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MARCH 2001
Volume II •
Issue 3

Publisher's Note:

The go-go euphoria around information technology has taken a severe beating as hi-tech stocks tank in the U.S. What will happen to the wave of H-1B visa holders who have flocked to the U.S. in search of greener pastures?

Times of economic downturn are never a particularly pleasant time for minorities and immigrants in any Western country, and it is quite likely that in addition to increasing difficulty in getting jobs, high tech immigrants will find the atmosphere in the U.S. increasingly hostile.

Dark hints of subsistence hi-tech workers causing U.S. employees to lose jobs, an old complaint, will gain greater currency as the mood turns distinctly anti-immigrant.

It may be a challenging time, but for IT workers there is reason to be optimistic. The U.S. maybe facing and economic downturn, but the fact of the matter is that the world has indeed changed irrevocably with the information technology revolution. The U.S. has led the way in induction of IT in the mainstream economy, and now, as the rest of the world follows suit, there will continue to be demand for competent IT skills, and IT professional immigrants should consider themselves fortunate – the world is opening its doors to them even if the going gets a bit tough in the U.S. for now.


Main Feature

Hi-tech Vikings:
The Challenge for Desi Techies
By Deepak Goyal

As the economy in the U.S. takes a dip, IT giants are beginning to shed employees like dirty underwear. The going could get really tough for H-1B visa holders. Deepak Goyal remains bullish all the same, and urges desi techies to look beyond the U.S.

When CISCO, Lucent, Intel, HP and Motorola announce job cuts – and some of them have announced massive job cuts – you know that the economic crunch is not limited to the burst dot-com bubble anymore.

It’s getting serious, and the swarming flock of H-1B techies are beginning to wonder now: Is the party over?

The United States economy has always had a boom and bust cycle, but the current spell of economic growth has been so sustained and continuous that people had come to believe that was a thing of the past.

And who can blame them? So called “new economy” experts, which is Silicon Valley’s version of snake oil peddlers, had been telling anybody who would listen that the business cycle was a thing of the past, and we had entered a “new paradigm,” none of the old rules were valid.

Turns out, the old rules do count. Mundane stuff like the bottom line and profits and losses have turned out to be the major party poopers. Dot-com companies realized that just locking in eyeballs didn’t cut it anymore, and now as the collective air gushes out of the huge, gaudy speculative balloon in one huge big whoosh, the old economy is beginning to feel some of the effect as well.

In the midst of all this mayhem, caught between a rock and a hard place, are thousands of H-1B techies who do not know if they are going to be laid off, or are getting laid off and frantically looking for another job.

And the heat will increase. In times of economic hardship, public ire invariably is trained on immigrants – one only has to consider the gruesome skinhead attacks in Maggie Thatcher’s England and in Canada. In Europe, massive unemployment has accompanied attacks on Vietnamese immigrants in Germany and the rise of immigrant-bashing French politician Le Pen.

In the U.S., resentment against H-1B visas has been brewing for a while; now it is apt to reach boiling point.

Take programmer Rob Sanchez. He says he’s seen the combination of age discrimination and employer preference for H-1Bs first-hand. Sanchez, a 45-year-old Phoenix resident with eight-and-a-half-years experience in military electronics, lost his job about two years ago – the same day his company brought on an H-1B worker to do software programming.

Sanchez has turned his frustration and desire to learn Web skills into a Web site that lambastes the H-1B program. Using the Freedom of Information Act, Sanchez got the Department of Labor’s database showing what firms intended to pay H-1B workers. Now anyone can go to www .zazona.com/ShameH1B/ and see that some prominent firms planned to pay wages below the high-tech industry standards.

“There are two ways to destroy the jobs of United States Citizens,” his Web site says. “NAFTA is used to ship jobs to other countries and allows Canadian and Mexican citizens to work in the United States. H-1B is used to import foreign indentured workers here to take jobs that American employers claim can’t be filled in the ‘tight American labor market.’

“Your professional career is being undermined by our own government and rich corporate lobbyists,” the Web site fumes.

“H-1B, one of many temporary worker Visa bills, allows American companies to hire foreign temps to replace YOU. As if that wasn’t bad enough, 195,000 more of these temps are allowed into our country every year. More than 650,000 H-1B visas will have been granted by September, 2000.

“H-1B was bought and paid for by Corporate America. They ‘donated’ to our politicians’ campaign funds and now they are reaping the benefits of H-1B. They have the best government money can buy.”

It isn’t just computer programmers who are challenging the H-1B visa program. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington believes a dislocation exists in the domestic labor market – a mismatch of skills and jobs, not a shortage of tech workers. Importing labor to meet short-term needs only perpetuates the problem, he contends.

“Mendacity” is the word Krikorian uses to describe the view of corporate lobbyists who advocate the increase in H-1B visas. “Their claims are false and they know them to be false – specifically, the claim that their need for imported workers is temporary,” he told the Industry Standard. .

Sanchez is backed by experts who are critical of the program, and that criticism is likely to rise.

Vernon Briggs, a Cornell University labor economist, argues that importing so many techies will kill the market incentives for U.S. citizens to pursue coding as a career.

Raising the cap on H-1B “will guarantee this ‘shortage’ will go on forever,” he told Tech Week. “It’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy because wages are not going to go up.”

“There’s a national security problem here,” Krikorian adds. “We’re becoming dependent on the importation of minds, rather than the development of our own. What does that say about the viability of our future?”

As a nationwide belt-tightening increases, desi H-1B visa techies can expect the hostility to get nastier.

Look Beyond U.S.

The belt-tightening in the U.S. does not mean all is lost for high tech professionals. A major, substantive change has swept throughout the global economy, and it is this: Information Technology is here to stay. It has become such an integral part of manufacturing and service industries, and so potent in every facet of modern life, that from a global perspective, the need for IT professionals will increase. The reason for this is simple: The U.S. has been a trendsetter in incorporating information technology while many other Western countries are only now revving up their own IT power, and they all need techies. Bearing that in mind, the future for H-1B techies is bright, even if the challenge of living in the U.S. becomes insurmountable.

