Siliconeer: May 2007

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MAY 2007
Volume VIII • Issue 5
OTHER STORIES
EDITORIAL: Child Literacy in India
NEWS DIARY: April News Briefs
SUBCONTINENT: Flush with Funds
CULTURE: Music Without Borders
ENTERTAINMENT: Sachin & Virgin Comics
COMMUNITY: Caring for Seniors
COMMUNITY: Passage to India
HEALTH: Type 2 Diabetes
IMMIGRATION LAW: Citizenship & USCIS
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: Homeopathic Approach to Treating Insomnia
TALENT: Child’s Play
ENTERTAINMENT: Bollywood Popstar
TRAVEL: A Trip to Switzerland
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
INFOTECH INDIA: Round up
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Volvo C70
BOLLYWOOD: Review: Ta Ra Rum Pum
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu
TAMIL CINEMA: Unnale Unnale
RECIPE: Palak Paneer
HOROSCOPE: May

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EDITORIAL:
Child Literacy in India

No matter how proud Indians are the world over of India’s blistering economic growth rate or its formidable prowess in information technology, there is something else that gets lost in the shuffle. Yet this quite distinct issue, children’s literacy, will be critical in determining whether India will transition tomorrow into a robust and prosperous nation or simply continue to be a nation of abject contrasts between oases of top-notch education and affluence amid a sea of dismal poverty populated by poorly educated masses.

This is a contradiction that continues to haunt India. As Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen has noted, while India has stunned the world with world-class tertiary educational institutions like the IITs, its record on primary education, barring isolated geographical patches, continues to be abysmal.

Things appear to be changing not only in India, but also within a section of the Indian American diaspora, and not a moment too soon. Pratham, a literacy movement that has galvanized India, has drawn in its wake a committed group of expatriate Indians and friends of India all over the world who are committed to bring about a change and bring to over 70 million Indian children the critical tools for a better future: a satisfactory level of literacy and numeracy.

It’s not a talking shop, either. Pratham USA, along with other chapters all over the world, support Pratham in developing real tools in the field that actually work; they are committed to expand and disseminate those proven methods all over India with the Read India campaign.
Our cover story provides details of this exciting campaign that begins in May.

The number of authors of Indian descent writing in English, whether originally from India (Bharati Mukherjee, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh and many more) or raised elsewhere (Jhumpa Lahiri, Pico Iyer) are so many that a new desi author who creates a splash in the West hardly causes any surprise.

Pakistani authors who have drawn a lot of attention in the West, on the other hand, are few and far between (Bapsi Sidhwa and expat Hanif Qureshi are the only ones who come to mind). So it’s certainly noteworthy that there’s a new kid on the block, in a manner of speaking, and he is no flash in the pan either.

U.S.-educated and England-based Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid already drew considerable critical acclaim with his first novel, “Moth Smoke.” Now his second novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is quickly climbing up the New York Times bestseller list (at press time it was fourth on the hardcover fiction bestseller list).

This popularity is encouraging, It shows there is a clear hunger out there even in the American mainstream to go beyond the stereotyped images of Pakistan as a haven for raving fundamentalists and power-hungry generals.

For an insider’s assessment of Hamid and his latest novel, we turned to Pakistani American Ras Hafiz Siddiqui, who has both read the novel and met the author at a book reading in Corte Madera, Calif.

In an article in this month’s issue, Siddiqui agrees with the author that “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is a romantic story, but adds that it is not just about the romance between main protagonists Changez and Erica. Siddiqui says the novel is quite possibly a failed love story between a Pakistani and the American Dream. There is confusion, regret, malice, denial and even a strong attraction shown towards that dream here in this book.

For those who think 40s is the beginning of middle age, Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams is a revelation. This 41-year-old NASA astronaut, currently in space, has not only captured the imagination of people of Indian descent all over the world with her breathtaking exploits in space. Recently she sprang another surprise on the world by saying she would take part in the Boston Marathon — while in space. Nobody had ever done this before.

She has been true to her word.

On April 16, Williams completed the marathon in four hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds, as she circled the Earth almost three times. She ultimately ran about six miles per hour while flying more than five miles each second.

The astronaut ran the 26.2-mile race on a treadmill. Williams said the reason to run the marathon was simple. “I would like to encourage kids to start making physical fitness part of their daily lives,” she said. “I thought a big goal like a marathon would help get this message out there.”

“Suni running 26.2 miles in space on Patriots’ Day is really a tribute to the thousands of marathoners who are running here on Earth. She is pioneering new frontiers in the running world,” said Jack Fleming of the Boston Athletic Association.

We carry an article on Sunita Williams in this month’s issue.

Do drop us a line with ideas and comments about how we can make Siliconeer better serve you.
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COVER STORY:
Read India!
Pratham’s Massive Literacy Campaign

For tens of millions of Indian children, literacy is the crucial stepping stone to the possibility of a better future. Pratham USA starts a campaign this month to join a nationwide drive in India to create awareness, raise funds and support a massive literacy drive that is vital for the future of India. Arvind Amin presents the details.


(Clockwise from top, left): The cover of the Annual Status of Education Report that Pratham has helped produce, which takes stock of the state of primary education in India; A Pratham teacher with school kids conducting an open air learning session; Yesteryear film star Waheeda Rehman (r), seen with a child, has been a passionate promoter of Pratham’s programs; and the Pratham logo depiciting a blackboard with a smiling face. [All photos including cover photograph by Pratham]

Sarandeep Kaur, 6, is a small, shy girl with a huge smile. Dressed in an oversized blue salwar-kameez, she turns a deep shade of pink as she reads out two stories, and does three formidable additions and subtractions.

Yet this second-grade student of the Govt. Primary School at Kamalu village could not even recognize the alphabet, and the less said the better about arithmetic until Pratham intervention. Today, she is the poster girl for the Learning to Read program spearheaded by Pratham in 100 schools of Punjab’s Bhatinda district.

Daughter of dairy farmer Harsha Singh, Sarandeep is among the 4,262 children who’ve lapped up the three Rs under this program that got rolling in April 2006. For the twin villages of Kamalu-Siwach tucked away in the depressing boondocks of Talwandi Sabo, miles away from bright city lights and prosperity, Pratham’s program spells hope for the future.

As village sarpanch Shanti Kaur puts it: “Thank God, our children have finally begun to read and write. Maybe one day they will be freed from this drudgery of farming.’’

Pratham’s Learning to Read program has been so successful in Madhya Pradesh that it is reflected in a nationwide survey that has propelled Madhya Pradesh from the bottom five to the top five of India’s 26 states in terms of children’s learning.

Pratham is now making the Learning to Read program part of a nationwide, comprehensive Read India campaign and Pratham USA, a registered U.S. nonprofit run by volunteers here, is joining in.

Pratham USA will launch the Read India campaign in late May 2007 to raise awareness amongst the Indian American community and the community at large about the problems of child illiteracy in India, and to raise funds for the efforts. This effort will support the Read India campaign by Pratham in India, which was formally announced in New Delhi on Jan 4, in response to ASER, a citizens’ initiative to understand the status of elementary education in India.

The findings of ASER — Annual Status of Education Report — 2006 released by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India, provide grim evidence that elementary education in India is in perilous shape and over 70 million children are not learning well. While the enrollment of children in school is 91 percent to 95 percent (depending on age group), nearly 47 percent of children in Std 5 (equivalent to fifth grade) cannot read even Std 2 text correctly and 55 percent of them cannot do basic math like a simple division.

ASER, which was facilitated by Pratham, was conducted nationwide for the second year in a row. The report involved more than 20,000 volunteers, and covered 318,761 households and 758,028 children in the age groups 3 to 16.


UNICEF representative Eimer Bar remarked: “Given the critical role of the civil society in the EFA (Education For All) movement, UNICEF welcomes ASER 2006 as an important contribution to assessing the state of elementary education in India. Pratham is to be commended for spearheading this, by now, annual exercise which is an important input to the discourse on the current and future directions of this important sector.”

ASER 2006 had one silver lining. Madhya Pradesh, India’s largest state by geographical area, showed a quantum improvement of 50 percent in learning levels. For a state which featured in the bottom five in ASER 2005, it has jumped ahead to the top five amongst the 26 states of India. This improvement was possible due to the “Learning to Read” campaign led by Pratham in 2006.

Pratham wants to take its proven solution nationwide. At the same press conference in New Delhi which revealed the dismal state of primary education in India, Pratham announced plans for a two-year campaign to replicate its Madhya Pradesh success all across India. In fact, Pratham has taken its plans to the next level by striving to ensure that every child in India can read and do math at a basic level by 2009.

The Read India Campaign will address the issue by involving state governments of India in phased programs that will focus on four major components: introducing “learning to read” activities in all schools, creating and supplying reading and learning materials to teachers, involving mothers in their children’s learning and evaluating this project consistently.

Pratham USA will work closely with Pratham during this period to support the process in many ways, with fundraising being the most critical need. Pratham USA estimates that the Read India campaign over the two-year period will cost $18 million. Given the impact it has on over 60 million children, this is a low-cost approach to breaking the cycle of illiteracy amongst the children in India, with most of them coming from illiterate families and poor backgrounds.

Responding to the announcement regarding the Read India campaign, Vijay Goradia, chairman of Pratham USA, said: “ Twelve years ago, when Pratham was founded, the goal of having every child in school learning well seemed like an impossible dream. While the latest ASER study shows that major problems continue in the Indian educational system, successes like that in Madhya Pradesh show that a partnership with Pratham can make a huge difference.”

Pratham is a grassroots literacy movement that helps underprivileged children in India with pre-school and early education. Initiated by UNICEF in 1994 and now independently financed with no direct governmental ties, Pratham has been growing from city to city, and state to state, and now reaches over 13 states in India. The children reached by Pratham are being prepared to take their place as an integral part of the revolution that is taking place in India in terms of technological, industrial, and economic development.

A part of an international network dedicated to supporting the successful programs being implemented by Pratham in India, Pratham USA educates Americans about the tremendous educational challenges in India and raises funds to support Pratham’s important work in India.

Headquartered in Houston, Pratham USA has a committed and dedicated group of supporters and volunteers with fund-raising chapters in Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Chicago, North Carolina and Boston.

The author gratefully acknowledges the substantial and valuable contributions made by various Pratham USA volunteers to this article.
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BOOKS:
A Pakistani Voice: Author Mohsin Hamid
Ras Hafiz Siddiqui, who attended a book reading by New York Times bestselling Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid and has read his bestseller “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” offers his impressions.


New York Times bestselling author Mohsin Hamid talking about his novel at a book store in Corte Madera, Calif. [Ras Hafiz Siddiqui photo]

At the time of this writing “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid is fourth on the New York Times weekly list of hardcover fiction bestsellers and will in all likelihood move up further towards the top. Mohsin has recently been on a whirlwind tour promoting his new book in the United States during which he visited northern California, specifically Stanford, San Francisco and the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Corte Madera, where I caught up with him. He is a Pakistani English language novel writer from Lahore, currently residing in London. He has also spent quite a number of years in the U.S., attended Princeton University and Harvard, and worked in New York.

There are reasons why Mohsin Hamid attracts immediate attention. The first is his only other novel “Moth Smoke,” which won critical acclaim and launched him as the leader of a handful of writers from Pakistan who write fiction in English. Senior Pakistani writers like Bapsi Sidhwa are better known, and several Indian-origin novelists have already become quite famous in the United States. But here comes a Pakistani who is making an impact. That fact alone should be enough to attract interest in his direction, but in the end it his unique delivery and storytelling talent that will impress the global reader.

Most of what America sees from Pakistan today is men with beards denouncing its actions. The fact is that lines at the American embassy and consulates in Pakistan are always long and populated by “clean cut” men and unveiled women wanting to visit or immigrate, but that reality just does not sell on American TV. The many “moderates” there do absolutely nothing for viewer ratings but that subject is for another time.

When I walked in, fashionably late (I do not deny my own Pakistani roots) to become the 31st member of the group listening to Mohsin Hamid at the B&N in Corte Madera, he was engrossed in explaining that his narrator and lead character Changez exhibits an ethnic sense of being a Muslim and not a religious one. He added that his book was not meant to be a boring political dissertation. “At the end of the day, it is really a love story,” he said. It is a tale of lovers, the Pakistani male Changez and the American female Erica. But after having read the book, I ask if it is really that love that we should focus on? We will return to this point later.

The beautiful Erica bares a great deal to Changez on a Greek island. But this has to be one of the strangest one-sided courtships ever. Changez shows a level of patience and sensitivity with Erica that would make Pakistani males both proud and in demand here in the American heartland. But there is that one unspoken elephant in the living room called 9/11 that acts as the spoiler of all things.

Changez is affected by 9-11 in many curious ways. While Erica is in love with another man, or in reality his memory, Changez is living his American Dream (where hard work and dedication can pay big dividends). But then why is his reaction to 9/11 so distastefully confusing? Here, if one reads between the lines, Mohsin Hamid has given the American reader a controversial slice of what he/she already believes. Pakistani Americans especially will not be happy with that slice. But then again we need to remind ourselves that this is fiction.

“A lot that happens in the novel is meant to be discovered as it happens,” said Mohsin. He described this as a continuing “internal conversation.” He said that he started this novel in the year 2000. He also pointed towards the curious style of English which is used by his narrator in this novel, one that is taught in certain private English schools in Pakistan and is supposed to show a superior upbringing. Changez incorporates some of that language style to show off his superior upbringing, making up for the lack of wealth.

Mohsin Hamid describes his work as “half a conversation.” “I do half the work and the reader does the other half,” he said. “I come from a place (Pakistan) where people don’t read novels very much.” He pointed towards praise that he received from one reader in Pakistan, on his first novel “Moth Smoke.” The reader said that it was his favorite novel and the only one he had ever finished reading!

