this panel incorporated the thoughts of Monis, who introduced “Halal Dating” and employment ( to our community, Rehan, who has been advising American stars on how to keep their bodies fit, Khalid “Paniwaala” who is trying to promote water cleanliness in the slums of Karachi and Sophia whose employer can be considered a “problematic” career choice.

    Workshop I which was going on concurrently (making reporting difficult) focused on “Doing Well by Doing Good: For Profit & Not For-Profit Opportunities in Pakistan.” Moderated by Aaref Hilaly, the presenters included Bilal Musharraf (ePlanet Ventures), Ahsan Saleem (Director, The Citizens Foundation) and Yusuf Hussain (MD, PSEB). Bilal spoke on the giving potential of Pakistanis, their philanthropy, and Yusuf spoke on “Pakistan, Destination Next” and on prioritizing human capital. Ahsan Saleem is no stranger to us here since TCF has already established itself in this area (thanks in part to Amjad Noorani).

    Panel II: “Profiles in Corporate Success,” included Naseem Amin (SVP Biogen Idec), Kamal Ahmad (MD, Morgan Stanley and Zia Yusuf (EVP SAP). Moderated by Fawad Zakaria, this panel concentrated on breaking glass ceilings and aiming high in corporate America. Naseem said that he never planned to do what he did today, Kamal charted out his journey from America’s rust belt to semiconductors and systems and Zia talked about his experiences at the World Bank where he also met his wife Paru (of the local DIL chapter) and where the two decided to give India-Pakistan friendship a jump-start.

    Workshop II held upstairs at the same time (reporting assignments can keep one fit too) dealt specifically with “Fundraising for First Time Entrepreneurs.” Moderated by Waheed Qureshi, speakers Larry Kubal (GP Labrador Ventures), Saeed Amidi (Amidzad Ventures), Tom Fontain (principal Mayfield Fund) and Naeem Zafar (Altair Ventures) reminded everyone of the necessity of doing a thorough study of the market and what need your product fills, and that investors are bright people who cannot be convinced easily. One speaker said that his investment company saw 4000 business plans a year and only invested in 6 or 7. So it was best to be precise and do ones homework before presenting a business plan.  

    After lunch, which turned out to be a great opportunity for continued networking, Bill Reichert, general partner at Garage Ventures presented the afternoon keynote. Bill touched upon the prevailing wisdom for new ventures namely 1) Come up with a disruptive technology 2) Write a brilliant business plan 3) Raise a pile of money 4) Raise another pile of money etc. 5) Go mainstream by hiring a real CEO. Reichert presented a better “Small is Beautiful” alternative and his version of the “Top Ten NEW Rules for Entrepreneurs and Investors.” Just to mention a couple of them here, Bill said that the fundamental objective from the old rules point of view was to create wealth and from the new rules it was to create value. For the best ways of getting started, the old rule was to have a brilliant entrepreneur start things but the new rule was to build a talented team. The sharing of company vision through a mission statement was old school because the new rule of sharing is through a mantra. He also said that the focus of the old business model was on raising capital, but the new rule focuses on raising revenues. And one important rule that cannot be ignored today is that the “Good old American know how” of yesterday has been replaced by the “Good new GLOBAL know how,” of today.

    Panel III: “Opportunities in Global Entrepreneurship” followed on what was to be a very busy afternoon. On the panel, Raghib Hussain (CTO, Cavium Networks), Adnan Lawai (CEO, Folio3), Faraz Hoodbhoy (CEO, Pixsense), Dr. Sana Khan (CEO, TrueMRI) and Salman Akhtar (CEO Techlogix) discussed the merits and possible demerits of going global. This panel was moderated by Umair Khan. Here this writer has to add with pride that Raghib, once a coworker just a few years ago, he is today a co-founder of a company that has just recently had a huge IPO on NASDAQ.  All Pakistanis and especially alumni of NED in Karachi should also be proud of him. And one cannot forget Faraz Hoodbhoy here who continues to live up to his last name and is actually hiring Pakistani-Americans to fill key job positions in Pakistan. Salman Akhtar’s company might also be in a similar hiring position.

    Workshop III: “Moving to Greener Pastures” dealt with career management. Moderated by Dilawar Syed, the panel consisting of Bari Abdul (SVP McAffee), Mubashar Hameed (SVP & CIO, Fiserv Output Solutions), Hasan Rizvi (VP, Oracle) and Shazia Makhdumi (CEO ColorfulStories) had a chance to share the wisdom that they obtained on their own paths to success. Shazia Makhdumi said that one has to be careful sometimes as to what you ask for because you just might get it (in the career context).  Bari Abdul said that “Desis do not do enough networking,” something that many of us are becoming more aware of here today.
    Panel IV following the mid-afternoon networking break, certainly turned out to be quite an interesting one. Three startup business plans were presented. Mansoor Khan (DiagnosisOne), Khalid Saiduddin (Founder Saaafwater) and Amra Tareen (CEO Masala Inc.) made their pitch to a group of potential investors on the Panel, namely Ayaz Haque (DFJ ePlanet), Faysal Sohail (CMEA Ventures), Ammar Hanafi (Alloy Ventures) and Bill Reichert (Garage Ventures). Faruq Ahmad moderated this American Idol turned “Entrepreneurial Idol” segment. Each presentation was judged on its own merits. Khalid had the strength of social responsibility behind him as green or environmentally conscious startups are attracting a great deal of investment today. His pilot project in the Lyari area of Karachi, Pakistan is a case in point. Mansoor’s presentation was extremely professionally done. Armed with data it was just a little bit on the dry side. And few could match Amra’s energy of presentation. Out of the four potential investors, three voted for Saafwater and one for Masala. The audience also gave Saafwater their thumbs up, ending the most interactive part of the day.

    Workshop IV: “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise” concentrated on both our physical and financial health. Presenters Dr. Mobaser Rana, Imran Jaffer, Dr. Adib Ashraf and Dr. Zakia Rahman shared their knowledge of diet, body weight, estate planning and more with us. This workshop was a nice addition to what is usually a technology centric forum.

    Being South Asian, our risk is higher,” said Dr. Rana, who still added that paratha avoidance in ones diet is not necessary to lead a healthy life.

    After a word of thanks from Umair Khan, the final keynote speaker of the day Syed Babar Ali was introduced to a now packed hall. Speaking on the topic “Taking the Plunge: A Personal Perspective on Entrepreneurship, Education & Philanthropy” the speaker had a remarkable career in all three areas to reflect upon.  He founded the Lahore Institute of Management Sciences (LUMS) in 1985 which is the country’s premiere management education institution today. He has also had considerable success in commercial startups in Pakistan including the set up of Packages Limited, Milkpak Limited, Tetra Pak Pakistan Limited and International General Insurance Company Pakistan Limited (to name a few). OPEN Forum attendees were honored to have such a distinguished speaker in their midst.

    Syed Babar Ali went through his life experiences in his speech including the establishment of Packages Limited, his involvement in fertilizer promotion, liquid food distribution, his interaction with Z.A. Bhutto, General Zia, and of course the road to the formation of LUMS. He expressed his happiness at the large number of LUMS graduates working in both Pakistan and North America today. “We want to do better,” he said. “We want to establish an Engineering University,” he added. Taking Thomas Friedman’s recent writing in view; he went on to add that we need to find oil in our own backyard in Pakistan (the oil being found in human talent). Sharing his vision of a future school of science and engineering (SSE) attached to LUMS; he said that Pakistan could produce technical talent that the world’s top companies would be happy to employ. He said that initial capital for the project has been raised and the project is scheduled to operate an undergraduate program within five years. Organizations such as OPEN could also help in this effort. “In ten years Lahore will have its own version of Silicon Valley,” said Syed Babar Ali. He said that Pakistanis worldwide are a generous community but they do not invest in building institutional infrastructure in the country. Here we have an opportunity to have a school patterned on Stanford and MIT. “We have to bring the SSE visibility to the Pakistani Diaspora.”

    To conclude here, the sponsors of this event, the OPEN Executive Committee and team of volunteers need to be commended for the success of OPEN Forum 2007. It is great to see people step away from politics and learn the ropes of cooperative success using today’s global business model. Cavium Networks is one such example of Pakistani-Indian-American cooperation leading to a NASDAQ winner. Raghib Hussain, a graduate of the Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw (NED) Engineering College/University (founded by a member of the Parsi community) in Karachi has assisted in leading his company to its global presence today. Rational exuberance dictates that we seriously consider helping Syed Babar Ali’s efforts to set up the LUMS-SSE so that we can find more such success stories in the future.

    NEWS DIARY: June 2007 Roundup
    Mumbai Poised for a Milk Crisis | Indo-Bangla Train Service by July | Air Strike Kills Over 30 Afghan Civilians | Relief Riots | Lanka Hopeful | Stop Canoodling | World Heritage Site | Refineries Told to Clean Up | Paraded Naked | India Rebuffs U.S. | Pranab Stresses Sino-Indian Ties

    Mumbai Poised for a Milk Crisis
    A milk depot in Mumbai.

    Mumbai is poised for a milk shortage in the coming days. Suppliers across Maharashtra have prevented over 2.5 million liter of milk from entering Mumbai and Thane. They preferred instead to give it away or even throw it away.

    Says a resident of Mumbai, “Milk shortage is going to hit us hard.”

    “We don't even have milk for the children or to make tea,” adds another.

    Says Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathan chairman Raju Shetty, “We are giving it away for free to children and villagers. We can't do business with dairies. It is not viable.”

    Suppliers complain that it is economically unviable to do business with city dairies.

    Some facts about milk in the market:

    A liter of cow's milk fetches Rs. 18 in the retail market.

    The cost of production is Rs. 14.

    Suppliers only get Rs. 9 per liter.

    Similarly a liter of buffalo's milk fetches Rs. 25 in the retail market while its cost of production is Rs. 18. Yet suppliers make only Rs. 12 per liter.

    The city is likely to face a shortfall of 1 million liters of milk. Dairies are meanwhile making alternative arrangements to get over the crisis by sourcing the milk from Gujarat.
    |Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

    Indo-Bangla Train Service by July

    The first ever train service between India and Bangladesh is expected to begin in July with the inter-country “Moitree Express” ready for operations, officials said June 30.

    The train has already made several trial runs within Bangladesh with a speed of 150 km per hour after it was fitted with modern facilities, railway officials said.

    Passenger carriages of the train were imported from Indonesia but they were assembled in Saidpur Railway Workshop to run between Dhaka and Kolkata, the officials were quoted as saying by the Dhaka daily Daily Star.

    The engineers said the cost of each carriage varied from Taka 18 million to Taka 30 million according to the facilities available as the service comprises chair coaches of economy class, air-conditioned first class and air-conditioned sleeping class alongside a power car, one buffet car and a prayer car.

    Bangladesh Railway officials earlier said there would be three categories of fares of $8, $12 and $20. Bangladesh will keep 78 per cent of the revenue while India will get the rest, as the distance between Shialdaha and the Bangladesh border is 120 kilometers while the length of the rail track in Bangladesh territory is 418 km.

    A 10-coach train with the capacity of carrying a total of 760 passengers is expected to commute everyday and it would start at 7:45 a.m. from Bangladesh towards India and at 7:00 a.m. from Shialdaha to Bangladesh while it would take nearly 11 hours to reach the destinations including the time for immigration checking.

    The train will run between Dhaka Cantonment rail station and Kolkata of West Bengal via Darshana without any break, officials said.
    |Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

    Air Strike Kills Over 30 Afghan Civilians
    An Afghan girl injured in an air strike by foreign forces fighting the Taliban June 30.

    More than 30 civilians were killed and dozens wounded June 30 in an air strike by foreign forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, a regional official said.

    “It happened in the early morning,” provincial official Mohammed Daoud told Reuters. “Between 30-37 civilians have been killed and tens (dozens) of others have been injured.”

    A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan confirmed the incident, but said he had heard reports that only “a small number” of civilians were involved.

    U.S. Air Force Major John Thomas said that after a long skirmish and under constant fire from the Taliban, ISAF troops called for close air support during an operation in Helmand, where the Taliban has been resurgent this year.

    “All enemy positions were destroyed, but after friendly forces surveyed the area, there were reports of some possible civilian deaths,” he said.

    “The remains of some people who appeared to be civilians were found among enemy fighters in a trenchline,” he added.

    The rising toll the conflict is taking on Afghan civilians is a sore point for Western-backed President Hamid Karzai, who is also grappling to stamp out corruption and boost the economy.

    Nearly 300 civilians have been killed in operations led by foreign forces this year alone, according to government officials, residents and aid groups.
    |Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

    Relief Riots

    Hungry victims of monsoon-spawned floods in southwestern Pakistan rioted, protesting slow, meager aid reaching their marooned villages where many feared the receding waters would yield numerous bodies.

    Police fired tear gas and shots into the air but failed to disperse a crowd of several thousand villagers who broke into and ransacked the mayor's office in this city in southwestern Pakistan ringed by floodwaters.

    The widespread flooding struck after Cyclone Yemyin dumped torrential rains on the area.

    Protesters said they had waded through chest-deep water from outlying areas to voice their anger about the dearth of relief aid. Only packets of biscuits and bottles of water had been received, they said.