France has said that it wants to hire 10,000 Indian software professionals as part of the efforts to step-up Indo-French co-operation when it signed a memorandum of understanding with India..

The MoU was signed by Indian IT Minister Pramod Mahajan and French Minister for Foreign Trade Francois Huwart and it envisages promoting collaboration and exchange of information pertaining to the booming Infotech sector over the next three years.

Germany has already offered its version of the green card for infotech professionals. And Britain has joined the bandwagon as well.

At an IT fair at Bangalore last year, Britain grabbed the opportunity to showcase the country’s immigration rules. “We can offer not quotas but a warm welcome,” British minister Patricia Hewitt said with reference to the quota of high-tech visas offered by the U.S. She also promised shorter queues outside the British consulates.

Hewitt added that unlike the U.S., Britain has a better technological edge. She explained that the Internet’s future depended on digital television, mobile phones and not much on personal computers, the latter being the basis in the U.S.

“I’m here not just as a visitor but a matchmaker. I hope to see many fruitful engagements,” she said.

Unlike the German green cards or the U.S. H-1B, New Zealand’s attraction lies in a unique offer that even professionals without formal qualifications but with work experience can migrate to New Zealand not merely on temporary visas but to actually live and become entrepreneurs.

The latest entrant in the global Information Technology sector, New Zealand has made a philosophical shift in its immigration policy while attracting foreign skills to fill over 2,000 vacancies in key IT areas.

New Zealand’s immigration offer is combined with an education offer as well international standard education at highly competitive costs.

Indian students have been gradually discovering this in 2000 when the visas increased by 122 percent and they expect to increase by 134 percent next year.

Visiting New Zealand trade minister Jim Sutton has been selling “comparable education at comparable prices” to attract Indian students, New Zealand has offered even employment benefits to them.

Since the New Zealand IT sector is more specialty-based, involved in developing niche software solutions, sports software and weather forecasting software, the government reckons it can attract higher level software specialists than mere data-entry level skills.

The new immigration rules are significant if one stands them up against the “point system” followed by other comparable countries like Canada and Australia.

So there is life after H-1B visa after all. But don’t think there won’t be challenges. The German green card offer, for instance, was extremely controversial, and the rallying cry against the German government’s policy – “Children, not Indians,” – has a poisonous whiff of racism in it.

Challenges, though, is not something the Indian diaspora is unfamiliar with – one of the more poignant examples of it was when Ugandan dictator Idi Amin threw out all Indians from that country. With intelligence, skills and gumption, Indians have triumphed tremendous odds before, and there is no reason they should not as they move boldly all over the world, the Vikings of the 21st century.

– Deepak Goyal is a freelance writer
based in Kolkata.


Infotech India

Cell phone tie-up in Oman ... Dell looking for partners... Satyam wins award... Navin Communications launches TelivoiceHere is the latest on information technology from India

Oman Tie-Up

In a strategic move to extend their service offerings beyond Indian shores, Hyderabad-based NetXcell, India’s first Wireless Application Service provider, has announced its first overseas tie-up with Oman-based Advanced Software LLC., a leading software solutions provider for communications and IT companies, to provide SMS- and WAP-related services.

NetXcell will offer all SMS and WAP applications and services to Omantel, the GSM service provider for the Sultanate of Oman, with over 100,000 customers.

This assumes significance as Omantel, which is offering voice services on GSM network, can now provide value-added service like SMS and WAP to its customers.

In addition to providing content for the SMS services, NetXcell would develop specialized Arab content for the Omanis, and Indian content for the expatriates.

Simultaneously, NetXcell is working on providing mobile software solutions in the field of SMS and WAP for corporate and banking sectors.

Addsoft is the system integrator for Omantel, operating an integrated management system, combining quality, commercial and technical disciplines into a coherent approach. With this tie-up, subscribers can access all the 45 SMS services offered on a trial basis by NetXcell, a company release said.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Dell is Looking

Dell, the world’s leading direct computer system company, will focus more on establishing partnership with software solutions providers to address the insurance, finance and banking and ISP segments as part of its expansion plans in India.

Ron Goh, vice-president, Dell Asia, announced at a press conference in New Delhi March 12 the appointment of K.S. Viswanathan as managing director, Dell Computer India Private Limited.

Viswanathan, apart from leading and driving Dell’s growing business in India, will also be responsible for developing and expanding the Dell brand in India besides overseeing the relationship products function, ensuring their relevance to Dell customers in the market.

Viswanathan said, “The goal of Dell India is to be among the top brands in the commercial space and be the leading Internet infrastructure products supplier in India. Two key elements of our strategy would be to focus on increased customer experience and build our brand in India.”

Goh said despite an economic slowdown, Dell is positioned to outperform the market. He said last year the company had outlined three global growth drivers and worldwide Dell had reinforced its focus on growth in high-end products, geographic expansion and direct model.

He said the direct model continues to differentiate Dell from its competitors, which during times of economic downturn, are likely to experience slow growth, increasing inventories, poor profitability and marked deterioration in key financial indicators.

Despite the economic challenges facing the industry, the company managed a 43 percent unit growth and 28 percent revenue growth in the Asia-Pacific and had an inventory of just five days, the lowest in Dell’s history and a cash-flow of $1.2 billion dollars from operations.

Dell designs, develops, manufactures, markets, services and supports a full range of personal computer systems ranging from notebooks to workstations. It is also the first PC provider to offer customers direct toll-free technical support by phone and the next-day on-site service programs that are now an industry standard.

It is a leading supplier of PCs to business customers, government agencies, educational institutions and consumers.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Satyam Honored

Satyam Infoway, India’s leading Internet and e-commerce company, has bagged the “ISP of the year” award at the second Annual Internet World Asia Industry Awards, 2001.

