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Volume VI • Issue 8


London Attacks: Why Did It Happen?
British American journalist Naved Akhtar reflects on the failings of the British Muslim community to combat growing radicalism in its midst

Ode to a Freedom Fighter: Master Sundar Lal
Freedom fighter Master Sundar Lal was selfless, dedicated, committed, and he didn’t give a toss about worldly goods, writes Ved Prakash Vatuk

Festival of Creativity:
Durga Puja in Kolkata
Kolkata lovers are offering a superb four-day Durga Puja package to experience a festival blessed with dazzling creativity, be it in pandal designs, Durga images, designed illuminations, or cultural events, writes Nandini Pal

FOREIGN RELATIONS: Serious Business: Indo-U.S. Trade
HEALTH: Dealing with Depression
LIVING: Keeping Cool this Summer
THEATRE: Scripting Reality: Pakistani American Theatre
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
AUTO: 2005 Acura MDX
Review:Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya
RECIPE: Veggie Taco

A Time for Introspection
Last month, when we carried a story on the harassment faced by the Pakistani American community in the small California town of Lodi, little did we anticipate the renewed danger that would befall Muslims in the Western world in the wake of the barbaric bombings in London July 7.

An unconditional and total denunciation of this horrible act is a given. What is more important is to calmly identify what led to the genesis of this menace, and explore ways to combat this mindless cancer. It’s terrible enough for Western citizens whose sense of security is profoundly undermined. For people of color it’s a double whammy: While they, also like their Western brethren, deal with the insecurity, they also have to gird themselves against a possible backlash.

All too often at a time like this, pundits and experts of dubious value come out of the woodwork and clog the airwaves with views that are skewed by their own agenda or sullied by plain ignorance. We present the invaluable insight of a Pakistani British journalist who knows about the life and socio-cultural milieu of the suspected bombers intimately, and more importantly, has the unflinching courage to critique the complex social crisis that has created this Frankenstein.

When you think of heroes of India’s freedom struggle, the name of Master Sundar Lal will likely not pop up at all. India’s independence movement is studded with many luminaries—starting with the down-to-earth sage Mahatma Gandhi and the Cambridge-educated scholar Jawaharlal Nehru, on to many, many heroes of diverse backgrounds.

Yet the stirring story of Lal, which we present to commemorate India’s Independence Day August 15, reminds us of two important things.

The first and probably the most important thing is to remember that India’s freedom movement did not succeed because of its admittedly illustrious leaders alone. There were many more people, other than the heroes enshrined in history book, who were inspired by a passionate, altruistic zeal, who provided the broader infrastructure on which the leadership could depend. Sundar Lal, and many like him, belonged to a rare—and perhaps sadly extinct—breed: A group of people who had dedicated their life to the service of the nation, and they did it with sincerity, integrity and a minimum of fuss.

Not for them the spoils of power or the unseemly jockeying for control—they commanded respect and love simply by the example they set.

Today, in a much different world, as Indians worldwide pause to reflect on what love for one’s country means, Sundar Lal’s example presents a laudable example in a world largely ruled by pious platitudes and self-serving posturing.

For sheer creative fervor, few festivals can match the beauty and variety of Kolkata’s Durga Puja. Over the years, there has been a veritable explosion of creativity, be it in pandal designs, the Durga images, designed illuminations, and cultural events. As each puja organizing group vies with the next one to go one better, the result has been a ceaseless search for newer, fresher ideas, and the festival has evolved into a platform for a dazzling array of arts, craft and cultural expressions.

We present an article on a four-day package that is a Godsend for the non-resident Indian. Administered by Kolkata-lovers who have lavished enormous care to put together a package which is the last word in luxury and comfort, the tour program also relieves the traveler of the tedium of dealing with the onerous minutiae of travel logistics and allows him/ her to sit back and enjoy what is surely one of India’s most captivating spectacles.


London Attacks: Why Did it Happen?
The top of a Number 30 double-decker bus blown clear in Tavistock Square in central London July 8. DYLAN MARTINEZ / AFP/Getty Images

As a journalist and documen-tary maker Naved Akhtar has inves-tigated the growing alienation and radicalization of some of Britain’s young Muslim men.

A British Muslim of Pakistani origin, he reflected on the motives and inspiration of those members of his own community who launched suicide bomb attacks in London on July 7.

In a hard-hitting interview with the BBC World Service’s Carrie Gracie, he pulls no punches as he talks about the failings of the British Muslim community to listen to its youth, define itself, and combat the growing radicalism in its midst. Siliconeer presents excerpts.

The interview was broadcast July 16, before the second attack in London.

Excerpts from an interview given by British-Pakistani journalist Naved Akhtar to the BBC World Service:
BBC: When you learned that those who bombed London on July 7 weren’t foreigners but were home-grown terrorists, and three of them from your own community, how did you feel?

Naved Akhtar: It wasn’t a shock. This is something I, and I think many others in my community, knew was there on the cards, that we had people among our midst, people from our community who would be able to carry something out like this.

But it was a nightmare scenario for us. Had it been somebody of Arab origin, or somebody who was a different kind of a Muslim or from somewhere else — there is still a sense of shame, there is still a sense of embarrassment and just guilt that Muslims are doing this.

BBC: So you knew that there were people in the British Muslim community, the community of Pakistani-origin people, who were ready to kill and ready to die in the act.

Naved Akhtar: I couldn’t say that I knew specifically but I think there was a feeling amongst many of us that there was something there. Over the past ten years people have seen that radicalization take place, they sat by and watched in horror because the first thing was that those conflicts that erupted on the floor of the mosque, when they couldn’t be resolved, they threw these guys out, they banned them from the mosque which then pushed them into separate areas. Parents have been petrified.

BBC: So this wringing of hands we’ve seen over the past few days as it’s emerged that the bombers were Muslims of Pakistani origin, this sense of shock, horror, surprise is not entirely genuine.

Naved Akhtar: I don’t think it’s sincere.

BBC: The very ordinariness of the lives of these young men has perplexed many people. They didn’t live in ghettoes, they lived in ethnically mixed suburbs of Leeds, one of them loved cricket, another worked with disabled children. Has your research among young militant Muslim men, has that given you any insight into how people could lead a normal life on the one hand and plot mass murder on the other?

Naved Akhtar: Absolutely. I think if you see somebody who is perhaps living in Gaza, West Bank or in Baghdad, where they feel they are under attack from the Israeli Army, from the American army or from extremists from within their own country you can see justifiably that these people are terrorized and therefore there is an element of terrorization within them.