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is easy reading (I finished it in one evening). Mohsin mentioned that he actually wrote a 1,000 page manuscript which resulted in a 184-page publication. “Novel writing is like a marathon,” he said. He added that everyone has a story to tell, but few people spend seven years banging their heads on telling their story (making them true writers). “The title is many things,” he said. “This guy Changez is not very religious. He is not a religious fundamentalist,” said Mohsin.

In an answer to my question on how his work will be viewed in Pakistan he said that the book would be released there the following week. He added that his first work “Moth Smoke” actually was made into a TV series there.

The writer said that failed love affairs often result in anger. He said his novel has sought some inspiration from “The Fall” by Albert Camus. You may pick up some of that flavor here. But there is a great deal more that will puzzle readers as this “half a conversation” reaches them. For starters, curiously, the American that the narrator Changez tells his story to, never seems to talk back.

There are streaks of great writing that one encounters in “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” One example that I liked was from Changez and his one-way conversation with the shadowy American: “I hope you will not mind my saying so, but the frequency and purposefulness with which you glance about — a steady tick-tick-tick seeming to beat in your head as you move your gaze from one point to the next — brings to mind the behavior of an animal that has ventured too far from his lair and is now, in unfamiliar surroundings, uncertain whether it is predator or prey!”

Describing his feelings for New York, Changez waxes eloquent: “I was, in four and a half years, never an American; I was immediately a New Yorker. What? My voice is rising? You are right; I tend to become sentimental when I think of that city. It still occupies a place of great fondness in my heart, which is quite something, I must say, given the circumstances under which, after only eight months of residence, I would later depart.” This is a far cry from the uncharitable response Changez had shown on 9/11.

Describing Pakistan today through the lens of Lahore: “Perhaps we currently lack wealth, power or even sporting glory — the occasional brilliance of our temperamental cricket team notwithstanding — commensurate with our status as the world’s sixth most populous country, we Pakistanis take an inordinate pride in our food. Here in Old Anarkali, that pride is visible in the purity of the fare on offer; not one of these worthy restaurants would consider placing a western dish on his menu.”

The reception that Changez receives at the airport in America is not without its fallout. “For despite my mother’s request, and my knowledge of the difficulties it could well present me at immigration, I had not shaved my two-week-old beard.” Changez adds: “It is remarkable, given its physical insignificance — it is only a hairstyle, after all — the impact a beard worn by a man of my complexion has on your fellow countrymen.”

The ending of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is almost too hurried, as if written to meet a writer’s deadline. The trauma 9/11 and the over-reaction to possible India-Pakistan war shape a quick change of personality and direction within Changez, whose reluctance is directed more towards the fundamentals of capitalism than religion. As in any review, one just does no give away the ending, especially one which readers will certainly have differing opinions on. The love story with Erica does drag on a bit long. But as mentioned earlier during this review, let us hazard a guess as to what the writer may be embarked on in this novel.

Whether it was planned or not, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is a romantic story, but not just about the romance between Changez and Erica. This is quite possibly a failed love story between a Pakistani and the American Dream. There is confusion, regret, malice, denial and even a strong attraction shown towards that dream here in this book. It is the Pakistani talking for a change, engaged in his half-conversation with the American. And that Pakistani is trying to communicate his displeasure at being branded a fundamentalist. The question here is whether America is going to listen, or is it too busy expressing its love for another? That speculative take on this novel might add to the appeal of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” and launch Mohsin Hamid as a long term literary presence here in America. The essential ingredient, the writing talent, is already there, so he is off to a great start.
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NEWS DIARY: April 2007 Roundup
Mouthwatering Mangoes for Macho Motorcycles | Hasina to Return after Exile Threat Lifted | Is That Your Wife? | Burqa Play Ban | ‘Lokatantra Day’ | Famine by Rats | Shaky Nuke Deal | Buddhist Tourist Circuit



Mouthwatering Mangoes for Macho Motorcycles



(Above): A Harley Davidson motorbike and (right): Alphonso mangoes

Indian mangoes will hit U.S. shelves for the first time in 18 years, while Harley Davidson motorcycles will soon be cruising India’s roads, senior Indian and U.S. officials.

“The good news is that our mangoes are going to America and Harley Davidson is coming here,” Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said at a meeting on Indo-U.S. trade ties in New Delhi.

The U.S. banned mango imports from India 18 years ago over concerns that Indian farmers used too many pesticides.

Now, Indian farmers will instead irradiate the fruit to kill any pests, making the mangoes fit for consumption in the eyes of U.S. agriculture officials.

Lifting the ban was first agreed on during President George W. Bush’s visit to India last year.

Final details were worked out in a meeting Friday of the bilateral trade forum, chaired by Nath and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

“In a few short weeks, Indian mangoes will enter the U.S. market,” Schwab said.

In return, the way has been cleared for the Milwaukee-based Harley Davidson to enter the Indian market — one the world’s largest for motorbikes.

Their entry had been hampered by stringent emissions standards and tariffs of more than 90 percent.

“We have received indications that the Indian government will accept Euro 3 (emission) standards for heavy motorcycles, creating an opportunity for a niche in the market,” Schwab said.
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Hasina to Return after Exile Threat Lifted

Bangladeshi political leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed intends to return home soon, after the military-backed government appeared to back away from efforts to keep her in exile, a spokesman said.

(Above): Khaleda Zia
(Left): Sheikh Hasina

“Sheikh Hasina will come back in the first week of May,” her press secretary, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, said.

Bangladesh's emergency government barred Sheikh Hasina, a former prime minister and leader of the Awami League, from returning from holiday in the United States earlier this month.

Authorities had also been trying to force out Sheikh Hasina's main rival, Khaleda Zia, the country's last Prime Minister and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Both Sheikh Hasina and Zia are accused of corruption, political violence and misrule that led to a major political crisis in January which saw elections cancelled and a state of emergency imposed.

But the army-backed interim government appeared to drop its exile plans for the two women, while at the same time maintaining murder and extortion charges against Sheikh Hasina and bringing up the possibility of corruption charges against Zia.

Recently it ordered banks to supply details of the two leaders' bank accounts.

“Madam (Khaleda Zia) is still in doubt whether the authorities have totally abandoned the plan to send her into exile or they have suspended the plan temporarily,” a BNP leader speaking on condition of anonymity was quoted as saying by the Daily Star newspaper.
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Is That Your Wife?

(Right): Babubhai Katara

An Indian MP is facing charges of forgery and fraud after being arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle a woman and her son to Canada.

Babubhai Katara was stopped by immigration authorities at Delhi airport after apparently trying to pass off the woman as his wife.

Babubhai Katara is an MP for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

He was stopped at Delhi's Indira Gandhi international airport before boarding a flight to Toronto.

His arrest comes at a time when questions have been about the personal integrity of many MPs.

Last year 11 MPs were allegedly caught on camera asking for money to ask questions in parliament.

Officials say Katara was stopped along with Paramjit Kaur, 30, and a 14-year-old boy identified as Amarjeet Singh.

“He tried to pass them off as his wife and child,” police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told the Reuters news agency.

All three were taken into custody.

The authorities say that Kaur was traveling on a diplomatic passport made out in the name of the MP's wife.

Officials became suspicious after they realized that the photographs in the passport did not match.

Katara has been suspended from his party.
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Burqa Play Ban

(Right): Burqa-clad women are seen in Islamabad in this file photo. Irate Islamist lawmakers persuaded the Pakistan government to stop a theatre group staging a satirical play about the burqa.

The head of a Pakistani theatre company whose play about burqas was banned by the government has said that she is hurt and astonished by the decision.

The government banned the play because it said that it made “unacceptable fun” out of Pakistani culture.

Madeeha Gauhar, head of the Ajoka Theatre group, said that there was nothing offensive in the production against Islam or any other religion.

She said that she was being pulled up for “promoting moderation.”

Complaints about the issue came to light after Islamist MPs raised the issue in parliament. They complained that the play was against “Koranic injunctions on the veil.”

“The veil has long been part of local culture and nobody is allowed to make fun of these values,” Minister for Culture Ghazi Gulab Jamal said.

The satirical play Burqavaganza was staged this month by Ajoka Theatre group in Lahore.

The government announced an immediate ban, and stopped it from being staged in other cities following the end of its run in Lahore.

Pakistan has stringent laws for blasphemy against Islam or the Prophet Mohammed with a maximum penalty of death.

“They have committed blasphemy against the Holy Prophet,” Razia Aziz, a conservative female parliamentarian told the assembly.

But the Ajoka Theatre group has said that it has not received any official notification of the ban.

“We have just heard the news from the press... the government has not contacted us so far,” Gauhar said.

She said told the BBC that while she was not surprised that hardline Islamists had raised the issue, she was “astonished at how the government has reacted.”

“These are ominous signs for Pakistan,” she added.
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Lokatantra Day’
(Right):
A Communist Party flag over Kathmandu. Nepal marked the first anniversary of the end of King Gyanendra's absolute rule.

Nepal April 24 celebrated the first anniversary of the end of King Gyanendra's absolute rule and restoration of democracy as the “Loktantra Day” with thousands of people marking the event by thronging the streets and singing patriotic songs.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala attended the Democratic Day function at the Nepal Army pavilion, witnessed by ministers, lawmakers, government officials, diplomatic mission chiefs, political party leaders, civil society leaders and a large number of people.

“No one can deny Nepalese people this day, which marks the success of the struggle launched by people for their rights. The dreams and aspirations of the martyrs can only be fulfilled through national unity and mutual understanding,” Koirala said paying tribute to the martyrs.

“This day has given us the responsibility to build a peaceful, prosperous and new Nepal by ending all sorts of problems and conflicts,” he said.

King Gyanendra, on April 24, 2006, bowing to the 19-day agitation transferred powers to the people and reinstated the Parliament.

After the successful movement, Girija Prasad Koirala was elected as the prime minister as a common candidate of the seven major political parties. Maoists also came to the mainstream by ending their decade long armed struggle that claimed over 13,000 lives.

Nepal today declared a public holiday and the Loktantra Day celebrations will continue till April 25.

Various programs, cultural processions, sport events and bands were displayed during the occasion.

In the afternoon, Koirala hosted a grand reception at Shital Niwas, in the premises of the ministry of foreign affairs, where top political leaders, ministers, heads of diplomatic missions, journalists, businessmen, civil society leaders were invited.

Earlier in the afternoon, civil society members organized a rally from Kalanki, the place where five people were killed in April last year, and marched toward Basantapur Durbar square.

Meanwhile, the United States, extending congratulations to the Nepalese people on their first anniversary of Lokatantra (Democracy) Day, has urged all the parties of the popular uprising to meet their commitment to peace and democracy.
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Famine by Rats


(Above): Flowering bamboo
(Right): The rat population grows on the bamboo — and then turns to human food.


Tribesmen in Mizoram, bordering Burma and Bangladesh, are shuddering at the sight of the heavy flowering of the ubiquitous bamboo.

It attracts hordes of rats, a phenomenon known locally as Mautam, the Mizos' worst nightmare.

Not only do the rats thrive on the bamboo flowers, they also then go on to destroy the farmers' crops.

Mizo oral tradition suggests this deadly ecological cycle is repeated every 48 years.

Most Mizo farmers are now not even sowing rice or corn, so worried are they by the rats.

“It is no use planting anything. The hordes of rats have already destroyed the standing crop in some areas and will destroy all the rest,” says Thangthiauva of Pangzawl village.

Officials in Mizoram's agriculture department share his gloom.

Plant Protection Officer James Lalsiamliana says the Mautam, that struck the Mizo Hills in 1910-11 and again in 1958-59 is back with a vengeance.

“It will affect more than 30 percent of Mizoram's land area and much of the area under some crop or other. It cannot be stopped, we can only do damage control,” said Lalsiamliana.

He told the BBC that some parts of Champhai, Aizawl and Serchhip districts had already witnessed crop destruction by hordes of rats in the winter of 2006-2007.

“But the worse is still to come.”

A report by India's forest and environment ministry predicts that at least 5,100 sq km of Mizoram's forest area (out of a total of 6,446 sq km of forest) will be affected by the Mautam in 2007.

More than half of Mizoram's population of nearly 900,000 are farmers.

The Mizoram agriculture department anticipates a crop shortfall of at least 75 percent in 2007-2008 because of farmers not planting.

Desperate to control the rising rat population, the state government announced a reward of one rupee for every rat killed.

During 2006 alone more than 221,636 rats were killed. The killing continues but the rats keep coming in hordes.
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Shaky Nuke Deal

The United States and India are making another attempt at salvaging their controversial nuclear cooperation agreement but U.S. officials, with little room to maneuver, are cautious about the likelihood of progress.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, who will hold talks in Washington with Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, told Reuters, “We think the Indian government wants to achieve the agreement,” but the two sides had not found a way to bridge serious differences.

Recent technical-level negotiations did not make substantial progress, so “our intention is to make progress during these talks and accelerate our joint efforts towards a full agreement,” Burns said of next week's talks.

The much-heralded deal would give India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in 30 years, despite the fact that New Delhi tested nuclear weapons and has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But disputes over India's intentions on nuclear testing and reprocessing have not been resolved and both U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are under political constraints that limit their ability to compromise.

The Indian ambassador in Washington has told U.S. congressional aides that “nothing is insurmountable.” But some U.S. experts say differences are so profound, it is increasingly unlikely the deal can be done before Bush leaves office in January 2009.

Philip Zelikow, a former State Department official who helped craft the deal first announced in 2005, said the agreement has “veered toward the precipice at every stage” and is again unraveling because of ambivalence in both countries' bureaucracies.
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Buddhist Tourist Circuit

Following a consensus at the SAARC summit on developing tourism among member countries, India is looking up to its neighbors to develop Buddhism as a big time spiritual tourism in the region, official sources said in New Delhi.

As a part of a common promotional program planned by the Ministry of Tourism, the Buddhist destinations in Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have also been included along with those in India, the sources said.

