Indias proud foray into Information Technology is well known, but have its teeming masses who live in the rural hinterland benefited at all? Digital divide has become a fashionable catch phrase today, but for India it is a grim reality. No matter how well Indian IT firms do on the New York Stock Exchange, Indias IT prowess will lose much of its sheen if it fails to touch the lives of its rural millions.
Yet this is not an easy task. Villagers are typically poor, often illiterate, while IT thrives on knowledge and wealth. This is where our cover story comes in. An innovative program in Tamil Nadus Madurai district, the joint venture of Harvard, MIT and IIT Madras, is exploring ways of bringing the Internet to rural areas in a way that is both meaningful as well as economically sustainable.
This issue also pays warm tribute to two scientists C.S. Rao and Arun Netravali who have won the highest honor in the U.S. for science and technology: the National Medal for Science and the National Medal for Technology. Before them, only three scientists of Indian descent have won this award since it was introduced by Congress in the 1950s.
We also take a look at the job scene in the Silicon Valley in an article this month. Stock prices, real estate values and generic statistics are of little use for IT professionals with specific skills who are job-hunting, our article takes on this issue.
SARI in Tamil Nadu By Saravanan
In a remote village in Tamil Nadu, the Internet has arrived. It could revolutionize the way rural India gets wired to the Information Superhighway, writes Saravanan.
Padinettangudi village in Tamil Nadus Madurai district isnt exactly the hub of information technology. Yet thanks to an organization called Sustainable Access in Rural Internet, a village farmer can send e-mail anywhere in the world. And he or she can do it in Tamil.
SARI, in association with a private firm, has offered computer literacy programs with the help of local youths to about 30 villages around Padinettangudi. Educated youth are employed who help villagers browse, download birth and death certificates and other forms from the Internet.
SARI a project of the MIT Media Lab, Harvards Center for International Development, IIT-Madras, and the I-Gyan Foundation is dedicated to demonstrating that the creation and deployment of information and communication services and technologies in poor rural areas leads to improvements in health, empowerment, learning, and economic development amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged communities, its Web site says.
One result of SARIs venture is that this sleepy village, about 35 km from Madurai, has been changed forever.
A silent IT revolution is brewing in the tiny hamlet where the illiterate farm workers use Web cams, voice mail and e-mail regularly, said the Hindu newspaper in a recent report. Similar is the communication technology spread in at least 30 other villages around Pathinettangudi, paving the way for the caste-conscious Melur to become the first cyber taluk in the country courtesy the Sustainable Access in Rural Internet project.
There are real gains for villagers here. Earlier, we had to shell out at least Rs. 250 to get an income certificate or old age pension. Now, the cost is only Rs. 29, which includes a printout of the e-mail acknowledgement from the tahsildhar, 70-year-old Mondi told the Hindu.
A good number of youth in Melur taluk are employed in the Middle East, but their relatives in the village are no longer scared of international phone bills. Its just Rs. 25 an hour to see their relatives live on screen through the interactive Web cam. This, of course, besides the voice mail, chatting and e-mail.
Agricultural laborers get their queries clarified online, thanks to the Madurai Agriculture College and the Research Institute of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University which provides free counseling. The villagers also get close-up color pictures of their eyes examined by specialists in the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai and fix up appointments for surgery.
The government is pitching in as well. The Government of India is working on schemes to popularize the use of computers among the common people, says computer expert Dr. Anandakrishnan., former information technology advisor to the Tamil Nadu government. Today it is not possible to provide a computer to each individual. That is only a dream. What is possible, however, is to make available computer access in nearby places. In future anyone without computer knowledge will be considered an illiterate. Knowledge of the English language will no longer be necessary to use computers, with the developments taking place in Tamil. An ordinary farm worker can send an e-mail in Tamil to his son/daughter in the U.S. Anyone can check what the vegetable prices are in Koyambedu market.
Take Tiruvarur, another Tamil Nadu district. It is as active as Padinettangudi in spreading computer awareness and usage. E-governance is being implemented in full swing in Tiruvarur. Weather data, information on climatic changes, etc. are accessible through the Net.
States like Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala are using information technology to create computer awareness in villages with the help of the educated unemployed youth. This initiative also helps to provide gainful employment for the youth.
But is it possible for a villager to operate a computer on his own? Yes, it is, says Indias premier computer education organization National Institute of Information Technology.
To make this possible, to empower the villagers, NIIT has launched the Swift Jyothi program. NIIT launched this program in December 2001 to mark its 20th anniversary celebrations. The objective of this program is to dispel the idea that computers are for the urban elite only.
According to NIIT more than 200,000 people, including inmates of Delhis Tihar jail, adivasis in Andhra Pradesh, people of Puri in Orissa, villagers of Jodhpur in Rajasthan and villagers in West Bengal have benefited through Swift Jyothi.
Swift Jyothi is centered on those places where IT has not spread. Using their network of 2,500 centers, a basic 10-hour course is offered for Rs. 500. This exercise brings us closer to our customers, while at the same time it also gives us an opportunity to discharge a social responsibility, says NIIT chief S. Rajendra Pawar.
A few companies in the private sector are working to increase awareness and usage. Kanithamizh Sangam has developed a number of software packages in Tamil. Its president Chellappan, says, We want to increase Tamil usage in computers and we are working towards that goal. We are making people realize that it is possible to use computers in Tamil also. To encourage people in villages to use computers, we conduct Tamil computing festivals.
Chellappan said he was delighted with the response. Our first festival was in Madurai, he continued. The response was overwhelming. People were amazed at the possibilities with Tamil. The second one was in Chennai. This was a success too. The next one will be in Salem. We have been getting requests from a number of places to hold this festival. We want to conduct these festivals in as many places as possible and we are working towards it.
The Tamil Nadu state government is getting more cyber-savvy, implementing online initiatives to make information and services available through the Internet. The Department of Land registrations has its own Web site at http://igregn.tn.nic.in for exhaustive information. Downloadable forms are also available.