But to live in Yorkshire, to live in the Home Counties, to be living in peaceful Britain, it was a shock to me. But what became very clear was there was the presence of extremists in this country, who weren’t British born, who weren’t Pakistani, who had come from other parts of the Muslim world with a particular ideology, with a particular philosophy, and they had, in very slow drip-drip effect been making people feel that actually this was their concern, that they, too, here, were part of this global suffering. If somebody was racist to them, or somebody verbally abused them, that that was all part of the way that Islam globally was being treated. So a kid growing up in the quiet streets of Yorkshire who may have faced some form of racist abuse begins to empathize with somebody in Gaza.

BBC: To see it as a much bigger picture.

Naved Akhtar: To see it as a kind of a war on Islam. And so they feel this sense of helplessness. The helplessness is emphasized really by their own reality: Lack of opportunity, lack of jobs, but in some cases where people have even got education, where they have even achieved much, they are then struggling by a two-fold experience of disenfranchisement, one, that they don’t fit into their own family structure where their own cultural traditions come from, and they don’t fit in the wider society, and in that place they have been looking for answers elsewhere.

BBC: We talked about the lives of these young men, their apparent ordinariness against the extraordinary nature of what they were about to do. But let’s talk for a moment about life for a Muslim in those communities. What would their lives as young Muslims have looked like?

Naved Akhtar: We’re talking about people in say, Yorkshire, whatever, or in some of the kind of smaller northern mill towns and this community settled here about 40 years ago. It brought its values lock, stock and barrel. In time what had happened was, there were very strong ties of kinship, there were very strong tribal values, you would find people buying houses next door to each other and it is very common at some of these streets where the whole street is full of people from the same village back in Pakistan. So it shows you the insularity. That insularity has only increased due to one, industrial decline in those areas and lack of opportunity which has made people feel very, very vulnerable and secondly, the frustrations with the far right. And in order to protect themselves people have insulated themselves.

Many white people feel that they are being swamped, these are the terms that they use, that they are just being overrun. In time they will leave. The shop in the corner that will sell halal meat and the pub may get converted into a mosque. So it’s kind of just a natural progressive way for them to live. What it does, it does insulates you against what’s happening in the wider community. Your women in particular are kept behind closed doors of they have very limited access. All you are doing is you are just carrying on how you lived in Pakistan.

There’s nothing to say that’s wrong. I myself live in a community like that. The children get looked after, hardly anybody’s house gets burgled, everybody is aware of what everybody is doing.

But if you are a teenager and you are growing up in that kind of stuff in comparison to what your teenage mates in this country are doing, it’s a very frustrating, stifling atmosphere. Especially if you have ambition, if you have ideas because that environment is totally about the group, not about the individual

When you go to school it’s all about the individual. The whole of the British education system is you are special, you are important, it’s about what you can achieve. You come back home, and it’s about here’s the group, here’s the father who is at the top, here’s the mum who’s above him, and here’s the pyramid structure that you must fit into.

BBC: You talked about outsiders coming in with these radical messages. Who are these outsiders.?

Naved Akhtar: When I say outsiders it is very difficult for me to be specific. In Britain we have a very tolerant policy of asylum, and we have allowed many people to come here who have been persecuted in other parts of the world. But we also haven’t been very careful about understanding why they were being persecuted, or what they were actually up to. Some of them who have come are of Arab origin, some of them are of North African origin, but their nationality becomes irrelevant. The fact is they’ve come here and they have found a constituency of people who are looking for answers.

BBC: Would these people have been in direct contact with the suicide bombers?

Naved Akhtar: Again, I have no evidence to suggest that. I am sure the police inquiries will do that. It’s very easy if you are in the Muslim community, you can easily access speeches, talks, you can attend lectures where these people will have been talking. So if you are drawn that way, if you are inclined that way, you will meet someone who knows somebody and you can get invited along.
BBC: We’ll talk about the wider community in these issues in a moment. But just to try to get inside the heads of these young men who did this deed on July 7. Have you thought yourself inside their heads?

Naved Akhtar: There for the grace of God goes me. I’ve grown up in a very similar family structure, in very similar conditions. I think you have to be aware, there is a growing resentment, that resentment exists within people who were rioting in the streets of Edinburgh, who were anti-globalization, that resentment exists in many, many areas of our society. But if you are Muslim, and if you are not getting the right kind of understanding of Islam through your parents or through your elders, it can actually very easily triggered into doing something. Now, the thing that people don’t want to feel is helpless. Living in a society such as this where you actually get quite empowered, you have very powerful computers in your bedroom, you have high-speed Internet access, you can do all of these things and you’ve got a science degree, you’ve got a degree in engineering. People are beginning to realize that actually when they feel that sense of frustration they are going to do something about it, and they are people there who are egging them on, who are encouraging them.

BBC: I was going to say that actually sounds quite proactive — that they are going to do something about it. There is a lot of talk over the last few days — they must have been brainwashed, they must have been manipulated, that there’s no way our young men could do these things. Were they brainwashed?

Naved Akhtar: Well, whether you call it manipulation, whether you call it brainwash, the fact is, who is going to take responsibility for this? What were they looking for in the first place? If you are vulnerable and you’re looking for ideas and maybe you are unhappy with your life, then you might become the victim of a cult, you may become entrapped by a particular type of philosophy. But you go looking for it. Why were they looking for that in the first place? And the truth is that’s where the community never wants to take responsibility.

These men are culturally confused in terms of where their values lie, where their responsibilities lie. Are they Pakistani, are they British, are they Muslims, are they Westerners? What are they? This is a big knot of confusion for them. The failure is in people giving an effective model in an effective way of saying it’s possible to be a Muslim, it’s possible to be a Westerner it’s possible to be British, it’s possible to be all of these things and then find your way out. Now in the case of these men, I thin someone came and told them: This will never work, you have no future here. And you are under attack.

BBC: And they found themselves a very different kind of role model — the model of suicide bomber, and obviously intending that their names should be known, their documents were all in the wreckage, in the devastation, they were proud of what they had done.

Naved Akhtar: I think they cared not one penny for what you think, what I think. When you get to this level, they believe they are doing this for the glory of God. They are so desensitized they have no idea about the people who will suffer afterwards, whether there were other Muslims who are going to be killed and there have been Muslims who have been killed in these attacks. They just feel that they are doing this because the glory that they will receive after they have died in the hereafter. That for them is the thing.

BBC: The implication of all you have said so far is that these young men who died in London in the process of killing so many others, they aren’t just two-bit criminals that we shouldn’t give any further thought to, that they are in a way symptomatic of a bigger problem and that there may be others like them.

Naved Akhtar: Without finding people, I think they are there, and that’s something which has to be acknowledged.