The need to develop Buddhist circuits in India was further endorsed by a recent study which said tourist arrivals will go up by 400 per cent and India stands to earn over Rs. 47 billion if only the sites were refurbished and better connected.

Following the report, the ministry launched a major campaign “Come to India - Walk with the Buddha” in the South Asian market and domestic market for promotion of Buddhist circuits.

The government has also sanctioned Rs. 570 billion for development of tourism infrastructure and 14 major Buddhist sites.

Japan has already offered an assistance of Rs. 2.99 billion for refurbishing Ajanta Ellora caves which have famous but fragile Buddhist paintings and artwork.
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SPACE EXPLORATION:
Race from Space: Sunita’s Marathon
Astronaut Sunita Williams has done something no other astronaut has ever done. She ran the Boston Marathon while in orbit. A Siliconeer report.

(Right): Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, Expedition 14 flight engineer, is seen here with her feet off the station treadmill on which she ultimately ran about six miles per hour while flying more than five miles each second as she participated in the Boston Marathon. The treadmill is called TVIS, for Treadmill Vibration Isolation System, by the crewmembers and their ground support team. (Left): Williams flashes a thumbs up sign as she participates in the Boston Marathon. [All photos by NASA]

Running the Boston marathon is no joke. That’s if you are actually in Boston, that is. But what if you are 200 miles above space? No matter, says Expedition 14 crew and intrepid astronaut Sunita Williams, who did something no other astronaut has ever done: She ran the Boston Marathon while in orbit. Williams’ official completion time was four hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds as she completed the race April 16 at 2:24 p.m. EDT.

Williams circled Earth almost three times as she participated in the Boston Marathon from space. She ultimately ran about six miles per hour while flying more than five miles each second.

The 41-year-old astronaut ran the 26.2-mile race on a treadmill onboard the International Space Station. Although the race started at 10 a.m. EDT on Earth, Williams’ race did not coincide exactly with the race on the ground because of her sleep schedule. But mission control worked to match the events as closely as possible.

The Boston Athletic Association issued Williams bib number 14,000. The bib has been sent electronically to NASA, which has forwarded it to Williams. She’s a Needham, Mass., native and says her reason for running the marathon is simple. “I would like to encourage kids to start making physical fitness part of their daily lives. I thought a big goal like a marathon would help get this message out there.”

Regular exercise is essential to maintaining bone density while in space for astronauts. “In microgravity, both of these things start to go away because we don’t use our legs to walk around and don’t need the bones and muscles to hold us up under the force of gravity,” Williams said.

No one knows that better than Steve Hart. For two years, he’s been Williams’ flight surgeon. “There are specific challenges to staying healthy while in space. Sunita wants to make fitness the hallmark of her expedition stay. She wants to educate and motivate others about being physically fit in general.”


(Above): Astronauts Michael E. Lopez-Alegria (c), Expedition 14 commander and NASA space station science officer; Sunita L. Williams, flight engineer; and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, flight engineer representing Russia’s Federal Space Agency, pose for a crew portrait April 16 in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. [NASA photo]

Williams, an accomplished marathoner, has been training for the marathon for months while serving a six-month stint as a flight engineer on board the ISS. She runs at least four times a week: two longer runs and two shorter runs.

Williams qualified for the marathon when she ran a 3:29:57 in the Houston Marathon last year. Her biggest challenge running in space was staying harnessed to a specially designed treadmill with bungee cords. Williams says running on the TVIS — which stands for Treadmill Vibration Isolation System — can sometimes be uncomfortable. The machinery puts a strain on the runner’s hips and shoulders.

Mitzi Laughlin is an astronaut strength, conditioning and rehabilitation coach at Johnson Space Center. She’s been involved in planning Williams’ rigorous exercise routine for a year and a half. “We’ve done a lot more TVIS work than we would normally prescribe for any astronaut. Suni has a superb fitness level. She’s dedicated and perhaps one of our best runners.”

Here on Earth, Williams had a huge support network. Fellow NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, Williams’ sister Dina Pandya and long-time friend Ronnie Harris were among the 24,000 other runners participating in the marathon. Harris met Williams during their days together at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. “Anything regarding Boston makes Suni light up. Her running passion is manifested in the best marathon in the world, which happens to be her home town. You need to experience the Boston Marathon to understand why she is gonna do it in orbit.”

Race organizers said this was their first satellite venture, and they were thrilled about it. “Suni running 26.2 miles in space on Patriots’ Day is really a tribute to the thousands of marathoners who are running here on Earth. She is pioneering new frontiers in the running world,” said Jack Fleming of the Boston Athletic Association.

NASA managers have decided to bring Williams back to Earth on an earlier shuttle flight than planned so she doesn’t spend more than six months in the cosmos.

Her original return flight from the international space station was scheduled for late June, but a hail storm in February that damaged the space shuttle Atlantis’ fuel tank delayed the 2007 schedule by months.

Atlantis, originally due to launch in March, is now scheduled to lift off in early June. Space station and shuttle managers agreed to swap out the station crew members then, instead of on the shuttle Endeavour’s June flight as initially planned. Endeavour’s flight was pushed back to August.

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SUBCONTINENT:
Flush with Funds: $200 Billion Forex Reserve
India is now the world’s sixth top country, after China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Russia, to possess reserves over US$200 billion (euro147.8 billion), writes Siddharth Srivastava.



India’s forex reserves crossed the $200 billion for the first time on April 6, as per the data released by the apex bank, the Reserve Bank of India.

One can gauge the progress of the Indian economy, as 17 years back India’s forex reserves were barely $1 billion. The reserves at the end of December 2003 totaled $100 billion.

In 1990, the reserves were just enough to pay for two weeks worth of imports and India had to pledge its gold to buy foreign goods. The current reserves are enough to meet imports for 14 to 16 months.

India is now the fifth Asian country and world’s sixth, after China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Russia to possess reserves over $200 billion, of which $46 billion came in the past year.

According to the RBI, reserves have risen quickly due to rising foreign investment, higher remittances and increased overseas borrowing by Indian companies.

New Delhi has set an ambitious $160 billion target for merchandise exports in the current fiscal year that ends in March. “In 2008-09, our exports will cross $200 billion,” Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said.

“Exports are no longer a means to generating foreign exchange. Now exports are drivers of (economic) growth and a source of employment,” Nath said, unveiling the 2007-08 trade policy.

Though exports did well, rising 25 percent imports grew faster, leaving the country with a wider trade deficit at about $57 billion.

One key area is the services sector. Driven by growth in sectors like software, business and management consultancy, exports of services (at $311 billion) in India may surpass exports of goods (at $305 billion) by 2012, a survey released by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has said.

Information Technology is a robust growth area. While worldwide IT firms have witnessed an overall fall in new outsourcing contracts in 2006, Indian companies, such as Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro, clocked a sharp jump of over 14 times in their market share in the past four years, a recent study by International Data Corporation has said.

Indeed, good fourth quarter performances recently announced by the top three Indian software firms TCS, Infosys and Wipro augurs well.

Last week, Infosys reported a 70 percent jump in quarterly profits. The company’s revenues have grown from $130,000 dollars in 1981-1982, a year after it was set up, to touch $3.25 billion dollars in 2006-2007.

India’s financial year runs from April 1 to March 31.

Other sources of foreign funds are also up. Nath said last week that the government has set a target of attracting $25 billion in foreign direct investment in 2007-08. FDI inflows in the country has jumped nearly three-fold to $15 billion in 2006-07 as the world’s second-fastest growing economy continues to lure global investors.

The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects for 2006 reported that India has overtaken China as the nation whose workforce remits the highest amounts, an indication that Indians have emerged as the top “alien” work force.

According to the GEP, officially recorded remittances worldwide exceeded $232 billion in 2005, with India receiving almost 10 percent of the amount ($21.7 billion). China came second with $21.3 billion, followed by Mexico, France and the Philippines.

To be sure, there is a flip side to this story. The booming reserves have resulted in a steep appreciation of the rupee against the dollar that has dented margins for exporters. Recently, the rupee climbed to an eight-year high of 42.51 per dollar.

The partially convertible rupee traded as high as 41.62, its strongest since May 1998, according to Reuters data. The rupee has appreciated almost 12 percent since July last year.

Nath said that he could have set a higher export target had it not been for the appreciating rupee. The government has announced tax sops for exporters to cushion the impact.

Reserves have also resulted in the money supply to grow more than 20 percent the past year, a level not very palatable to the central bank due to resulting inflation. The federal Congress-led government has been facing electoral reverses in the face of rising prices of essential commodities, with inflation hovering around the 6 percent mark.

Reserves have risen by $33.2 billion since October 27 last year, which analysts suspect is also due to intervention by the central bank to curb the rupee appreciation. The central bank bought $19.7 billion in the foreign exchange market in the four months to the end of February, RBI data shows.

In the recent past, however, the RBI has kept off the currency market and desisted from buying dollars that releases more domestic currency into the banking system.

Excess demand combined with supply side constraints due to stagnant agricultural growth and infrastructure bottlenecks have resulted in inflation climbing to a new two-year high with vegetable prices, especially onions (also tomatoes, potatoes), surging sharply across the country.

Despite the overwhelming dependence of the population, agriculture contributes less than 25 percent of the gross domestic product. Food production and agriculture have stagnated, growing around 2-2.5 percent compared to over 8 percent for industry and over 9 percent for services.

The government has been looking to curtail demand and prevent “overheating” of the economy by raising cost of capital. In a sudden move, the RBI recently announced a two-phased hike in cash reserve ratio by 50 basis points to 6.5 percent and a hike in repo rate (rate at which the RBI lends to other banks) by 25 basis points to 7.75 percent that prompted a 4.7 percent fall in the benchmark Bombay Stock Exchange.

This was the third move in the recent past that will drain $3.58 billion from the banking sector lending pool.

Indeed, it is never easy to manage a complex economy such as India.

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CULTURE:
Music Without Borders: A Charming Voice from the Past

Her husband was Bengali, she was Pakistani, but their relationship, which blossomed from a shared love of music, survived the trauma of the 1971 war and endured. Ras Hafiz Siddiqui offers a tribute to Nahid Niazi.

(Above): Nahid Niazi and husband Moslehuddin in Hawaii.

It was difficult to predict what yesteryear’s famous singer Nahid Niazi would look like after all these years. But one thing is was for sure, she herself wanted to come out and interact with the Pakistani and South Asian community here after a long time in relative seclusion following the death of her husband, the music conductor/composer Moslehuddin, in 2003. As luck would have it, her son Feisal Mosleh (a musician in his own right) is a resident of the San Francisco Bay area. Since they volunteered to support Silicon Valley Pakistani-Americans in a fundraiser March 23 to assist The Citizens Foundation, we agreed to meet with her at a celebration at the Chandni Restaurant the following day in Newark, Calif.

This event was put together by Raana Faiz of the Hamrahi Radio show. In the hands of Raana, this gathering became much bigger than anticipated and we ended up with a gala evening of fine food and entertainment during which local singer Anisha Bakshi, poet Noshi Gilani and music composer Ali Shahabuddin excelled in their talents.

Some relatives of this writer had appeared in a children’s program conducted by Moslehuddin on Pakistan Television during the late 1960s, so this was not exactly a meeting of strangers.

When my wife and I saw Nahid sitting with her son Feisal and his wife Kim, one could easily mistake them all for being local Californians and of a much younger set. She has the good looks of the Niazi clan of which the cricket great Imran Khan is the most famous exemplar.


(Above): Pakistan’s yesteryear singing sensation Nahid Niazi (l) with son Feisal Mosleh and wife Kim at a recent Bay Area gathering. [Ras Hafiz Siddiqui photo]


But beyond the looks there is her gentle demeanor and charm that exudes confidence. Through her measured words one can gather that she has adapted to her life in the United Kingdom but she misses Pakistan. She visits her son Feisal in California once in a while and enjoys her grandchildren both here and in the U.K. where her daughter Nermin lives. But it’s also clear that the loss of her husband Mosleh was and still is sometimes overpowering.

Nahid (r) is the daughter of the late Sajjad Sarwar Niazi, a former deputy director general at Radio Pakistan. A Pakistani from the Niazi clan, married to Moslehuddin, a Bengali, the two had to face the traumatic year of 1971 together. The creation of Bangladesh was the second partition of the subcontinent, and many couples had to make painful decisions. There were break ups of families; West Pakistanis who had married Bengalis were concerned about their future and there were rumors that Bengali husbands were leaving their West Pakistani wives.

But Moslehuddin and Nahid conquered the new division and settled in the U.K. permanently. They made a big impact in their newly adopted country because rumor has it Moslehuddin, the accomplished music composer, helped to invent a new food dish that the British just cannot not let go of called “chicken tikka masala.” “It is true,” said Nahid.

Speaking of music, she said her own all-time favorite song was her father’s composition “Ek Baar Phir Kaho Zara” previously sung by Shamshad Begum. Her favorite female singers are Noor Jehan and Lata Mangeshkar. Amongst male voices those of Mohd. Rafi and Mehdi Hassan along with Ahmed Rushdie have a special appeal for her. She added that Rushdie, whom she had sung duets with, would use several takes to perfect his songs while she herself would try to finish her recordings in as few takes as possible.

She said that she is learning Bengali these days and can now read some of the script. She said that what inspired her was the need to understand more of what her husband wrote, because he loved the language and wrote in it. She said that her relationship with her late mother-in-law was also very inspiring. Nahid said that Moslehuddin was buried in Islamabad as the family wished. On her future plans she had this to say; “I was sorting out my life after Mosleh’s death.” And since her children are now well settled; “I am all set to come back,” she added. One can be sure that Pakistan and possibly even Bangladesh will hear from her soon.

Niazi’s presence was a reminder that the golden age of Pakistani arts has somehow just got to be preserved. Online this effort has been attempted by Mazhar in Denmark and by Anis Shakur in New York. Our Washington-based Pakistani journalist Khalid Hasan has been amongst the best historians of this age when Pakistanis could boast of a vibrant film, arts and entertainment industry. Mohtarma Nahid Niazi is one voice from that era.