The award was presented by Penton Media Asia managing director Michael Westcott to Satyam CEO R. Ramaraj before a large gathering of Internet professionals from Asia at a function held at the Ritz Carlton in Singapore March 8.

Acknowledging the award and the honor, Ramaraj reiterated that his company never lost sight of the customers’ need or the goal of setting high standards for the industry despite their rapid growth. Launching their services in the year 1998, his company was quick to establish itself with efficient service and gain customer confidence in the last three years.

For a company which has been voted as the best “ISP of the year” by the users in a recent CNET poll in India, this award is another feather in their cap.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|

Telivoice Launched

Navin Communications co-chairman Sabeer Bhatia has launched Telivoice, a global phone messaging service that allows members to send and receive phone messages across the world by making a local phone call.

Telivoice is a store-and-retrieve phone messaging service that utilizes the power of the Internet to deliver voice messages across the world. In order to use Telivoice, all that the members need is access to a telephone. Telivoice does for voice what hotmail did for e-mail.

Speaking on the occasion here last night, Bhatia told reporters that it was the logical extension of the e-mail revolution that hotmail had launched. “Hotmail allowed anyone with access to a computer and Internet services to have a permanent e-mail account. Irrespective of their geographical location, Telivoice provides people with a geographically independent virtual phone without the need to own one.”

“Telivoice is sending voice messages by using the telephone. Members dial the Telivoice access number and record, in their own voice, a message that is then sent to the recipient’s voice mailbox via the Internet. The recipients then dial their local access number and listen to the messages sent to them. They can then automatically reply to them.”

In a message from the U.S., Navin Communications co-chairman Suhas Patil said: “Telivoice is a completely democratic product which is affordable by practically every Indian and allows the benefits of the Internet and the it revolution to flow to the masses. In a country like India with low tele-density and PC penetration and an even lower Internet penetration, this is the best solution for effective and inexpensive global communication.”

Patil said all that the user has to do was to get a pre-paid card, available for Rs. 50. The user can then make a local phone call, follow the simple operating instructions and register the service. Once registered, users can call the local number in their city, choose a language of operation, record a telivoice message and enter the telephone number where the message has to be delivered.

The message is then stored and, using the power and reach of the Internet, forwarded to the recipient. The recipient can retrieve the message by calling a local number in his or her city and following the multi-lingual instructions.

Charges for the service depended on the destination and duration of messages. Local messages are charged at Rs. 1. per minute, messages to areas which require an STD call are charged Rs. 3 per minute, messages to areas which require ISD calls are charged Rs. 10 per minute. These are deducted from the Rs. 50 pre-paid fees.
|Back to Infotech Index| |TOP|


Bear Market Strategies:
Avoiding Mutual Fund Taxes
By Ree Mitra

Now that the markets are going down fast, the capital gains tax on top of poor performance can have a sharp bite. Financial planner Ree Mitra offers a few tips on blunting the edge.

During the rocky year for financial markets that was 2000, many investors experienced what may have become unfamiliar during an extended bull run: mutual fund investments that lost value.

On top of this lackluster performance – according to mutual fund tracking firm Lipper, Inc., the average equity fund lost 4.51 percent last year – mutual funds owners whose assets were held in a taxable account also likely received distributions that triggered capital gains taxes. While capital gains taxes from funds that delivered double-digit returns may have gone overlooked the past few years, some investors are now seeking mutual fund investment strategies that can help reduce their tax exposure. Below are five ideas that can help ease the tax burden that comes from mutual fund capital gains.

Make the most of tax-deferred investments.
By investing the maximum amount in your 401(k), IRA or Roth IRA, you may enjoy tax-deferred growth. Although taxes may be due on contributions or withdrawals, depending on the type of account, your investment has the opportunity to grow unhindered by yearly income taxes.

Invest after the capital gain distribution.
Usually toward the end of each year, mutual funds pay out some of their gains by making annual distributions to shareholders. Although this dividend seems like a benefit, the fund’s distribution actually triggers a tax liability. By putting off your investment into a fund until after this distribution, you avoid the necessity of paying taxes on it.

Choose an index fund
Mutual fund capital gains taxes, in addition to resulting from distributions, are also generated by portfolio turnover, or the buying and selling of securities within the fund. For this reason, it makes sense to choose an index fund, which by nature features low turnover. Index funds are designed to mirror the holdings of a target index such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the Standard & Poor 500. The turnover generated by an index fund results from the fund adjusting its holdings to match those of its target index. Although many index fund shareholders practice a buy-and-hold investment philosophy, index fund distributions may occur from selling assets to pay investors who have cashed out shares. To discourage the large-scale selling of shares, many index funds assess a penalty on trades made before a specified period of time.

Consider tax-efficient funds
Tax-efficient funds are managed with the objective of keeping tax liabilities to a minimum. Fund managers seek to reduce capital gains by selling carefully chosen combinations of winning and losing stocks and by trading less frequently, therefore holding onto investments for longer periods of time.

Buy and hold
Another tactic for reducing mutual fund tax exposure is to practice buy-and-hold investing. Attempts to time the market, or to buy and sell in anticipation of the market’s direction, usually meet with failure and can trigger costly short-term capital gains. By holding mutual fund assets for at least one year, these assets become long-term capital gains should you decide to sell, meaning they are taxed at a lower rate. Also important, a long-term approach allows investors to avoid transaction fees, avoid missing out on market gains and focus on the big picture of meeting long-term financial objectives.

Past performance cited in this article is no guarantee of future results. This article is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Consult your financial adviser or your attorney, accountant or tax adviser with questions. Reeshava Mitra can be reached at reeshava.mitra@lpl.com.

- Ree Mitra is a financial planner with
LPL Financial Services. He lives in Fremont, Calif.



Virtual Financial Planning:
eFinanciaProfiles.com By Urvashi Majmundar

Thinking of saving for the future? The goal is simple but the method may not be? Your circumstances may differ, and so might your best possible strategy, writes Urvashi Majmundar, who describes a Web site which helps people figure out financial strategies for themselves.