    “Every family is looking for one or two members. They are all missing,” said Chaker Baloth, who walked more than 25 miles through the night to reach this city of some 150,000. Others feared they would never see their missing family members again.

    The government said the official death toll in Baluchistan province was 14, with more than 24 missing, although local media reported much higher numbers.

    Farooq Ahmed Khan, head of the National Disaster Management Authority, said accurate figures were not available because of widespread communications disruptions in the stricken areas.

    Khan told reporters in Islamabad that the military had rescued about 1,600 people, including 600 fishermen in the Arabian Sea.

    Military helicopters continued to drop relief supplies, but many of the more than 800,000 people hit by monsoon flooding in southwest Pakistan appeared to have received little or nothing.
    |Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

    Lanka Hopeful
    Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama

    Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said June 28 he was optimistic that a meeting of top donors this week would help to revive the island nation's moribund peace process.

    Peace broker Norway is holding the crucial meeting of Sri Lanka's top aid donors in a bid to halt a new wave of bloodshed.

    “We are expecting a very favorable development. The outcome is expected to encourage the current peace process toward contributing to the sustainability of our country,” said Bogollagama.

    Oslo-brokered peace talks collapsed in October last year and since then diplomatic efforts have failed to end violence in the bitter ethnic conflict which has claimed more than 60,000 lives in the past 35 years.

    More than 5,000 people have died in the latest wave of fighting since December 2005 despite a truce in place since February 2002.

    Bogollagama, in Japan for the first time since he took office in January, met with his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso, who pledged about one million dollars' worth of aid for landmine removal and support for refugees.

    Japan accounts for about two-thirds of total bilateral aid to the island and international human rights groups have been lobbying Tokyo to exert pressure on Colombo to stem the spiraling violence.

    Bogollagama praised Japan's continued assistance even as some donor countries move to cut aid owing to alleged human rights abuses.
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    Stop Canoodling
    Patan Durbar square on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

    Couples should stop cuddling and kissing near a revered square surrounded by palaces and temples in Nepal's capital because it shows a lack of respect for religion, a committee warned.

    “The environment around this ancient religious site has been desecrated by these young Romeos and Juliets,” Rajan Maharjan, a supervisor from the Kathmandu Durbar Square Conservation Program Committee told AFP.

    Durbar Square, a UNESCO world heritage site and popular destination for thousands of foreign backpackers to spend the day, has a series of Hindu and Buddhist shrines that date back to the sixteenth century.

    But the square, which is home to a young girl revered as a living goddess and was the seat of Nepal's kings until the 1960s, has also become a popular spot for lovebirds to gather in the evening.

    “Lovers kissing and cuddling while sheltering in the temples has become a common sight, so we have posted notices telling people to stop,” said Maharjan, adding that little notice has been paid to the signs.

    “We put the notices up and the same day, they were ripped down, but we plan to take pictures of the couples and publish them to try and make them stop,” he said.

    Nepal, where about 80 percent of the 27 million population are Hindu, is extremely socially conservative, and public displays of affection between couples are viewed as culturally unacceptable.
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    World Heritage Site

    The Red Fort in New Delhi.

    Delhi’s Red Fort has been declared a World Heritage Site. The announcement was made by the UNESCO's World Heritage Committee in New Zealand. Three other sites — the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine in Japan and the Parthian Fortresses of Nisa in Turkmenistan — also got the coveted status.

    The Archaeological Survey of India took over the fort from the Indian Army in 2003, and has since been working on a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan for the 100-acre complex.

    World Heritage status means the environs inside and immediately outside the fort need to be maintained to suit the cultural character of the monument. The ASI will be duty-bound to carry out all work. UNESCO does not always provide funding for World Heritage monuments.

    There are immediate plans to revamp the Meena Bazaar inside the fort. “Our responsibility has gone up with the fort getting this international recognition. There will be zero tolerance for hawkers or encroachments. There has to be a Mughal feel inside the monument now. There are 78 shops here and the quality control will be stringent,” says an ASI official.

    “This is a victory for the ASI. This is a monument that always deserved World Heritage status. Acquiring it from the Army was also a difficult task. With the Army at the helm, there was no management plan. It was the ASI which called for removing encroachments, and slowly started their restoration work. The monument has finally got its due,” says O.P. Jain from INTACH.
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    Refineries Told to Clean Up
    Assamese see their rivers as lifegivers.

    Authorities in India's north-eastern state of Assam have threatened local oil refineries with closure unless they stopped polluting local rivers, reports the BBC.

    Assam's Pollution Control Board has given five refineries a year to stop discharging effluents into rivers.

    It says the refineries were dumping effluents at levels much higher than acceptable federal limits.

    Two of the five refineries have told the board that they have stopped discharging effluents into rivers.

    For the past two years, Assam's pollution control authorities have targeted the refineries at Digboi, Duliajan, Guwahati, Bongaigaon and Numaligarh.

    They have been told to stop discharging effluents into the Brahmaputra, Bharalu, Dhansiri, Digboi, Buridihing and Tunia rivers.

    Pollution control board chief Jawaharlal Dutta said the levels of discharge were 15 to 20 times higher than acceptable federal limits.

    “The refineries have done huge damage to the rivers in the past 40 years. A lot of marine life, like fish, tortoises and the river dolphin, has almost disappeared,” he said.

    Two of the five refineries have informed the authorities that they have cleaned up their act already.

    “We have even used the treated affluent to develop a green belt in the refinery area,” the Numaligarh refinery told the authorities.

    The refinery at Bongaigaon also says it has stopped discharging effluents into the river.

    No independent confirmation of these claims is available from the authorities yet.

    Experts say the older refineries were the main polluters, as it was difficult to install pollution control equipment in their old equipment.
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    Paraded Naked

    Two Indian soldiers have been paraded naked for allegedly attempting to rape a girl in Indian-administered Kashmir, police say.

    Angry residents in Kunan village near the northern town of Bandipora beat up the soldiers, stripped them bare and paraded them through the market.

    Police have charged the soldiers with attempted rape.

    An army spokesman said the charges were baseless, and that the villagers had been incited by “hardliners.”

    Reports quoting local residents say that the two soldiers, dressed in civilian attire, forcibly entered a house in the village of Kunan.

    The soldiers are said to have posed as militants and asked the family for food and shelter.

    The reports said that the soldiers allegedly attempted to rape a teenage girl in the house.

    When the girl raised the alarm, neighbors rushed in and joined by the family, beat up the soldiers, stripped them, shaved their heads and smeared soot on their faces, witnesses say.

    The soldiers were then paraded naked through the local market by the angry mob, who also shouted slogans against the army.

    Police fired tear gas shells and fired in the air to break up the demonstration before taking the soldiers into custody.

    Army spokesman Colonel Manjinder Singh said that the soldiers had gone to the village to collect intelligence.

    He said some “hardliners” had leveled false allegations against them, and incited the residents.
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    India Rebuffs U.S.

    India has rebuffed a U.S. call to ditch the Non-Aligned Movement, saying it remains strongly committed to the 116-member organization that includes some of Washington's biggest foes.

    “There can be no question of India's firm and abiding commitment to non-alignment,” Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in a statement.

    India's declaration came after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on New Delhi to “move past old ways of thinking.”

    Rice told the United States-India Business Council in Washington that non-alignment may have “made sense during the Cold War when the world really was divided into rival camps” but since then it “has lost its meaning.”

    The Times of India newspaper quoted un-named Indian government officials as saying the timing of Rice's comments was “particularly poor,” as India and the United States are in discussions to clinch a landmark civilian nuclear technology deal.

    Some Indian critics of the deal say Washington wants to influence New Delhi's strategic policies in the talks. The newspaper cited the government officials as saying Rice's remarks would only fuel such suspicions.

    The government officials also said India, one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement, would never allow Washington to dictate its foreign policy.

    The US, which has locked horns with Tehran over its atomic program, has already voiced strong objections to India's plans to receive gas from energy-rich Iran via a multi-billion-dollar pipeline through Pakistan.
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    Pranab Stresses Sino-Indian Ties

    The India-China partnership is an important determinant for both regional as well as global peace and development, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Jakarta.

    Speaking on the theme of “India’s Growing Engagement with East Asia,” Mukherjee said the India-China equation was also key to Asia’s emergence as the “political and economic centre” of a new international order.

    The minister, who is on his first bilateral visit to Southeast Asia, addressed a key issue of interest to the region: India’s growing engagement with China at a time when the two countries are still trying to resolve their contentious border dispute.

    “As India's largest neighbor and a key emerging player in the international arena, China remains an important priority of India's foreign policy. The rapidly growing trade and economic exchanges between the two countries are pointers to the fact that India and China are now constantly engaged in mutually rewarding pursuits…” a text of his speech said.
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    An NRI Victory: Right to Information Act
    Following the efforts of Association for India’s Development volunteers, the Indian embassy in Washington has implemented India’s landmark Right to Information Act, bringing its operations fully under the act’s purview, write Arun Gopalan and Rajat Dua.

    Activists of Association for India’s Development U.S. demonstrating outside the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C., demanding that the Indian government withdraw its amendments to curtail the Right to Information Act.

    After persistent efforts from volunteers of the Association for India’s Development, the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C., has implemented India’s landmark Right to Information Act, 2005, bringing its operations fully under the act’s purview.

    The RTI Act is being extensively used in India to obtain information from government offices, and this recent action extends the implementation of the act to all Indian citizens living in the U.S. as well.

    “Filing an RTI application is easier than the leave of absence applications you wrote in your primary school,” says Virginia-based Somu Kumar, a volunteer of the Anti Corruption Team of AID. Kumar is one of the first Non-Resident Indians to have filed an RTI application from the U.S. and has requested information that may help hold Dow Chemicals, headquartered in the U.S., accountable for the Bhopal gas leak of 1984 and to clean up the Bhopal plant that continues be covered with toxic waste which has steadily seeped into the ground water which the local communities use for drinking.

    Any Indian citizen with a valid Indian passport can now file an RTI application to Rahul Chhabra, who is the public information officer at the Indian Embassy after paying a fee of 24 cents which is the equivalent of Rs. 10. As specified in the act, the embassy will automatically transfer the application to the relevant department in India if the information requested does not pertain to the embassy itself. The applicant should get a response within 35 days or he/she can file an appeal to the Appellate Authority and later to the Chief Information Commissioner. More details pertaining to filing can be found on the Web at

    This implementation is likely to have wide range of implications. For example, it will substantially help NRIs who invite their parents to the U.S. Previously passport applications took an incredibly long time with several visits to the passport office and some amount of bribe. Now with RTI, passports are being sent on time because the officials cannot answer questions posed through RTI that they have to answer to avoid being penalized. RTI has also come as a boon for expatriate Indians who own some property back home and are worried about land sharks gobbling up their precious landholding. Now those elements can be kept in check.

    “Having been complaining all my life about improper roads and street lights malfunctioning and corruption at government departments, RTI came as a great boon to me. But somehow being here in the U.S., I felt left out of all the action. With RTI being implemented now in the U.S., all of us now have the opportunity to do something more than just complaining about things back home,” says an elated Arun Gopalan, a Gaithersburg, Md., resident who went on to file an application about the malfunctioning of streetlights on his street back home
    Dr. Supriya Kumar, a biology researcher at the University of Chicago, filed an application to find out how many farmers and artisans have committed suicide between 2004-2006 in Vidharbha, Maharashtra, how many of them owned land, what was the procedure to transfer this land to the spouse, and in how many cases did they transfer the land titles. She hopes that this information will help in petitioning the government of India to reduce/remove costs of land title transfer for widows / widowers of farmers who committed suicide.

    However the path of getting RTI to the U.S was not all that rosy. Volunteers of AID have been campaigning since November of 2006 to get the Indian Embassy officials in Washington to implement the RTI act. A number of emails and phone calls were made. Later, realizing that the communication with the embassy officials was proving to be futile, a few volunteers started communicating directly with the Chief Information Commissioner in India, Wajahat Habibullah, seeking his intervention. The Central Information Commission issued an order around April 2007 bringing all the missions abroad under the purview of the RTI act. It took 90 days more of campaigning by AID volunteers to get the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C. to accept its first RTI petition.

    AID’s Anti-Corruption Team focuses on spreading awareness about the RTI Act in the U.S. and supports non-governmental organizations working in India to fight corruption. AID volunteers started getting involved in RTI when they participated in a world-wide campaign against a proposed amendment to remove file notings from the RTI act by the Indian government in August 2006. File notings are a part of the government documentation which specify the reasoning process, factors and people responsible in any decision taken by the government and thus help to bring accountability to all Governmental undertakings. The amendments were then withdrawn immediately. Since then AID has set up an Anti-Corruption Fund and hopes to raise at least $50,000 to help with implementation of RTI and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, another progressive Indian act that is not achieving its potential due to rampant corruption.

    With an annual budget of $3 billion, NREGA guarantees 100 days of daily-wage employment to all rural Indian families. This is vital income that relieves these families of the need to migrate in search of employment — strengthening both their food security as well as their social stability and civil rights. The most marginalized communities fight the hardest against corruption and for food security, as these are at the heart of their struggle to live a life of dignity. AID is committed to making sure that these landmark pieces of legislation — the Right to Information Act and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act — addressing the interlinked issues of corruption and food security are implemented properly in their right forms and spirit. NREGA together with the RTI act can help achieve this for such marginalized communities.