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ENTERTAINMENT:
Master Blaster!
Sachin and Virgin Comics
Legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has teamed up with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Comics to create a new superhero character, Sachin Tendulkar’s The Master Blaster. A Siliconeer report.



(Above): An illustration of “master blaster,” a new superhero character created by Virgin Comics after cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar and Bangalore-based Total Multimedia teamed up with Virgin Comics to create the new character for comic books, animation and games.

Legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Bangalore-based Total Multimedia Limited have announced that they are teaming up with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Comics to create a new superhero character, Sachin Tendulkar’s The Master Blaster, for comic books, animation and games.

“This relationship with Sachin Tendulkar and Total Multimedia Limited launches an important step for Virgin Comics as we continue to pioneer a new character entertainment industry for India,” said Virgin Comics CEO Sharad Devarajan. “Sachin is a living legend and the perfect choice to be immortalized as a new superhero character that will exist for generations to come.”

“When two powerful brands like Virgin and Tendulkar collide, an iconic hero like Master Blaster is the result,” commented Gotham Chopra, Virgin Comics chief creative officer. “Sachin’s unparalleled skill on the cricket field and his dynamic personality off of it make for the raw elements of a great hero that will inspire kids all across the planet.”

“Sachin’s success in cricket is legendary and we are delighted to collaborate with him to create this exciting new superhero for India,” added Sir Richard Branson.

Tendulkar said, “I am thrilled to be working with the talented creators at Virgin on the Master Blaster character.”

Acclaimed filmmaker and Virgin Comics co-founder Shekhar Kapur added, “What more can I say about Sachin Tendulkar but that I am an adoring fan? My respect for him goes far beyond the game of cricket. I am so excited to be associated with him in any way. I know that the ‘Master Blaster’ superhero will be an exciting, educational and uplifting entertainment character for kids of all ages.”

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COMMUNITY:
Caring for Seniors
: Fremont’s CAPS Program
Five community organizations will implement a Community Ambassador Program for Seniors in Fremont, Calif., to provide information and referral assistance to underserved seniors in their communities. A Siliconeer report.

(Right): Participants at a celebration lunch hosted by the India Community Center with partner organizations for the CAPS program, which will train volunteer ambassadors to provide services and referral to underserved seniors. [GOPI GODHWANI photo]

The Human Services Department at Fremont, Calif., has received a two-year $300,000 grant award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which will fund the development of a program called the Community Ambassador Program for Seniors.

The CAPS proposal was developed by a collaborative effort of five community organizations who have been working closely with the City of Fremont and the Tri-City Elder Coalition to better address the needs of underserved seniors within their communities.

These organizations include: the Centerville Presbyterian Church, the Muslim Support Network, Sikhs Engaged in Volunteer Activities, the India Community Center and the Taiwanese Senior Association.

CAPS will build capacity to serve seniors in their own communities, in their own language, within their own cultural norms, and will do so where seniors live, worship, socialize and learn.

“When a senior needs help they don’t often know who to turn to or where to go and that’s often exaggerated in the ethnic and faith communities where language and culture are issues,” said Asha Chandra, communications coordinator with Fremont’s Pathways to Positive Aging Project. “So the idea was: Let’s take the services to the seniors where they congregate, and so by partnering with these five organizations, we will train volunteer ambassadors from each of these organizations.”

The community organizations will each hire a site coordinator who will recruit at least 10 volunteers per site. City staff will train site coordinators and volunteers to provide information and referral assistance to seniors in their respective communities, utilizing a curriculum developed and tested by staff from Stanford University Geriatric Education Center and San Jose State University.

Chandra said various community organizations of ethnic groups from the Indian subcontinent were joining hands.

For more information, email Asha Chandra at achandra@ci.fremont.ca.us
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COMMUNITY:
Passage to India: School Fundraiser
Inspired by the interest and appreciation of Indian culture, the International School of the Peninsula in Palo Alto, Calif., celebrated India’s vivid and diverse culture at its 19th annual auction and gala. A Siliconeer report.

[Above (l-r)]: Co-Chairperson Paru Desai Yusuf, Head of School Philippe Dietz, and Co-Chairperson Sonya Pelia. (Right): ISTP Parents Peter and Yulin Lee bid high during the live auction with encouragement from “Garland Girls” (l-r) Debra St. Claire, Lavinia Karahan, Lucile Glessner, Julene Jones, and Lynette Philippe.


Continuing its tradition of promoting internationalism, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based International School of the Peninsula celebrated India’s vivid and diverse culture at its 19th Annual Auction and Gala, “Passage to India,” according to a press release from the school. ISTP raised over $250,000 at the Annual Gala and Auction, the highest in the school’s history.

The black-tie evening March 31 at the Fairmont San Jose included a Bollywood dance performance, Indian cuisine from the San Francisco Chronicle’s “culinary jewel” Amber India Restaurant – Santana Row, Indian-themed live auction items, and a dance floor with professional DJ.

Each year, the International School of the Peninsula’s formal Annual Gala and Auction combines live auction items, fun entertainment, gourmet food, and unique themes.

This year’s live auction item lots included a Monsoon Wedding-style celebration, a stay in a lavish Parisian apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower, an experience of becoming a Drug Enforcement Agency Agent for a Day, a Dreamworks tour, and an exclusive Napa Valley getaway with a dinner at the famed French Laundry restaurant.

Additionally, Indian-themed artwork created by ISTP Middle School sold at the auction, with the funds going to the Stanford University Chapter of Asha for Education, a non-profit organization that helps to provide for underprivileged girls’ education in India, spurring positive socio-economic change.

More information on the International School of the Peninsula is available at its Web site at www.istp.org.

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HEALTH:
Type 2 Diabetes:
What You Need to Know
Though there’s no cure yet, if you develop diabetes your doctor can help you plan a regime that will help you lead a healthy life, writes Dr. Anne Tang.

Type 2 diabetes is on the rise. Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity is widespread, and experts predict the number of people with diabetes will double by the year 2030. Though there’s no cure yet, if you develop diabetes you can make a plan with your doctor that will help you lead a healthy life.

Diabetes is a condition that makes it hard for your body to convert the food you eat into energy. Normally, after you eat, your pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by moving sugar from your blood into cells where it’s used for energy. Diabetics either don’t have enough insulin or their bodies don’t use insulin well, causing high blood sugar levels. Over the years, this high blood sugar can damage vessels and lead to heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, stroke or even limb amputations. We can’t cure diabetes yet, but we can control its symptoms by balancing diet, physical activity and medications.

The Types. Type 1 diabetes (also known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes) generally affects people under 30 whose bodies no longer produce insulin and they depend on insulin from an outside source to regulate their blood sugar. Type 2 (also called adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes) affects people over 40 whose bodies can produce some insulin but don’t use it properly. Of the two forms, type 2 is the most common, especially among Asians, African Americans, American Indians and Latinos.

The Risk Factors. If someone in your family has diabetes, you’re more likely to develop the disease. You’re also at greater risk if you are over 40, are overweight, have high blood pressure, are inactive, develop gestational diabetes or give birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds. Talk with your doctor about getting tested regularly for diabetes.
The Symptoms. Exhaustion, excessive thirst, excessive and frequent urination, blurry vision, wounds or cuts that won’t heal, numbness or tingling of feet, frequent vaginal infections and unexplained weight loss may be signs that you have diabetes. Call your doctor if you have any of the above symptoms.

Living with Diabetes. The key to living a healthy life with diabetes is controlling your blood sugar levels. With home glucose monitoring, you can see how food, exercise and medications affect blood sugar. It will help you avoid high sugar levels (hyperglycemia) and low sugar levels (hypoglycemia) and it will reduce your risk for diabetes-related complications such as blindness, kidney failure, feet numbness and heart disease.

Ask your doctor about the symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Eat on time, always carry some form of sugar with you in case of hypoglycemia, take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor, exercise regularly and stay hydrated (drink 6-8 glasses of water a day).

Monitoring your condition and keeping in close contact with your doctor can delay and even prevent the onset of diabetes-related complications. By taking control of your diabetes, you can lead a happy, fulfilling, healthy long life and thrive!
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IMMIGRATION LAW:
Citizenship and the USCIS
There is good news for those whose application for naturalization is pending for over 120 days even after the applicant has passed the civics and English tests, writes attorney Mahesh Bajoria.

If you are one of those persons whose application for naturalization (citizenship) is pending beyond 120 days after you have passed the civics and English tests and you do not know what to do, you can petition a federal court to grant you citizenship.

After the application for naturalization is filed with the appropriate office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, usually the applicant is called for finger printing depending upon the age of the applicant. After that the USCIS schedules an interview of the applicant. The applicant is tested on civics and English knowledge. The applicant also has to fulfill residency requirements. After all these requirements have been met, the USCIS makes a determination on the applicant’s eligibility for citizenship.

A number of cases have remained unadjudicated by USCIS even after the completion of examination. However, the law requires that USCIS make a determination within 120 days of the examination.

According to Title 8, U.S. Code of Federal Rules §335.3 (a): A decision to grant or deny the application for naturalization shall be made at the time of the initial examination or within 120 days after the date of the initial examination of the application for naturalization under §335.2; Administrative Procedure Act, Title 5 U.S.C. §555(b).

In cases of delay, usually USCIS states that an FBI background check is pending and as a result the it is not adjudicating the application for naturalization. The applicant then keeps waiting indefinitely.

The law is very clear on this. If you meet all statutory requirements for naturalization, i.e., if, immediately preceding the date of your naturalization application, you have resided continuously; after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence within the United States for more than 5 years or 3 years as applicable; you have resided in your state where you filed your naturalization application for more than three months; you are a person of good moral character; you have met the civics and English language requirements prescribed by the USCIS, and you are not otherwise disqualified, then USCIS is required to adjudicate the application within 120 days of completion of examination.

If USCIS fails to adjudicate your naturalization application within 120 days after the date of your naturalization examination, you are entitled to de novo adjudication of your naturalization application by the U S District Court. This is prescribed under Title 8 U.S.C. §1447(b).

If you meet all of the requirements for naturalization, and therefore you have a right to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, you can petition the U.S. District Court having jurisdiction over your case and request the court to grant you naturalization.

The court has jurisdiction to grant your naturalization application as provided by law.

So, if you are one of those persons whose application for naturalization is pending for FBI background check or name check, and you have been waiting for over 120 days. you can take advantage of this rule of law by filing a Petiton for Hearing before the U.S. District Court.

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ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE:
Insomnia: A Homeopathic Approach

Unlike conventional Western medicine, homeopathic treatment of insomnia does not lead to drowsiness or side effects, writes Jatin Kumar.

Insomnia is a sleep condition, characterized by difficulty in falling and or staying asleep. Usually, sufferers of insomnia have one or some of these symptoms: difficulty in falling asleep; waking up often during the night; once awake, difficulty in sleeping again; waking up too early in the morning; feeling tired upon waking; tossing and turning while trying to sleep.

Since Homeopathic remedies are based on totality of symptoms, and not on the name of disease, a homeopathic practitioner needs to know the detailed history before giving homeopathic remedy.

Types of Insomnia. there are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary insomnia.

Primary insomnia means that a person is having sleep problems that are not related with other health condition. Secondary insomnia means that a person is having sleep problems because of something else, such as a medical condition (like asthma, depression, arthritis, cancer, or heartburn). Some times alcohol intake before bed, might cause insomnia. Family worries, trouble at work and financial problems might attribute to this condition.

Symptoms. Although insomnia does not have a clear set of symptoms, the following conditions may present: sleepiness during the day; uneasiness; general tiredness; irritability; problems with concentration or memory; lack of coordination; dull headache, because of lack of sleep.

Who gets Insomnia? It is a general assumption that insomnia is more common in sedentary workers, but it is not true. Anyone can get this condition, based on his or her environment. Insomnia is found in males and females of all age groups, although it seems to be more common in females. Older males with chronic ailments tend to suffer more.

The Homeopathic Approach. Sleep arises from the balance of the mind and body. First of all, calm your mind and shut all your thoughts, then sleep will get away. Some people use different techniques to get a good night’s sleep that includes changing the place and positions, covering the face or switching off the lights. A small noise next door will wake them up. But sleep is not a function of all those things. Rather, it is in the calmness of the mind. Homeopathic remedies provide, that body and mind tranquility.

In Homeopathy, the remedy is selected on the basis of symptoms of the patient, including physical, mental (emotional states, depression, anxious, etc) and family history. Homeopathy treats the patient as a whole, rather than the diseases or its effects. Homeopathy acts symptomatically and helps the brain attain calmness. It gives psychological support to comfort emotional changes. Moreover, The best thing is no bitter pills, or serious side effects.

In homeopathy, the choice of medicine differs for early awakening, sleeping late, frequent awakening, sleeplessness after midnight or before midnight. It takes all the sleep patterns in consideration. In my twenty years of homeopathic practice,

The results of homeopathic therapy are not drowsiness but peaceful refreshment. Homeopathic medicines commonly used in case of sleeplessness are Aconite, Arg Nit, and Ars alb. In their writings, Dr. J. T. Kent and Dr. Clark have a great admiration for Chamomilla, Hyosyamus, Ignatia, and Kali phos. All the homeopathic remedies should be taken under the guidance of a well trained homeopath for best results.

Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a licensed physician or a M.D. This article is for educational purposes and should not be used for any medical advice. Author does not claim to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.

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TALENT:
Child’s Play
: The Art of Radhika Tulsian
Radhika Tulsian likes to dress up, draw and sing. And she is all of seven years old. A Siliconeer report.


(Above): Radhika loves to draw in various media. (Clockwise from left): A sketch of a castle; : A ballerina done in Microsoft Paint; Two illustrations done on computer, “Greenery” and “The Planet,” and a photo of Radhika herself dressed as a mermaid. (Below): At the bottoma crayon sketch of a scenery.