Do you know that less than one out of 30 Americans actually go a financial planner? Yet the market is complex, and saving strategies are seldom one-size-fits-all.

You may plan to save for your kids’ college education, or you may not have kids at all; you may be able to save long-term, your capacity to take risks may vary – the variety of circumstances is wide, and in many instances, the best saving strategies will also vary accordingly.

Yet you may not like the idea of going to a financial planner. You would certainly not be alone, and for people like you, there is a new Web site, eFinancialProfiles.com.

This personal financial services Web site, that will help users learn the art of personal financial planning by using sample financial plans as case studies and providing a perspective of various financial planning concepts. The site also offers articles and information about personal finance and interactive financial calculators.

Following the footsteps of many universities that use the case study method to educate and enlighten the student body, eFinancialProfiles.com presents sample financial plans in the form of case studies to illustrate the application of various financial planning concepts to real-life situations.

eFinancialProfiles.com offers several different financial profiles where age groups, income profiles, wealth status, goals and objectives, and risk tolerances vary. These profiles in essence reflect a broad set of audiences in the real world. By reviewing the suggestions and recommendations made in that case study, users may be able to find ideas that are relevant and applicable to their own situation.

“The sample financial plans, which are offered as case studies, are our core offering. These sample financial plans paint a scenario, introduce the fictional characters and the key financial issues they are facing and try to present financial advice and recommendations for that particular case. These are people and situations that most ordinary Americans can relate to,” said Satya Sreenivas, founder of eFinancialProfiles.com.

Millions of people want and need financial planning but according to data from Forrester Research, only 3 percent of American families actually utilize the services of a financial planner. Forrester also estimates that the number of households seeking online advice will grow to a staggering 21 million within the next three years.

“eFinancialProfiles.com intends to be at the forefront of helping these millions of Americans reach their financial goals by propagating the importance of holistic financial planning,” Sreenivas added.

“Consumers can filter and then select the case studies that match their own profile. By reviewing the analysis, advice and recommendations presented in the case study, users can glean insight into typical strategies applicable in various situations,” he said.

Users get to follow the cases over a period of time and review the cases as the subjects of these fictional cases traverse through their financial life. This continuing saga could indeed resemble a financial soap opera. An element of interactivity and participation by users – where users can make suggestions as to what else could have been done, and share their thoughts and ideas with other users - make the case studies interesting and exciting.

While the sample financial plans and case studies form the core of eFinancialProfiles.com’s offering, the site also offers educational content and several interactive calculators.

Urvashi Majmundar is a freelance writer
based in Tracy, Calif.



Social Security Number:
Advice for Non Citizens – By Cal Gee

If you are a non-citizen and you are not going to work, for instance spouses on H-4 visas, then you do may not need a social security number, as many benefit and services are available without it, writes Cal Gee.

If you’re not a citizen and you’re not working, you probably don’t need a Social Security number. Most people in the United States have a Social Security number because they need it to work, but if you don’t have Immigration and Naturalization Service permission to work in the United States, you usually don’t need a number.

As a noncitizen, you can obtain many benefits and services without having a Social Security number even though you may be asked for one. You don’t need a Social Security number to:

  • purchase savings bonds;
  • conduct business with a bank or financial institution;
  • register for school or apply for educational tests;
  • report group health insurance coverage;
  • apply for school lunch programs; or
  • apply for HUD housing.

If you have permission to work and need to apply for a number, call Social Security on our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, to make an appointment to visit the local office. You must bring with you original documents or certified copies made by the custodian or the official who keeps the record. The documents must show your age, identity and lawful alien status (including your permission to work in the United States).

If you don’t have permission to work, but still need a Social Security number, bring a letter from the government agency requiring you to get one. The letter must specifically identify you, explain the law requiring you to have a number and state that you meet all the requirements for the benefit or service, except having the number.

You may want to use our Internet Web site, www.ssa.gov, to print a copy of the application for a Social Security number. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call our toll-free “TTY” number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days to make an appointment.

Social Security Forms

Social Security now has more than 65 commonly requested Social Security forms, well organized and ready to download, on its Internet site, www.ssa.gov. Claims forms that can help you prepare for your interview with Social Security are now available. In addition, you’ll be informed about what information you will need when you apply for benefits.

The forms are divided into five categories:

  • Benefit claims forms—gives you an idea of the questions we will ask when you apply for benefits and help you prepare for the interview. You do not need to complete the form before you apply.
  • Benefit claims supporting forms—generally used by people who have already applied for benefits or are in the process of applying. They are not required in all cases—we will let you know when you need to complete one of these forms.
  • Other forms—used to access many of our programs and services.
  • Forms for other agencies—provided by Social Security for your convenience. Questions about the forms should be addressed to the agency responsible for the form.
  • Online transactions—can be completed and submitted to Social Security’s Web site, Social Security Online.

Remember, all Social Security forms are free. For more information, log onto www.ssa.gov or call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.

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



Helping Hand for Gujarat
BAPS Earthquake Relief - By A.J. Patel

The recent earthquake in Gujarat has not only claimed thousands of lives, it has left in its wake many more survivors who need continued assistance and support. The Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha has organized a massive, organized relief effort, writes A.J. Patel.

The tragedy of the Indian earthquake has galvanized the Bay Area Indian community into launching various relief efforts. One Bay Area resident, Dr. Mihir Meghani, who spent five days providing medical relief in the earthquake stricken state of Gujarat, described the devastation which has left thousands homeless and in need of shelter, food and medical attention.

Speaking at the BAPS Temple in Milpitas recently, Meghani described how upon receiving the news of the earthquake, he canceled his original plan to attend Kumbh Mela, and made his way to Bhuj , the region hardest hit by the earthquake. There, he worked with a team of doctors from a makeshift hospital tent, with no water, electricity or anesthesia, performing amputations and handling minor injuries.