    Several AID full-timers in India have committed their time to anti-corruption efforts. In the past year, since that the Indian government has begun to implement the NREGA, audits done by AID volunteers and partners in Orissa and U.P. has exposed widespread corruption. For instance during AID-Orissa’s audit in works such as road construction and soil conservation in Gajapati district, several villagers voiced concerns that while they did not work, and were paid no money, their names appeared in muster rolls (documentation the government keeps for NREGA) and job cards as having received payments. Millions of rupees were thus pocketed in each panchayat. Based on AID-Orissa’s report, the district collector ordered an enquiry. People of Uppalada village fearlessly spoke of rampant corruption at the block level by engineers and panchayat members. In the panchayat elections of February 2007, corruption became a hot issue. Uppalada elected a new sarpanch, who promised to implement NREGA works in a more transparent way. From March, AID-Orissa began street plays in Gandahati, Bagusala, Agarakhandi, Karandi and Upalada panchayats raising awareness of people’s right to work and to access unemployment benefits, if no work was made available. Nationwide, nearly 50 percent of money available for NREGA was not spent in 2006-07 as the government hasn’t made NREGA work application forms widely available in villages. Unspent money invites corruption. After a campaign of educational street plays, AID-India village volunteers distributed NREGA work applications and hundreds of people submitted them and got dated receipts.

    The full-timers also plan to keep the State Information Commissions in check in various states by reviewing their decisions periodically and making sure that the RTI act is being implemented properly and the erring officials are not allowed to go scot-free. ACT volunteers have been involved in such activities in the past. In October 2006, unhappy with the leniency of the functioning of the Chief Information Commissioner in dealing with such erring officers, volunteers of ACT carried out extensive research and analysis of the decisions given by the CIC and after finding substantial data to support their claim of leniency, petitioned the president of India to question the CIC about the implementation of the act. Thereafter, the president met with a delegation of some partners of AID like Parivartan and listened to all their concerns. Since then, there has been a visible change in the functioning of the CIC, who for the first time started imposed penalties on faulting officers.

    Currently AID also supports anti-corruption work by various partners in New Delhi, Gujarat, U.P., A.P., Orissa, Jharkhand and Rajasthan.

    Back in the U.S., close to 10 applications have been filed so far in what has been an encouraging start to the RTI awareness campaign. Some NRIs have even used RTI to get their tax returns from India that had been pending for more than five years. ACT will continue its efforts to spread awareness about the Right to Information Act and urges all citizens to participate actively. India’s RTI is similar to the Freedom of Information Act in the U.S. that is used so extensively by the American public that 3-5 million FOIA applications are filed every year.

    “The volunteers of the anti-corruption team are committed to helping out the NRIs with applications. We really hope all the NRIs help us in weeding out corruption entirely from the system by using RTI extensively and supporting AID’s Anti-corruption efforts” says Vinod Mohanam, a Portland, Ore., resident and a member of AID-ACT.

    The AID Chapter at Bay Area is hosting a fundraising concert by the Indian rock band Indian Ocean July 14 at the Chabot College Theater in Hayward, Calif. The proceeds of the event will support initiatives that will spread awareness about the Right to Information Act and hence would weed out corruption and demand greater accountability from the Government. For more information, readers are requested to visit the following Web link:

    The RTI Act 2005 is widely considered as one of the most progressive laws ever passed in independent India. It empowers Indian citizens to question government decisions, and makes it mandatory for the government to disclose all information pertaining to those decisions. RTI when implemented properly is strongly believed to be an effective tool for controlling rampant corruption in government departments and is already proving to be a potent weapon against corruption. A number of these success stories have been documented in the “Success Stories” section of AID’s RTI Web site

    The Association for India’s Development is a U.S.-based non-profit organization which supports grassroots groups working towards sustainable, just, equitable and holistic development in India.

    It was formed in 1991 and has about 1,000 volunteers across US. It raises about $1 million dollars/year and supports NGOs working on education, health, rural development, social justice, women’s empowerment and human rights. More information can be found at

    AID Anti-corruption Fund

    To work with the people of India to fight corruption, promote equity and food security using the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, AID pledges to support organizations working to raise awareness, train civic bodies, monitor implementation, and socially audit results.

    Please contribute to the AID Anti-Corruption Fund (Web link: to help them in their initiatives. Please visit for more details on AID Anti-corruption work.


    Natyamela: Bangla Theatre
    Sanskriti’s Bangla theatre fest presented a diverse array of productions ranging from a play to a colorful children’s extravaganza. A Siliconeer report.

    (Clockwise from top, left): Sangita Nandy during her performance in “Rajlakshmi and Srikanto”; a scene from ENAD’s production of “Chatuskon”: Amrita Sircar and Subroto Kundu presenting the audio play “Aaj Basanto.”

    The first thing you have to give organizers Sanskriti credit for is the audacity of cultural vision, regardless of the quality of the productions. At a time when even South Asian organizations run away from the daunting task of organizing a theatre fest (When was the last time you heard of a South Asian theatre fest?), here’s a cultural organization representing only a sliver of that South Asian community, that, too, in only a small part of the U.S., i.e., Northern California, and it goes ahead shrugging off all challenges and puts out a theatre fest in Bangla for three years in a row.

    Good for you, Sanskriti.

    Good for you, all the various groups who performed. This includes first and foremost ENAD — the superb Bay Area theatrical group whose name is the Bengali acronym of Ekti Natoker Dal — whose Chatuskon was easily the most distinguished presentation of this year’s Natyamela 2007 festival presented at Pleasanton, Calif.

    A scene from Porshi’s “Nakshi Kanthar Maath.”

    Credit is also due to the bunch of vivacious Bangladeshi kids who presented a colorful audio visual enactment of folk poet Jasimuddin’s Nakshi Kanthar Maath (Field of the Embroidered Quilt) under the able hand of Naushaba Rashid Rubna; Sangita Nandi for her ambitious solo performance as she added a snatch of impressive dancing to her formidable acting talent as she enacted a portion from “Srikanto” a popular novel by Bangla fiction titan Saratchandra Chattopadhyay; the various groups that performed recitals of plays, known in Bangla as shruti natak (audio play).

    The audio play has secured a comfortable niche as a sub-genre in Bangla theatre.

    The genre deserves a large part of its popularity to the high-quality radio plays of yesteryear, and it has to be said that in the hands of good performers a radio play, while not as comprehensive as a theatrical production, can nevertheless be compelling.

    The theatre fest presented three such audio-plays: “Bhoot o Bhabishyat,” (Ghosts/ Past and Present) by Swagato Basumallick and group; “Apaharan” (Kidnap) by Somen Nandy and group and “Aaj Basanto” (It’s Spring Today) by Amrita Sircar and Subroto Kundu.

    To be sure, the performances were not always flawless (though Sanskriti’s organization was — how an earth they manage to work on the dot is something all other desi organizations should learn from, though don’t hold your breath). All the same, simply the chutzpah and organizational commitment to host a Bangla theatre fest consistently for three years in a row (now Southern California has its own version) is a remarkable achievement.

    Sacramento, Calif.-based activist Najmus Saquib presented an imaginative and interesting foray into the history of Bangla theater as keynote speaker. His presence, as well as the presence of San Jose, Calif.-based Bangla monthly Porshi’s production of Nakshi Kanthar Maath represented another laudable achievement of Sanskriti: a genuinely politically and communally transcendent representation of both Bengals — Bangladesh or East Bengal and the Indian state of West Bengal — in a cultural undertaking. What a joy it was to see Bangladeshis and Indians represented well both on stage and off stage in the audience, a sight, let it be said, that is all too rare not just in the Bay Area but also in North America.


    Future PM?
    U.P. Chief Minister Mayawati
    The sky is the limit for the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

    (Above): Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati (l) calling on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, May 26. [PIB photo]

    A new prime ministerial candidate has emerged in India’s political horizon and Mayawati, the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the state with India’s largest population, could very well pull it off.

    India has a history of women leaders leading from the front, ranging from the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to current leaders Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalitha (Tamil Nadu), Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan) and Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal).

    Like Indira, predictions are that Mayawati could go all the way if she manages to replicate some of the success at the recent state elections in Uttar Pradesh at the federal level.

    U.P. returns 85 Members of Parliament and has a history of throwing up prime ministers. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira, V.P, Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee have all cut their political teeth here.

    If Mayawati could get the bulk of the U.P. seats and a few more in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar where her political outfit, the Bahujan Samaj Party, has substantial support, she could command considerable clout in a new Lok Sabha with her MP strength in the range of 120 to 140 seats, the same as the current ruling Congress party. General elections are due in India in 2009.

    In the age of coalition politics, this could be enough for her to lead the federal government with support from parties that back the Congress today, the Left and regional outfits from Tamil Nadu and Bihar that are united in their dislike for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. An isolated Congress would then have to fall in line.

    Indeed, Mayawati, a former schoolteacher, civil services aspirant, firebrand grassroots leader with a mind of her own, has read the political situation.

    Parties have been broadly jostling for four vote bases — the upper castes (Brahmins, Banias, Rajputs, Kayasthas and Kshatriyas), the middle castes (also referred as the backward castes), dalits (considered the lowest caste) and the Muslims.

    The Congress Party’s attempts at reservations in educational institutions appear aimed to curry favor with the middle castes that have so far aligned themselves with regional outfits like Samajwadi Party in U.P., DMK in Tamil Nadu and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, and the bad news is that they are unlikely to change loyalties.

    The dalits and Muslims have admittedly been the traditional voter base of the Congress, but that has slowly eroded over time.

    The BJP is known as a party for the upper castes and traders and its temple movement in the past and the Hindutva ideology targets this vote bank.

    The SP and RJD try to reach out to the Muslims.

    Mayawati’s party has traditionally represented the dalits due to which she has never been able to cobble a majority in U.P. despite three brief previous tenures as chief minister. She has sought support from the BJP and the SP in the past, but without much success.

    However, in the latest elections she has followed a double-edged agenda of appealing to the upper castes and dalits. She has roped in Brahmin leaders as mascots and followed up by allotting them party tickets and now ministerial berths.

    The result is that for the first time in U.P., a party enjoys absolute majority in a decade and a half.

    The two national parties, on the other hand, have been struggling to get the political equations right.

    The BJP got it wrong during the previous federal elections in 2004, when it went overboard with the India Shining campaign, to be delivered a resounding snub by the majority of Indian voters who have seen little personal benefit from the alleged economic strides the nation had taken.

    The BJP has still not recovered from the near-political exit of stalwarts Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. On top of everything, people continue to be suspicious about their communal agenda.

    The Congress, too, is losing the plot, with Sonia’s moral high ground of turning down the prime ministerial post in 2004 a distant memory.

    The government celebrated a low-key third anniversary this month, given its near wipeout in U.P. Come election time for the Lok Sabha, Mayawati could well steal Sonia’s thunder at the national level as well.

    The Congress has been trying to undo the BJP by announcing massive rural employment and regeneration programs. However, the impact of such efforts is likely to be negligible without putting in place an effective delivery mechanism.

    The Indian bureaucracy, police and the lower judicial systems remain hopelessly corrupt and any grassroots change cannot happen without reforming these. Primary education and health facilities in rural towns and villages are mostly inadequate, frequently appalling.

    Similar has been the case with infrastructure projects whether roads or power, where project lag and corruption are endemic.

    Indeed, Indian politics today is about managing the aspirations of the various castes and classes. The rich and the middle classes belong mostly to the upper and middle castes and do not want governments to become an impediment to growth and want it to deliver on infrastructure.

    While the affluent abhor government interference, the poor, who can belong to any caste, with major chunks of tribals and dalits, actively seek government intervention in improving agriculture and providing them with the means to be socially and economically mobile. Employment, education and health are the areas that need the most attention.

    Though there is a perceptible change in the condition of even the very poor, not much of the economic growth is actually trickling down at a pace to meet people’s aspirations, especially with countrywide TV channels beaming images about the good life that exists in the affluent enclaves of Indian metropolises.

    In a recent analysis in The Times of India, commentator Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar says that every government in the near future will face acute anti-incumbency due to ineffective delivery systems.

    “India is not shining everywhere. Parts of the private sector are world-class, but most of the government sector is third-class,” he says.

    The government today is sitting on the largest kitty of tax collections due to a high growing Indian economy, which most believe is not due to the government efforts but private initiatives.

    Thus in the recent past incumbent state governments have been shunted out in Punjab, Uttaranchal and U.P. The Delhi government has bucked the trend by following a strong development agenda. Gujarat, under the BJP’s Narender Modi has been following a strong Hindutva and development agenda. It could work for Modi again.

    Perhaps Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has realized the drift as he recently spoke about the need for the rich to be less flashy to prevent social unrest.

    But as the chief administrator of the country Singh needs to address the problems head on. It will take some doing for the Congress to escape the anti-incumbency factor circa 2009.

    Enter Mayawati. She has already spoken about reservations across all castes based on economic criterion. She is not burning her bridges with the Congress by being accommodating about a potential presidential candidate, should she need support in the future.