BBC: Do they all belong to one ethnic group or are we looking at a problem which spreads across all the different ethnic roots of Islam?

Naved Akhtar: I think it spreads wide across. I mean, the fact is that in Britain something close to 47 percent of young Muslims are of Pakistani origin.

BBC: That’s about a million.

Naved Akhtar: That’s close to a million. And again about 80 percent of that belong to the Mirpur district as I do myself. These are very rural people. Associated to that also are young men who are Sylheti, from Bangladesh. Now both these two groups have a long history in Britain. They have been here for about 40 years, and they are very rural. There’s been high levels of low literacy in those groups, high levels of unemployment, huge amounts of social problems, so those two groups are very vulnerable.

BBC: Some people are talking this week about the failure of leadership in the Muslim community right across these different groups. Is that what’s missing?

Naved Akhtar: A large amount of the blame belongs to them. There is a huge inter-generational gap. We have leadership which is really out of tune with the grassroots what’s going on. You have over 52 percent of our community under the age of 25.

You know, we can campaign against dictatorships in Zimbabwe or Africa where we are trying to change the corruption of Africa, but right here in Britain today there is an enormous lack of personal freedom within the Muslim community. People have very little say over their lives, whether that starts with their father at home or it goes to the mosque or it goes to their community, a large group of young men have been ignored, they have been accused of all sorts of things. Even today what I’ve heard post these bombings, it’s just a constant sense of denial, and that they have nothing to do with us – these are your sons, these are your responsibility.

BBC: But these generational issues happen to young people in any culture.

Naved Akhtar: The gulf is far wider in our culture. I’ve had opportunity here. I’ve grown up in this country. I belong in the meritocracy. If I can do well no one cares what my background is, what my age is. That doesn’t exist in my own community.

BBC: Why aren’t young men in your community then taking that out on their fathers, arguing with them?

Naved Akhtar: That actually has happened. It’s led to a drift. It’s led to many people having fallen out with their families, but that gulf is also what’s been exploited by many extremists who have come here. One person rather laughingly said, “Oh we see these young Pakistanis as the orphan children of Islam.” Many extremists have realized they can come here, there was a constituency of young frustrated men waiting and looking for answers. And they tack right into that.

BBC: So is Britain the European capital for radical Islam?

Naved Akhtar: I don’t personally feel it is. I think some of the things that’s been coming out of France, the behavior of the French government is probably contributing to more tension over there and in the rest of Europe. I think this is a kind of very unique problem to Britain. It is about the Pakistani community even more than the wider Muslim community and on the whole that community is a very peaceful community. It follows an Islamic school of thought, the Barelvi school, which is actually a very passive apolitical school. It doesn’t require much involvement with what’s going on and it’s so passive, so apolitical that actually if always fails to speak up at times like this. Its main criticism if I have one is that it’s failed to produce competent English-speaking scholars who could have answered clearly the questions of these young men. Most of these frustrations started with very little issues for these young men about how to balance life in British society and what the faith requires. When they didn’t get very realistic answers from them they went looking to people who could speak English and unfortunately the people who could speak English exploited them.

BBC: And this question of training British-based Islamic scholars is one that everyone has woken up to before even these bombs, but it takes time.

Naved Akhtar: Yeah. It’s something only in the past two years we’ve started to think very seriously about. The sad thing is even the guys who have come from abroad are very intelligent, educated, very, very moderate scholars, but they are not British. They can’t explain Islam in the context of Manchester United and Arsenal. And they can’t explain Islam in the context of watching Coronation Street. And that is actually perhaps the way that Islam needs to be taught in this country. It needs to be made relevant to British life.

BBC: And on the problem of extremism in this community, of course in the light of the London bombs, there is now talk of new anti-terror legislation covering a range of different issues. The prime minister is talking about a ban on inciting or glorifying acts of terrorism. Do you think that new legislation should, for example, cover not handing out that kind of literature in future?

Naved Akhtar: My thoughts aren’t totally clear on where this is going to go but I do feel this is probably a step in the right direction.

BBC: So advocating shariah law, for example.

Naved Akhtar: Shariah law has always been a red herring. This has never been necessary in Britain. People are free to live how they choose in this country. That’s why it’s called a free country.

BBC: Should they be allowed to advocate jihad, theocracy?

Naved Akhtar: No, not in the context of not understanding them. Jihad is a legitimate part of Islam. But what kind of jihad are we talking about? It is something which has to be reclaimed, it has to be explained that actually the fact that you bring your children up, or you are kind to your neighbors, that is actually a big deal. That’s a jihad for you, but not this kind of crazed, sort of global violence it’s happening all over the world.

BBC: Because there are clerics in this country not under arrest who say, for example, the life of an unbeliever has no value, it has no sanctity. Terrorism is legitimate, there is no distinction between civilians and non-civilians, there is only a distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim. Should people be allowed to say that?

Naved Akhtar: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. What are they doing here? Is this not the talk of people who hate you and hate me? By that talk, I’m sitting here talking to you, I’m a target too.

BBC: But the problem being that this society has always defended people’s right to say the most outrageous things.

Naved Akhtar: Well, what do you want to do? Wait until it is too late? I’m in favor of freedom of speech, but with freedom of speech comes responsibility. Muslims ourselves, we ourselves demanded this when Rushdie spoke up. It’s hypocritical now to then say, “Well, we should be allowed to say what we want” under the freedom of speech. If at the time of Rushdie, most Muslims in this country said his behavior was irresponsible, and there are limits to freedom of speech where you have to think of the greater good.

BBC: Naved, next week (the interview was broadcast July 16 – ed.) the leaders of all the main parties are to meet Muslim leaders to talk about combating what the prime minister has called a perverted, poisonous, misinterpretation of Islam. What would be your action list for them?

Naved Akhtar: Think carefully before you criminalize many, many confused young Muslims. There is a difference between people who look things up in the Internet or talk about it. That is why it’s a free country. We can discuss these things. We are not living in a dictatorship. Think carefully about tighter police controls and checks before you push people over the edge. The intelligence services need to improve. They need to be aware of what’s going on.

And I think this is a time now for the Muslim community and the Pakistani community to have a grassroots change. We’ve had politicians giving us their perspective, we’ve had community leaders giving us their perspective, we’ve had scholars telling us what to do, but there needs to be the emergence of a British Muslim culture. My parents are of Pakistani origin, but I was born here. I am a Londoner, I am British. I am also a Muslim. I think what you need to do is let those green shoots of a British culture emerge for Muslims which will respect all these values. That is what needs to be facilitated.

BBC: And what’s the role of the rest of society in doing that?