He also got involved in a rescue operation, working with the army and a British search-and-rescue team to find a 10-year-old boy buried underneath rubble. Meghani explained, “Following a lead given by the boy’s father, the British and army personnel spent 12 hours building a tunnel through the rubble to the boy, who was miraculously alive because his mother placed the boy under her while the house collapsed on her – killing her but saving him.”

Meghani concluded, “What they will need in the next few days and weeks is shelter from the freezing winter of Gujarat and upcoming monsoon just 4 months away. They will need homes rebuilt eventually, running water, return of electricity and communication lines, and a chance to earn a living once again.”

BAPS-Care International is tackling some of the core issues highlighted by Dr. Meghani.

Over 7,000 BAPS volunteers are working in the earthquake-stricken zone of Bhuj, providing food and shelter to thousands.

Hundreds of thousands have been made homeless and as night time temperatures plummet, sheltering from the bitter cold is crucial. BAPS is helping to relieve this aspect of the crisis by providing shelter for 50,000 people daily.

Complementing the shelter effort, BAPS is providing three hot meals to 41,000 and distributing more than 50,000 food packets daily.

Water pouches, clothing, blankets, tents, waterproof tarpaulins, torches, utensils, primus stoves, toiletries and footwear have also been distributed.

Through various corporate agreements, BAPS has been able to secure free transportation of air freight for medical supplies, tents, and heavy equipment. Portable X-ray machines for mobile hospitals, tents and flexible water tanks have also been donated by various companies.

The efforts of BAPS have been applauded by various international agencies. “This camp is special because it not only provides excellent physical aid, but also the loving care and attention so necessary to heal emotional scars of such a traumatic tragedy,” said Dr. Mahesh Arora, international coordinator for the Red Cross. “Tremendous work. This is the largest and most organized relief camp I’ve visited here in Bhuj. Congratulations!” said Maria Calivis, project officer for UNICEF.

In Northern California, an “Earthquake Relief Center” is active at the BAPS Temple in Milpitas. Appeals have been made to Silicon Valley corporations and through the media. BAPS has no administrative costs which ensures that every dime people donate goes directly to those in need.

With a worsening crisis, BAPS needs to sustain its effort. It has pledged to continue as long as the crisis demands.

Interested readers can call (800) 301-5594 or visit the organization’s Web site at www.baps-care.org.

- A.J. Patel is a Bay Area-based BAPS volunteer.



NeoCenter Building
Development in Union City - By Shobha Tandon

A 48,000-sq ft four-story professional building is coming up in Union City, with the hope of becoming a city icon, writes Shobha Tandon, one of the developers of the proposed property.

Today, there are not many tall buildings in Union City, and those one or two story buildings that are being built are more concern with square footage efficiency and speedy construction than creating a lasting, unique presence on the streetscape. However, NeoCenter’s new development located at the corner of Decoto Road and Union Square; a highly visible property and conveniently accessible by public transportation will meet high architectural design expectations as set-forth by Atelier Design Group.

The proposed NeoCenter development will consist of a four-story professional office building of approximately 6,200 square feet each floor and two levels of basement parking of approximately 12,000 square feet each level which will accommodate at least 64 on-site parking spaces, for a total building gross area of approximately 48,800 square feet. Although this building’s overall massing will maintain a strong street edge along Decoto Road and Union Square on the ground level and then pull back from the street on the upper floors along Union Square, the vertical and horizontal articulation with its distinctive architectural elements will unfold a unique anticipation throughout its entire building volume. Therefore, Atelier Design Group’s design team chose gray metal composite panels and blue-green glass as the main building skin components, resulting in a very provocative yet simplistic dress for the exterior envelope.

The building design will be complemented with rich landscape and hardscape, including magnolia trees, berms, lawns and raised planters embracing the inviting walkways so as to provide a smooth transition between the street context and its elegant interiors.

NeoCenter will house NeoVision Eye Center and NeoMarkers Biotechnology Company, which as new comers to downtown will contribute to the economic growth and splendor of Union City making these businesses great assets for the city.

Founded in 1993, NeoMarkers is a biotechnology company specializing in the development of laboratory reagents used by researchers in the area of Life Sciences all over the world. Its president and founder is Atul K. Tandon, Ph.D.

NeoVision Eye Center is a facility for comprehensive eye care. It provides complete vision care, medical care, and surgical care to the people in the area. Dr. Shobha Tandon, M.D., Ph.D., is the chief ophthalmologist and medical director of this eye center.

- Shobha Tandon is an ophthalmologist
who lives in Union City, Calif


Auto Review:

Turbocharged Handsome Chariot
2001 Saab 9-3 SE Convertible By Al Auger

It used to be a machine you either loved or hated. No more, says Al Auger, who says the new Swedish car appeals both to our intellectual and aesthetic instincts.

Saab, a machine that was once either loved or hated, has matured into a handsome chariot unique and admired by most who view it cruising down the autobahns of the world. In the case of the 9-3 SE convertible, this emotional response is heightened. Driving the turbocharged ragtop brings into play the intellectual aspect as well as the emotional. No one will mistake the Saab ragtop for any other.

Inside the cabin, practically every possible device, instrument, appendage and amenity is standard for your comfort zone. Burnished walnut trim on the dash, full computer information graphics, OnStar navigational system with 12-months of premium services, leather upholstery, power remote everything, heated mirrors and seats, power 8-way driver’s seat with memory and on and on. The only major option is the Premium convertible package that includes automatic climate control, dual power seats and sport steering wheel mounted with standard audio controls.

Saab has “stolen” some high-tech ergonomics from its world-class aircraft company to add safety and comfort in the operation of its automobiles. To reduce the strain of nighttime driving, the Saab Night Panel only displays what information is necessary at the time. The system is electronically monitored to activate automatically what information the driver should know at the time.