Even before she started off with preschool, Radhika, now seven, showed off her brilliance at length, says her proud father Rohit Tulsian. “She could draw, sing and recite well at age three,” he said. “At the play group level she was selected as the only child to come up on stage and address the whole class.”

The seven-year-old girl is presently studying in the Step By Step High School in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Radhika’s mentors are principal Jayshree Periwal and teacher Tanu, who have contributed a lot of effort and understanding when teaching her the basics of her work.

Radhika, who is super-inquisitive, comes up with new ideas from thin air and off she goes exploring them at length. Whether it is crayons or a mouse, Radhika has already made a mark in school as a promising artist. Her pictures, some presented here, have won prizes at school.

“It is amazing how kids evolve with technology,” says Rohit. “Who would have thought a seven-year old could portray his or her creative thoughts on a PC in their own special way during the days we were kids? Thanks to emerging technology and the influence of computers in today’s kids, they are getting creative and tech savvy right from the word go.”

Rohit says children should be given the maximum freedom to grow. “As parents we would like to put our experience in these few words — Let your child dream, imagine and support their ideas,” he says. “They might sound weird but one never knows what these little minds are capable of. They can work wonders. Do not put boundaries of your concepts to their thoughts.”

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ENTERTAINMENT:
Bollywood Popstar: Live on Internet
People of Indian Origin Television became the first ever ethnic Indian television network to telecast from Los Angeles, a live show worldwide using the Internet. A Siliconeer photo essay.



(Clockwise from top): Bollywood Popstar contest winners Lakmeen Bans and Saikat Chakraborty; Khalsa Junction Jr presenting a Bhangra performance; Omesha, Inc. fashion show; and Bollywood composer Bappi Lahiri (l) with PIO TV founders Munish Gupta (r) and Abhesh Verma.
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TRAVEL:
Gypsy Ski Camping: Swiss Trip
Inexpensive travel in Europe may sound like an oxymoron but our travel editor Al Auger took up the challenge — and ended up skiing in Switzerland, and lived to tell the tale.


(Above, left): A busy thoroughfare at Chur, some 40 miles south of Zurich. Chur, the capital of the canton of Graubunden, is over 2,000 years old and one of the most seductive villages in the central section of Switzerland. (Right): Arosa, one of the best known areas in Graubunden, has some of the most impressive mountain ranges in the Grisons.

Inexpensive travel in Europe today? An oxymoron if I ever heard one. Well, actually it can be possible and quite easy.

Our gypsy adventure began in Amsterdam with the purchase of a five-year-old Volkswagen camper and took root in Chur (Coor), some 40 miles south of Zurich. Chur, the capital of the canton of Graubunden, is over 2,000 years old and one of the most seductive villages in the central section of Switzerland. Graubunden is the largest canton in Switzerland covering more than one-sixth of the country.

Our campground was near the Rhine River, a pleasant park of trees and grass with electric and water hookups. It also included a washroom, communal kitchen and lounge. Switzerland has more campgrounds than any other country in Europe and they literally dot the landscape. A large proportion of them are “winterized” for camping and located near, or in many instances, right at the ski resort within walking distances of the lifts. Camping in Switzerland was just a preamble to the discovery that Europeans are, without a doubt, the most sophisticated campers in the world.

One warning about traveling around Graubunden as it is rife with an addictive appetizer that will weaken your will at even the slightest whiff of aroma: Raclette. This a special cheese made only for such an seductive treat. It comes in a small dish melted for dipping, a la fondue. The dipping tidbits are pearl onions, small gherkin pickles and red potatoes. Be forewarned: One dish will not suffice.

The old town of Chur dates beyond 2000 years ago. The Kathedrale St. Maria Himmelfahrt was built between 1151 and 1272. the original structure was built in prehistoric times and then a Roman castle was built to be followed by the house of a bishop in year 451 A.D. Although Graubunden is considered to be in the “German” side of Switzerland, the canton is polyglot with a generous mix of languages and cultures. While the sometimes incomprehensible Swiss German is the major language, further south you will find Italian and Romansch — a language believed to reach as far back as 600 B.C — spoken., particularly as you find yourself in the Ticino region, buttressed on the Italian border.



A cable car begins in the center of Chur to its ski area. From the tram we switched to a gondola, then a T-bar and finally a chairlift that took us to the top. From here, trails and bowls are mostly in they intermediate class and branch off to runs serviced by another chairlift and T-bar. As in all the major ski areas of the world, skiing and snowboarding has become an essential part of winter sports at Chur. Schoolchildren, with custom ski and ’board clamps on their bicycles, stop off for a few runs after school and often a harried businessman can be seen, still in suit and tie, releasing tension by skiing some hard runs followed by lunch in the lodge overlooking the city. Reminds one very much of Grouse Mt. above Vancouver, British Columbia.

Continuing our adventure, we headed for the Weiss Arena (White Arena). Only 30 minutes from Chur, this is one of the more popular ski resort areas for residents of Chur and Zurich. The combined ski areas of Flims/Laax/Falera are well known for their notorious black diamond runs such as the 9,300-foot La Siala run, an excellent challenge for the adventurous. Intermediate and beginner skiers will also find long, open runs that will take them from the top to the bottom.

Transcending even La Siala is the Casson Grat, an 8,700-foot peak where bowls resembling frozen bed sheets begin. The tram ride that skirts the menacing rock walls alone is well worth the price of admission. The trail from the tram ends further up the peak where one can evade the steep bowls and head down the more easily conquered trails that make an end run around the Grat. A number of advance trails spin off the shelf halfway down Grauber mountain. It is almost as steep as the Grat, but more entertaining with small bumps and constantly changing cuts in the gully.

Siala and Mutta Rodunda is the other half of the Weiss Arena. With nowhere the number of lifts of its neighbor of its neighbors, this area features clever placement of lifts, so there are numerous bowls and trails to make up for its lack of acreage. Most runs fall into the intermediate category, but verticals reach as high as 5,500 feet and runs of up to 3 miles are common. One of the more stunning sights is the Berghotel Crap Sogn Gion sitting high atop the peak. A panorama can be seen from all the rooms of this circular hotel that juts out.

Arosa, one of the best known areas in Graubunden, is a truly beautiful one-hour electric train ride from Chur. Here, in this postcard village of traditional chalets, casino and luxurious hotels are some of the most impressive mountain ranges in the Grisons. Arosa has a solid pedigree as the skiers first schussed the Arosa runs in 1877. Arriving at the train station we were met by a fully bedecked horse-drawn sleigh with bells that transports skiers to the slopes.



Fifteen lifts serves ski runs that will total miles 43 miles before reaching the bottom of the mountain for another ride up the cable car lifts to the top. My wife, a rock-steady intermediate, felt Arosa was her very favorite, giving her more enjoyable skiing per lift than any other in the area. But Arosa has its more forbidding black runs such as the Weisshorn.

St. Cassian is tucked away in a heavily wooded hillside in the village of Lenz. It not only was a mere five minutes away from the major lifts of Lenzerheide, it also featured arguably the best restaurant in the region. It is a center for cross-country ski buffs and in the morning we would be greeted by colorfully garbed early risers milling about, planning the days’ trek, waxing skis or sitting on the deck with coffee and croissants.

The circus of ski lifts located on both sides of the highway from Lenzerheide north to Churwalden is awesome and somewhat intimidating as nearly 100 miles of ski runs are available. Each lift complex is owned individually, but connected by a common ticket program, and based in the four villages. The most challenging of these resorts being the Parpaner Rothorn. We were enchanted by the burg of Savognin with its centuries-old church, lodges and Swiss chalets surrounded by a burgeoning array of and mountain-side obstacles such as barns and haybales. The ski trails are also criss-crossed with miles of walking paths and well-placed signs warning skiers to be aware of walkers. Apparently the health-obsessed Swiss are not going to let a little snow keep them from their traditional daily walks.

The experienced gypsy camper is well prepared for each day of skiing. After a drive to the parking lot of the ski area of choice we would breakfast with cheese, coffee and croissants, fix a brown bag lunch complete with a local wine for chilling in the snow and head for the lifts.

After a day of schusses, it’s back to the van where the boots are removed and a bracer of one of Switzerland’s deservedly famous fruity schnapps accompany an enjoyable review of the day’s adventures.

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COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Sri Lalitha Gana Vidyalaya Hosts Fundraiser | City of Cupertino Honors Mahesh Nihalani | ‘Pratham Idol’ Fundraiser for Literacy Drive | Baisakhi in Los Angeles | Pakistan Day | Hindu prayer in Nevada State Legislature in Sanskrit | Wins Scholarship | First 5 Family Resource Center | GOPIO-CT Honors Four | Social Entrepreneur Award

Sri Lalitha Gana Vidyalaya Hosts Fundraiser


Students of Sri Lalitha Gana Vidyalaya perform at the school’s 15th anniversary fundraiser.

Sri Lalitha Gana Vidyalaya hosted a fund raising event titled “Guru Vandhanam” for the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the school March 10 at the Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif., according to a press release.   Thyagaraja Aradhana provides a platform for upcoming musicians raised in North America and exposes them to great artists from India.

About 100 musicians ranging from 5 years to 50 years in age wearing the Sri Lalitha Gana Vidyalaya presented the guru slokam, a composition of Aadi Sankara. R. Rajagopalan provided music composition to this song, a ragamalika in Sanskrit.

The guru sloka was followed by a varnam in Sunada Vinodhini, a composition of N.S. Ramachandran in adi thalam. A Jathiswaram in raga mohanam set to adi thalam followed the varnam. Advanced Varnam students delivered Sharavana Bahava in raga Abogi set to Adi thalam. Next, beginning varnam students presented Thyagara Gurunatha praising saint Thayagaraja in ragam Purvi Kalyani set to Rupakam thalam.

Siddarth Sriram’s rendered Poompozil ragamalika in Adi thalam.

After intermission, students rendered N.S. Ramachndran’s compositions, Sri Chandreshekara in ragam Sankarabharam set to kantha Thrirupuda thalam, Innamum Dhaiyavu in ragam Shanmukapriya set to Adi thalam, Karunanidhi in ragam Vasantha set to Adi thalam and Kamdanai Ninaindhu in ragam Hamsanadham set to Adi thalam.

Latha Sriram introduced V.V. Sundaram, representative of Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana, and handed over the funds raised from this show.

After Sundaram’s speech, program resumed with a Thirupukaz.

The  program ended with Sri Sathguru Dashakam in ragamalika, a composition of Jagathguru Balaswami Sri Shankara Vijanyendra Swarawsthi Swamigal. R. Rajagopan provided music composition.

Excellent musical accompaniment was provided by Natarajan Srinivasan on mridangam and ganjira, Divya Ramachandran on violin, Akilesh Shista on veena and Ashwin Krishnakumar on flute.
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City of Cupertino Honors Mahesh Nihalani


Mahesh Nihalini (l) with Cupertino city council officials who named him Citizen of the Year.

Entrepreneur and community activist Mahesh Nihalani was honored with the Citizen of the Year 2007 award in Cupertino, Calif., in the presence of city leaders and business community March 31st at the Cypress Hotel. This is the first such award to an Indian-American resident of the City of Cupertino. The annual STAR awards to recognize the outstanding Citizen of 2006 as well as the top small and large-sized Businesses of the Year was celebrated by a gala banquet by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce.

“The criteria for selection are based on significant service, teamwork and achievements of the nominee. The purpose of the STAR Award is to recognize a local business or citizen whose contributions have made a significant and beneficial impact on the Cupertino community,” said Cupertino Chamber CEO Christine Giusiana.

The Citizen of the Year honorees this year are:  Lauralee Sorensen, retired nurse; Mahesh Nihalani of Jewels In Style. Other awardees are Small Business of the Year: Alotta’s Delicatessen & Catering; Large Business of the Year: Stevens Creek Quarry, Inc. and Chamber Ambassador Volunteer: Diane Renna.

Cupertino has a population of 55,000 with about 50 percent Asian-American, with nearly 12 percent Indian Americans.

City Councilmember Orrin Mahoney introduced Nihalani. He said Nihalini came to the U.S. in 1994 after working in Africa for several years. Coming to Cupertino in 2000, in a short while, Nihalini made considerable impact in the local community.

Nihalini graduated from Leadership Cupertino, a training program after which, he undertook  a community emergency response training program, became a block leader and member of the Community Services Task Forces in short order.

As an executive committee member of the Asian American Business Council in 2001, he introduced the Diwali Festival of Lights in 2003,. hailed as one of the most successful community engagement events in the area.

- Sam Rao

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Pratham Idol’ Fundraiser for Literacy Drive

(Right): Participants at Pratham USA’s “Pratham Idol” karaoke night in Fremont, Calif.

The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Pratham USA, a nonprofit that works towards promoting children’s literacy in India, hosted a fundraising karaoke night April 20 in Fremont, Calif.

“Pratham Idol,” a karaoke night with singers from the Bay Area competed for the 2007 Pratham Idol title.

Pratham USA is part of an international network dedicated to supporting the successful programs being implemented by Pratham in India. A registered nonprofit, Pratham USA educates Americans about the tremendous educational challenges in India and raises funds to support Pratham's programs in India.
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Baisakhi in Los Angeles

(Right): A Sikh handing out a food bag, part of the community’s program to support Fred Jordan Mission in downtown Los Angeles.

Over 10,000 members of the Sikh community from the western United States gathered April 8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center to celebrate the 308th anniversary of Baisakhi, according to a press release from organizers.

Celebrations began at 8 a.m. in the morning with two hours of children’s kirtan. Later, ragi jethas from all the local gurdwaras played kirtan. Langar, or free meal, was served to over 10,000 people throughout the day.

The program ended with a two-hour-long colorful parade through the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The 15 Sikh-themed floats, hand-made by members of the Sikh community, are a favorite tradition and help educate the Los Angeles community about the Sikh identity, as well.