A sub-registrar said, Earlier people had to make many trips to a sub-registrars office to get the guideline value of a property, but today they can get the guideline value for any property in any part of the state from this site. The land records for the past thirteen years are available in electronic form. Retrieval is quick and saves time. People do not have to travel to Chennai any more.
The states health Web site www.tnhealth.org gives detailed information on welfare schemes, provides useful health information and health related services, and has an online chat facility for interaction between doctors and the public.
However, it is SARI which is playing the most important role in making a connection between the Internet and the underprivileged masses who have been completely bypassed by the IT revolution in India.
Its pilot project will deploy in each community a multipurpose community telekiosk. Each telekiosk will include a desktop PC, monitor, battery-backup power supply, telephone wall unit, and wireless internet and phone connection. Keeping the cost of the telekiosk low is central to the projects self-sustainability. The current technology suite is priced at approximately $1,000 per telekiosk.
The pilot phase of the SARI Project will initially provide Internet and voice services to 50 villages in Madurai district New applications and highly localized content will be collaboratively developed. Once the initial 50 villages are finished, a further 1,000 connections within 350 villages in Madurai District will be made.
Internet ready telekiosks will provide villagers with applications and services in local languages (such as Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi) that are geared towards entertainment, health, education, and economic development.
To be sure, the task of bridging the digital divide is mammoth and daunting. But SARIs heartening beginning is an exciting foretaste of the wondrous possibility if socially conscious public policy and technology come together.
Deregulation of key sectors to encourage adoption of IT in the domestic market, strengthening the supply base of knowledge workers and negotiating work permits were some of the recommendations made by NASSCOM to the government to achieve the long-term revenue of $ 77 billion from the IT sector by 2008.
Setting the agenda for the government and NASSCOM, based on the NASSCOM-McKinsey revised report, the two-day summit on IT and IT-enabled services concluded in Hyderabad June 11 outlining the need to tap growth opportunities in new geographies, vertical and service lines.
The revised report, which eliminated $10 billion e-commerce and scaled down domestic sales, has taken into account all contingencies, including the proposed Convergence Bill, NASSCOM president Kiran Karnik told reporters.
Key enablers for the government, the report suggested, were to address specific concerns for the ITES sector, which has swelled from $17 billion to $24 billion in the revised edition, removal of key regulatory barriers and driving growth in the domestic market as the new report predicted a fall in revenue in this area.
Developing second tier towns as software hubs, ensuring a supply of knowledge workers and negotiating work permits and totalization agreements are the other areas the government should focus to make India a global IT destiny, he said.
Wipro in Saudi
IT services giant Wipro Limited June 11 launched its operations in Saudi Arabia, a company release said.
The $715 million Bangalore-headquartered, NYSE-listed company will take care of its business in Saudi Arabia through its Asia-Pacific and Middle-East IT division, Wipro Infotech.
Wipro also announced that it had won a prestigious enterprise resource planning implementation project based on SAP technology from Saudi Polyolefins Company, a joint venture between the Saudi National Petrochemical Industrialization Company and Basell, the worlds largest polyolefins company.
The project will be implemented in two phases and will cover core business areas, including materials management, human resources, and customer relation management, to name a few, it said.
Wipro has appointed Dar Al Riyadh Consultants, a leading consultant in Saudi Arabia, as its marketing representative, which will carry Wipros technology and software services proposition to enterprise customers in the region, the release said.
Wipros offerings in Saudi Arabia will include technology services comprising infrastructure management, services and technology integration services; business solutions comprising custom application development, and enterprise applications, among others, it stated.
The VSNL-Tata Teleservices deal has been finalized Minister for Communications and Parliamentary Affairs Pramod Mahajan said in Hyderabad June 10.
There was no hitch in the deal nor any dispute as they reached an agreement and would make a joint declaration, Mahajan told reporters at an informal chat after a book release function.
As far as the government is considered, we have no problem and as disinvestment is an ongoing process, we will take care of certain things while learning in the process, he said.
There were hectic talks June 9 night to resolve the impasse over the VSNL decision to invest Rs. 1.2 billion in Tata Teleservices, a move which did not go well with Mahajan.
However, industry and political leaders had ushered in negotiations, which Mahajan said, had gone well and a deal was clinched.
Infosys Allows 100% FIIs
Shareholders of the NASDAQ-listed Infosys Technologies Limited June 8 approved an increase in the limit on the aggregate foreign institutional investors holding in the company from the present 49 percent to 100 percent of the paid-up equity share capital of the company.
The nod was received at the 21st annual general meeting of the Bangalore-headquartered company, chaired by Sen. Larry Pressler, an independent member of the board at Infosys.
Allaying fears aired against the move by a shareholder, company chairman and chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy said in these days of globalization, one has to compete with ones strength and not with ones fears and one cannot shy away from globalization.
Strongly arguing in favor of the measure, Murthy gave an assurance that its not in the interest of any of the board members to sell and run away.
We are here to run this company. We have to make sure that shareholders get better, better and better returns.
CEO and managing director Nandan M. Nilekani said the company has no immediate plans on buyback of shares and also issue of bonus shares. There is no consideration at the moment on buyback or bonus shares, he said.
Yahoo India, one of Indias leading portals, and Shaadi.com, the number one matrimonial service provider, has announced a marketing alliance that enables all Yahoo India users to access Shaadi.com services from Yahoo India Web site.
The alliance will help Yahoo India users get access to the entire gamut of products and services on the Shaadi.com website ranging from wedding planning, wedding traditions, bindis, mahurats, astrology, honeymoon travel and directory services, a press release in Chennai said June 7.
Shaadi.com, launched in 1997 to cater to the matrimonial and wedding related needs of Indians and South Asians all over the world, has a similar marketing alliance with ChennaiOnline.com.
NIIT: First Choice
Information Technology pioneer NIIT has emerged as the first choice of recruiters for the second year in a row, according to a nationwide survey of 116 companies in India by the leading IT industry magazine Dataquest.