The Saab 9-3 is available in 3-door, 5-door and convertible mode. What is also available across the line is fine-line handling capabilities. Under the skin of the 9-3 is a sophisticated system of suspension, steering and control that makes the on-road performance sensitive and precise. Sport tuned coil springs and featuring a singular semi-rigid torsion-beam rear suspension, the 9-3 tames the spaghetti backcountry roads without a qualm. Wrap all this in the standard “all-speed” Traction Control System (TCS) that monitors the 9-3 4-wheel disc anti-lock-brakes and drive-by-wire throttle and the smiles don’t stop coming.

The 9-3 Saab convertible is a motorcar for the passions within us. Top down, the High-output 2.0-liter, 205 horsepower, 16-valve, in-line, 4-cylinder, turbocharged powerplant at full chat, the adrenaline flows. The rumble of the exhaust burble adds a suggestive background sound. With the 5-speed manual the torque curve continues to 4,800 rpm while the curve peaks at 5,700 rpm when equipped with the 4-speed automatic. The automatic features driver-selectable shift modes: sport, normal and winter. In either mode, the 9-3 carries a punch, but with a soft touch.

The convertible top is a simple one hand power up-and-down operation. While the cabin is roomy by most convertible standards, rear passengers should not be hampered by claustrophobia or be over tall. Trunk space is rather limited, but the rear seatbacks fold down for added storage capacity. There’s also a pass-through for skis, etc.

If the Saab 9-3 SE convertible offers anything of value, it’s an individuality that, in most marques, is usually followed by many numbers — like in price. Fully equipped, overflowing with amenities muscle and performance niceties, the SE ragtop speaks volumes for world class motoring at a very nice figure.

I guess only Saab could create a partnership with the Humane Society of the United States. The program offers a menu of Pet Gear products to simplify and make comfortable the trekking of animals in the Saab. They include the Batzi Belt restraint system, the VersaLeash for restraint in the cargo area, a Pet Harness neck and torso safe restraint system. Other products are just as unique sounding and travel convenient: Water and Gear bag, Orthopedic Pet Mat, Travel Bowl and Approach Backpack. Great idea.

Today's Test Drive:

Al Auger, our automotive editor has been writing about cars for over 30 years.
He has spent 20 years as a race driver and public relations specialist.


Bollywood: | Guftugu | Hindi Film Review |


Thrilling Threesome

So what if controversy dogs the film and its producers are suspected to be in cahoots with the murderous underworld in Mumbai? Chori Chori Chupke Chupke has leaped over all hurdles and is being screened in cinemas.

The Bollywood trio Preity-Rani-Salman seem as popular as ever, never mind that Sallu has been drawing unpleasant headlines. Not only do rumors abound about his brawling and tempestuous relationship with Aishwarya Rai, but even the cops have been grilling him about the film’s shady history.

Which must be good news for Preity and Rani, the damsels in distress. Preity’s pretty brow has been knit in worry recently with the box office performance of Farz which had only “moderate success,” a Bollywood euphemism for dud. Rani is known to be awfully picky, and this is her first release of the year. The initial positive audience reaction must have thrilled all three.
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Papa the Great

It’s true. Bollywood’s debonair hunk is about to become a father. And Bobby Deol is delighted about it. Recently his wife Tanya was spotted at her brother Vikram Ahuja’s wedding by people who are good at assessing these things who said she was easily six months pregnant. The big event is set to happen in June and the proud father-to-be is already canceling out-of-town assignments.
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Brainy Aamir

Ah, our baby-faced Aamir Khan, whose looks belie the man’s savvy. He is the professional entertainer par excellence, and what’s more, adds a personal flair to whatever he does.

Take his home production Lagaan. Bollywood is already abuzz about the high production values of the film. Aamir refused to follow convention and screen promos on the small tube. Instead he released them to select theatres. The great promos of his period film have created such a buzz, that distributors are clamoring for more.

The ever-obliging Aamir has quickly made an additional 30 copies after the initial 40 promos have created such interest. People are talking about it, Aamir has created a buzz, and is sitting pretty, knowing that he has created the perfect public relations ambiance to release his film.

So don’t ever let that oh-so-innocent smile fool you. Aamir Khan packs a lot of brainpower, folks.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Mum’s the Word

Sanjay Leela Bhansali may be the director of the much-awaited Devdas, but he has found out sometimes he has to take directions as well.

It was Bollywood belle Madhuri Dixit who was giving him direction, or to be fair to Madhuri, circumstances required it.

Madhuri has directed Bhansali to get on with it, because otherwise he will have to shoot his film with a heavily pregnant Madhuri. Yes, that is right.

Now it remains to be seen whether her career can survive motherhood. The film-going public are a fickle lot, and marriage apparently ruins their fantasies. Just look at Kajol. Her films have not been doing well at all since she got married, and Madhuri has not been entirely immune, either, because her films have suffered too.

Will marriage rob us of a talented actress even when the star is still willing? We sure hope not.
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Now That’s Funny

There’s more to sultry siren Shilpa Shetty than oomph. She is acting distinctly funny these days. And that is funny as in funny bone, in case you were wondering.

Shilpa plays a Punjabi belle in a situational comedy and directory Satish Kaushik is mightily impressed. Her performance as Bandho in Badhai Ho Badhai has not only the director smiling, but insiders say the audience will be in splits as well. Which can only be good news for poor Shilpa, whose career has never reached the heights she would have liked. May the pretty maiden have the last laugh.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Home Safe

Imagine, the big Khan was within a whisker of becoming homeless. I kid you not. The city collector was on the verge of auctioning off “Mannat,” his bungalow at Juhu. Which begs the deliciously wicked question: How much would it have raised?

Well it would have had to raise a lot, because the Shah of Bollywood apparently owes a pretty packet in taxes. He has made a prompt start with paying the government a check of Rs. 20 million, which caused the city collector to relent. So Shah Rukh is not homeless yet. To be fair, the Khan is not alone. There are 11 more in Bollywood who have defaulted and continue to owe huge sums in property taxes to the government. By the way, this is not the first time Shah Rukh has been in trouble with his house.