Naved Akhtar: I think British society has been exemplary this time. This has not been like the reaction after September 11. I think to its credit people are already aware, we don’t need to patronize the general public. They know Mr. Khan or Mr. Ahmed who’s lived next door to them for 30 years has not wanted this for his children or hasn’t been doing this. There have been cases of racism, there have been cases of violence against Muslims, there have been areas where there has been ongoing racial tension for many, many years. So I don’t think it is that. I think there needs to be a new leadership which is about living in Britain as British subjects, a whole new generation of British-born Imams, British-born scholars and British-born Muslim leaders who are going to show the way forward, not someone who just happens to have a lot of money and can look smart wearing a suit and have his picture taken with Tony Blair. We need people who actually have got an in-depth understanding of this country, stand for those values themselves, live those values themselves.

BBC: And what are Muslims currently taught to think in British mosques? What are they taught to think, for example, about Iraq? Or about Afghanistan? Or about Israel Palestine? What are they taught to think about jihad?

Naved Akhtar: The vast majority of Muslim mosques, all of these subjects are out of bounds. There was such a fear of what could happen, of the security services, of the MI5, of who they are being watched by or what’s going to happen to their children, that rather than actually sit and have conversations about this, there has been an absolute ban on any talk of these kinds of things. The fact is, like many things which seem exciting to young people, they’ve gone underground, and that is not being taught in the mosques. The mosques are not the key place where these discussions are happening. It happens outside of the mosque.

And that’s part of the problem. If it was discussed in a responsible way with people who actually had very clear convictions inside the mosques, many of the kids wouldn’t feel the necessity to go looking for these answers elsewhere.

BBC: And so this challenge that you have set up for the British Muslim community, young Muslims, to find an identity, and to establish a clear strong identity in this country, you are confident that they are up to that challenge?

Naved Akhtar: I think they are up to that if they are given the chance. I feel they have had their hands tied behind their back. You know, we have inherited the politics of partition, Gandhi and Nehru. We still have partisan politics happening in this country. The Muslim community is led by people who have got vested interests in trying to kind of influence and counter influence each other. And most of those people are still rooted to the countries of their origin. I am very proud of my cultural heritage, my tradition, I look to it as a reference point, but that’s not my home. I’m not going from here. I don’t have any property anywhere else. This is where I live, this is where I was born. Many people, I think, who are Muslims, have grown up with this two-fold sense of you know, don’t ever see this as your home, or this is not what it is all about. I think for them that causes the confusion as well.

BBC: Are Muslims of your generation at this point after July 7 going to stand up, speak up and say, we take it from the older generation, they’ve made a mess of it, we’re in charge now, creating this identity?

Naved Akhtar: I think it will happen but then, as good Muslims, we also have to respect our parents. I think it has to be done with compassion and understanding from them. I am not so arrogant that I don’t think I can learn from them. At the time my parents came here, this was a much more hostile country. There was a lot of prejudice here, there was a lot of racism here, but with hard work and with a lot of determination they raised a family. They bought property, they lived here and they’ve done that. Things are a million times better now.
BBC: And so the crisis created by the London bombings, does that break this open?

Naved Akhtar: It’s very early to say, but if it doesn’t, what more are we waiting for? I don’t win any favors from my community for talking like this. We are a very conservative community. It’s called washing your dirty linen in public. It’s something which causes embarrassment. The terms that will be used are you are making all of us look bad. But people have died. This is not a time to try to save face. True leadership and true respect of Islam means now to take responsibility.

In addition to continuous live broadcasts, many of the BBC World Service’s programs are available on demand at its Web site at www.bbcworldservice.com

The BBC World Service also broadcasts in over 40 languages, all of which are also available on the Internet, both during broadcast and on demand. South Asian language broadcasts are in Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, Tamil, Pashto and Urdu.

NEWS DIARY: July Roundup
INDO-U.S. RELATIONS: A Historic Breakthrough | Bloomberg Apologizes
Killer Monsoon in Maharashtra
Daschle Flays Nepal King
Backing for Pakistan Women
Former Super Cop Guilty
Violent Strike in Haryana’s Gurgaon
West Bengal Tea Workers End Strike

INDO-U.S. RELATIONS: A Historic Breakthrough
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to the U.S. in July marked a historic breakthrough in more ways than one. U.S. President George W. Bush gave him the full red-carpet treatment — a grand welcome ceremony at the White House with full honors, a banquet — only the fifth in as many years of the Bush presidency — and complete and total attention to showcasing the new relationship. Singh also addressed a joint session of Congress.
U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (r) in Washington, D.C. (PIB photo)

In a historic nuclear deal, Washington recognized India as a responsible nuclear power entitled to benefits and gains denied for three decades. The agreement allows nuclear fuel for India’s Tarapur reactor. The U.S. helped build the reactor but later balked on contractual obligations to supply fuel because India refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Apart from the nuclear bargain, the two countries launched a series of new initiatives which showcased the broad nature of the new relationship.

“What we’ve done is to develop with the Indian government a broad, global partnership of the likes that we’ve not seen with India since India’s founding in 1947,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said.

“This has consequences for American interests in South Asia, but also has larger consequences for what we are trying to do globally, in terms of promoting democracy, fighting terrorism, fighting HIV/AIDS — and all of those issues were discussed by the two leaders.”
|Back to NEWS Diary|

Bloomberg Apologizes
Michael Bloomberg
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has apologized to five Sikh tourists who were removed from a bus by police and forced to kneel on the pavement. The men, all British, were on a tourist bus when a worker became suspicious.

Following the London bombings, security has been tightened in the Big Apple and residents have been urged to report anything out of the ordinary to the police.

After the double-decker bus had been evacuated, armed police had handcuffed the men with their arms behind their backs and ordered them to kneel on the pavement in Times Square.

However, police later said they represented no threat and released them.

Bloomberg warned the police to use common sense and avoid pigeon-holing people such as South Asian-looking Britons. But the mayor defended the police’s show of force, saying they did not have any option based on what the bus tour operator had reported to them.

One of the five men from Birmingham told the New York Daily News there were no hard feelings, and the incident had not ruined their vacation in the United States.
|Back to NEWS Diary|

Killer Monsoon in Maharashtra

Monsoon-hit Mumbai street
Devastating monsoon rains have killed hundreds in Mumbai and neighboring parts in Maharashtra, and government sources said 400 bodies have been found. On July 26, over 26 inches of rain — the heaviest recorded rain in a single day in India — left a third of Mumbai deluged. Schools closed and trading on the Bombay Stock Exchange was light. Military personnel have been deployed in rescue efforts.

Many more deaths are feared in the floods as teams distributed food and drinking water.