This year, Sikh leaders honored dignitaries from the state of California who have supported the Sikh community. These dignitaries included Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., who is co-authoring legislation for hate crimes to be recognized as a separate crime category. “When vandalism occurs as part of an attack on an entire community, it needs a different punishment,” he said. “Hate crimes are the result of bigotry combined with ignorance.”

Others who received honors included: Dr. Judy Chu, vice chair of the California State Board of Equalization; Rev. Leonard Jackson, representing the L.A. Mayor’s Office who brought a special proclamation from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for Baisakhi; Harry Sidhu, City Councilman for the City of Anaheim who is running for state senate in California; and representatives from the Los Angeles city and county law enforcement agencies.

This Baisakhi Day Celebration was a combined effort among many different organizations. Sikh Dharma organized the Kirtan Program in cooperation with all of Southern California gurdwaras.
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Pakistan Day

(Right): Pakistani singer Alamgir performing at a TCF fundraiser.

The Silicon Valley Pakistani American Center celebrated Pakistan Day in an event which highlighted the theme of “Peace through Education,” profiling the organization The Citizen’s Foundation, according to a press release from organizers.

TCF is on the mission to build 1,000 schools in the most underserved areas of Pakistan. This event was a new launch of the TCF Silicon Valley chapter. The event presented a collage of video and musical entertainment. Noted Pakistani singer Alamgir performed at the event organized by Farrukh Khan and his team of volunteers and sponsored by Malik Husain.
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Hindu prayer in Nevada State Legislature in Sanskrit


Rajan Zed reading the Hindu prayer in Nevada State Assembly. On his right is Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, and on his left in the back is his wife Shipa Zed.

Rajan Zed, director of public affairs of Hindu Temple of Northern Nevada, the public relations officer of the India Association of Northern Nevada and a Hindu chaplain, read a Hindu prayer/blessing in Sanskrit at the opening of the Nevada State Assembly session in Carson City, Nevada, March 19, according to a press release.

This is the first time any Hindu prayer is delivered in the Nevada State Legislature since its formation in 1864, said Pastor Albert Tilstra, chaplain coordinator for the Nevada legislature.

Wearing saffron garb, a rudraksh mala (rosary) and traditional sandalwood paste marks on the forehead, Zed started with the Gayatri Mantra in Sanskrit from the Rig-Veda. He read the next prayer from Brhadaranyakopanisad. The last part of the prayer was from the Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord). The whole prayer is included in the daily journal of the legislature, which is a permanent public record.

“Today is a glorious day for all Nevadans and historical day for us when opening prayers from ancient Hindu scriptures are being read in this great hall of democracy,” Zed said during the prayer.

Besides people from the area Hindu community; ministers and priests from various Christian denominations like Presbyterian, Episcopal, Pentecostal, Church of Christ; and activists from Satyachetana International and World Peace and Divine Mission also attended the prayers as a gesture of support.
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Wins Scholarship

(Right): Gurinder J. Singh

Gurinder J. Singh, a 2007 J.D. candidate at Wayne State University Law School, was recently selected by the Association of Corporate Counsel-Michigan Chapter for its 2007 Scholarship Award for Wayne State University. The award is given annually to the law student whose outstanding academic record will best prepare them to advise and counsel corporations.

Singh will be joining the law firm of Miller Canfield in the fall of 2007. She received her B.S.E. in industrial and operations engineering in 2001 from the University of Michigan. At the Wayne State University School of Law, she established the school’s first Business Law Society and recently was second in the Jessup International Moot Court Regional Competition. She also is a member of the Asian-Pacific American Law Student Organization and the Women’s Law Caucus. In addition, she is on the executive board of the Network of Indian-Professionals, Detroit Chapter and an active member of the South Asian Bar Association, Detroit Chapter.

She resides in Canton, Mich., where she is active in organizing Bhangra Fusion — an annual cultural dance competition, volunteering time at the Gurdwara Sahib-Hidden Falls, and helping tutor children.  She is the daughter of Udham Singh and Surinder K. Singh.

The Association of Corporate Counsel is a nationwide organization of lawyers who have dedicated their practices to corporate law.
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First 5 Family Resource Center

A new resource center opened April 14 that offers families living in North Santa Clara County access to a one-stop center offering an array of information and resources to foster the healthy development of children, prenatal through age five, and their families. Funded by FIRST 5 Santa Clara County, the North Community Partnership Family Resource Center includes eight agencies under its roof at the Old Mill Office Center in Mountain View, Calif.

The Family Resource Center will serve families residing in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto with services such as counseling, screenings for early childhood developmental delays, referrals for a variety of health and dental needs, housing, employment and immigration assistance.

“The North Community Partnership Family Resource Center will have a lasting impact for families living in the northern part of the County,” said Jolene Smith, executive director of FIRST 5 Santa Clara County. “Our Commission is excited to be able to serve as a catalyst for having one place where North County families and their young children can access programs and services.  Our funding commitment to the North Community Partnership will go a long way to help ensure children in this area engage in opportunities allowing them to reach their greatest potential in school and in life.” 

More information on the North Community Partnership Family Resource Center is available by calling FIRST 5 Santa Clara County at (408) 260-3700 or visiting their Web site at  www.first5kids.org.
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GOPIO-CT Honors Four

GOPIO-Connecticut celebrated its first anniversary April 22 with a banquet at the Italian Center of Stamford, honoring three Indian Americans and an organization  for their outstanding achievements and service to the community

The honorees are: Prof. T.N. Srinivasan of Yale University for his accomplishments and contributions to economics and public policy; Dr. A.V. Srinivasan for his contribution to engineering and social work; and Rajendra Shukla for community service. The Namaskar Foundation, which has been bringing Indian artists to perform in America for the last two decades, was honored for promotion of arts and culture.

GOPIO — Global Organization of People of Indian Origin — is a worldwide organization dedicated to community service and working with people locally to coordinate activities of common interest nationally and on a global scale. GOPIO-CT was launched last year at the initiative of GOPIO international chairman  Dr. Thomas Abraham.

“In one year, GOPIO-CT has become a very active and dynamic organization hosting interactive sessions with many policy makers, youth mentoring and networking, parent’s day and health awareness series,” said Dr. Abraham.

Sangeeta Ahuja, who has been elected as the chapter’s first president said, that to become a successful organization involves a lot of voluntary community service work from its members.

“We will assess our community’s needs for the future, set right priorities and plan new activities for our community. Whether it is investment opportunities in India, health care in the US, promoting our culture, preserving our heritage or providing support for our members….we will continue to develop collaborative relationships with other organizations and navigate our way to the future.” Ahuja said.
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Social Entrepreneur Award

New York University
’s Stern School of Business alumnus Abraham George, founder of the George Foundation, was recently given the NYU Stern's Stewart Satter Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award, according to a press release from Stern School of Business.

The Satter Award honors a Stern affiliated social entrepreneur who has leveraged his or her Stern education to innovate solutions to the world’s most intractable social problems. A $5,000 honorarium accompanies the award.

“The work of The George Foundation represents this value at its best,” the release said. “As the founder of The George Foundation, Mr. George has used his entrepreneurial skills in the most creative and imaginative ways to raise scores of people out of poverty. “The Satter Award selection committee was moved by Mr. George’s accomplishments and hopes this award will not only serve to recognize his tremendous work but also act as a catalyst for our students and others to consider a path of social entrepreneurship.”
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BUSINESS: News in Brief
Planetvu Names Hari Srinivas Senior VP | WDT: Low Calling Rates | ETIHAD AIRWAYS: Service to Pakistan | AMERICAN AIRLINES: Web Site for Women | METLIFE: Tips on Savings





Planetvu Names Hari Srinivas Senior VP

(Right): Hari Srinivas

Planetvu Corporation has announced the appointment of Hari Srinivas as senior vice president of programming acquisitions and chief marketing officer, according to a company press release. Srinivas joins Planetvu Corporation from B4U U.S. Inc where he served as country head and was responsible for B4U's operations for North and South America.

Srinivas will be responsible for all broadcaster and studio programming acquisitions and will report to CEO Stuart W. Ross. “Hari brings his terrific subscriber acquisition and marketing experience as well as international programming know-how to Planetvu Corporation at a time when the company has assembled an excellent South Asian programming portfolio and is poised to experience very strong growth and accelerated product innovation,” said Ross. “We look forward to leveraging his expertise leading a highly successful subscriber acquisition program as Planetvu Corporation moves forward toward becoming a leading Internet Protocol Television Platform company.”

While serving as the operational head at B4U U.S. Inc, Srinivas was instrumental in setting up the American operations of B4U from inception and ensured B4U's continuing success in the market. Srinivas successfully launched B4U Movies and B4U Music in the U.S. and Canada. Both channels are leaders in their respective genre.

Prior to joining B4U, Srinivas was the head of sales for TWI-India where he marketed major sporting events like grand slam tennis, international cricket etc. TWI is the television arm of IMG which is one of the largest sports marketing organizations in the world.

Launched in January 2006, Toronto-based Planetvu is a distributor and marketer of international programming through a proprietary Internet Protocol Television service capable of reaching hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide. The service intends on becoming a world-leading provider of digital multi-channel television entertainment services. More information is available at www.planetvu.com
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WDT: Low Calling Rates

World Discount Telecommunications, Inc., a leading international long distance telephone services provider, has recently introduced the lowest calling rates from the U.S. to India, according to a press release. WDT is offering calls to India at 6.5 cents per minute 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from home and cell phones.

“WDT has broken the price barrier that has been in the Indian market for so long,” said Robert Hendler, general manager of WDT in Chicago. “The community can now call India at a low rate of just 6.5 cents/min any time of the day and best of all you can pay after use.”

In addition to offering the lowest rate to India, WDT is sweetening the deal with a special promotion of three months of free calls to India. Customers are required to mention the code “3 months free” when calling to subscribe to the service. Once registered with WDT, new customers will get three months of free calls to India within the first year of registration.

Post-paid long-distance service is a very attractive option available through WDT. WDT customers know exactly what they are paying for, because every month they receive a detailed bill showing all the calls within a billing period, their duration and cost specified. There are no connection fees and other hidden fees.

In such a competitive industry as long distance telecommunications WDT has taken a lead in the market by offering one of the lowest international rates to India. The actual rate is even less than the announced 6.5 cents per minute, because the special promotion of “3 months free” brings it down to less than 5 cents per minute, unrivaled by any other long-distance telephone services provider, the release said.

More information is available at www.wdtindia.com or by calling 1-888-576-7028.
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ETIHAD AIRWAYS: Service to Pakistan

Etihad Airways now offers seamless travel to three key cities in Pakistan from terminal four at New York’s JFK airport, according to an airline press release.

Increased flight frequency to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad now enables Etihad Airways customers to travel with ease to Pakistan via convenient connections through the airline’s hub in Abu Dhabi.

The national airline of the United Arab Emirates operates daily services between New York and Abu Dhabi on its new A340-500 aircraft. Etihad flight EY100 departs daily from New York at 11:10 a.m., arriving the next day in Abu Dhabi at 7:40 a.m. The return flight, EY101, departs from Abu Dhabi airport daily at 2:00 a.m. arriving into JFK Airport's terminal four at 8:30 a.m. the same day.

Once passengers arrive in Abu Dhabi, they can choose from several flights to leading Pakistani cities with minimal connection times.

Josephine Boulus, Etihad’s U.S. manager, said: “Etihad flew 3 million passengers in 2006, more than double 2005's figure of 1.2 million travelers. Our goal is to carry more than 4.5 million passengers this year. We’re keen to share with these travelers the luxurious and relaxing experience for which Etihad is known.

“From complimentary chauffeur service for premium passengers in New York, to the most spacious seating available in economy class, Etihad is intent on making travel a pleasure both on board and while in transit for all of its customers.”
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AMERICAN AIRLINES: Web Site for Women


American Airlines has launched www.AA.com/women, becoming the first airline in the industry to introduce a convenient online resource specifically designed for its female customers, an airline press release said.

“With nearly 50 million female passengers boarding American Airlines flights each year, this is the latest example of American’s focus on enhancing the customer experience,” the release said. “AA.com/women provides American an additional opportunity to reach out to female customers and solicit their insights, as well as to offer women a unique place for women to connect with each other and with American.”

AA.com/women’s content includes information on safety and security; saving time and money while traveling; traveling with friends, family or partners; and stories and advice from other women travelers.

“This is a great opportunity to recognize the achievements of women, let them know we are listening to them, and demonstrate through AA.com/women that we value their business,” said Peggy Sterling, American’s vice president of safety, security and environmental, and American’s first female line-operations officer.

Sterling said that American knows that all of its customers benefit from suggestions made by women travelers, and by improving the customer experience, the airline has a tremendous opportunity to grow its revenue, market share, and customer loyalty.

In any given year, approximately 48 percent of American Airlines customers are women. More information is available at www.aa.com
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METLIFE: Tips on Savings

If you’ve just turned the calendar on a new month, and your New Year’s resolution to improve your savings and investing habits is still nothing but a good intention, you’re not alone — but the good news is, it’s not too late to do something. To help you act on your resolve, MetLife is offering a number of tips on savings and investing basics.

According to a recent MetLife study, more than half of U.S. workers with children under the age of 18 manage their finances by living paycheck-to-paycheck — leaving little room for college savings or planning for retirement. Experts recommend setting aside a three-to-six-month income equivalent to weather the storm in the event of an emergency.

“The key to financial security is establishing a savings plan. You need to start small, even if it’s saving just ten or twenty dollars a month,” said Donna DeMaio, president of MetLife Bank, an affiliate of MetLife. “With savings at an all-time low for most Americans, people are putting themselves and their families at risk should something unfortunate happen, such as a health emergency or job loss. The good news is that it’s never too late to start saving, and it’s a lot easier than people think.”