After Shah Rukh had bought the bungalow he had renovated it on a lavish scale. That caused a furor, because the structure was considered to have historic architectural value. Shah Rukh had sorted out that issue by agreeing to leave alone the architectural facade.
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Acting Up

Is he or isn’t he? Cute crooner Sonu Nigam has been making noises for a long while that he is all set to put on grease paint and face the camera. Now he has a new hairstyle.

And mean rumors are floating about that his acting career has been over before even it began. At any rate, Sonu appears to be paying more attention to his singing. His friends say we should all calm down, because his projects are still on course and finishing touches are being put on the scripts for films where he is slated to appear.

Which, again, is making many cynics raise their eyebrows skeptically.

And it brings us back to square one. Is he or isn’t he?
|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Chi Chi on Video

So what if there hasn’t been a film release recently? You don’t expect Govinda to disappear from the news, surely? For starters there is his TV game show Jeeto Chappar Phaad Ke, which has held its own despite the towering success of the 600-pound gorilla of desi game shows, Big B’s Kaun Banega Crorepati. Given the absolute debacle of Zee’s Sawaal Dus Crore Ka, that’s no mean achievement.

And now Chi Chi bhaiyya is all set to make a music video. It’s Adnan’s Sami’s music video, “Lift Karade,” and it has just the kind of zany tapori whiff that Chi Chi is a master at exploiting. The janta will likely love it, and so will Chi Chi bhaiya, who says he has been humming the tune all the time.
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It’s been all about chori and nothing has been so chupke about it. Yes, we are talking about the film that has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, the Salman-Rani-Preity starrer Chori Chori Chupke Chupke.

Its producers are in jail, and the film almost was not released, but hey, did you know that the film made a cool Rs. 200 million (yes, that’s no typo) even before it was released? Ask the court receiver for Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, film distributor Santosh Singh Jain.

When you consider that only Rs. 127 million went into making the film, you don’t have to be a Ramanujan to figure out that the film will bring in the moolah all right.

If initial reports are any indication, the film has drawn the appreciative public to the cinemas in hordes.

Now, as the money comes pouring in, only one question remains: Who will get it ultimately? For the wheels of law are already in motion to nail the producers for their alleged nexus to the underworld.
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Hindi Film Review
Kasoor Director Ka


Director: Vikram Bhatt
Music: Nadeem-Shravan
Starring: Aftab Shivdasani, Lisa Ray, Apurva Agnihotri and Ashutosh Rana

The film was supposed to be a slick thriller. Not that the plot or even much of the treatment was entirely original, but the Bollywood viewing public are a forgiving lot if the end result is great. After all Bollywood and the underworld share more in common than money laundering; both seem to believe that the ends justify the means.

Which in this case means that the storyline has been lifted from Jagged Edge, a Hollywood thriller starring Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close.

Simran (Lisa Ray) is an attorney who reluctantly accepts a case to defend Shekhar (Aftab Shivdasani), who is accused of murdering his wife and maid servant. Simran takes the case because she is haunted by guilt. She had, earlier, been responsible for getting an innocent man convicted of a crime which apparently he did not commit. The fact that he committed suicide weighed so heavily on her conscience that she had not taken a case for four years.

Shekhar was considered a prime suspect by Inspector Lokhande (Ashutosh Rana), who has an axe to grind. Shekhar is a journalist whose murdered wife was a newspaper heiress, so he has a lot to gain. Lokhande, an unpleasant and unscrupulous cop, is angry at the frequent criticism in Shekhar’s newspaper.

Simran has a sidekick, Amit (Apurva Agnihotri). After taking the case, they manage to build a defense strategy and follow it with skill. Amit and Simran end up arguing, so attached is Simran to her client.

In fact attached is the operative word here. Throwing professional etiquette to the winds, Simran – in classical Bollywood fashion – falls in love with Shekhar, and does not hesitate in disrobing for him. What follows is a series a steamy scenes and the mandatory romps in Switzerland which are now staple fare in too many a desi film.

Love and lust, however, does not appear to affect Simran’s professional skill, and in time she manages to get her client and lover acquitted.

This is where the story takes an interesting twist. A celebratory party follows, and right at the moment when Simran and Shekhar were supposed to live happily ever after, Simran finds disconcerting clues that lead here to question her previous faith in Shekhar’s innocence. As she begins to explore once again the issue of whether Shekhar actually murdered his wife, she is faced pulled in two opposing directions: Her heart bids her to follow her romantic instincts and protect the man she loves, but her mind pushes her to follow the clues to their logical conclusion, come what may.

The rest of the film resolves this interesting dilemma in not entirely unpredictable ways, but for the sake of future viewers, we shall leave that unsaid.

As readers will readily agree, this is not a bad story line, although it is not original. In the hands of an intelligent director, and given even moderately competent production values, the story had the potential to be a fairly gripping whodunit.

Instead, director Vikram Bhatt makes a mess, and an unsightly mess it is indeed. For starters, the acting leaves a lot to be desired. With the exception of Aftab, who acts with a degree of competence, most of the performances are so bad that it will make the viewer’s toes curl in embarrassment. Lisa Ray is easy on the eyes, but sweetie, the era of silent films is gone. Somebody should tell this pretty woman that working in a contemporary film means the ability to breathe life in the character, and that means elocution of dialogues, and presenting the facial and bodily movements to augment that elocution. Since her dialogues were dubbed to begin with, that leaves expression and body language, and here her performance is way, way below par. The performances of lesser actors on the witness stand during the court room scenes is dreadful, and Apurva Agnihotri is wooden.

The real fault is with director Vikram Bhatt, whose habit of pushing one more inane – and often bad – song down the throats of the audience in the middle of the film completely ruins the pace of the film. A thriller thrives on the taut suspense and the close-knit sequence of events that create that suspense. Here, that seldom happens, and even by Bollywood’s infinitely lax standards of logic, it’s a bit odd to see a murder suspect and his lawyer cavorting in Switzerland while a murder sentence looms.