    Her unexpectedly overwhelming victory at the recent state polls strongly suggest that she has matured considerably, toning down her sectarian rhetoric and handing out olive branches to the Brahmins, and drawing rich dividends.

    Could she carry the country further forward at a pace to buck the anti-incumbency later? That’s a really tough ask, and only time will tell.


    Indian Arrival Days: GOPIO Remembers
    The delegation from the Global Organization for People of Indian Origin recently participated in a commemoration of Indian Arrival in Trinidad, St. Vincent’s and Suriname. It also visited Guyana. A Siliconeer report.

    (Above): Inder Singh (l), president of Global Organization of People of Indian Origin International with Max Richards, President of Trinidad & Tobago and Ashook Ramsaran (r), secretary general of GOPIO International.

    A delegation of GOPIO International comprising of GOPIO president Inder Singh and secretary general Ashook Ramsaran participated in the annual anniversary of Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad May 30 in St. Vincent June 1, and in Suriname June 4, a GOPIO press release said. Dr. Vijay Ramlal, Trinidad Indian Arrival Day coordinator, was part of the GOPIO delegation in Trinidad and St. Vincent’s while GOPIO Guyana chairman Yesu Persaud and Dr. Chan Misier of the Netherlands became part of GOPIO delegation in Suriname.

    (From l-r): GOPIO secretary general Ashook Ramsaran, GOPIO Suriname secretary Ramdhani, GOPIO Suriname president ambassador Nandoe, GOPIO Guyana chairman Yesu Parsaud, Suriname Home Minister Hassankhan, Suriname Justice Minister Santokhi, GOPIO president Inder Singh, and former Suriname Vice President Ajodhya.

    In Trinidad, Inder Singh spoke at an annual commemoration event and reminded the audience of the first arrivals of Indians, recognizing “their pioneering spirit, determination, persistence and endurance under extremely harsh conditions.

    “We recognize the contributions they have made to the diverse culture and economic development of Trinidad and Tobago.”

    The GOPIO delegation held meetings with President Dr. George Maxwell Richards.

    On June 1, the GOPIO delegation attended the Indian Arrival Day celebrations in St. Vincent organized by the Indian Heritage Foundation and Dr Arnold Thomas, GOPIO member.


    A.R. Rahman: Live in Concert
    Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman presented a concert June 2 at the Oakland Arena with playback singers Hariharan and Sukhwinder. A photo essay by Som Sharma.

    (Clockwise from top left): A.R. Rahman struck high notes vocally as well as on the keyboards; Hariharan treating fans to his songs from “Roja” and other Tamil films; Sukhwinder sings with newcomer Neeti Mohan (center), one of the show-stealing numbers was “Maiyya Maiyya,” a big hit from the film “Guru”; Sivamani’s electrifying performance on the drums was a special treat.

    Protecting Your Daughter: The HPV Vaccine
    This vaccine gives your daughter the opportunity to prevent cervical cancer, writes Gonzalo Garretòn, MD.

    When patients ask me if their daughters should get the HPV vaccine, I commend them. Most parents would rather not think about their child’s sexuality — understandably. But those who are asking these questions are on the right track.

    The HPV vaccine is the first vaccine known to prevent a cancer. It’s relatively new, so many of my patients have questions about whether to give their children the vaccine. Doctors have long known that cancer of the cervix was more common among women who were sexually active, but they didn’t know why. Eventually, scientists discovered that cervical cancer was being triggered by a virus — the human papillomavirus. Doctors then began testing patients for HPV during annual pap smear check-ups — because cervical cancer is highly treatable if caught early and potentially fatal if not.

    HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. A New Jersey university study found that about 26 percent of women leaving high school were HPV-positive, but that number increased to 60 percent for women graduating college. HPV is the leading cause of genital warts and cervical cancer, which was once the most common cause of death for women in the United States.

    Cervical cancer is still a serious concern today, especially for women of color. The American Cancer Society predicts that there will be more than 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer this year. Latinas have the highest incidence of cervical cancer in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute, and experts say Latinas and African American women are twice as likely to die from cervical cancer as white women. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Asian Americans, and cervical cancer rates are highest among Vietnamese American women. Factors that cause these trends include lack of health insurance, language barriers and limited information on the prevention of HPV. The key to reversing these trends is getting regular pap smear tests to detect the presence of HPV as early as possible — and now the vaccine that can prevent women from contracting HPV in the first place.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine last year. The vaccine protects 90 percent of women against four types of the human papillomavirus. Doctors recommend that girls 11 to 12 years old get the vaccine, a series of three shots taken over six months, and it’s also been approved for women up to age 26 if they didn’t get the shots when they were younger.

    This vaccine gives your daughter the opportunity to prevent cervical cancer. Some parents worry that giving their child the vaccine condones or promotes sexual activity. Maybe your daughter will never be exposed to the virus. But if she is, and she’s had the vaccine, she’ll be better protected against cervical cancer.

    Cervical cancer is preventable and curable if detected early, but can be fatal if undetected. We have our children vaccinated against many viruses, such as chicken pox, measles and other sexually transmitted viruses like hepatitis C. Vaccines give us immunity against the causes of the disease. So ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine.


    The Soul of France: A Trip to Provence

    Wherever you go, you haven’t seen France until you’ve visited Provence and the bucolic countryside, writes our travel writer Al Auger.

    (Above, top): The 27-hundred year-old amphitheater holds 12,000 and many events throughout the year. (Above, bottom): A French version of the Wild West, Camargue is the land of the gypsies and cowboys.

    If Paris is the heart of France, Provence is its soul, liberally overflowing with villages, from the quaint to the blasé. Even so, you could spend weeks just ambling around and spending time in each hamlet that strikes you.

    On the fringe of Provence is Arles, one of its most interesting and friendly cities. Actually, it is neither village nor city as in area alone it is the largest city in France. Think of Arles as a village within a modern city of 51,000. But what attractive about it is the air of sophistication that seems to envelop every area of Arles. It seemed the perfect dessert after wandering around Provence and heading for Spain.

    Arles, of course, will always be notorious as the place Van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso resided and painted for some time.

    Like most large and moderate-sized cities in Europe, there is always an “old city.” And this is the secret of the seductive allure of Arles. There are trees everywhere, a palette of bright flowers that fill the air with their sweet aroma. Arles is also known as gateway to Camargue, land of the gypsies and Camargue cowboys. So much to see, so little time.

    At one time Arles was a center of commerce and stop-off for Roman Gaul. Two of the ancient buildings left are the Roman baths of Constantin and the coliseum. The coliseum, built in the first century, is the last standing coliseum still being used.

    The 27-hundred year-old amphitheater holds 12,000 and many events throughout the year are held here including the Feria or running of the bulls and bullfights — though the bull isn’t killed. All the monuments of Arles are registered with UNESCO. One of the loveliest stop is the cloister of St. Trophime. The city is also filled with private mansions dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Touring the old city, it is easy to see why artists and photographers find Arles such a framework for their art. The narrow streets are a jigsaw of light and dark with the sun rippling through the trees. The countryside is verdant and wild flowers bloom as far as the eye can see.

    Arles is also one of most influencing stop too, a place to discover French people at their most endearing. As we were headed back to our campground we passed a really quaint little restaurant, Le Cricket, with a sign announcing two seatings for dinner: 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Knowing most French people enjoy their dinner late in the night, we opted for the 9 p.m. seating. And it was here we encountered one of the biggest problems Americans have who wander off the tourist trails.

    Le Cricket turned out to be even smaller than it appeared from the street. Possibly eight tables, the establishment was run by the owners and their son and daughter. Paul was the chef, his wife Marie was the business person and their children the servers. As is the custom with most small, neighborhood restaurants throughout Europe, if the tables are all occupied you will be seated at the table with only two people. And thus we met Georgette and Jean from Lyons, a few miles north of Arles.

    We were really lucky as our French is so fractured to be practically non-existent. So we went to Plan B and asked if they spoke German. Most French won’t volunteer this information, but many do. Jean didn’t so Georgette translated for us. What lovely people they were, as we traded stories of America and France. Being well traveled, they had been to many of the sites we visited.

    And then Georgette surprised us again by introducing us to their old friend Paul, the owner, as their “new” American friends. During a lull Paul would join the conversation. My companion had glazed chicken while I opted for the sea bass. A sumptuous meal with appetizers, side dishes and a excellent local Burgundy Paul chose for us. At the end of the meal Paul brought each of us a complimentary liqueur to welcome us to Arles.

    As we were all saying our au revoirs Georgette sprung another unexpected bolt from the blue by inviting us to come to Lyon and stay as their guests. Both of us just stood there speechless. Unfortunately our plans to continue on to Spain was one that could not change so we politely declined. I have rued that decision ever since.

    Turn south for a few miles and enter a whole new universe, Camargue: marshland, farms, black cattle and white horses graze together. The skies are populated by soaring eagles, hawks and many other winged creatures means a camera and bird book are a must. Rice farms seem to stretch for miles. But it’s salt marshes that draw the curious and history buffs. “Mountains” of salt sit drying amid the checkerboard salt-pans.

    The salt plains were harvested as far back as when the Greeks and Romans ruled the world. Camargue is also a zoological and botanical nature reserve overrun by wildlife. Access is made easy by a system of flat roads perfect for automobiles, horseback riders and cyclists. Ranchers are most gracious and welcome guests; some are B&Bs where you can stay for the duration of your vacation.

    For those looking for the sophisticated life there are 45 hotels, public beaches, both clothing necessary and clothing optional. Most of the more civilized world can be found in the city of St. Maries de la Mer. Surrounded by Camargue’s Parc Naturel, the area has been a meeting place for the gypsies for hundreds of years, who entertain the visitors year round.

    Wherever you go, you haven’t seen France until you’ve visited Provence and the bucolic countryside. The people are simple and excessively friendly.

    For information go to or Google Provence, France.

    End-of-Life Care: California HealthCare Foundation Report
    In America where individualism is celebrated, doctors tend to treat death and illness as a personal matter. But in Asian and Latino communities the family often determines what treatment should be administered to their loved one, and even on how he should be allowed to die, writes Viji Sundaram of New America Media.

    (Clockwise from top left): Panelists at the briefing with NAM executive director Sandy Close (second from left); Dr. Mark Smith giving his presentation to the media; Some of the ethnic media at the briefing.

    In America where individualism is celebrated, doctors tend to treat death and illness as a personal matter. On the other hand, in Asian and Latino communities the family often determines what treatment should be administered to their loved one, and even on how he should be allowed to die.

    “Dying,” observed Dr. Mark Smith, president and executive director of the independent philanthropy, California HealthCare Foundation, “is so culturally determined, perhaps more than any other thing.”

    “That’s one of the reasons why it so difficult for health care providers in the U.S. to offer end-of-life care” to patients from ethnic communities, said Dr. LaVera Crawley, a Stanford University medical ethicist who was commissioned by the CHCF to research racial disparities that affect end-of-life care in California. “We are not trained in cross-cultural ways.”

    Smith released some of the key findings of that study May 22, at a media briefing for the ethnic press organized by New America Media. Eighteen reporters attended, where they also heard two other leading California health care providers, Dr. Sandra Hernandez and Dr. Alice Chen, on the subject.

    Aside from the role Asian families and friends play in the life of a family member facing a major illness or death, other findings of the CHCF report included the importance of having a health care workforce that can provide linguistically and culturally-sensitive services to racial minorities who are facing death.

    The report also pointed out that not all ethnic communities, perhaps for cultural reasons, “value planning ahead” for the end of life care services they would like to receive, said Smith.

    Chen, who worked for several years at the Oakland-based Asian Health Services before she moved to San Francisco General, concurred with Crawley’s findings. She asserted that doctors should try to win the “trust and respect” of their patients and their families before they can broach the sensitive issue of dying.

    “You have to understand the sense of family is so strong among them,” Chen said, noting that “a lot of Asian families ask you not to share the prognosis with the patient,” fearing he may not be able to handle it well. That makes it difficult for Western health care providers, she said, because we “are trained for full disclosure.”

    She also emphasized that the end-of-life care provided to ethnic communities, who are fast becoming the new face of California and many other states, should address their spiritual needs.

    “We need continuing medical education,” Chen said. “We have very little training in end-of-life care.”

    Noting that “death and dying is a contemporary issue to all of us,” Hernandez, who once served as director of public health for the City and County of San Francisco, and who said she witnessed a great deal of death and dying during the AIDS epidemic in California, said it’s important to explore the “culture of dying.” As Smith noted, most doctors are trained to be “good engineers, not poets.”

    Citing from her own experience when her 87-year-old father died of a heart attack in the comfort of his home. Despite having made it clear that he did not want “to die connected to tubes,” Hernandez said, he was subjected to resuscitation in a hospital. Such traumatic miscommunication suggests something is wrong with the delivery of health care in the U.S.

    Physicians, she said, are trained in administering medications to patients and hooking them up to tubes to get some form of life back even “when a perfect death” occurs.

    She said palliative care and hospice care have their origins in European culture and are foreign to many other cultures, particularly Asian and Latino.

    “So part of what we need to think about is what language should we use” when dealing with those other cultures. “Unless we do this, hospice care will continue to be underutilized.”

    Echoing her sentiments, Smith pointed out that most doctors are trained to be “good engineers, not poets,” more skilled as diagnosticians than cultural mediators.