Flood victims drowned or were killed in mudslides caused by the heavy rain which began July 24.

Outside Mumbai, Raigad and Ratnagiri districts were particularly badly hit.

“We have not been able to reach some villages where more than several dozen people may be missing in landslides,” Krishna Vatsa, an official in charge of the relief efforts, told Reuters.

Conditions were particularly bad because the rain had coincided with high tides.

The navy is helping 150,000 people stranded in offices, roads, airports and railway stations in Mumbai. Most of the city’s main roads are littered with vehicles in which the passengers spent the night.

Financial losses to Maharashtra are estimated to be over $110 million. Mobile phone networks have suffered disruption.
|Back to NEWS Diary|

Daschle Flays Nepal King

Tom Daschle

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle has sharply criticized King Gyanendra of Nepal after a meeting with him for his autocratic rule. The king seized power in February.

Speaking in Kathmandu, the former South Dakota lawmaker called for the release of ousted former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, jailed for corruption.

Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, said that corrupt people and convicted criminals should have no place in the royal-led government — a reference to a minister once jailed for attempted murder. The controversial anti-corruption commission which sentenced Deuba to two years in jail was set up by the king in February.

At a news conference, the former senator attacked all sides in Nepal’s crisis. He said the parties sidelined by the king should remove what he called corrupt people from their ranks and offer a blueprint for change.

He urged the Maoist guerrillas to end abduction, extortion and violence.

Daschle said all political prisoners must be freed and urged the king to scrap the corruption body.

However, he stressed he was not speaking for the U.S. administration, which has called on the king and political parties to work together and is reviewing military assistance to Nepal.

Asked if he thought the monarch would listen, Daschle retorted: “I wish I could be more hopeful that his majesty heard and was willing to act.”

Daschle’s disappointment is widely shared.
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Backing for Pakistan Women
Pakistan’s Election Commission has said it will take stern action against anyone stopping women from participating in local government elections.

Commission secretary K.M. Dilshad said those found guilty could face up to three years in jail. The warning follows reports in the North West Frontier Province that local leaders were stopping women from submitting their nomination forms.

The elections are due Aug. 18.
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Former Super Cop Guilty

K.P.S. Gill
The Supreme Court has upheld the conviction for sexual harassment of K.P.S. Gill, presently chief of the Indian Hockey Federation.

“Super cop” Gill has been ordered to pay over $4,500 in compensation to a female civil servant who said he had slapped her inappropriately in the buttock while drunk at a 1988 cocktail party. Gill denied the charges.

Gill, now retired, shot to prominence as Punjab police chief in the early 1990s when he led efforts to crush Sikh militancy.

He was head of Punjab police when he molested Rupan Deol Bajaj, a senior female bureaucrat who worked for the Indian Administrative Service.

He was convicted 10 years later of “outraging her modesty”.

The Sessions Court in Punjab had sentenced him to three months in prison in 1998.

That was later commuted to a year on probation by the state high court, which ordered Gill to pay compensation to his victim and a fine.

Bajaj has refused to accept the compensation and has said the money should be donated to a women’s welfare home.
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Violent Strike in Haryana’s Gurgaon

A policeman in Gurgaon using tear gas to quell
restive crowd.

Running battles between protesters and police continued for a second day as the ruling Congress Party was attacked in Parliament by the opposition and even some of its own coalition partners.

Local television reports said 700 workers may have been injured in the violence July 25, but the official figure is closer to 100, with about half of those people needing hospital treatment.

Clashes erupted after workers at Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India protested firing of co-workers. Four workers at the Honda plant were fired and 15 others were temporarily suspended on charges of insubordination a month ago. Workers have been demanding the reinstatement of the sacked workers and an increase in wages.

Workers assaulted the deputy commissioner of Gurgaon before a large crowd gathered at the hospital. Angry relatives raised slogans against the government and police used canes and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

Opposition National Democratic Alliance MPs walked out of Parliament in protest.

“Even animals are not treated like this,” said Devendra Prasad Yadav, leader of ruling coalition member Rashtriya Janata Dal group.

India’s National Human Rights Commission demanded that detectives from the Central Bureau of Investigation probe the incident.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier expressed “anguish” over the clashes. An independent judicial inquiry has been ordered. The plant employs 1,900 people.
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West Bengal Tea Workers End Strike

A tea worker
Nearly 500,000 tea workers in West Bengal have ended a strike after unions agreed to accept performance-related pay. The strike had brought production at over 300 tea gardens to a standstill.

Unions agreed to a 15 percent rise in daily wages, and agreed pay would be linked to productivity. They had long resisted the move and wanted pay doubled.

Tea is West Bengal’s main export and the state government intervened in the strike which began July 11.

Fourteen tea workers’ unions and the planters’ association signed the deal. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, present at the final round of negotiations, and state Labor Minister Mohammed Amin, both said they were happy with the result

Amin said the tea workers would now get a 15 percent rise in their daily wages spread over the next three years, and their daily compensation has been almost doubled to 4.5 rupees a day.

He said the Left Front government deserved credit for resolving the impasse without violence.

Wages will now be linked to a specific quantity of tea leaves that the laborers are expected to pluck. If their productivity falls, they will lose out on wages.

But the unions managed to get the plantation owners to agree on a weekly rather than a daily plucking rate, so that a picker can have time to make up for shortfalls.

The tea industry says it has lost up to Rs. 200 million ($4.5 million) a day because of the strike. Workers also suffered lost wages.

Indian Tea Association official Pranjal Neogi told the BBC: “We perhaps did not get exactly what we wanted, but linking performance to wages has been accepted for the first time in the tea industry and should augur well for its future.”
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REMEMBRANCE: Independence Day Special
Ode to a Freedom Fighter:
Master Sundar Lal (1906-1988) -
By Ved Prakash Vatuk
Among the august leaders of India’s freedom struggle, Master Sundar Lal’s name is not as well known beyond Meerut and Uttar Pradesh, and will perhaps be forgotten sooner rather than later. Yet this remarkable man exemplified that rare breed that India produced during its moment of critical need — selfless, dedicated, committed people who didn’t give a toss about worldly goods, were ready to take on the most powerful on a matter of principle and declined with utter disdain the spoils of power. His younger brother Ved Prakash Vatuk writes an affectionate tribute.

Mid-September, 1942. It had been more than a month since the All-India Congress Committee passed its famous “Quit India” resolution put forward by Mahatma Gandhi. Its message to the British was simple: Pack up and go home and leave India to her fate. Indian youth should not be cannon fodder for World War II to save the same empire which had been oppressing India for two centuries.