Watchable, good quality desi thrillers are not unheard of. The fairly recent Gupt is an excellent example of one, as is Khiladi.

What a sad commentary it is on Bhatt that he cooked up a film with borrowed ingredients and still could not manage to create a passably watchable movie. Audience ne kya kasoor kiya, bhai?

Rating: ** (Mediocre)

|Return to Bollywood Index| |TOP|

Tamil Film Review:
Disappointing Hodgepodge


Director: S.P. Rajkumar
Starring: Livingston, Devayani, Vindhya, Vadivelu, Poonambalam, R. Sunderrajan and Mayilsamy.

The plot did have the potential to make it an engaging entertainer. But the problem is that the director couldn’t really decide on the treatment he should give his plot. So he dithered between a variety a genres, trying to figure out whether the film should be a comedy or a melodrama, whether it should emphasize family sentiment or be a saga of a family feud. The sad end result is predictable, and the audience finds itself saddled with a hotchpotch of discordant genres.

Murugesan (Livingston) has an ongoing feud with Shantha Murthy (Ponnambalam) the illegitimate off-spring of his father. Murugesan loves his city-educated cousin Maheshwari (Devayani), who reciprocates his love.

But Murugesan commits an indiscretion in an inebriated condition. He seduces dancer Chintamani (Vindhya) whom he had given refuge in his farmhouse, when she was being harassed by Shanta Murthy. Murugesan confesses the whole matter to Maheshwari on his wedding night. A furious Maheshwari refuses to have anything to do with him.

Shantha Murthy manipulates the situation to his advantage. In time, however, Maheshwari realizes the essential goodness of her husband, and forgives him. When matters are going just right for Murugesan, and Maheshwari conceives, he finds to his dismay that Chintamani, too, is pregnant with his child. Maheshwari withdraws from him again. The rest of the film shows how the matter is resolved and how he patches up. There is not much by way of performance here, though Vindhya does manage to get some sympathy as the other woman.

Yet given sensible direction, the story had the potential of being a gripping film. Rajkumar, however, misses the golden opportunity completely, and one hopes will pay for his idiocy at box office.

In this age of globalization and increasing instantaneous communication, Indian viewers have become much more sophisticated and discerning. Film producers and directors would do well to keep that in mind, because it will no longer be possible to con the film-going public with shoddy, insipid material.

With video, satellite television vying for the consumers’ interest in a fiercely competitive market directors better get their act together.

Mr. Rajkumar, are you listening?

In association with Chennai Online



Light and Savory
Onion Squish
By Seema Gupta

You are expecting guests, but you don’t want to prepare anything heavy. Savory, delicious baked onion squishes are just the ticket, says Seema Gupta.


For the dough

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 cup milk

For the filling

  • 2 onions cut in rings
  • 4 green chillies
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tsp whole cumin
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • Salt to taste

For garnishing the filling

    • 1/2 cup grated cheese


Preparing the filling

Heat the oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds. Fry the green chillies and onion, add pepper and salt, for 1 minute.

Preparing the squish

Mix all these ingredients for the dough and knead well. Leave for half an hour.

Roll out the dough into one big thick chapati.

Cut into round shapes with a cookie cutter.

Grease a baking tray. Arrange the cut pieces of dough on the tray. Make sure to leave gaps between the pieces. Leave for half an hour. Put a tablespoonful of filling on each piece of dough and top it with cheese.

Bake in oven at 150 degrees for 15 minutes.

Seema Gupta is a homemaker
based in Sunnyvale, Calif.


March - April Horoscope

Aries (March 21-April 20): A problem concerning income could be solved in a positive manner at home if you express your feelings. The goals that you have made for yourself in the past could be looking very good to you right now but self-imposed obstacles could be on the way.

Taurus (April 21-May 21): Communication with a friend concerning a future endeavor could be on the agenda. A long awaited trip may happen. Some much needed shared resources could be coming but will take time. You may feel impatient. Stop any unnecessary worries.

Gemini (May 22-June 21): Your career and standing in the community are in the spotlight this month. There are obstacles concerning your career. An amicable approach is suggested. A short trip could also be in the picture and this could cause you some sense of insecurity. All could work out for you in a very effective way.

Cancer (June 22-July 23): Issues concerning your personal outlook in life are enhanced this month. Your future at the work is very positive. Work related tension needs to be dealt with in a very constructive manner. Be careful with investment offers and also when investing in something.

Leo (July 24-August 22): Your income from investments could present negotiation that could bring a very beneficial outcome. A career advancement may be knocking at your doorstep but deception is involved. Act with caution. You could be receiving some good news from a far away place.

Virgo (August 23-September 23): Changes are happening at your work place. There are things with your personal income that are affected and you need to negotiate. Your shared sources of income seem to be very prominent at this point in time but illusory expectations are present.

Libra (September 24-October 23): Changes at work could be handled by you in a quiet way but talking these issues out could be beneficial to you. Discussing this with your partner can shed better light on the matter. Your shared sources of income seem to be very prominent.

Scorpio (October 24-November 22): You are investing into a lot. There are many issues that need to be negotiated concerning this and your personal resources. A change of residence is predicted for many of you. Things at your work should be smooth.

Sagittarius (November 23-December 21): Hidden influences at work place will aid you in gaining recognition and added responsibilities. Communicating in a sensible manner is advised. There could be a tempting situation concerning an investment or speculation that have a lot of unanswered items.

Capricorn (December 22-January 20): The input of a friend could be influencing you in conversation with your partner. These opinions could be off base so clarify anything that does not sound right to you. There are many circumstances surrounding your home life out of which are some issues that have to be worked out carefully.

Aquarius (January 21-February 19): The limelight this month is on your area of communication, siblings and close relatives. Very good communication could be established with your place of employment, some gain could come from this.

Pisces (February 20-March 20): Your relationship with children is very harmonious at this time. Slow changes in your approach toward personal goals in life and your personal income is looking very rosy. Your way of thinking seems to be changing very rapidly in connection to your personal resource.

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


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