The survey revealed that the quality of manpower produced by leading players like NIIT emerged as the most important criterion taken into account by IT employers while recruiting the products of the IT training institutes.
The survey, conducted in April 2002, sought the opinion of heads of human resources and IT departments from 48 IT companies and 68 non-IT companies.
Apollo Tires, Cipla, GE Capital, HCL Infosystems, HP, IBM, NSE, Pepsi, Polaris Software and Wipro were among the 116 companies that participated in the survey, sources said.
The survey also predicts a shortfall of 500,000 IT professionals in India with the industry leaders expressing concern over the lack of government efforts to plug the demand supply gap.
NIITs training revenues during the calendar year 2001 at Rs. 4.51 billion made it a leader, exceeding the combined revenue of the four players listed in the survey like Aptech at Rs 2.6 billion CMC at Rs 538.8 million, IIHT at Rs 491.3 million and C-DAC at Rs 470.6 million.
NIIT also leads with over 2,500 training centers, sources added.
The overwhelming preference of NIIT products and the new technologies in the GNIIT curriculum would further strengthen the company, an NIIT source said.
Sun Powers Tata Teleservices
Sun Microsystems subsidiary in India June 6 reported that it had won a major contract from Tata Teleservices.
Tata Teleservices had purchased three SunFire 15K, a high-end system built on technologies that radically alter the performance level and reliability, scalability and availability of high-end servers while significantly helping to reduce total cost of ownership.
These powerful servers with Ultrasparc III processors would run mission critical applications to power new circles being introduced by Tata Teleservices.
This also addresses their business continuity needs and is one of the first such implementation by a telecom operator in the country.
Tata Teleservices, after having established itself in Andhra circle, is launching services in four new circles Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Gujarat.
The Steel Authority of India Ltd has become the first public sector enterprise in the country to successfully carry out procurement of materials over the Internet.
This e-procurement initiative taken in 2001-02, involving four major items worth Rs. 230 million, helped the steel major register a total saving of 10-14 percent on the last purchase price of those items.
Metal Junction Pvt Ltd, a joint venture between SAIL and Tata Steel, was the service provider for the biddings. Apart from reduction in cost, e-procurement arrangement has led to a substantial reduction in the lead-time for purchase of materials, by simplifying paperwork and procedures.
The online bidding process is transparent, resulting in competitive bidding. The entire process of purchase that earlier took months to complete can now be completed in a few hours. During 2001-02, SAIL purchased calcium carbide, wire ropes, cables and caustic soda through the reverse auction process.
Two research institutions based in Switzerland and Germany will set up centers of excellence in microelectronics applying IT to the non-IT sector in Bangalore, envisaging an investment of about Rs. 400 million, a senior Karnataka government official said June 13.
Commissioner for industrial development, and director, industries and commerce, G. Gurucharan, said in Bangalore that the Swiss would establish a centre of excellence in microelectronics in collaboration with the state government.
Gurucharan, who addressed a national seminar on Riding high in the next global wave of knowledge industry: A strategic vision of the Indian technology (R & D) industry, told reporters that the Franhaufer Institute would set up a centre of excellence for applying IT to non-IT sectors such as manufacturing, garments and food-processing.
An agreement has been signed by the institute and the Greater Mysore Chamber of Industry and Government of Karnataka, he said.
Gurucharan expected the two centers to be running in three months, adding that investment was definitely going to be about Rs. 200 million each.
C.R. Rao, Arun Netravali A Siliconeer Tribute
Two scientists have won the Presidents National Medal of Science/ Technology. Only three Indians have won the nations highest science and technology honors before, including Nobel laureates Chandrasekhar Subrahmanyam and Har Gobind Khorana. A Siliconeer tribute.
Two Indian American scientists are among the 19 scientists and a corporation who have been given the 2001 National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology, the nations highest science and technology honors. President George W. Bush announced their names recently.
The two scientists, statistician Calyampudi R. Rao and IT scientist Arun N. Netravali, represent two very different generations of Indian immigrants, and their honor epitomizes the heights of excellence Indians have attained in the U.S.
Calyampudi R. Rao, who won the National Medal of Science for mathematics, is arguably the most famous living statistician alive. He is more representative of the older generation of Indian immigrants who came to this country, those academic pioneers who struck roots here when India was not as well known for its academic talent.
Arun N. Netravali, chief scientist at Lucent Technologies-Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., has won the National Medal of Technology. He represents the more recent wave of engineers and computer professionals who have dramatically changed Western perceptions about India.
The National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research that has enhanced our basic understanding of life and the world around us. The National Science Foundation administers the award established by Congress in 1959. Including this years laureates, the honor has been conferred on 401 distinguished scientists and engineers.
The National Medal of Technology recognizes men and women who embody the spirit of American innovation and have advanced the nations global competitiveness. This award was established by Congress in 1980 and is administered by the Department of Commerce. Including this years laureates, this honor has been bestowed on 120 individuals and 12 companies.
Calyampudi R. Rao
Rao, one of the giants of 20th century statistics and arguably the worlds best known living statistician, is emeritus professor at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Penn., and the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh. His long list of honors includes being a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and membership of the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Indian Academy of Sciences. Many results and concepts are named after him, including the Cramer-Rao Inequality; Rao-Blackwell Theorem, Rao distance, Lehman-Scheffe-Rao theorem, Raos Score test, Neyman-Rao test, Raos U and F tests, Orthogonal arrays, Rao-Yanoi Generalized Inverse and Raos Quadratic Entropy. The list of his prizes and honors, like that of his achievements and contributions, is vast. He is the author or co-author of 14 books and around 450 journal articles.
Arun N. Netravali
Less than a year ago, Arun N. Netravali was president of the legendary Bell Labs. Netravali is regarded as a pioneer in the field of digital technology and led the research and development of Bell Labs high definition television effort. He holds more than 70 patents in the areas of computer networks, human interfaces to machines, picture processing and digital television. In 2001, he also received from the Indian government the Padma Bhushan Award, the nations third highest civilian honor.