The British colonial government, on its part, declared the Congress Party illegal, and arrested all its famous leaders at night before their message could reach the masses and clamped down press censorship. The government was sure that news of its crackdown would not reach the people. Peace would prevail — the peace of the graveyard.

But August 9, 1942, became the day of fire, when a fire of revolution spread throughout the country like a wildfire in a forest. The slogans “do or die,” and “Be your own leader” turned the youth of India into an army of freedom fighters.

Leaders of the state and district levels who were the link between the stalwarts and illiterate millions of India took the reins of the movement in their own hands. The last battle to liberate Mother India inspired the voiceless to sing songs of defiance, protest and freedom. The Indian skies thundered with battle cries of “Inquilab zindabad,” (Long live the revolution) “Angrez, Bharat chhodo” (Englishmen, quit India).

It was in this atmosphere that my eldest brother — Master Sunder Lal — quit his job as a high school teacher. He had gotten his job only a few months ago after being released from prison where he had served his sentence. He had been sent to jail for participating in the vyakti satyagraha movement.

Sunder Lal now put his total energy in the Quit India movement. He went from village to village in that rainy season, addressing several meetings a day. Mostly traveling on foot, he told villagers to be fearless and consider themselves to be citizens of a free nation. The police followed him and on many occasions found themselves surrounded by a big crowd, a crowd that he had just addressed. They did not have the nerve to arrest him, though, afraid that the crowd might turn on them. Several times they were forced to hold the Indian tricolor, fly it high and shout slogans. This cat-and-mouse game went on for a month.

My brother knew he could not avoid arrest indefinitely. So he decided to come to his birthplace and seek our mother’s blessings. It was raining hard that day when he came to our village (Fazalpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut district, now renamed Sundar Nagar in honor of my brother). A meeting was set up at the village school grounds at night. The whole village came to listen, despite pouring rain. Riveting patriotic songs were sung at the meeting as the electrifying poems of Josh Malihabadi and Sagar Nizami were recited. He gave the most inspiring speech of his life. The meeting ended at midnight, with the whole village singing freedom songs. They were filled with hope and enthusiasm.

My brother and I went to our house. The rain had stopped and we slept in our courtyard, mother, my brother and I, our beds spread next to each other. Mother was happy and proud to see her eldest son.

At 3 a.m. in the morning, there was a knock at the door. The police chief and 15 constables were standing outside. They had walked through knee-deep water and mud for miles. My mother wondered aloud who could be there at this odd hour. She told them: “You are like jackals chasing a lion.” The police chief replied: “We are compelled to do this to make sure we can fill our bellies, mataji.” My brother responded: “Come and join me, I guarantee you family will be taken care of.”

He wasn’t kidding. After my father had died a year back when my brother was in prison, the village was very kind. They walked miles on foot and inquired about our welfare. My other brother was in school away from home. He was 13 when father died, I was nine.

Policemen were afraid that villagers would wake up and come to our house. They did, one by one, come to see my brother. The police chief asked them to go. My brother said: “It’s their village. They go nowhere. It’s you and I who will go.”

My mother, then an illiterate, frail 56-year-old woman, mocked these traitors. The villagers, who only a few years ago would shrivel with fear at seeing a policeman, showed no sign of uneasiness. It was the police chief and his minions who were nervous. My brother kept reassuring them. Soon he was ready to go. He touched our mother’s feet. She blessed him: “May this be you last journey to jail. Be victorious, my son.”

He hugged me and gave me his treasure to keep — a tiny brass box containing five annas and a pice (roughly 0.33 rupee) and a small notebook containing 75 patriotic songs and poems. That was the treasure he owned, — he, a freedom fighter, a close friend and jail mate of Jawaharlal Nehru and Devadas Gandhi, a proud and beloved soldier of the father of the nation. But to me, that gift was the most valuable I ever received.

That was the day I felt liberated, fearless and joyful, proud to be an Indian. At the age of 10 that day I (and the villagers) felt that no power could keep us in bondage anymore. Yes, there would be atrocities, the movement might appear to be crushed with the help of the army, it might seem that we lost the battle once more, but I was sure no one could keep us enslaved anymore.

That was the day I became free. For the next five years I recited poems, I sang songs. My brother’s gift to me filled me with joy and fearlessness. “Long live the revolution!” I kept saying.

It must be said that my spirit of independence didn’t develop in a day. It was the spirit of my great, great grandfather, who inspired my father to educate himself somehow and that he did by attending many traditional pathshalas supported by people. He was one of the few persons who had any education at all in the village. By the time my brother was born in Nov. 2, 1906, my father had already become a Sanskrit scholar. He had joined the Arya Samaj and was greatly influenced by Lokmanya Tilak. He attended many conventions of the Arya Samaj and the Congress Party. He defied village Brahmins by building an Arya Samaj temple, where all people could worship including dalits. He was the only person in the village who educated one of his daughters. Every year he arranged a three-day event in the village attended by the leaders of Arya Samaj and Congress. He subscribed to national weeklies and read them to his folks.

When a call to boycott foreign goods and English schools was given, he started wearing homespun rough clothes. He sent my brother to a national school called Prem Mahavidyalaya at Vrindavan. It was established by Raja Mahendra Pratap, who, along with Maulana Barkatullah, founded the Indian government in exile in the late 1920s. The school taught reading, writing as well as crafts like weaving. It was here that my brother came into contact with many national leaders who came to inspire young minds. It was here that my brother became a volunteer for the Youth Congress, attended his first Congress session in that capacity and got arrested for the first time when he was 15. That was 11 years before my birth.

Interestingly, he was thrown out of the national school because of his arrest. The school was proud of him alright, but they were also afraid that the British government would close the school if they kept him there. So he had to finish his education in a private college.

My brother began his teaching career by joining a national school as a teacher. Later, he was made mukhyadhishthata (head) of Dayanand Mahavidyalaya Gurukul Daurli, whose managing committee had Chaudhary Charan Singh as its head. By the time I was born he had been to Krishnajanmashli (as a jail was called) three times. The gurukul was turned into a training ground for future freedom fighters.

Sundar Lal (circled) in a photograph taken while a student at Prem Mahavidyalaya at Vrindavan. It was established by Raja Mahendra Pratap, founder of the Indian government in exile in the late 1920s. Ironically, he was thrown out of the school for joining a Congress conference.

Portraits of all historic and national leaders adorned the walls of our home. These portraits were borrowed by villagers on some auspicious occasions like marriages. They became part of the decoration. They filled their hearts with the spirit of reform and revolution. My brother worked hard always to teach young people the spirit of our national movements. He produced a number of students who participated in India’s independence movement.