To help people learn more about savings and investing and planning for the future, MetLife offers two free brochures: “Investing and Money Basics” and “Building Financial Freedom.” “Investing and Money Basics” serves as a primer on investment styles, types of investments and retirement investment vehicles. “Building Financial Freedom” provides valuable information on the basics of investing and the appropriate steps to prepare financially for the future.
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INFOTECH INDIA: Round Up
Indian Software Firms See Profits Surge | HCL: Self-healing Computers | AOL: India Web Site | SATYAM: Development Center in Sydney | AUTODESK: Developing Software





Indian Software Firms See Profits Surge

India's top five software companies plan to add 100,000 new jobs this fiscal year, riding a boom in outsourcing that's fattened profits, reports the Associated Press. That's on top of a record 76,500 new employees who joined these companies last year.

The figures underscore how rapidly U.S. and other Western companies are shifting work to low-cost India, where outsourcing is no longer limited to call centers or back office work such as billing and salary records.

Companies like Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. and Infosys Technologies Ltd. now have thousands of engineers developing software to improve corporate productivity and manage information technology infrastructure.

And despite concerns that rising salaries, a possible slowdown in the U.S. economy and the rupee's strength against the dollar would hurt business, the latest earnings figures — released over the past two weeks — show that profits are surging.

Net profit for the top five outsourcing companies — Tata Consultancy, Infosys, Wipro Ltd., Satyam Computer Services Ltd. and HCL Technologies Ltd., ranked in that order — grew to a collective $3 billion for the fiscal year through March, up 47 percent.

“We are seeing robust growth,” Infosys chief executive Nandan Nilekani told reporters when his company reported a 70 percent year-on-year surge in profits during the January-March quarter.

Nilekani's confidence appears rooted in the strong economic rationale of the outsourcing business: Western companies will keep shifting jobs overseas so long as they can get the same work done for less money elsewhere.

Indian companies have set up centers in other low-cost countries like Vietnam and Romania so to stay competitive despite rising salaries at home. As a result, they are hiring more people in these countries.

Nearly 10 percent of Tata Consultancy's employees are now foreign nationals. For Infosys, the number is close to 3 percent.
| BACK TO INFOTECH INDEX | |TOP|

HCL: Self-healing Computers

HCL has launched “self-healing computers,” laptops that can recover all data in less than a minute — a big help if the laptop crashes due to a virus.

Through the Embedded Continuity and Control (EC2) technology, HCL's laptops are “self-healing computers” that are able to recover all data in less than a minute, said George Paul, executive vice-president, HCL Infosystems.

The EC2 technology was designed to minimize the system downtime by protecting the system from unwanted and unpredictable changes of the system configurations, operating system, software setting, parameters settings, caused by viruses, user's errors, system crashes.

The technology was not an alternative to any other security measures such as antivirus, firewall, software update patches and data back up, he said.

A laptop with EC2 technology automatically stores data in a back-up space in the machine and updates a complete range of its own working state at regular intervals. There will be a complete record of all data, including software and user data, residing inside the computer at any given point of time.

For instance, in case of a system crash, malfunction or accidental loss of data, a user can reload the previously recorded image and have the computer working exactly like it was when the image was recorded. HCL now has its “Non-stop series of Leaptops” starting at Rs. 27,990.
| BACK TO INFOTECH INDEX | |TOP|

AOL: India Web Site

Time Warner Inc.'s AOL Internet unit launched a version of its portal in India April 26, including sections devoted to Bollywood, cricket and international music.

As part of AOL's global expansion plans, the new site, AOL.in, will have tailored entertainment and news and feature much of the same features from its U.S. site AOL.com, such as free access to E-mail, instant-messaging and mobile services.

“India is one of the world's fastest-growing online markets and our India portal will help us compete for users and advertisers in this important region,” Ron Grant, president and chief operating officer of AOL, said in a statement ahead of the official launch in Bangalore.

The launch comes after an overhaul of AOL's business model last summer, when it decided to give away most of its services for free to boost online advertising sales, which it expects to grow on par with the overall market this year.

Underscoring the importance of India to its global expansion, AOL named Maneesh Dhir in January to oversee its international operations.

Citing a report from Kaufman Brothers, AOL said the India market had about 45 million Internet users in a population of 1.1 billion at the end of 2006.

The report projected the region's Internet usage could double to 94 million by 2008 and triple to 147 million by 2010.

AOL also said it plans to test a new version of AOL.com with 5 percent of users that will let them customize pages.
| BACK TO INFOTECH INDEX | |TOP|

SATYAM: Development Center in Sydney

IT services provider Satyam Computer Services has announced the opening of a 150-seat development center in North Sydney whose mandate is to serve as a regional solutions hub to address the Asia Pacific region.

The company plans to step up its headcount in Australia to about 700 people.

Satyam has increased its presence in Australia since 2001 with 10 people and now hosts development centers in Melbourne and at York Street in the Sydney Central Business District and sales offices in Canberra and Brisbane. These centers complement its Virtual Global Delivery Model.

The new center was commissioned in the presence of P.P. Shukla, high commissioner of India, and B. Ramalinga Raju, Satyam's co-founder and chief executive officer.

In a statement, Ramalinga Raju said: “Australia is an important marketplace for Satyam and will provide customers throughout the region with the improved agility and responsiveness they need to excel in a competitive business environment.”

Satyam signed an agreement with the Australian Computer Society earlier this week in scouting for local talent. Satyam plans to hire 50 graduates within three months and 50 more next year.
| BACK TO INFOTECH INDEX | |TOP|

AUTODESK: Developing Software

Autodesk has development centers in Shanghai, the Czech Republic, U.K., Singapore, Germany and the U.S. “The company has distributed its development across the world and India could figure as one of the development sites,” Anagnost said. Autodesk is aspiring to become the Microsoft of the engineering tool market and has decided to target emerging markets like India, China and Brazil for growth.

Autodesk is bringing its “digital prototyping” concept through a new product, the Autodesk Inventor, for the Indian manufacturing industry. “A move to digital prototyping will help manufacturers answer questions on products before starting to build them. The company will be targeting both small and medium enterprises as well as large companies across India,” he said. Since emerging markets are quick to move to the “best in class” practices and adapt new technology, it is much easier to bring in digital prototyping solutions to such countries, he said.
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| BACK TO INFOTECH INDEX | |TOP|


AUTO REVIEW:
A Delight to Drive: 2007 Volvo C70
For families who crave safety but don’t want to be confined to a station wagon, the C70 hardtop convertible may be just the ticket, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

If you thought Volvo only built station wagons that were the equivalent of rolling fortresses, you may want to take a closer look at the model line up. Volvo is now building convertibles, also fortified with all those world-famous safety features.

Actually, Volvo introduced its convertible — the C70 — last year. Unlike most convertibles, it actually has a back seat that is large enough for two adults. For 2007, the C70 receives just a few tweaks and additions, but it remains at its core a good-sized convertible.

The C70 has a three-piece retractable hardtop. There are several immediate benefits to having a hardtop: first, it folds away quickly into the trunk, and a hardtop cuts down on the road and wind noise you might experience with conventional soft convertible tops. It also adds to body rigidity, and offers a larger rear window, which improves visibility. The disadvantage is that the mechanism for this top takes up a lot space in the trunk. No problem, you say. You can just carry those cases of water or many bags of groceries on the rear passenger seats. And, because they are large enough for adults, you can do just that. But, if you’re actually carrying adults back there, they’ll find the seat backs are comfortably angled and the cushions are wide.

Your rear passengers will be able to gain access to these seats by a simple push of a button on the front seats, which moves them forward. But, as with many coupes and convertibles, foot egress into and out of the rear is a little difficult to perform graciously, especially if you are wearing a dress or heels.

The front seats in the C70, like all Volvo cars, are ergonomically shaped, which will make long drives more comfortable for your back.

The list of standard safety features on board the C70 is very long, and includes Dynamic Stability Traction Control, a Rollover Protection System with Pop-up Rear Roll Bars, unibody construction with extra high strength steel and reinforced A-pillars, and Whiplash protection in the front seats. “Whiplash” is a Volvo-specific safety feature; here the headrests are designed to move forward and back to better cradle the head during the jarring motions that may occur during an accident.

The C70 also addresses side impact and rollover protection with a uniquely designed Inflatable Curtain. The curtains have an extra stiff construction design that allows them to remain upright to provide protection even if the windows are open, and they deflate slowly to provide protection in the event of a rollover. Leave it to Volvo to come up with safety enhancements above and beyond.

The test car came equipped with a six-speed manual transmission that was as smooth as silk. This manual gearbox was developed to combine rapid acceleration with a high top speed, which you can easily reach, thanks to the standard turbocharged T5 engine. If you don’t want to deal with a manual transmission, a five-speed “Geartronic” micro-processor controlled automatic with “Auto-stick” function is available as an option.

The minor changes for 2007 include changes to the in-dash CD player to accommodate a auxiliary audio input plus MP3 playback capability. Also new is Sirius Satellite Radio, as an option.



Overall, we found the C70 to be a sharp-looking car that was a delight to drive. It is quietly powerful and visibility in all directions is great. The seats are comfortable in all four positions, and you just can’t beat the safety reassurance that are built into all Volvos. For families who crave safety but don’t want to be confined to a station wagon, the C70 hardtop convertible may offer a very viable alternative.

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

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BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu
Abhishek, Aishwarya Get Married in Private Ceremony | Kiss Kiss Ko Kiss Karein? Poor Richard’s Dilemma | Bollywood Theme Park | Stars in Flight | Biting Boxer | KBC Season Finale | Politics and Films | Handicapped Kids




Abhishek, Aishwarya Get Married in Private Ceremony



Okay, so the grand shaadi is over, and now we can go back to our normal lives. Abhishek-Aishwarya’s wedding was indeed a private affair, but it had all the attendant tamasha of a soap opera. A bit player starlet cut her wrists, a few over-eager reporters, after being roughed up by the security, did a dharna carrying placards that said “Shame, Shame, Amitabh Bachchan,” and some of the relatives of the Bachchan family were a bit miffed for not getting invited.

In brief, a pretty normal celebrity wedding.

The wedding itself was a colorful but extremely private ceremony April 20 evening.



Abhishek, 31, and Aishwarya, 33, got married in a north Indian style ceremony with the couple exchanging garlands at Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan’s family home “Prateeksha.” Priests from Benares conducted the rituals.

The ceremony held on the auspicious day of Akshay Tritiya climaxed three days of festivities starting from a Sangeet function April 18 and the traditional Mehndi ceremony April 19.

The who’s who of India’s rich and famous including movie stars, top industrialists and politicians were there. They included Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, Bollywood actors Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgan, Kajol and close friends of the Bachchans, Anil and Tina Ambani and Amar Singh and Sachin Tendulkar.



The function was held at a huge air-conditioned pandal in a garden adjoining the Bachchan’s family home. Red and pink flowers, encircled by gold and green curtains covered the tent.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Kiss Kiss Ko Kiss Karein? Poor Richard’s Dilemma

(Right): Richard Gere kissing Shilpa on stage. Boy, did he live to regret it!

Sometimes you wonder whether all that stuff you hear about India is really true. I mean, is really India the land of high-tech prowess, top notch scientists and engineers, an emerging economy?

Or is it a three-ring circus populated by clowns? Take the recent brouhaha over Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty on the cheek onstage. All hell broke loose as self-appointed moral guardians had a field day raising hell and burning effigies.

Delhi Shiv Sena chief Jai Bhagwan Goyal said that Gere should be arrested immediately for kissing Shetty at a function on AIDS awareness April 15 in New Delhi.

In Mumbai, over 50 Shiv Sena activists stormed a film shoot in which Shilpa was taking part in neighboring Navi Mumbai April 16 protesting her kissing act, police said.

Shilpa, for once, was very level-headed about the incident. “It was done in good humor. We are actors, entertainers and I think Richard was only trying to entertain the audience,” Shetty said.

Attacking those including Shiv Sena for describing the act as an assault on India’s ethos, she said, “This is his culture, not ours. I understand this. But this was not such a big thing or so obscene for people to overreact in such a manner.”

The real issue, she said, was that Gere had come here all the way to raise awareness about AIDS.

“I want to know from the media and people giving reactions: What have they done for the cause?” she hit back. “We took out time and put money, and people are going against us, they want us to apologize. For what should we apologize, we have talked about a pertinent issue like AIDS.” Well said.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Bollywood Theme Park

A Bollywood theme park is being built in India along the lines of Hollywood studio parks, allowing fans to go behind the scenes of the world's biggest cinema industry in terms of viewers.

Percept Holdings, a media and entertainment company, is constructing the theme park at an initial cost of $100 million in a sign of the growing taste for merchandising in an industry evolving from family firms to Hollywood-style companies.

“Bollywood is what the Indian masses turn to for entertainment,” said Shailendra Singh, a top official of Percept Holdings which is building the park in Mumbai, India's cinema and entertainment capital.

The theme park, due to open in 2008, will have Bollywood cafes, a hall of fame, museums, Bollywood rides, sets, shoot visits and simulator experiences.

Despite being so prolific — Bollywood makes more than 800 films a year — the industry's revenues stand at half of what the Walt Disney studio made in box office revenues in 2006.

But studios and analysts say the industry is aiming at following Hollywood with “media convergence” — the buzzword for plastering products across an array of media such as television, the Internet, video games and mobile phones — to raise revenues.

Revenues from India's film industry, valued at about $1.75 billion in 2006, are forecast to nearly double to $3.4 billion by 2010, according to estimates by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Stars in Flight

(Right): Preity Zinta on the Go Air Web site

Indian airline companies that are wooing Bollywood stars to propel their revenues.

Bollywood diva Preity Zinta is the latest to be roped in by an airline — GoAir — as brand ambassador to help prop up its image in an increasingly competitive market.

Announcing Preity as its brand icon, the budget carrier said it was the first in its class to “appoint a Bollywood actress” to that position.

Hindi film superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who stars beside Zinta in car promotional ads, is himself no stranger to the aviation industry, given the fact that he serves as a member on the board of Jet Airways.