He is now Lucents chief scientist, working with the academic and investment communities to identify new technologies, and acts as an advisor to Lucents senior management on technical and customer issues. Under Netravalis leadership, the speed with which Lucent moved its innovations from lab to market increased dramatically, as he fostered stronger partnerships between Bell Labs and Lucents businesses, without sacrificing technical excellence. He has authored more than 170 technical papers and co-authored three books.
What's Hot, What's Not
Jobhunting in the Silicon Valley By Mikhail Portnov
Job openings for IT professionals are pretty much the same since he took a close look at it a few months back, writes Mikhail Portnov.
Neither the stock market or real estate prices, or even or that matter generic statements on the state of the economy in Silicon Valley, is much help if you are an information technology professional with specific skills who is looking for a job.
What you do need to know is how the demand for your skills is shaping up.
This is precisely what I have tried to do. Last February, I did a survey of the various IT fields, comparing job offers with the number of resumes seeking those jobs.
Based on the research I have conducted over the course of the past months, we have the opportunity now to compare statistics covering the supply and demand ratio in the Information Technology labor market of the Silicon Valley for May 2002 (which are listed below), with the statistical data from February of this year. The numbers used in both of the analyses were taken from www.dice.com. What a comparison of the two charts will show, is that little has changed over the past three months. Both the numbers of resumes and listings for positions remain at about a constant level.
In calculating the statistics, this time I am using a different approach when working with the resume database. Before, I counted anyone, who listed the Silicon Valley as at least one of the choices for his desired place of employment. This time, however, I am only considering those candidates that put Silicon Valley as their number one choice of the three top location choices. In this way, I am zeroing in specifically on those candidates who are currently living in the Bay Area.
I would like to point out to the readers that the data in the chart is not any kind of a reliable indicator of ones chances of success in a job search.
Nonetheless, the statistics do provide some indication of the relationship between supply and demand in connection with various computer-related skill sets. They also allow us to trace the tendencies of the market both as far as the supply and the demand are concerned.
The index in the accompanying box is the ratio of job offers to applications. A 1.00 implies an equal number of jobs and resumes, anything above is good news for job seekers, less than one, of course, means there arent enough job openings for applicants. Unsurprisingly, this is the case for about half of the categories studied. But there are bright spots. If your specialty is verification and verilog, you are really lucky, because there are a whopping 78 openings for each applicant. On the other hand pity those with MCSE skills, six of whom are running after each job opening.
If you would like to see any additional skill sets added to this chart, please feel free to send requests to email@example.com, and I will be sure to include them in the next publication of this journal..
Mikhail Portnov has 10 years experience in the Software Programming Industry.
He is based in Mountain View, Calif.
Banking on TiE
Non-profit, Bank Join Hands By Smita Anthony
Silicon Valleys powerhouse desi entrepreneurship group TiE adds a feather to its cap by roping in hi-tech investor Silicon Valley Bank as a sponsor, says Smita Anthony.
Silicon Valley Bank, a premier bank for emerging global technology companies, has signed on as the first global sponsor of The Indus Entrepreneurs, a global not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.
We are proud to give our strong endorsement and support to TiE as its first Global Sponsor, said Silicon Valley Bank CEO Ken Wilcox. By partnering with TiEs global technology community, Silicon Valley Bank continues to back the entrepreneurs who drive technology innovation. Were reinforcing our commitment by dedicating a senior level team to ensure the long-term success of this relationship.
SVB senior vice president and South Bay region manager Ash Lilani will spearhead the banks active involvement with TiE and the larger Indian American community. Both SVB and TiE have a strong national presence with significant overlap. This partnership will give both greater access to the others resources including TiE and SVB events, bank financial and business offerings and a strong network of entrepreneurs and innovators both from TiE and SVBs client base. SVB will also extend its offerings to technology companies abroad in the TiE network who are building a presence in the US.
The SVB Global Sponsorship sets a new benchmark of relationships for TiE. We look forward to working closely with them on specific collaborative programs and ideas for the benefit of our members and the two organizations, said TiE global director and Silicon Valley chapter president Kailash Joshi. Through this initiative, SVB is helping us provide a complete entrepreneurial ecosystem to our network of 8,000 members across 8 countries and 45 locations.
Silicon Valley Bank serves emerging growth and middle-market companies in targeted niches, focusing on technology and life sciences, while also addressing other specific industries in which it can provide a higher level of service and better manage credit through specialization and focus. The bank has 11 offices throughout California and operates regional offices in a host of U.S. cities.
TiE is a global not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. TiE has been a driving force behind many leading high-technology companies. Through its members and affiliations, TiE brings together a Complete Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in information technology, biotechnology and communications markets. From a modest start about ten years ago, TiE has become a vast global pool of talent, innovation and experience, where ideas are transformed into groundbreaking companies. Key objectives of TiE are to bring together innovators of technology and business solutions and help them build successful companies through networking and mentorship.
TiEcon is the worlds largest entrepreneurs conference, provides a unique vehicle towards these objectives. TiEcon 2002 is expected to attract 3000 attendees - entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs, professionals, senior executives from established companies, members of academia, law firms, accounting firms and search firms as well as government policy makers, especially from countries outside of the US. For more information, interested readers can visit http://www.tiesv.org/library/tiecon_index.asp.
Smita Anthony is a freelance writer
based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Teaching, Reaching Kids
Prabhjot Kaurs Passion By Vishwesh Ranganathan
After years of experience as an educator, Prabhjot Kaur is determined to reach kids to offer them the education they need but which public schools cannot give, writes Vishwesh Ranganathan.
Educator Prabhjot Kaur has a passion: To give that extra fillip of assistance to at-risk kids who need it, and to train teachers who can offer it.