    In his presentation, Smith said that of those who died in hospice care, only 4 percent were Asian American, six percent were African American and 15 percent were Latino. The overwhelming majority, 74 percent, were white.

    NAM’s executive director Sandy Close urged the media at the briefing to let their audiences realize the importance of talking about death and dying. Hernandez suggested for instance, in her case her father made his living will when some of his close friends were dying.

    Smith said that those with chronic illnesses – and a large number of Californians have more than one chronic condition – should discuss end-of-life care with their health care providers.

    He pointed out that financial incentives offered by Medicare encourage health care providers to engage in intensive treatment to all patients. More than 20 percent of Medicare spending goes to end-of-life care, he said.

    In a separate interview with NAM, Crawley said that health care providers who have “cultural humility” are more likely to persuade ethnic communities to access end-of-life care services.

    Bollywood in Yorkshire: 2007 IIFA Awards
    Britain’s picturesque Yorkshire threw a red-carpet welcome as the glitterati of Bollywood descended en masse for one of the biggest overseas Bollywood bashes at the IIFA Awards.
    Siliconeer presents some glimpses of the extravaganza in an exclusive photo essay and online album.

    (Top, left): Shilpa Shetty performs at Idea IIFA awards at Hallam Arena, Sheffield in Yorkshire, June 9; (Top, right): Abhishek Bachchan performs at the Idea IIFA awards at Hallam Arena, Sheffield in Yorkshire, June 9; (Bottom, left): Shabana Azmi (r) presents the award for outstanding achievement by an Indian in international cinema to director Deepa Mehta for her film “Water” at the Idea IIFA awards at Hallam arena, Sheffield in Yorkshire June 9. [All photos by Fotocorp, India]

    (Top, right): Veteran England cricketer and commentator Geoffery Boycott presents a special award to Shilpa Shetty at the Idea IIFA awards at Hallam Arena, Sheffield in Yorkshire, june 9; (Center): Lara Dutta and Boman Irani (r) perform at the Idea IIFA awards at Hallam Arena, Sheffield in Yorkshire, June 9; (Bottom, right): Bollywood director Yash Chopra presents the best director award to Raj Kumar Hirani for “Lage Raho Munnabhai” at the Idea IIFA Awards held at Hallam Arena, Sheffield in Yorkshire, June 9; (Bottom, left): IIFA brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan speaks at iifa weekend press conference at town hall, leeds in yorkshire June 7. [All photos by Fotocorp, India]


    COMMUNITY: News in Brief
    Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu Perform | Balaji Temple Holds Bhakti Kala Sagar | Sikh Studies at CSU | Distinguished Teaching | Visa Denial | Hindu Prayer at U.S. Senate | Envoy Visits Miami | Battling Tobacco

    Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu Perform

    Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik perform live at the Sankara Eye Foundation benefit concert in Cupertino, Calif., June 22. [Ahmed Sharif/Siliconeer photo]

    Over 2,000 people attended a fundraiser concert June 22 featuring Bollywood playback singers Alka Yagnik and Kumar Sanu at the Flint Center in Cupertino, Calif., according to a press release from Sankara Eye Foundation, whose mission of Vision 20/20 by 2020 is aimed at eradicating curable blindness in India by the Year 2020.

    Yagnik and Sanu started their 2007 music tour with their first show in the Bay area. The singers rendered tunes that ranged from more than a decade old melodies from Kishore Kumar/Lata Mangeshkar duets to Madhuri’s racy “Ek Do Teen” as well as latest songs from movies like Don.

    The show was interlaced with Bollywood dance numbers like “Chamma Chamma” from Mona Singh and her troupe from Sony entertainment. The highlight of the show had Alka/Sanu duo enacting life cycle of lovers expressed through filmi songs, starting with the romantic journey of love at first sight, followed by marriage and then moving through the reality of life involving bitterness in a post marital relationship and finally coming full circle to finding ways to rekindle the love.

    SEF chairman Murali Krishna Murthy thanked the audience for continued support and appealed for sustained donations.

    Funds raised from this event will be used for building state of the art eye hospitals in Bangalore and Shimoga in Karnataka, Anand in Gujarat and Guntur in Andhra Pradesh in India that will provide free eye operations for the needlessly blind and needy people.

    The musicians also appealed the audience to support the cause by donating $1,000 to become a founding donor of the hospitals.

    Balaji Temple Holds Bhakti Kala Sagar

    At the “Bhakti Kala Sagar” event at the Balaji Temple in Alviso, Calif., (l-r): N. Swamy, Pattie Cortese, Vice Mayor Dave Cortese, and N. Mahesh

    The day started with head priest Narayana Swami decorating the idol of Hanuman and seating him in the chariot (ratha) during the chanting of sacred religious mantras. Coconuts were offered and aarti and bhajans were sung. The ratha yatra procession began from the new temple site and proceeded to the cultural event site at George Mayne Elementary School. Devotees, dressed in their best attire, sang bhajans and chanted mantras with the priest.

    On hand were San Jose Vice Mayor Dave Cortese, his wife Pattie, and K. Priyanka Goel, daughter of community philanthropists Prabhu and Poonam Goel.

    The vice mayor and Priyanka Goel lit the lamps and the head priest began the program with prayers.

    The vice mayor gave a speech honoring the values of non-violence and unity in Hinduism. He welcomed Balaji Temple to San Jose and said the city was looking forward to Balaji Temple being built because it would be both good for the temple and the community and the relationship would promote peace, unity and goodwill, unity and goodwill.

    The Bhakti Kala Sagar Cultural Program began with cultural performances. The array of performances offered included: Bharatnatyam by Neela Moorty of Los Angeles, Odissi by Seema Chakravarty and her students, Kathak by the Tarangini School of Kathak, Kuchipudi by students of Madhuri Kishore School of dance, and Balaji students of Balak School.

    Children of Balaji Temple recited the mantra (prayers).

    The headline performers of the program were Hindustani vocalist Nachiketa Sharma accompanied by Ravi Gutala on tabla and Vijay on harmonium.

    — Prasad Karuba and Priya Chawathe


    Sikh Studies at CSU
    Dr. Ranjit Singh Sabharwal

    A partnership between the Sikh community and Cal State East Bay is creating the Dr. Ranjit Singh Sabharwal Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies, the first endowed chair of its kind in the CSU system, according to a press release.

    Professor Sabharwal, who died July 23, 2006 at age 81, was a leader in the East Bay Sikh community and at the university, where he taught mathematics since 1968. The chair is named in his honor and carries out his dream of forging a relationship between the Sikh community and the university he served for four decades.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this collaboration between our university and the Sikh community in creating the endowed chair in Sikh and Punjabi studies,” said CSUEB president Mohammad H. Qayoumi. “Not only are we creating an important cultural and academic resource, but we're also honoring Dr. Sabharwal, who for so many years was a beloved member of this university.”

    Sabharwal was instrumental in founding the Sikh temples in Fremont and Hayward and watched them thrive as the Bay Area Sikh community grew from 20 families in the 1960s to more than 20,000 families.

    “My father was always community-minded and also keen that we maintain support for education as well,” said his son, Paul Sabharwal. “He used to say that 'the university is the temple of education.'"

    In 2003, the professor endowed the Sabharwal Family Scholarship Fund for CSUEB mathematics students. That was the beginning of his plans to connect the Sikh community with higher education. As a way to preserve Sikh and Punjabi traditions for future generations and to further understanding among non-Indians, Sabharwal dreamed of endowing a chair at CSUEB to explore the language, culture, politics and religion of his homeland.

    Distinguished Teaching

    The UC Davis Academic Senate has honored Professor Subhash Risbud with its Distinguished Graduate/Professional Teaching Award for 2007 by commending his teaching as “innovative and inspiring,” according to a press release from UC Davis.

    The award citation says in part, “Looking over the list of courses taught by Subhash Risbud, you might think you had another list — a sampling of courses from many disciplines taught by several faculty members.”

    In just the last four years, Risbud has taught an impressive variety of courses to an audience ranging from freshman to graduate students both at UC Davis and at Stanford University. The list includes courses such as “Amorphous Solids,” “Exploring the Soul of an Ancient Culture through Indian Classical Music,” “A Cradle to Grave Look at Materials,” “The Way Life Works: Biology and Materials Science” and “Neutron-based Materials Characterization.” He has simultaneously guided a fertile, world renowned, research group, authored some 275 scientific publications and patents, and a popular textbook on Phase Equilibrium. Nearly a hundred graduates of the Risbud group hold positions of distinction in academia, industry and government research laboratories. Beyond his teaching and research accomplishments, Risbud served for six years as the chair of the department of chemical engineering and materials science and is currently the director of the Internship and Career Center at UC Davis.

    Visa Denial

    The legal advisory team of the Hindu American Foundation recently submitted extensive comments to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding proposed changes to the religious worker (R-1) visa program. The foundation’s legal division prepared the submission in response to mounting alarm in the Hindu community that Hindu priests, temple artisans and traditional temple architects were increasingly being denied religious worker visas. The foundation writes that the proposed new regulations, in response to reports of abuse of the R-1 program could disproportionately and unfairly impact Hindus.

    While agreeing that combating immigration fraud is in the national interest, the foundation’s submission argues that the proposed changes contain terminology, definitions and specific regulations that fail to recognize the unique vocabulary of non-Judeo-Christian religious traditions. The brief maintains that defining eligibility for R-1 status using terms such as “liturgical workers, catechists, cantors, missionaries, and ritual slaughter supervisors…may potentially serve to discriminate against those organizations that differ from the practice, structure and function of the Judeo-Christian guidelines upon which the regulations are based.”

    “From what defines a Hindu religious occupation, to whether a temple shilpi [Hindu temple stone sculptor] belongs to a particular ‘denomination,’ the current terminology proposed by the USCIS is absolutely foreign to the Hindu tradition,” said Suhag Shukla, , the foundation’s legal counsel. “As religious worker visas become more difficult to obtain for Hindus, Hindu Americans must insist that their voice is heard in this process—no less than the fundamental right to a free exercise of religion is at stake.”

    Hindu Prayer at U.S. Senate
    Rajan Zed [Mike Bates photo]

    Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain, will read Hindu prayer at the opening of U.S. Senate in Washington D.C. July 12, according to a press release from Zed.

    According to reports, this will be the first time any Hindu prayer will be delivered in the U.S. Senate since its formation in 1789.

    Zed is still to finalize the exact prayer he will deliver, but he is thinking of choosing something from Rig Veda, the oldest scripture of the world still in common use, dated from around 1,500 BCE; besides lines from Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita, both ancient Hindu scriptures. He plans to start and end the prayer with “OM,” the mystical syllable containing the universe, which in Hinduism is used to introduce and conclude religious work. Full text of the prayer will be included in the Congressional Record.

    “July 12, 2007, will be an illustrious day for all Americans and memorable day for us when opening prayers from ancient Hindu scriptures will be read in the great hall of democracy,” Zed said.

    Rajan Zed, besides being director of public affairs and interfaith relations of Hindu Temple of Northern Nevada, is also public relations officer of India Association of Northern Nevada, affiliated with World Congress of Faiths-London. He volunteers as a chaplain in various hospitals of northwestern Nevada and nearby California, and is active in interfaith dialogue in the region. He lives in Reno with wife Shipa Zed, a community volunteer; son Navgeet Zed, a youth activist; and daughter Palkin Zed, an author of two published books.

    Envoy Visits Miami

    The leadership of the Miami chapter of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin recently hosted Indian Ambassador to U.S. Ronen Sen in Miami at the La Gorce Palace penthouse of Akhil and Mavara Agrawal, according to an organization press release.

    Sen was accompanied by his wife and the Indian Consul General in Houston S.M. Gavai.

    Representatives of various Indian organizations, university professors and scholars, officials from the City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, Congressional offices and civic leaders from mainstream as well as Jewish, Hispanic and African-American minorities were present to welcome Sen.

    The event stressed that if U.S. and India work in harmony and the bilateral relationship is mutually rewarding, it can deliver great dividends not only for India and the U.S. but the world at large.

    GOPIO national coordinator Piyush C. Agrawal thanked those who supported him in his bid to muster support for the U.S.-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006. He introduced five young pioneers — Akhil Agrawal, Dr. Jason Radick, Hemant Patel, Tony Rodriguez, and Kiran Patel — who spearheaded several fundraising drives and who sought to make the case that cooperation between U.S. and India was in the American interest as well.

    In his remarks, Sen expressed his great satisfaction on the way the Indian diaspora understood the importance of such bilateral issues. He gave several examples of various initiatives that have taken place between the U.S. and India during his tenure as ambassador.

    Sen was honored with a presentation of Key for the City of Miami, a proclamation by the Miami-Dade County and a plaque of recognition by the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin.

    Battling Tobacco

    The Asian American and Pacific Islander Partnership, a statewide project housed by the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum and funded by the California Department of Health Services – Tobacco Control Section, has announced results of its three-year advocacy campaign targeting Asian American churches and faith-based groups throughout California that service the AAPI community. The campaign was designed to promote and encourage these organizations to adopt smoke-free policies on their grounds and at events.