Many times, the long jail sentences were accompanied by a fine. At such times every thing of value in our home was confiscated — our cows, our crops, ornaments. But these things never bothered us. I was more hurt by the meanness of the police when they smashed the portraits of our national heroes.

Our villagers always came to our rescue. Once they made all the arrangements for my sister’s wedding, which was happening at a time nothing was left in the house. “She is the daughter of the village and no amount of oppression can stop her wedding,” was the spirit of the village.

After being released from prison in 1944, my brother was given the total responsibility of organizing the Congress Party in our district, Meerut. He was also elected to the All-India Congress Committee. But it is not the various posts that he held that won him the love and devotion of innumerable people throughout our state.

It was his honesty, dedication and fearlessness that earned him the love and respect of his people. He was a liberated person in many ways. Even when he held high positions in various organizations, he never had any servants. He did all his chores himself. He washed his own clothes daily and quite often he washed the clothes of his wife, children and guests. He cleaned drains outside his residence every morning. Once in jail, when sweepers went on strike, he cleaned all toilets with his own hands. Several young men, some of them dalits, adopted him as their father and stayed in his household. He treated them the same way he treated us brothers and his children.

After India’s independence, he declined any office. He was asked several times to join the Uttar Pradesh ministry and in 1977 when the Janata Party came to power, he was asked to be a governor, but he refused. He wanted to be — and he was — a man of the people. When ordinary folks had no way of reaching a government official, he helped them to the best of his ability, but he never requested any favor from himself or any of his friends, which included prime ministers and ministers. However, he never helped the corrupt, no matter how close he had been to the person once.

He was equally at home with the richest and the poorest. I have seen him opposing fearlessly some of the most powerful people when he felt they were in the wrong.

He was influenced by Indian luminaries like Dayanand Saraswati, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Subhash Bose, but he never became a blind follower. In independent India, he organized several conferences to discuss the plight of peasants and workers. He went to China to see for himself what their revolution had done for them and what India could learn. He sent his Sarvodaya friends to Israel to study kibbutzim and see how they differed from Chinese communes.

For many years he worked with the Kisan Sabha and also with Vinoba Bhave and Jaya Prakash Narayan. No party was untouchable to him if it could serve the cause of India’s poor. But he never hesitated to criticize anyone if he found him/ her wrong.

He was totally against idol-worship, and that included blind hero-worship. Once on May 10, which we observed in memory of India’s first independence war of 1857, we invited one of the bravest heroes of the Gadar Party, Baba Prithvi Singh Azad. The Baba in his speech lamented the fact that no one appreciates their sacrifices any more. My brother politely responded: “Babaji, we have cashed our sacrifices many times over. If we don’t put anything more in our account, how can we withdraw?”

As for his honesty, one example will suffice. Once in the summer heat he asked his son to get 12 inland letters (25 paisa each) from a post office. After his son returned, he found there were 13 inland letters. My brother asked his son to go back and return a 25-paise inland letter and his son set off in the searing heat on foot towards the post office which was one and a half mile away. Small wonder he was made in charge of the Congress election campaign of the whole district with three parliamentary seats. He handled millions of rupees, and all leaders were given cars, but he walked to and from the election office every day.

He fought for justice all his life and for that even in independent India he had to go to jail. The longest and the last was the 18-month solitary confinement during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency Period (1975-77). He was almost 70. Yet his spirit remained high and he had no trace of hatred towards Indira Gandhi either. During that time, when almost all intellectuals fell silent, he was the only one who wrote to me fearlessly and I in return wrote him inspiring poems. Late these poems were published in a collection called Kaidi Bhai, Bandi Desh (Jailed Brother, Imprisoned Nation)

In the same prison, a colleague of his — who was a state minister both before and after the emergency — became sick both mentally and physically. My brother asked the jailor to shift him to his cell. He took care of this colleague so well that he said later: “Even my mother would not have taken care of me so well.”

From 1946 to 1988 — the year he died — he was the embodiment of communal harmony. That was the reason why on his death in Sept. 2 people of all walks of life, belonging to all different castes and creeds came to mourn. Rich and poor, powerful and powerless, secular and devout — he was indeed ajatshatru to all. He had no enemy..

- Ved Prakash Vatuk is a poet, activist and folklorist whose poetry has won an award
from the U.P. government. He has taught and researched at Harvard, University of Chicago and the University of California at Berkeley.


Serious Business: Indo-U.S. Trade -
By Siddharth Srivastava
During the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the United States, increasing bilateral trade was an important priority, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Above: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing a joint session of Congress. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (r) are seated behind. (PIB)

Apart from issues related to foreign policy, nuclear co-operation, UN reforms and defense supplies, there is another facet to the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the United States — it is private sector business.

Voicing a strong case for the Indian economy Manmohan has said that India’s growth and prosperity is in American interest. “Our rate of growth of GDP has increased steadily. We hope to raise our growth rate to 8 percent or so over the next two years,” said Manmohan while addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

Inviting U.S. corporations to invest in India, Manmohan, a Cambridge-trained economist, said, “American investments in India, especially in new technology areas, will help American companies to reduce costs and become more competitive globally. U.S. firms are already leading the foreign investment drive in India. I believe 400 of the Fortune 500 are already in India.” In his speech Manmohan advocated for reforms with a human face and globalization with a grassroots development priority.

Among the significant initiatives that were unveiled at the meeting between Manmohan and the U.S. President George W. Bush has been the launch of a high-level bilateral CEO forum. This is to provide an effective private sector participation in the economic dialogues between India and U.S. The CEO forum brings together 10 top businessmen each from India and the U.S. to promote Indo-US economic cooperation in the coming years. The forum is not aimed as a pressure group on the governments but to provide practical and hands-on aid to economic policy making in both the countries.

The Indian CEOs in the forum are Ratan Tata (Tata conglomerate), Mukesh Ambani (Reliance), Nandan Nilekani (Infosys) and Yogesh Deveshwar (ITC). Among those in the American team are Charles Prince (Citigroup), Warren Stanley (Cargill), Steven Reinemund (Pepsi) and David Cote (Honeywell).

The U.S. is India’s biggest trading partner and its largest investor. Foreign Direct Investment was over $4 billion in 2004, more than double the figure in 1998. Trade in merchandise stood at $21.7 last year. These figures are still puny compared to the trade as well as investment figures between China and U.S. India’s economy is valued at over $650 billion, Asia’s fourth largest.

India’s needs revolve around more FDI. “India needs massive direct foreign investment, especially in modernizing our infrastructure,” Manmohan told the Congress. “I hope American companies will participate in the opportunities we are creating.” India can help U.S. companies lower their cost of doing business, and the wealth created in India’s economy can be spent on buying more American goods, Manmohan said.