The reading specialist and educational psychologist has founded the Fremont Progressive School, a K-6 independent school that will start regular classes in September and begins summer school instruction for grades 2-8 July 1-Aug. 2 at Washington High School in Fremont, Calif.
Kaur has previously served as a reading specialist and vice principal of a private high school in Menlo Park, Calif. In 1997 she decided to found a charter school that would grab the attention of students early in their educational development and provide instruction tailored to their deficiencies. However, the Fremont Unified School District revoked its earlier approval granting her charter-school status.
She has put her plans to resubmit her proposal on hold. She has changed her focus, deciding to reorganize into a private school first.
The Fremont Progressive Schools summer program will be held 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at Washington High. The cost is $600 for five weeks and instruction will include reading, speed-reading, mathematics, spelling and vocabulary, speed-writing and handwriting.
Kaur has letters from parents whose children have improved their handwriting and reading skills after private tutoring sessions.
However, she frets about parents who cant afford the tuition. If she manages to set up a charter school, she wont charge a penny, she promises.
Vishwesh Ranganathan is a freelance writer
who lives in Livermore, Calif.
Auto Review: 2003 Toyota Corolla Matrix XRS
Affordable, High-Performance By Al Auger
Matrix, Toyotas new petite little dynamo, is simply flat-out fun to drive, says our admiring automotive editor Al Auger.
Here we go again jousting with the spin doctors from the world of automobiles. This time were dealing with the intriguing newest Toyota family member, the 2003 Corolla Matrix. And what a truly neat concept the Matrix is, all the hyperbole from the suits notwithstanding.
If you were to listen and take all their circumlocution (love that word) to heart, you would have a starring role in Spin City. They call it a CUV (cross-over utility vehicle), a SPU (street performance utility) and unlike any other vehicle in the Toyota lineup. Well, one out of three aint all that great. They go on to describe the Matrix as having the style and performance of a sports car, the functionality of a SUV and the affordability of a subcompact sedan. Much better grade here: three out of four.
In calling it a CUV or a SPU is just playing with your head. Certainly the Matrix is unlike any other Toyota and, incidentally, most other compact or mid-size on the road today. I cant remember the last time I saw a 5-door hatchback sports car; actually, I cant recall the first time, either. SUVs are functional, but only in the most narrow of descriptions, even if barely five percent of owners used them for what theyre supposedly built for. Affordability is the most honest portrait of the Matrix, with the front-wheel-drive standard model beginning at just over $14,000 and delivering grandiose fuel economy numbers across the model lineup.
But, we feasted on the cream of the crop, the full-time 4-wheel-drive XRS with a six-speed manual transmission and the Celica GT-S powerplant, all standard. This inline 4-cylinder, twin cam, 16-valve, 1.8-liter, engine with variable valve timing (VVTi) puts out 180-horsepower and drives the optional P215/50R-17-inch tires on comely aluminum wheels for excellent road stability. Forget all the fancy words, what the 2003 Matrix XRS delivers is pure driving joy. The 6-speed shifter has its gears so closely aligned, theres a warning beeper to let you know when youre in reverse. The full-time all-wheel-drive is optional on the Standard and XR trim models.
Designed in California and built in Canada, the Corolla Matrix is a North American high-performance machine in the truest sense of the word. I certainly dont suggest this on public roads, but consider 90 mph in third gear. We didnt have room to open up the next three gears, but the speedo tops out at 150 with an honest 8,000-rpm redline.
Besides all the above mentioned goodies, the Matrix XRS comes standard with front and rear underbody spoilers, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, sport tuned suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars and more that adds up to dramatic road performances. The closely matched gearing makes for quick, smooth up and down shifts as you nimbly take command of the quirks and switchbacks of the road. The Matrix is simply flat-out fun to drive warmed by the resonant burble of the exhaust.
The ergonomics of the operating controls and instrument layout is one of the most useable and well-designed in any subcompact or mid-size genres Ive driven this year. Everything is accessible and large with bright red graphics. The industrialized look is fitting and handsome. The dead pedal is a welcome necessity every car should have.
Okay, so I got a little carried away with the accelerated heartbeat ambiance of the Matrix over its pragmatism. The interior features a unique cargo-floor track system that offers up a host of possibilities. There are two 12-volt outlets, storage bins and cupholders everywhere. Headroom is extraordinary with plenty of room for five in the fold-flat front and rear passenger seats. The Toyota Corolla Matrix is well named with its wide choice of drive systems, people stuff, power and price range.
But why is this old duffer having so much fun in a road machine the spinners of words say is targeted to the young buyers?
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.
Community News in Brief
Write Angle: Movie Ideas Contest
The Write Angle global contest for great movie ideas, organized by Sulekha.com and B4U and co-sponsored in the United States by MetLife, closed for submissions on March 15, 2002. It attracted more than 1,800 entries, organizers said.
The Write Angle contest was conducted online at Sulekha.com, a site that consists almost entirely of member-contributed content from thousands of people from over 50 countries who are interested in the culture of India.
Sulekha.com CEO Satya Prabhakar said, The size of the response was quite unexpected even to us at Sulekha. The lure of Bollywood is indisputable.
Hari Srinivas, U.S. country head of B4U, remarked, There have been numerous reports in the recent past, following the critical acclaim and commercial success of Lagaan, that the Indian film industry is poised for a major leap forward. Good movie concepts and scripts will aid in gaining greater global acceptance for Indian films. Write Angle promises to be a productive source of great ideas for the Indian film industry.
Tariq Khan, assistant vice president, MetLife Multicultural Marketing, added, The creative vibrancy of the South Asian community has never been more apparent. The response to the Write Angle contest has been truly phenomenal. MetLife is a proud partner in this endeavor and continues to support programs that serve to enrich the cultural heritage of the South Asian community in the United States.