    Through the efforts of campaign staff and consultants working in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, the AAPI Partnership was able to secure 11 signed commitments from faith-based organizations from four Asian ethnicities across the state.

    “We thought it was important for us to support this policy for the health of our congregation,” said Pastor Andy Ng. “It’s terrible how harmful secondhand smoke can be to our parishioners — especially the children and the elderly. It’s important to protect our families from harm and this policy helps us do that.”

     “We are extremely proud of the results the AAPI Partnership has been able to generate through this campaign,” said Roxanna Bautista, chronic diseases program director for APIAHF. “We know that churches and faith-based organizations play a very influential role in many AAPI communities. By reaching out to the leaders of these organizations, we hope to create dialogue among these influencers and educate their members about the dangers of tobacco use and secondhand smoke.”

    BUSINESS: News in Brief
    Contracts and Litigation Workshop | MCHI Property Show | Best Faculty Advisor | Business Award | Punjabi Software

    Contracts and Litigation Workshop

    Seen speaking at the workshop June 22 are (l-r): Attorney James C. Bridgman, attorney Hardepp S. Rai and Prakash L. Nanthur.

    About 30 representatives of Silicon Valley companies and consulting agencies June 22 attended a workshop in Fremont, Calif. to explore what constitutes a contract, how to decipher its terms, and what options exist if the other side has failed to deliver on its promises, according to a press release from organizers Rai & Associates, a law firm with several office locations including San Jose and San Francisco.

    Although the principal practice of Rai & Associates is immigration law, the firm has recently been privy to numerous inquiries from corporate immigration clients regarding disputes arising between their vendors, contractors, or employees, and themselves.  “We thought we would provide a forum for addressing these issues in a cohesive manner,” said the firm’s principal attorney Hardeep S. Rai.  “Although we can’t possibly walk through all these fact-sensitive conflicts within two hours, we at least provided some essential tools for clients to draft their contracts.”

    Some of the attendees at the workshop

    The most frequently cited response to audience questions — which included matters such as which forum’s law governs a dispute, whether a contractor is allowed to sub-contract, and whether an employer has a remedy if the employee terminates earlier than planned — was, “It depends what it says in the contract.”

    Attorney James C. Bridgman said, “Litigation is costly, time-consuming, and overall cumbersome; its most favorable alternative is preventing disputes by drafting clear, detailed contracts that describe the parties’ duties and promises with adequate precision.”  Although California routinely enforces oral contracts and acknowledges the validity of implied contracts, it is always preferable to memorialize the agreement in writing to accord clarity to the parties and more easily meet evidentiary burdens.  Other options aside from litigation exist as well, such as arbitration — binding or non-binding — or mediation.

    Also in attendance from Rai & Associates were Tzs-Hai Huang, Payal Singh, Prakash L. Nanthur, and Leena R. Kamat.

    MCHI Property Show

    Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry and CineMaya Media Group, Inc., last month announced the second Real Estate & Home Finance exhibition — India Property Show 2007 – USA and Canada,” according to a press release of organizers.

    This is the second series of real estate expos from MCHI in association with CineMaya Media Group.  The first series of expos were organized in August-September of 2006 — in California, Illinois, and New Jersey

    “The aim of India Property Show 2007 is to showcase the properties from reputed pan-Indian builders as well as attract investments from Asian Indians in the U.S. and Canada,” the release said. “The events also offer opportunity to foreign investors to explore the vast opportunities and wide range of housing and commercial options available in the Indian real estate industry.”

    India Property 2007 – North America is scheduled to cover three cities over a period of 14 days in Santa Clara, Calif., Aug. 18-19; Mississauga , Ontario, Aug. 21-22; and Edison, N.J. Aug. 25-26.

    The India Property Show - 2007 will provide a one-stop solution to all the needs of a Non-Resident Indian to buy a property in India, the release said. The show will have representatives from real estate developers from all over India, and premier financial institutions advising on securing loans.

    India is today seen as an attractive investment destination,” said J.S. Augustine, MCHI's co-chairman, International Exhibitions. “The Government of India has taken up several initiatives to open up the real estate sector to overseas investors.  IT, ITES, BPO, biotechnology, retail, entertainment, banking, finance, hospitality, medicine, education, and, of course, housing & real estate are some of the sectors that are expected to see substantial investment from Indian and overseas companies.”

    Best Faculty Advisor

    P. K. Shukla, director of the Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.,  has received the Best Faculty Advisor Award at the Annual Conference of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization held in Chicago recently . CEO is the premier global entrepreneurship network serving more than 500 colleges and universities. Nominated by  Chapman University 's SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise)/CEO Chapter for serving as their faculty advisor, Dr. Shukla was selected as the best chapter advisor for from all CEO chapters both domestically and outside of the United States.

    The selection committee noted his availability for students, the success of his students and student teams in competitions, his experience and passion for entrepreneurship, and for his success in leading Chapman University’s entrepreneurship program to national prominence (ranked at #15 out of 700 programs by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine).

    Business Award

    U.S .Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and 800 people gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City tonight to pay tribute and celebrate the achievements of 53 recipients of the “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business” award, an annual event organized by the Asian American Business Development Center.

    Hailed as “the Asian American business community's most distinguished award program,” the “Outstanding 50” is the largest, all-encompassing Asian American business award program in the nation. The award program honors individuals with outstanding leadership, vision and accomplishments who have built a successful business or who have distinguished themselves within their community. The award aims to recognize entrepreneurs, business professionals, as well as corporate executives who contribute to the general economy.

    In addition to the “Outstanding 50” award, the Pinnacle Award recognizes an individual who has reached the top of his professional field.

    This year's honorees were selected from throughout the United States and represent a diverse group of Asian American ethnic backgrounds — Chinese, Korean, South Asian, Filipino, Thai and Japanese.

    “The committee received an unprecedented number of nominations and applications. There were so many good candidates, we didn’t want to box ourselves in by having to adhere to honoring only 50 recipients,” said James Wohn, the dinner chair and senior vice president of North Fork Bank.

    Punjabi Software

    Akhar, a new bilingual Punjabi-English word processor, will be useful to all Punjabi writers, Gurdwaras, Punjabi Sahit Sabhas, University and colleges where Punjabi is taught.

    Till now, a Punjabi keyboard was used to type Punjabi; it was just a typewriter with no formatting features of a modern word processor. Akhar, developed by Prof. Gurpreet Singh Lehal of the computer science department in the Punjabi University, Patiala, is a full-fledged word processor which has all the tools of Microsoft Word with similar formatting commands like bold, italics, underline, small, large fonts, setting margins, bullets and numbering, find and replace.

    In addition, one can prepare a document in HTML and put it on the Internet with pictures inserted in the text. There is a good spell checker and a Punjabi-English dictionary and English-Punjabi Dictionary. A separate dictionary of all words occurring in the Sikh religious text, the Guru Granth Sahib, to check for spellings of texts taken from Guru Granth Sahib and a built-in search engine for Guru Granth Sahib have been included. One can transliterate from Gurmukhi to Devnagri or Roman and from Roman to Gurmukhi.

    IT City Bangalore Faces E-waste Threat | Kerala Government Goes Open Source | MICROSOFT: Low-cost PC | Railway Wi-Fi | NOKIA: Growing Market | TCS: Eyeing Latin America | HCL: Center in Poland | MICROSOFT: IT Park in Pune

    IT City Bangalore Faces E-waste Threat

    The Silicon Valley of India, home to around 1,700 information technology companies, is now grappling with serious hazards posed by the increasing volume of electronic waste or e-waste.

    The IT hub generates anywhere about 6,000 to 8,000 metric tons of e-waste annually and the issue needs to be accorded top priority, feels J. Parthasarathy, director of Software Technology Park of India, Bangalore.

    The e-waste agency, a Bangalore-based NGO, supported by the Indo-German Swiss e-Waste initiative, has already put forward a proposal before the Ministry of Environment and Forests to enact legislation on the issue. Pending legislation on the subject, the ministry has been requested to issue guidelines as an interim measure, M.R. Deshpande, National Project Coordinator EWA, told PTI.

    It is felt that such guidelines may spur leading companies and associations to move towards voluntary compliance, which would eventually assist in acceptance of the legislative measure.

    E-Parisara Pvt Ltd, the local firm which has pioneered e-waste recycling technology in the country and recycles about a metric ton of e-waste every day, also seeks an e-waste policy.

    Legislation is the “need of the hour,” says Parthasarathy, director E-Parisara. E-waste can be broadly defined as electronic equipment, products which have become obsolete due to advancement in technology, changes in style and status and nearing the end of their useful life.

    When electrical and electronic products are disposed into municipal waste, they release dangerous toxins into the air, soil and ground water. The worst metals to have around, Parthasarathy says, are those like cadmium, nickel, chromium, antimony, arsenic, beryllium and mercury. Cadmium in solder can cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) while cadmium fumes and dust are extremely toxic and lead to serious lung and kidney diseases. These metals are present in all electronic equipment ranging from batteries to CRTs (cathode ray tubes) and LEDs (light emitting diodes), hard discs and compact discs.

    Kerala Government Goes Open Source

    India’s Kerala state government is counting on open-source software to boost its IT literacy rate. According to a statement, the Kerala government has identified free and open-source software as a major strategic component in its efforts to build an inclusive information society.

    “Kerala has always been a leader in literacy, and now we want to make Kerala a leader in e-literacy,” said Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achutanandan. “We believe that free and open-source software is an essential component in our drive to democratize information technology and bring its benefits to all sections of society.”

    The Indian state, located on the country’s southwest coast, is partnering with Red Hat to train the technical staff of various government organizations and school teachers on desktop Linux and other open-source applications. The Linux vendor will also work with the state government to promote Kerala as a global destination for developing open-source software.

    Commenting on Kerala’s move toward open source, Nandkumar Pradhan, president and managing director of Red Hat India, said: “The freedom, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of open source helps governments maximize their IT budgets.”

    Kerala is the latest Indian state to widely support the use of open-source software in schools and government departments.

    Tamil Nadu, which embarked on a plan in January to put Linux in government offices, schools and villages, is making progress. Tamil Nadu is located on India’s southeast coast.

    According to C. Umashankar, managing director of the Electronics Corp. of Tamil Nadu, the new operating system has gone down well with its computer users.

    “We have switched over to 100 percent Linux in our office, which has more than 200 desktops and laptops. We have also been dispatching desktops with only Suse Linux,” he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

    MICROSOFT: Low-cost PC

    Microsoft Corp. said June 27 it would introduce a low-cost personal computer in India in partnership with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Zenith Computers Ltd.

    The computer will be built on AMD hardware and manufactured by Zenith Computers, and will include Microsoft software.

    The computers, priced at 21,000 rupees, would be sold in 10 retail outlets each in Bangalore and Pune from July on a test basis for three months and will be expanded later on the basis of response.

    “We don’t see any gain in the short term. Our perspective is long term,” Microsoft India chairman Ravi Venkatesan told reporters.

    In 2006/07 the total installed base of PCs in India was 22 million, that is, a PC for about every 50 Indians, industry tracking body IDC said in a recent report.

    The company said its Web site will provide educational content to students. It also plans to launch a job search service this year for the country’s nearly 400,000 engineers graduating every year.

    Microsoft said it was in talks with partners in government and industry for the job search portal.

    Microsoft’s job portal Web site competes with Info Edge (India) Ltd.’s and Monster Worldwide Inc.’s, among others.

    Railway Wi-Fi

    In order to provide Internet and Cybercafe facilities, RailTel is preparing to install advanced wi-fi systems at 500 Railway stations across the country.

    “Though we are preparing to install wi-fi system at 500 stations across the country, initially we will be doing so at 50 stations,” K.K. Bajpayee, managing director of RailTel, told reporters here.

    He said one such system would be first provided at Bangalore railway station, which would be operational within the next two-to-three months followed by Jaipur.

    Bajpayee said “Airlink,” a Bangalore based company, has signed an agreement with U.S. based Rontog to provide technical know-how for the system.

    Once in operation, the system would provide Internet and Cybercafe facilities not only at the stations but within at least one km radius around the station it was installed.

    In reply to a question if such a system could be operationalized in a moving train, the RailTel managing director said “definitely it could be possible. It could be possible by erecting towers on the route.”

    However, he made it clear that at present there was no such move to erect towers to provide wi-fi facilities in a moving train but it could be possible after two to three years’ time from now.

    NOKIA: Growing Market

    India, the world’s fastest growing wireless market, is set to outpace U.S. to emerge as the second-largest hub for global mobile handset leader Nokia.

    “The mobile market in India is catching up very fast and will soon surpass the U.S. to become the second largest market for Nokia,” D. Shivakumar, Nokia India managing director and vice president, told PTI.

    India is adding about six million mobile users a month, which is a big opportunity for the company, he said.

    He said the Indian market was growing at a rate of 20-30 percent and the company expected this to go up significantly.

    India is at present Nokia’s third largest market and has the potential to become the second largest market after China due to the phenomenal growth in the industry as a whole,” Shivakumar said.

    He said India has also emerged as one of the fastest growing market in terms of mobile phone consumption and usage.

    Nokia vice president Alex Lambeek said the company would continue to launch affordable yet stylish handsets.