Keeping him company on Jet’s Board are film producer Yash Chopra and lyricist Javed Akhtar.

Model and actress Yana Gupta has a contract with Kingfisher Airlines of liquor baron Vijay Mallya, while Soha Ali Khan promotes air hostess academies.

Bollywood has even promoted a foreign airline, with Pooja Bhatt playing a role for British carrier Virgin Atlantic.

The recent global brand launch of Jet Airways in Mumbai saw Shah Rukh and Shabana Azmi promoting the airline’s plush new seats, which would be put on board the new aircraft the premier private carrier would be shortly inducting.

A GoAir statement said Preity would partner with the airline to make a strong statement in the airline space.

“The dazzling, gorgeous, charming” Preity personifies what the brand stands for — “energetic, fun, stylish and youthful,” the statement quoted GoAir’s MD Jeh Wadia as saying. Preity is reportedly dating his brother Ness.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Biting Boxer

(Right): Mike Tyson

Only in Bollywood. He is remembered for chewing off a piece of boxer Evander Holyfield’s ear, but boxer Mike Tyson is all set to make a name for himself in a totally different field — as a Bollywood item song hero.

Bollywood producer Feroze Nadiadwala has invited Tyson to star in a promotional video for his comedy thriller Fool and Final in June this year.

“We thought Mike Tyson would be the perfect choice for this promotional video because the film does have an element of boxing in it. Also, all the stars of the film including Sunny Deol are huge fans of the boxer,” Nisha Chattani, a media consultant for the film told PTI.

The film, which is being directed by Ahmed Khan, stars Sunny Deol, Shahid Kapur, Ayesha Takia, Viveik Oberoi and Sameera Reddy and is scheduled for a June release in theatres.

“Ahmed himself will shoot the video and Tyson will fly to Mumbai in early June for the shoot. The video will primarily be released as a promotional item, but it could be included in the film as well,” she said.

Sunny Deol stars as a boxer in the film.

Tyson, one of boxing’s most colorful characters, has seen his career take a hit after he was convicted of rape in 1992. He currently faces charges of drug possession and driving under the influence of drugs in an Arizona court in which he has pleaded not guilty.

While the final details are still being worked out, Chattani said the video would be “very unique” and will star all the stars of the film in it along with Tyson.

You can say that again.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

KBC Season Finale


Shah Rukh flanked by Salman and Katrina on the sets of KBC.

The finale of the Kaun Banega Crorepati season was a starry 140-minute affair where Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor to take home Rs. 5 million each for their charities in the first 60 minutes, while Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif took the same amount for the Salman Khan Foundation.

The show was better than the bland Sanjay-Boman episode. Salman was his usual wacky self, sometimes appearing to leave Shah Rukh at a loss. However, the guy has a thoughtful side to him, and that became evident when he talked about how his foundation would help the needy and how he planned to raise most of the money himself. Katrina talked about how socially active at such work her mother was back home.

Salman said that he would like to be remembered after he was gone just by two people — by one man as the model human being and by the other as someone who was an example of what not to be. Shah Rukh protested politely, but Salman dismissed him with a laugh: “Ask the daddies of some of the heroines.”

Shah Rukh was his mischievous best in the Priyanka-Kareena segment. When a softball question like “Who was the first actor to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha?” with the choices being Prithviraj Kapoor (Kareena’s great-grandfather), Sunil Dutt, Govinda and a fourth artist (the rest were not only very young but had never been nominated to the Rajya but only the Lok Sabha), it was Priyanka who after some thought said that it must have been Prithviraj.

Shah Rukh quipped, “Kareena, I suggest that you take a refresher course on your family!”

Ouch.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Politics and Films

Films have long have been stepping stones to politics in India. Now an opposite trend seems to be growing in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Be it DPI chief Thol Thirumavalavan in Tamil Nadu or Kerala leaders like CPI MP Pannian Ravindran, BJP’s C.K. Padmanabhan, Congress’ Rajmohan Unnithan and Kerala Congress (Secular) chief P.C. George, more and more politicians are honeymooning with the new medium to reach out to the masses.

Debutant Malayalam director K.K. Simon has even involved six political leaders and legislators in his suspense thriller K.K. Road, which will hit the theatres in May.

In the film based on contemporary issues, former Bharatiya Janata Party state unit president C.K. Padmanabhan dons the chief minister’s role, while P.C. George is the opposition leader, MLAs V.N. Vasavan and T.N. Pratapan appear as ministers and Congress (S) leader T.N. Pradeep Kumar is an inspector general.

Former state minister and IUML leader M.K. Muneer has lent his voice for a song in the film.

A serious cinema viewer and a known film critic, Pannian Ravindran appears in the role of a social activist in the Malayalam film “Daivathinte Vall” (God’s sword) directed by Madhu Parthasarathy.

Ravindran, who had acted in a tele-film, said he was pressed to take up the role by the producers who convinced him that the character was well suited to his persona and squeaky clean political image.

Congress leader from Kerala Rajmohan Unnithan’s three films have already been released. Work on three more films is progressing and the films are expected to hit the box-office soon.

Unnithan, who has also acted in professional plays in the late ’70s, knows the strength and reach of the medium.

“When I address a political gathering, I reach out to a maximum of 3,000 people. But films go to lakhs of people, that too of different age groups,” he said.

“I was enthralled when even small children approached me for autographs. Film has enhanced my popularity at least ten times,” he told PTI.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Handicapped Kids

The joy of mentally and physically challenged children at a school in Jaipur knew no bounds when Bollywood actor Salman Khan came calling and spent the day with them.

“They are my greatest fans,” Khan said after meeting the children of the Umaang School who sang popular numbers from his films and presented him with handmade greeting cards.

The Bollywood actor also donated two television sets and some DVDs of his films to the school, which he has visited a few times before.

“I have interacted with some students and they said that they have just watched my movie ‘Saajan.’ Thus, I have brought two television sets and more DVDs of my films so that they can watch more of my movies,” he said.

“I have seen that there are eight rooms in your school so every room needs a television and a DVD player,” he said.

Khan also danced to some popular songs from his films with the children.

Speculations about the actor’s marriage with Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif also figured in the interaction when some children surprised Khan by requesting him to call them for his wedding.

Former Rajasthan tourism minister and chairperson of the school Bina Kak also accompanied Khan.
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| Return to Bollywood | TOP |


HINDI FILM REVIEW:
Timepass Entertainment: Ta Ra Rum Pum
(Rating **1/2 Mediocre)


Bollywood buffs frequently complain that it’s simply not fair to use a festival-circuit yardstick for a Bollywood film — the two genres are as different as chalk and cheese.

A valid enough point, but this reviewer has to plead guilty to an inability to suspend logic, an apparent prerequisite for a long-term long affair with Bollywood.

Take this latest film from the house of Yashraj. This time we have a Bollywood hero who is a NASCAR driver, no less, but he lives in New York City.

That’s a bit like saying there’s a guy in Chennai who loves mushairas. NASCAR — an acronym for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing — has a culture and fan following that is steeped in the culture of the American South (though its fans are worldwide), and it’s something you simply don’t associate with the Big Apple.

Never mind. In the world of Bollywood where heroes and heroines can transport themselves in the blink of an eyelid from India to the mountains of Switzerland if the fancy strikes the filmmaker, even pigs can fly.

Likewise, in a film set in the U.S., Americans are conspicuous by their absence. But forget that as well.

If you want to know whether this film works by Bollywood standards, the answer would be a highly qualified yes.

Siddharth Anand has managed to package a rags-to-riches saga of an aspiring race driver who overcomes his own demons with the support of his wife and family with a degree of competence and decent production values that will please the average Bollywood buff.

But good packaging doesn’t mean the substance is top notch, or for that matter, original.

Hollywood fans will have a sense of déjà vu as they see shades of Cinderella Man, Life is Beautiful and Days of Thunder.

Here’s how the story goes: Rajveer aka RV (Saif Ali Khan) makes a dashing entry. His racing skills impress cabbie Harry (Jaaved Jafferi in a dreadful turn as a Gujarati) and they strike a deal with Billy Bhatia (Bharat Dabholkar).

Meanwhile, RV falls in life with the level-headed Radhika (Rani Mukerji).

He proposes to Radhika and she accepts. They have two kids, but they don’t live happily ever after.

RV gets over-confident and screws up, resulting in a big accident. When he returns after a hiatus, scarred from his previous experience, his performance plummets, leaving him jobless, homeless and bankrupt. The couple now takes low-end jobs and move to a rundown desi neighborhood. The kids are told this is an act, a part of a reality show.

Eventually, RV has to take a stand, which means an edge of the seat contest.

So overall, does it work? Well, it has to be said that the film, with its competent direction and production values, does stand out amid this year’s Bollywood crop. But that’s less an accolade for the film than an indictment of the quality of Bollywood films this year.
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TAMIL CINEMA:
Lighthearted Fun: Unnale Unnale

Director: Jeeva
Cast: Vinay, Sada, Tanisha, Raju Sundaam, Satish, Shrinath.


A youthful colorful ambience, a handsome star cast, and some pleasant melodies, all packaged in attractive frames — this has been the hallmark of Jeeva’s earlier films. Unnale Unnale, the cinematographer-director’s third venture, has all these elements. When the narration tends to lag a little or the scenes turn repetitive, it’s these factors that keep it going.

The story opens in India and shifts to Australia. Jeeva’s camera captures the terrain and the action in an eye-catching way. Harris Jairaj’s soft melodies have been picturized well.

The director who earlier introduced Shaam and Arya to the screen this time introduces Vinay, yet another handsome face to the Tamil screen. The debutant, a model from Bangalore, acquits himself creditably. He plays Kartik, an easy going youth, caught between two loves. His first love is the doubting and possessive Jhansi. When Jhansi repeatedly catches him in some compromising situations and refuses to believe his explanation, the lovers part ways. They next meet in Australia where Kartik is on a business trip. Sada looks good, though she could work a bit more on her expressions.

The second woman in Kartik’s life is the bubbly extrovert Dipika. Tanisha (sister of Kajol) plays the role impressively, and emotes well, language seeming to be no barrier. The estranged lovers make an effort to reconcile their differences. The rest of the story of is about who gets the guy in the end.

While in the earlier part Raju Sundaam and debutant Satish provide the lighter, fun moments, in the second half it’s Shrinath. The film takes its inspiration from the English film When Harry met Sally which has already been rehashed as Hum Tum in Hindi. Stronger in form and gloss than in content, it’s a film that should appeal to the young crowd.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online

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RECIPE:
North Indian Favorite: Palak Paneer

Here’s a north Indian favorite dish, and it’s easy to prepare, as Seema Gupta shows.



Ingredients: (Serves four)
  • 2 cups of chopped spinach, boiled
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 4-5 pieces of broccoli florets
  • 6-7 green chillies
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 400g Verka paneer
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder
  • 2 cups of cooking oil.

Method
Make a paste of tomatoes, green chilli and ginger in a blender. Make puree of spinach and broccoli in a blender.

Heat cooking oil. Cut paneer into 1”-sized cubes and deep-fry till light brown. Keep aside.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan. Add chopped onions, stir till caramelized. Add tomato paste, salt, garam masala and red chili powder. Stir for 5 minutes. Add spinach puree. Stir for 10-15 minutes in medium heat. Add fried paneer pieces and stir for a minute.

Serve while hot with roti or naan.

- Seema Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.

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HOROSCOPE: May By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You will be finishing a project that will bring you fame in professional and social circles. A business trip will be good and results will beat expectations. The idea of replacing your car will cross your mind. You will receive blessings of a holy person.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Suddenly everything will start moving in right direction. Projects on hold will finally take off. You will be spending a lot and may start a major loan application. You will develop a taste for spicy food. You will enjoy company of a new and younger colleague.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Mars will bring health concerns. Competition will grow in business and new faces will throw challenges at you. Expenses will come down a lot but after making final payment on several bills. There will be an addition in the family soon. A property deal can also materialize.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Weak planets bring big career concerns. Some of you may have to relocate soon. There will be opportunities to make money in stocks and timely action will bring results. You will miss someone and may suffer minor depression.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): It will be a morale boosting period. Health will improve and you will feel strong. Determination will help turn things around and your image in social circle will improve. New opportunities to make money will come as you grab few of the good ones. Sign all papers after reading them very carefully.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You may not like the changes taking place at work. Avoid confrontation, remember — the boss is always right! There will be changes in partnership as one of the partners may quit. People in business will be spending more money on advertising in order to stay ahead of strong competitors.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Suspense will be over and you will be offered the opportunity but with certain conditions. You will perform several good deeds and help a real needy person. You will receive a big refund and recover a very old loan. An older family member will not keep well and need extra medical attention.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Do not let obstacles demoralize you and keep working towards your goals. With the right help success will follow. It may take a while though. You will go on a pleasant trip. You will put your needs on hold and make a big sacrifice so that people around are happy. An old friend will send invitations.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): A new member will be added to the family soon. There will be some positive developments at work and you may be up for a big promotion. Trip will be good and relax you. Spouse will lack energy and may need to relax. You might start planning a long distance trip. You will receive a refund check.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Hard work will pay off and you will see money rolling in. You may get some money out of a property deal. Some of you might prepare for a long distance trip. Irregular food habits will lead to a burning sensation in the stomach. Spouse may be slightly depressed because of health issues.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will enjoy life with family and friends. You may also go on a distant trip to finish some important work. You may loose money due to a bad contract signed in a hurry in the past. Do not underestimate opponents and do not take chance with the weather. You will do some charity work.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will be writing a big check to the government to cover up back taxes or a penalty. You will have your eyes set on a beautiful property. Car will need minor repairs. Someone will try to involve you into unnecessary argument at a party. Trip will be good. You will receive valuable gifts.

- Bay Area-based astrologer Pandit Parashar can be reached at: parashar@parashar.com.

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