Write Angles panel of judges and renowned movie-makers Shyam Benegal, Javed Akhtar, Mahesh Bhatt, Mira Nair, Tanuja Chandra, Farrokh Dhondy, John Mathan, Honey Irani and Santosh Sivan are reviewing the entries and will announce the winning movie idea entries in June. The contest sponsors are working with production houses to arrange for one of the three winning scripts to be produced as a fully developed feature film.
Envoy Visits Guyana, Suriname
Ambassador-at-large Dr. Bhishma K. Agnihotri visited Guyana and Suriname in November last year.
Agnihotri, based in New York, visited the Guyana capital of Georgetown Nov. 26-29. During this period he met a large number of NRIs and prominent local citizens as well as ministers of the local government, including the president and prime minister of Guyana. He was also interviewed by a number of TV channels.
Among the dignitaries Agnihotri met were: Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo, Prime Minister Samuel A. Hinds, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud, Foreign Minister Dr. Rudy Insanally and Minister of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, Satyadeow Sawh.
Earlier, Agnihotri visited Suriname Nov. 22-26. During his visit, he met with a wide cross-section of the Indo-Surinamese community and also with dignitaries in the Suriname government. He met senior functionaries of the Suriname Chamber of Commerce and Industry and with influential local businessmen; leading members of the Indo-Surinamese community, the Suriname vice president and speaker and the permanent secretary in the Suriname Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In the never-never land of Bollywood hype, seldom does the billing fit reality. Hrithik Roshan, whose presence turns the knees of both teenage girls and their moms into jelly, is a different matter.
His Heartthrobs Live in Concert is making a triumphant tour over North America with shows selling out in gigantic venues.
Major American newspapers including The New York Times and the Washington Post are taking notice, and the actor is beginning to feel comfortable doing live shows.
Hrithik is traveling with including Karisma Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Aftab Shivdasani to Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Detroit, Orlando, Houston and Calgary.
He is beginning to realize the great thrill of live shows when they click: This is where a Bollywood star gets live feedback from his or her fans, and the pleasure can be intoxicating. Take, for instance, an old Indian security guard who met Hrithik at the airport in Calgary. He bought two bottles of juice for me and Suzanne, Hrithik says. He compared me to all the greats of Indian cinema and said I was his favorite after Dilip Kumar. When we were leaving, he had tears in his eyes. I will never forget that encounter.
From Kuwait With Love
Men have been swooning over her svelte good looks ever since Bipasha Basu hit the big screen. Well guys, now you have competition from the fairer sex. Rumor has it that a Kuwaiti princess calls Bipasha every day.
Yes, its true, she says. There is this Kuwaiti Princess who calls me every day and says she wants to marry me. But then I also have many gay friends who adore the way I look.
BBollywood is a strange place, where celebrities crave publicity but can get really touchy about gossip surrounding them. Bipasha is refreshingly different. So what if she is linked with some of Bollywoods hottest hunks like Dino Morea, Milind Soman, John Abraham and Akshay Kumar? She is quite nonchalant about it all. I have no complaints about being famous, she says matter-of-factly. I dont even mind being linked as long as they link me up with good looking men. With her drop-dead gorgeous looks, thats not too much to ask, is it
Bollywood. We love it and we love to complain about its failings and foibles. How about a pat in the back for something nice thats happening out there? Production houses of big filmmakers are inviting other directors to make films for them. In the dog-eat-dog world of Bollywood, this is almost like a cat-and-dog love fest.
Happily, its happening too often to be an exception or a fad. Rajat Mukherjee is directing Road for Ramgopal Vermas Verma Corporation after Pyar Tune Kya Kiya, Sanjay Gadhvi has directed Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai for Yash Chopras Yashraj Films. Nikhil Advani will be making a film for Karan Johar with Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Saif Ali Khan. David Dhawan, Madhur Bhandarkar and Satish Kaushik will soon be making films for Subhash Ghais Mukta Arts. Hansal Mehta would be directing Fardeen Khan and Celina Jaitley in Shaadi.com for Feroz Khans F.K. International. Mani Ratnams ex-assistant Shaad Ali is directing Saathiyan for Ratnams banner.
Now if they can only turn out half-way intelligent films, that will be the icing on the cake.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali certainly doesnt believe in half measures. Now that he has finished making one of the most expensive films in Bollywood, Devdas will set a new record at the time of its release. Industry insiders are saying that the film, which is based on Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chatterjis famous novel of unrequited love, will be released with 1,000 prints worldwide, surpassing the record of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. The film, which stars Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit, will release 500 prints in India and the rest overseas. There is also talk that the Indian version will be longer than the international version.
Heads and Tales
There something odd going on in the heads of Bollywood stars. We mean that literally. First there was Salman Khan who had shaved his pate, now you have Punjab da puttar Sunny Deol dying his hair get this blonde.
All of this, apparently, for his upcoming film Hero, and Sunny says he is delighted with the reaction to his new look.
Strange are the ways of Bollywood stars. After a stint as superpatriot in his blockbuster Gadar, now Sunny visits his hairdresser everyday to maintain the perfect blonde look, which even Sunny admits makes him look more like a firang every day.
Remember Pooja Batra? Its been a while since we heard about her, but now she is set to hit the headlines with a bang. The tall beauty is getting married to a U.S-based doctor, a little bird tells us. Pooja still prefers to be coy about it, not yet ready to admit she is ready to tie the knot, but insiders say otherwise. The lucky guy is 32-year-old Sonu Ahluwalia, whom she met while doing stage shows in the U.S. He is not a boring doctor, Pooja says, adding that he is quite good looking. Their families decided on the engagement, but Pooja prefers to maintain the fiction that they are just friends. Ah, she is from Bollywood, after all, where fiction trumps fact any day.
Hindi Film Review
Lightweight, Romantic Fluff
Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai
Cast: Uday Chopra, Jimmy Shergill, Sanjana, Alok Nath, Tanaaz Currim and Bipasha Basu (Special appearance)
Director: Sanjay Gadhvi
In the hallowed tradition of Bollywood, this film borrows heavily from another Hollywood film, with several other Bollywood blockbusters making cameo appearances. One mustnt be too harsh on director Sanjay Gadhvi, because if truth be told, there wouldnt be much to talk about Bollywood films if one is a stickler for originality.