    “We will launch handsets and solutions in line with user needs. We carry out extensive research to ensure we tap every potential market and customer need as we move ahead,” he said.

    Lambeek said with global mobile subscribers touching four billion, the company expected half of this to come from China and India.

    With rural markets still largely untapped in India and a growing youth population, these areas present huge opportunities for the company, he added.

    TCS: Eyeing Latin America

    India’s top software exporter, Tata Consultancy Services, is close to buying two firms in Latin America for about $50 million, the Business Standard daily said, citing unnamed sources.

    A spokesman for Tata Consultancy declined comment on the report.

    Mumbai-based Tata Consultancy, part of the salt-to-steel Tata business group, is looking at one back-office services firm and an IT services company in Latin America and it has completed due diligence of the target companies, the newspaper said.

    According to the report, the company has completed due diligence of the targeted companies. The estimated value of these two firms is said to be around Rs. 2 billion, with a headcount of 100 each.

    In May, Tata Consultancy, whose clients include General Electric and ABN AMRO, said it had set up a software development center in Mexico to serve local clients and provide near-shore services to US customers.

    In all, TCS has set up operations in 14 countries including major centers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, employing over 5,000 persons. Revenues from its Latin American operations touched $159 million (around Rs. 6.5 billion) in 2006-07.

    HCL: Center in Poland

    HCL Technologies Ltd said June 27 it had set up a software development center in Poland as part of its strategy to win more outsourcing business in Europe.

    HCL, India’s fifth-largest software services exporter, said the center in Krakow would initially have 100 staff that would rise to 250 by December.

    Financial details of the new facility were not disclosed.

    The firm, which got 30 percent of its revenue from Europe in the March quarter from 26 per cent a year-earlier, has a center in Northern Ireland that has about 2,300 staff.

    HCL, based on the outskirts of New Delhi, offers software and back-office services to telecom, finance, travel and transportation, retail and media industries.

    MICROSOFT: IT Park in Pune

    Software giant Microsoft has announced plans to set up an information technology park in Maharashtra.

    Microsoft boss Bill Gates told Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh at the company’s headquarters at Seattle in the U.S. June 28 that the park would be set up at Hinjewadi, near Pune, an official release said June 29.

    When Deshmukh appealed to Microsoft to help the state government use IT to boost agricultural productivity, Gates assured the chief minister that his firm would extend all cooperation, the release said.

    Deshmukh and members of the delegation from the state were warmly received at Microsoft’s headquarters, it said. Deshmukh is on a 10-day visit to the U.S. to attract foreign investment to the state.

    After the meeting with Gates, there were indications that several Microsoft projects would be launched in the state, it said.

    Smart Looking, Comfortable: 2007 Ford Fusion SEL
    The 2007 Ford Fusion is a smart-looking car with a lot of built-in conveniences and comforts, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

    Although the Ford Fusion has only officially been on the market two years (it made its debut in 2005 as a 2006 model), the manufacturer is already tweaking and adding to this mid-sized sedan for 2007. That seems par for the course, as all-new models usually receive some enhancements in the year or two after first roll-out.

    By way of introduction, the Fusion is the model that slips in between two very popular cars for Ford: the entry level Focus and the stepped up Five Hundred sedan. Like its siblings, it has a distinctive three-bar chrome grille at the front and a squarish rear trunk deck. The Fusion is available in three trims: the base S, SE and SEL. We test drove the SEL with all-wheel drive and a V6 engine and, as to be expected, it was packed full with enhancements.

    The Ford Fusion is the first fully “digital” car for Ford, meaning it was completely designed, engineered and tested in a digital environment. Using state-of-the-art design tools allowed Ford the opportunity to build efficiency in from the ground up, and to bring the car to showrooms faster than through traditional design and development means. The design tools were used to do such things as fashion a rear seat that is easier to move into and out of, for example, and to create a floorboard large enough to accommodate size 14 shoes, as well, without scraping the B-pillar scuff plate when stepping out. These tools were also used to help design a trunk that is roomy, has a flat floor and a low lift-over height, making it even more convenient to put things in and take them out. Even the rear trunk hinges have been designed so that they won’t crush boxes or groceries. These are the kind of “in the back of your mind” conveniences that may not be immediately noticed, but do become truly appreciated.

    The Fusion offers customers three choices when it comes to selecting an interior “theme:” Carbon graphite, wood or piano black accents. There are a whole host of storage options located here and there throughout the car, including a pop-up bin on the dashboard, above the instrument panel, and even space for six cup holders.

    Although it is considered a mid-range vehicle, there are high-end amenities on board, too, such as heated seats and a steering wheel that can tilt and telescope. An in-dash CD player can also read MP3 audio disks. For those who are addicted to satellite radio, it is available, too, as well as a DVD-based navigation system.

    As for safety, you can bet Ford designed in some of the best features with that digital software. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, and anti–lock brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution is available as an option. Front seat side air bags and side-impact air curtains are standard on all 2007 models, as is an anti-theft alarm system. The Fusion was also designed to meet stringent side-impact crashes.

    It’s also big news to find all-wheel drive available, which is important to those who want extra confidence when driving in all weather conditions.

    On the road, we found the Fusion offers fairly good visibility and comfortable seating. You do notice that it is easy to get in and out of the car, and now will appreciate it even more knowing they used those size 14 shoes as a guide. On the road we found the Fusion’s V6 engine was responsive in a “throaty” way, and acceleration was only slightly hesitant. The car handles very nicely on a stiff chassis.

    Once on the road, and at freeway speed, you’ll find road noise is only barely discernible.

    Overall, the 2007 Fusion is a smart-looking car with a lot of built-in conveniences and comforts.

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


    BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu
    Himesh Goes to Ajmer in ‘Burqa’ | Hong Kong Offers Red Carpet Welcome | Silver Star Award | Marriage and Motherhood | Body Beautiful | Off with His Head! | Court Notice | Tribute to Amitabh

    Himesh Goes to Ajmer in ‘Burqa’

    Himesh Reshammiya

    Guess who turned up in a burqa at the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Rajasthan’s Ajmer?  Playback singer and music director Himesh Reshammiya, that’s who.

    In the face of it seems downright funny, but some orthodox Muslims were not pleased, and tried to raise a stink.

    However, cooler heads prevailed after the dargah authorities moved to firmly defuse any controversy. One has to give credit where credit is due. Given India’s usual unfortunate propensity to make mountains out of molehills in anything remotely connected to religion, the dargah folks, not usually an awfully salubrious lot, showed rare wisdom and even magnanimity that is an example for fraught, tense situations where a religious controversy might erupt.

    The Anjuman Committee, the official committee of the dargah khadims (servers), gave a clean chit to Reshammiya, saying the singer had not committed any offence by offering ziyarat in a burqa.

    “Burqa is a respectable dress and there was no need for the singer to express his regret and tender apology,” a khadim said.

    Spokesman of the Anjuman Committee and former secretary Sarwar Chisti told PTI, “Since he is a popular artist he wore a burqa to avoid the crowd. He has not committed any offence or sin.”

    Agreeing with the view, the nazim of the dargah committee, Ahamed Raza, said that the singer has not committed any offence by donning a burqa.

    For his part, Reshammiya also did the gracious thing by expressing contrition. He told the media that a dargah khadim, Qutubuddin Saki, had advised him to wear a burqa.

    “If I have committed any mistake, I apologies for that,” he told reporters after paying obeisance at the dargah.
    | Return to Bollywood | TOP |

    Hong Kong Offers Red Carpet Welcome

    A scene from “Awarapan.”

    Of course we all know desis go nuts over Bollywood, but now the enthusiasm seems to be infectious. However it’s not for the masala song-and-dance routines or salacious vamp girls that they are after, but it’s the moolah. Many phoren places are cottoning on the fact that Bollywood can be a wonderful medium for wooing the tourists from the subcontinent and NRIs from other nations.

    After areas as diverse as Scotland and England’s Yorkshire wooing Bollywood filmmakers, now it’s Hong Kong’s turn.

    This monsoon, catch Hong Kong in Vishesh Films’ Awarapan which releases June 29.

    The film stars Emraan Hashmi and Shriya Saran and introduces Mrinalini Sharma. The music is by Pritam. Emraan plays Shivam, an atheist who is a professional kidnapper.

    Mahesh Bhatt states that this film reflects his own inner journey from lack of belief to unshakeable faith in the Almighty.

    David Leung, regional director of Hong Kong Tourist Board, was in tinseltown to address a press conference and open Hong Kong’s doors to many more Indian films with special incentives.

    Said Leung, “Hong Kong is one of the most photogenic cities and has already been the backdrop of so many Indian and international movies. We look forward to showcasing it now through ‘Awarapan.’”

    Hong Kong has hosted Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan in the recent past, while Company, the TV serial Kavyanjali and some other projects.

    Leung said that this was the 10th anniversary of Chinese regaining control of the city and that 25 million tourists, including 294,000 Indians, visited Hong Kong in 2006, a threefold increase over 94,000, which was the figure for 2005.

    Mahesh Bhatt recalled the fantastic experience he got when he shot Lahu Ke Do Rang with Vinod Khanna and Helen there in 1978. “It was the first time a deprived middle-class Indian like me had set foot on foreign soil and I was dazzled by it despite the budgetary constraints in those days of closed economy of $100. I later shot Naam there in the ’80s and Gumrah in the ’90s and today I have come to love the place. But I must say that I have not even scratched the surface of what HK has to offer. I will need 100 more trips for that!”
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    Silver Star Award

    Shilpa promoting a perfume.

    While we have sometimes come down a bit hard on Shilpa Shetty, we have to give credit where it’s due and here’s our congratulations to Shilpa, who has been presented with the Silver Star Award for her outstanding contribution to international humanitarian causes, particularly for increasing HIV/AIDS awareness.

    Leader of Britain’s House of Commons Jack Straw presented the award to the 31-year old actress at a gala dinner held at the Durbar Court of Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London June 16 night, as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of election of Keith Vaz, British Indian leader, Labor MP and former minister for FCO.

    In her brief acceptance speech, Shetty, the winner of last Celebrity Big Brother show, said Vaz played an important role when she was racially abused by some of the contestants. “He screamed the loudest,” she acknowledged.

    Lauding the work of Vaz both for the Asian community and the society as a whole, Straw, who was the guest of honor, said: “Keith has worked assiduously as an ambassador for New Britain. Keith represents everything that is good in our party.”

    Observing that Britain had undergone a change for the better during the last 20 years, Straw said: “Now we celebrate diversity in this country and we judge the people by what they can offer and not by the color of their eye, hair or skin.”

    The glittering function at Durbar Court and earlier a unique tabla performance at the imposing Locarno Suite by Zakir Hussain was attended by many Indian dignitaries including G.P. Hinduja, Sir Gulam Noon, Naresh Goyal and Lord Navnit Dholakia.
    | Return to Bollywood | TOP |

    Marriage and Motherhood

    Mahima Chaudhry

    When it comes to springing a surprise, you’ve got to hand it to Mahima Chaudhry. The former Bollywood star has given birth to a baby girl when no one even was aware that the Pardes star was married!

    A little bird tells us (okay, it was a Bollywood nosey parker) that the actress married her brother’s best friend Bobby Mukherjee. She is said to be so “deliriously happy” that career has become inconsequential. Yeah, sure.

    “I have put on a lot of weight but I must say I look well-endowed,” she laughs.

    The couple got married March 19 at a function in Las Vegas attended by 10,000 Indian hoteliers and their families, and no one had an inkling, apparently.

    After the birth of her baby, Mahima’s sister has flown down from Florida with baby clothes. According to their family tradition, a newborn cannot wear anything new for two weeks.

    Mahima had attended a hoteliers’ conference there with Bobby, a divorcee, and suddenly decided to tie the knot. On March 23, four days after the registered marriage, they had a traditional wedding with her in a Bengali saree.

    Mahima’s seven-pound baby born June 11 is the first girl-child in her husband’s family in 40 years. Not a believer in astrology, she says that the kid will be named according to the kind of traits she shows in the next few weeks.

    A Subhash Ghai discovery, Mahima’s career never did really take off. Among her few hits are Daag – The Fire, Dhadkan and Baghban, Here’s to hoping that her new career as a mom and wife has better luck.
    | Return to Bollywood | TOP |

    Body Beautiful

    Hrithik Roshan

    The tabloid Mumbai Mirror has the inside dope on how Bollywood stars keep their bodies so beautiful.

    Hrithik Roshan has an unusual body with good muscle definition and one can see his body cuts clearly. He dedicates 1-2 hours to fitness daily and follows a half-month alternation of light and heavy workouts. Hrithik has a good breakfast with four egg whites, cereal with skimmed milk and apples or papaya and a light dinner with very little carbohydrates (one roti) along with roasted meat/poultry, egg-whites and liquids.

    Aishwarya Rai used yoga, pilates and “pranayam” as well as weights and cardio to train for Dhoom 2. Ash is disciplined and motivated and her working out is very spiritual and intense. She even completed a session once after a fatiguing shoot of 18 hours. She uses Swiss balls and resistance bands and avoids weights so as not to become bulky, as she is naturally slim and delicate.

    She follows a naturopathy diet, more natural and raw food and not high protein.