Sanjay Gadhvi has borrowed the plot from the Hugh Grant hit My Best Friends Wedding. It as a sad commentary on the current sorry state of Bollywood films that one has to give Gadhvi credit for turning out a lightweight romance that is at least wholesome and decent. If no one is going to wax eloquent about how wondrous this film is, at least many can heave a sigh of relief that it has not plumbed the depths that many recent Bollywood offerings have.
The story is a love triangle of sorts. Sanjay (Uday Chopra) is a bit of a flaky flirt whose week-long romance with room mate Ria (Bipasha Basu) ends after Ria dumps him. Soon he gets a call from his childhood friend Anjana (Sanjana). The call rekindles his passion for her, but there is a catch. Anjana called him to invite him to her wedding in Dehra Dun.
Well, so what? Sanjay decides to make a serious go at Anjana, wedding or no wedding. So off he goes to Dehra Dun. His joy at meeting Anjana is tempered by the presence of the groom to be. Rohit (Jimmy Shergill), is a strapping, charming NRI. All if fair in love and war, it has been said, and for Sanjay it is both.
He begins his machinations, and tries to poison the minds of Anjalis elders. He cooks up all kinds of circumstances to trip up Rohit. But not for long, because Rohit realizes soon enough whats going on, and confronts Sanjay. The two decide to deal with their rivalry in a gentlemanly fashion. It is agreed that the choice will be left to Anjana. The rest of the film resolves this dilemma in classic Bollywood style with smiles on everybodys face, however improbable the resolution.
The film borrows so heavily in either substance or style from various films that a viewer may be forgiven if she or he thinks that its a collage of films. The basic plot, as mentioned before, is borrowed from My Best Friends Wedding, with chunks sawn off from Mujhe Kuchh Kehna Hai, and the wedding scenes in particular will strongly remind the audience of Hum Apke Hain Kaun. There are also long shadows cast by Bollywood blockbusters like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Rangeela and Dil To Pagal Hai.
Yet if the story lacks originality, it has to be said that Gadhvi deserves credit for mixing the various borrowed elements and producing a coherent film on the whole. Some emotional scenes have more than a whiff of veteran Yash Chopra, and its entirely possible he ghost-directed a few scenes. The film, after all, is a vehicle for his son Uday, who handles his role with surprising competence. Sanjana, though pretty, needs to hone her acting skills. Bipasha is oddly credited with special appearance, but her stunning screen presence dominates much of the film. Jeet-Pritams music is tuneful though not extraordinary. The cinematography certainly is superb.
Of course, again in hallowed Bollywood tradition, the film is riddled with inconsistencies. But then, suspension of logic is a precondition for enjoyment of Bollywood masala films, so rather than bore the reader with an exhaustive (and exhausting) list of inconsistencies, let me cite just one or two.
You have to wonder how a flaky Casanova like Sanjay suddenly started to act like a single-minded Majnu after hearing from Anjana. That aside, for this reviewer it was the ending that was the most implausible. I will not reveal it for the sake of those who want to go see the film. Suffice it to say that it follows the hackneyed Bollywood formula of a happy ending whether it makes sense or not. Well, what the heck, this is Bollywood, so if you have time to kill and have a high tolerance for logical inconsistency, go see the film. Its not as half as bad as some of the atrocious stuff that has been coming out recently.
Tamil Film Review:
Missed Comedic Possibilities
Director: K. Subhash
Cast: Prabhu Deva, Jyotika, Raju Sundaram, Nagendra Prasad, Karunas, Abhinayasri,
Director K. Subhash gets three brothers who are dancers-actors in their own right to star as the three heroes of his film One-Two-Three. The trio Prabhu Deva, Raju Sundaram and Nagendra Prasad play friends in this less-than-satisfactory comedy. Theres no question its a casting coup, and Subhash has the three lead characters doing what the famous Marx brothers did with such élan decades back: each of the characters has a physical disability that is used as the basis for comedy. The audience knows whats happening, but the characters are oblivious to it, and this adds to the possibilities of humor. Unfortunately director Subhash doesnt have what it takes to fully utilize the comedic possibilities of the situation. So the laughs are few and far between, and whenever the director tries to pep up his proceedings by a little diversion, like the comic capers of Karunas, or the antics of the enticing Abhinayasri, the scenes fall flat.
Here is how the story goes: Thirupathi, Pazhani and Chidambaram are three friends who stay together, each coping with his own physical handicap. Thirupathi is blind, Pazhani is deaf and Chidambaram is mute. As they struggle on in life trying to cope with their disability, Narmada enters their lives. Narmada initially befriends Thirupathi with a hidden motive of vendetta. But she soon realizes she was wrong and that changes her attitude. She turns into a guide and friend of the trio. Here again, Subhash disappoints: The motive for Narmadas vendetta and her attempts to kill Thirupathi are all narrated in a slipshod manner that fails to convince.
Narmada taps out the hidden talent of the trio and shows them the way to success. The trio fall in love with her, but naturally she can love only one. This issue is resolved later in the film.
The director may have wanted to depict his heroes as self-respecting persons who pretend to be normal to ward off any sympathetic gestures, but he takes it too far. He depicts scenes like the blind Thirupathi walking through all those busy roads and lanes and traffic jams quite casually, which strains credulity. Also overdone is the part where Thirupathi is hauled up as the sole witness in a murder case to testify that he has not seen anything, with the killer going scot-free, the police and the rest none the wiser that the witness really could not see.
One cannot blame the actors, for theyve done whatever was given to them by way of their roles. The fault lies with the director who failed to turn the film into an entertaining comedy despite a story and cast that both had the potential. The three key actors Prabhu Deva, Raju Sundaram and Nagendra Prasad clearly had the skills to make this into a very funny film, and since his debut in Nandha, Karunas is emerging as a comedian to watch out for, though his antics are turning repetitive.
In association with Chennai Online
New Music CD Releases
Signature Prayer: Pandit Jasraj
Music & vocal: Rattan Mohan Sharma
The Gayatri mantra is perhaps the most sacred invocation among Hindus. This CD presents a signature prayer by noted Hindustani vocalist Jasraj and a commentary by Madhura Jasraj recited by Harish Bhimani. Arranged by Kedar Pandit, the music is composed and sung by Rattan Mohan Sharma.
The presentations in the CD include recitation of the Gayatri mantra, Gayatri Stuti (a hymn for Gayatri), Gayatri Kavacha (a prayer to Gayatri), Gayatri Phala Shruti (the results of chanting the Gayatri mantra) and Gayatri Chalisa (40 couplets in honor of Gayatri).
Songs by Sanjay Maroo
This Indi-pop CD has songs composed, arranged and performed by Sanjay Maroo, a self-taught drummer, composer, writer, singer and producer. This CD is his latest release. This album has been an extreme test of my faith and all that I believe in and its creation and execution say emotions of intense love, crazy laughter and freely flowing tears, Maroo says. The CD has 10 songs.
Maroos interest in music began from childhood. While studying for his bachelors degree in commerce in Mumbais Jai Hind College Sanjay joined Les Boys and did several shows.
Later he joined Indus Creed as a drummer. And later Indias premier jazz band Divya. He has played at several prestigious jazz festivals including the 25th Tokyo Jazz Festival, Malaysian Festival and the Jazz Club in Hong Kong.
In 1995 Sanjay released Fountain of Love, an English album that was his debut as a singer. Tu Hi Tu was his first Hindi pop album.
DJ Remix of older songs
This CD is a compilation of classic older hits from Bollywood. All told, there are nine tracks that include such all-time hits as Chalte Chalte (Pakeeza), Hothon Mein Aisi Baat (Jewel Thief), O Haseena Zulfonwali (Teesri Manzil), Jab Koi Baat (Jurm), Badan Pe Sitare (Prince) and Dum Maro Dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna). The attempt, hardly original, is to connect yesteryears grace and beauty of music with todays Western looking ethos. The results are mixed, at best.
All-woman pop band sings songs written by Javed Akhtar
The five-member Viva, Indias first ever all-woman pop band, present eight songs written by Javed Akhtar. The band members are: Mahua, Anushka, Neha, Seema and Pratichee.
These youthful pop singers have already worked with Javed Akhtar, Jatin Lalit and others for their music. This CD has music by Shankar, Ehsan, Loy, Jatin-Lalit, Shantanu Moitra, Sandip Chowta and Kersi Lord. They are cool, they are confident, they are young, they are talented, exclaims the inlay card. Even after discounting the usual publicists hyperbole, the notion of an all-woman band is intriguing, even if the singers lack vocal expertise, a ubiquitous flaw of Indipop.
Recipe: South Indian Sambhar
Light, Nutritious Side Dish By Seema Gupta
Seema Guptas recipe for sambhar is simple, but the end result is a delicious side dish for any Indian meal.
- 1 cup arhar daal
- 4 cups water
- 2 tbsp sambhar masala
- 1 cup vegetables (carrot, french beans, bell pepper)
- 4 tomatoes
- 1 big onion (chopped)
- 2 tsp tamarind paste
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp mustard seeds
- 2 tbsp chilli powder
- 4-5 curry leaves
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
Boil arhar daal with salt. Add sambhar masala, vegetables, tomatoes, onions, tamarind paste, curry leaves and boil again till the vegetables are cooked.
For garnishing, add two tbsp cooking oil to a heated pan. Add mustard seeds, chilli powder. Add the dal and vegetables. .
Seema Gupta is a homemaker based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
June-July Horoscope By Pandit Parashar
ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You will sign legal documents although the deal may not be lucrative. You will take a pleasure trip with family. Liabilities will rise and savings will fall. You may start a new venture.
TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Watch your eyes. You will have to make a payment to the government. Restlessness could put you on the move. Professional worries will reduce but you have to take tough decisions. It will be an expensive month.
GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Watch your temper. Dont loose it over minor issues or you will end up creating enemies and loose business. You will spend on a big-ticket item. You will also deal with a government agency.
CANCER (June 21 to July 22): You will take a big financial risk, it may be favorable. You will be complimented from people around. Stay away from a person with a shady past. Changes in career will prove to be a blessing in disguise. You will be traveling.
LEO (July 23 to August 22): You will overcome obstacles in personal and professional life. Long term gains are foreseen. A new association will workout and go a long way. You will meet a politically influential person. You may organize a get together at your place.
VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You will get an important assignment. A partnership can go a long way with long term gains. You have some money coming this month. You will be studying new useful material. Watch out for jealous relatives.
LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): You may miss the magic touch, but do not give up on slow progress as success is just around the corner. Expenses will subside as your finance starts moving back into the positive territory. Onslaught of enemies could continue. Some of you will be moving to better surrounding.
SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Bachelors will have hard time finding a suitable match. Some changes at work may affect you directly. You will finally sign documents, that will relieve you of financial burden. Do not neglect your health and try to relax as far as possible.
SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will hear good news this month. A project you had been working on will finally take shape. You will get recognition everywhere you go. A new member will be added in the family soon. Worries about kids will reduce. You will take an entertaining trip.
CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): You will hear good news on career. A child will do well in class and may win an award. A new business plan will take shape soon. People opposing you will concede. You future looks bright.
AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): Moving plans may get delayed. You will lack the energy and may call friend for help. You will meet an interesting person. Some of you will be starting on a new job soon. Financially things look bright and you may make some profit through stocks.
PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You may suffer loss on or of a property. Watch your valuables during the course of a journey and park your vehicle carefully. Some of you will take up another job. Legal battles look to be favorable. Friends will pay a surprise visit.