    Koena Mitra has one of the best bodies in the business which is skinny but muscular. Koena has a high metabolism and if she does not work out for more than 10 days her body tends to lose weight! She gets high-intensity strength training and changes her routine every fourth week. Her diet is high-protein, high-fiber, moderate-carb and low fat.

    Bipasha “Hot Bod” Basu  has got a perfectly-curved and toned body which is very proportionate. She works out 4-5 days a week and is very serious about fitness. She never sticks to one routine and goes for a combination of techniques. Basu has a flexible body, has high strength and stamina and even does kick-boxing and yoga. She eats 7 to 8 meals a day.
    | Return to Bollywood | TOP |

    Off with His Head!

    Salman Rushdie

    Pity poor Salman Rushdie. Barely a moment has passed since the India-born British author been honored with a knighthood, and now the religious nuts are coming out of the woodwork all over the world with all kinds of threats.

    Now don’t get us wrong. We certainly think a case can be made that Rushdie’s novel “Satanic Verses” is offensive to Muslims, and one can even sympathize with the outrage that some devout Muslims feel. The trouble is with the frenzied response from Muslim bigots which doubtless represent a small fringe minority which chooses to respond in bloodthirsty ways that tends to strengthen prejudiced stereotypes of Muslims that does their cause more harm than good.

    Of course, the good old Iranians are at it again. Tehran-based hardliners, “The Organization to Commemorate the Martyrs of the Muslim World,” has said it will pay 80,000 pounds reward for anyone “who was able to execute the apostate Salman Rushdie.”

    Pakistanis aren’t to be left behind either. After federal Religious Affairs Minister Ijazul Haq justified suicide attacks on Rushdie, the speaker of Punjab's provincial assembly, Afzal Sahi, June 21 said in the House in Lahore that any person committing blasphemy against the Holy Prophet was liable to be killed and that he would definitely kill the blasphemer if he came across him, Geo TV reported.

    He made these remarks during a debate in the house over the knighthood to Rushdie and a statement by Bhutto that Haq should be dismissed for making similar comments.
    | Return to Bollywood | TOP |

    Court Notice

    Actress Kushboo, who was in the eye of a storm two years ago over her remarks on premarital sex, is in fresh trouble with a city advocate issuing her a legal notice stating that contempt of court proceedings will be initiated against her for alleged remarks on the judiciary recently.

    Advocate K. Balu, in his notice, said Kushboo, while speaking at a seminar recently, had criticized the warrant issued against her when defamation cases were filed against her two years ago, “for casting aspersions on Tamil women.”

    He alleged that the film star had said the courts issued warrants against her unnecessarily and justice was bought” in the defamation cases against her.

    The court had cancelled the warrant against her on June 11 last year with the condition that she should not speak about the matter pending before the court till the final disposal of the case, the lawyer said, and charged that Kushboo’s remarks amounted to contempt of court.

    He said defamation cases were filed against Kushboo two years before for her remarks allegedly defaming Tamil women.
    | Return to Bollywood | TOP |

    Tribute to Amitabh

    Superstar of Tamil Movies Rajnikant, whose film Sivaji-the Boss has just been released, said there could not be any comparison between him and Amitabh Bachchan.

    On his return from Hyderabad, where he screened the Telugu version of the film for Telugu Desam Party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu, the actor told reporters June 14 that “he (Amitabh) is a very big personality. I am too small a man in front of him.”

    Asked what was the specialty of his latest film, he said everything in the movie is special.

    Meanwhile, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham general secretary Jayalalithaa watched the movie at a special screening, party sources said.

    Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, along with members of his family, have already watched the movie and appreciated it, sources said.

    Rajnikant fans all over the state have started celebrating the movie’s release by breaking coconuts in front of the actor’s billboards in front of cinema houses which were scheduled to screen the movie. In some places, they poured milk over the cut-outs.

    Tickets for 20 days had been sold out in advance, cinema owners said.

    Earlier, both Bachchan and Rajnikant Thursday paid compliments to each other’s qualities as actors and human beings.

    Bachchan said Rajnikant is “perhaps the most excellent example of what India is all about, what human beings are all about and what life is all about.”
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    Fetching Family Saga: Apne
    (Rating ***1/2 Superior)

    You have to hand it Dharmendra. In his 70s now, he is still Garam Dharam. Apne is a family saga with wholesome values, not entirely flawless (this is Bollywood), but the most remarkable thing about the film is that it belongs to this man.
    So leaving aside the film and its merits — we’ll come to it in a moment — and let’s reflect for a moment on Dharmendra.

    The film is a testament to what real charisma is. Playing the role of a man bitter at an unfair disgrace heaped on him, Dharmendra plays to perfection a man whose bitterness and angst often goes to unreasonable yet humanly plausible extents. His heartfelt, sensitive performance will introduce him to a new, younger generation who will get a sense of to sheer stage presence of this man, and they will realize why their moms’ knees would turn to jelly at the very thought of this macho Jat.

    Here’s how the story goes: Olympics silver medalist Baldev Singh Chaudhry (Dharmendra), banned from boxing on false doping charges, is a bitter man as he retires to a life of humiliation and resentment.

    He hopes to avenge his setback through his son. His dream is to see his elder son Angad (Sunny Deol) restore his lost honor.

    But fate is not done with him in terms of handing setbacks. His dream is not shared by Angad, who refuses to play the “worthless” game. It’s hard to blame him, because he keeps getting beaten up in the ring.

    So while dad hopes to redeem his pride with the help of his son, his son’s passion is in revolutionizing agricultural farming.

    Meanwhile his kid brother Karan (Bobby Deol) is partially handicapped by a childhood mishap. He takes up music as a profession.

    With neither son inclined to the sport to which he gave his all, Baldev becomes increasingly bitter. An ungrateful coaching experience (Aryan Vaid) shatters Baldev completely.

    His breakdown triggers a change in Karan and his paralyzed arm is miraculously healed. He resolves to fulfill his father’s lifetime wish of becoming an international boxing champion.

    After rigorous training, Karan is ready to take on anybody (including Vaid). Now the only thing standing between Karan and a champion’s belt is Luca Gracia (African American actor Chris Anderson).

    Alas, the dream match has a rather tragic outcome, and Angad’s plans to revolutionize agriculture have to be put on hold. The family pride is at stake, so he has little choice: He just has a month to train under dad to take on the title holder. (Of course that can be done, but this is Bollywood, silly, where Sunny battled an armed force of 100 in Gadar.)

    His performance is augmented by the performances of Sunny Deol, Shilpa Shetty and Kirron Kher, and Bobby Deol expertly underplays. Add melodious music, meaningful lyrics (Sameer) and picture-postcard photography and you have the makings of a great film.

    Unfortunately the usual Bollywood flaws are also in evidence: The film is way too long, and the crucial final segment has its usual implausible Bollywood fairy-tale ending. Where else in the world would someone train for a month to take on a world title holder?

    That said, the film is a wholesome, family saga that is like a breath of fresh air at a time when Bollywood is choking to its gills with gangster movies, wanton mayhem and violence, and an unhealthy dose of sex and showing of skin.

    And finally, watch this film for Dharmendra. While Amitabh Bachchan costars with nymphets, this is a real star who has little need for such accoutrements. He knows he has what it takes. And he is right.

    Lavish But Shallow: Sivaji – The Boss

    This film was awaited with great expectation. It’s a Rajnikant film and that was enough. Also, the film boasted of some of the best talent of Tamil cinema: Rajni, Shankar and Rahman, all packaged under the banner of the prestigious AVM.

    But the film fails to live up to the hype and is a disappointment. It turns out to be neither a Rajni film nor a Shankar film.

    The story centers on Sivaji, who returns from the U.S. to India with the noble intention of founding educational institutions which charge no capitation fees, making education more accessible. Sivaji has to go through red tape, corrupt officials and ministers before he can start his project. Then there is Adiseshan, an unscrupulous businessman, who, perceiving a threat to his own institutions, tries to thwart Sivaji’s efforts.

    When his bid to coax him to backtrack fails, Adi uses his nexus with the politicians and the cops to intimidate Sivaji. Sivaji soon finds himself behind bars, with nothing left to call his own, except a one-rupee coin thrown tauntingly at him by Adi. How Sivaji gets back at Adi and rebuilds his empire forms the rest of the plot.

    Shankar has made Rajni more sophisticated, but it’s a weakly etched script, more of gloss and style than substance. The message is Shankar’s usual one — of rampant corruption in high places and the cleansing of the system by the hero.

    Rajni looks good and more youthful compared to his earlier films. The superstar has his own style and charisma. But what is missing is substance and depth in the characterization of his role.

    Sivaji has not much to do here. The punch lines are not many, nor forceful enough. And when he does get his one big fight in the end, it’s more of graphics that take over.

    Rahman is not at his best here, nor are the song choreography and picturization anything to rave about.

    Produced at a cost of about Rs. 650 million, Sivaji is the costliest movie made in Indian cinema. But a lavish canvas can hardly compensate for the lack of a sound strong script.

    — Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


    Hot Favorite Snack: Garden Samosa

    Samosas are delicious and everybody loves them. Sudha Gupta adds a different touch to this perennial anytime snack.

    • For cone:
    • 5 cups flour
    • 1 cup oil
    • 2 tsp salt

    • For stuffing (Masala):
    • 2 tbsp oil
    • 1 tsp cumid seeds
    • 1 tsp black salt
    • 1 tsp red chili powder
    • 1 tsp garam masala
    • 1 cup carrot finely chopped
    • 1 cup peas
    • 4 big size boiled potato (mashed)
    • ½ cup roasted cashew
    • ½ cup raisin
    • 1 tsp black pepper
    • 1 tbsp coriander powder
    • 2 tsp amchur
    • 2 tsp grated ginger
    • 6-7 green chili finely chopped


    The Stuffing (Masala):
    Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan, add cumin seeds, green chili and ginger. Stir for a minute then add carrot and peas. Stir for 4-5 minutes and then add boiled potatoes and rest of the ingredients for the stuffing. Mix well.

    The Cone:
    Mix 5 cups of flour, 1cup oil, 2 tsp salt and water to make a dough. Take a piece from the dough about 2 inches in diameter. Using a roller, flatten the dough to make a flat circle of about 6 inch diameter. Cut in half and roll each portion like a cylindrical ice cream cone.

    Stuff the cone with the masala. Seal the cone by pressing it with your fingers to form a shape as shown in the picture above. Deep fry till golden brown. Serve hot.

    Mint chutney, ketchup and tamarind chutney are readily available at most South Asian grocery stores.

    - Sudha Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


    HOROSCOPE: July By Pandit Parashar

    ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Trips will be fruitful and meetings will go very well. There is a strong chance of easy money coming your way. Some of you will prepare for a trip with family. A child will get admission far away from home. You will write an important letter and patiently await response. Health will improve.

    TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Mind will be at peace as you prepare for the big move. You may need eye glasses for the first time, time to visit the optometrist. Some close friends will invite you for dinner. You will go on a short family vacation to a beautiful place. An expensive gadget will need to be replaced.

    GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): You may be getting ready for a long legal battle. Some of you will accept a challenging project that requires extensive traveling or even moving to distant place. You will make several plans with family. You will gain popularity in the social circles and make new friends. Money will not be a problem from now on.

    CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Financial pressure will escalate as you will be writing big checks, one after the other. Avoid making hasty decisions in career and wait for the right opportunity. You may want pick up some nice books from your collection and go through them again. Your worries about a child may not reduce quickly. You will visit few old friends.

    LEO (July 23 to August 22): You will accept a challenging project and get ready to sweat it out. Do not underestimate hidden enemies. You may try to plan a small trip but will have to cancel the plan soon. Some of you will become health conscious and make drastic changes in diet. Partnership ventures will become stressful and you may decide to quit.

    VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You will have to complete some legal formalities. You may arrange a small get together at your place and invite some important people also. You may seriously think of selling a property purchased for investment purpose last year. You will make and spend money equally fast. A relationship will get stronger.

    LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): There will be sudden and positive changes in career. Tension should disappear with new developments. People in business will see sales shooting up. You may be able to dispose off a property finally. A better month for people connected to finances. You may deny an opportunity to make money the unorthodox way.

    SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): This is the right time to switch jobs. New career will provide the opportunity to gain much needed knowledge. You may go slightly out of your way to help a sibling or an old friend. You may also commit your time and energy to a noble cause. Some of you will be moving to another location soon.

    SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): Your concerns about an older family member will grow. Obstacles will not deter you from your goals. You will find yourself drifting away from religion. Financial situation is about to take a very favorable turn. Do not let any new opportunity slip away. The news you had been waiting for, will be revealed.

    CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): You will be desperately looking for a change in career. Financial pressure will increase as a result of fresh commitments. Planets benefit people involved in research and development work. An old friend will discuss a business proposal. You will go on a short trip with family and also attend a big party.

    AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): Positive changes will continue in life one after another and you will have better control over life henceforth. New opportunity will liberate you from constant pressure and working with the wrong crowd. You will be going on an interesting trip with family this month. Health will show sudden improvement.

    PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Strong Jupiter in ninth will help overcome past difficulties. Stress and anxiety about a child will be over and you will be content with the outcome. Money will come and disappear fast as usual. Mind will be full of bright ideas as you wait for right time. You will spend quality time with old friends.

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


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