There is intense competition among China, India and south east Asian countries to attract FDI, with China leading the pack by a big margin. China aggressively seeks FDI as the engine of high growth attracting over $50 billion every year while India hopes to touch the $15 billion by 2006. China’s remarkable success in a period of 20 years has been due to substantial tax concessions, leasing of land and property, government guarantees for investment and special arrangements regarding retention and repatriation of foreign exchange.

President George W. Bush (l), First Lady Laura Bush with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur (2nd from r) at a White House reception July 18. (PIB)
Manmohan has been taking a personal interest to ensure that India pulls through a China-like massive leap in its exports to the lucrative U.S. market as well as invite FDI. In April this year, U.S.-based Boeing won a $6.9 billion order for 50 aircraft from Air-India, India’s public sector airline. Boeing faced stiff competition from France’s Airbus, but a personal intervention by Bush sealed the deal. Clearly, India is making efforts not to annoy the U.S., though there are constant reminders by experts as well as others that India should not open the floodgates to foreign players in a hurry to ensure that domestic industry is not swamped.

News reports quoted Pentagon officials this week as saying that the U.S. expected India to start purchasing as much as $5 billion worth of conventional military equipment as a result of the nuclear deal, if it is approved by Congress.

Earlier this year, a newly-constituted Trade and Economic Relations Committee, chaired by Manmohan, in its first meeting discussed the outline of a medium-term strategy to enhance trade with America. The aim is to double India’s share in the U.S. market from the present 1 percent to 2 percent in the next five years. India’s exports are targeted to reach $30 billion by 2010 from $13.2 billion in fiscal 2005.

In addition, trade in services and investment flows will be the focus areas of India’s U.S. strategy. At the TERC meeting, Manmohan endorsed this assessment and emphasized that India must increase the level of economic interaction with the U.S. “China’s economic engagement with the U.S. is 10 times that of India. There is vast potential for increased trade and investment relations with the U.S. We must consider how we can realize this potential,” he said.

A regulatory framework for infrastructure has been firmed up by the Manmohan government to create the necessary environment to attract $150 billion to build power plants, expand the highway and rail network and modernize its ports for achieving the targeted 7-8 percent growth.

Outsourcing from U.S., of course, remains a money spinner for India, without much government intervention. A McKinsey report on the Information Technology Enabled Sector has revised the previous figure of $17 billion to $21-24 billion by the year 2008 with India slated to garner 25 percent of the offshore market, with the U.S. the largest source, providing 60 percent of business. India’s export of software services exceeds $12 billion, with the U.S. a major market.

U.S. companies particularly want the Manmohan government to allow freer investments in areas such as banking and insurance, and to open up the retail sector. India’s retail market is valued at over $180 billion, with several foreign players urging the country to open the sector. Earlier this year the $288 billion Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, made a pitch to the Indian government. The group’s international president John Menzer met Manmohan Singh and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath. Menzer talked about the synergies that can be worked out by allowing foreign retailers to enter the Indian market.

In an interview to the news agency Bloomberg, Ron Somers, president of the Washington-based U.S.-India Business Council has said that “U.S. industry is bullish about the Manmohan visit.” The group’s 137 members include America’s top companies.

To the credit of the Manmohan government, it has managed to push through reforms in the civil aviation, telecom as well as construction sectors, but a lot remains to be done.

A key area remains administrative reforms. A recent study by the Confederation of Indian Industry said a typical trade transaction into India goes through 30 separate parties, requires 257 signatures and 118 copies of the same document.

Then there is politics. The Left parties are key coalition partners of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. The Left parties have been giving a tough time to the government on its economic reforms agenda, including relations with the U.S. The Left also has problems with the government’s bid to invite FDI.

While the Left is known for its anti-U.S. stance, such virulence and fury has caught many by surprise. Prior to his U.S. visit, Manmohan was at pains to explain that he will not sell India’s interests to the U.S. Many observers see the shrill Left opposition as more to do with domestic electoral politics rather than ideology.

Indeed, it will be a test of the skills of Manmohan and Sonia to ensure that India’s economic progress does not fall prey to either its own politics or the self-interest of the USA. It is a challenging task, but the early signs give some room for optimism.

- Siddharth Srivastava is the India correspondent for Siliconeer. He is based in New Delhi


Festival of Creativity: Durga Puja in Kolkata -
By Nandini Pal. Photos: Rana Bose
With a four-day package starting at $475, you can experience the wondrous creativity of Kolkata’s Durga Puja in style. Stay in the best hotels like Oberoi Grand, leave the hassles of food, commute and other details to the organizers, and get VIP access to the puja pandals without waiting in interminable lines. It really doesn’t get any sweeter than this, writes Nandini Pal.

Last year, Rana and I joined a puja tour of Kolkata (The Great Kolkata Autumn Festival) arranged by a group called Happenings.  We had absolutely the most delightful time, looked after by the nicest group of individuals.  We stayed at the Oberoi Grand because we wanted to be in the heart of things, but others chose the ITC Sonar Bangla (which I am told is Kolkata’s only 6-star, but I may be wrong and it is only 5-star---hotel, but in any case, a wonderful place).  Everything ran to clockwork schedules and we were personally looked after amazingly well.  All our expenses were covered, food, tours, entry to some amazing cultural events and, of course, our stay.  It worked out to a little over a $100 a day. Just a 5-star hotel in Kolkata can cost more than that (in some cases double that) a night.

The majestic Victoria Memorial (above) is a silent witness to Kolkata’s rich historical heritage; Opp. page: One of the innumerable Durga Puja mandaps that come up during the premier Bengali festival.
Most  people in Kolkata do not want to venture out pandal-hopping because of the lines to see the puja mandaps. However, we had VIP access in every place and there were no lines.  We got to see everything right up to the bhashaan (the ceremonial immersion of the idol) which we watched from a boat (launch, they call it in Kolkata)  on the Ganga --one of the most romantic and enjoyable experiences you can think of.  

Other stuff that we did included a heritage Tram ride down Dharamatala. For the first time in my life, I actually noticed that Dharamatala looks like New Orleans.  Yes, laugh at me, but if  you see the wrought iron, trellised verandahs with the colonial columns you will know what I am talking about.  And yes, we visited Mother Teresa’s home and played with the rescued children.  It made us reflect on what Kolkata really is about:  Compassion.

(Above from L): The various Durga Puja mandaps blend an astonishing variety of styles with exquisite artistry; A closer view of intricate decoration for a puja pandal; (bottom, right) A devotee with lighted incense pots at a mandap. (Right): An artist plies his ware by a puja mandap.

And it was not just Puja for Bengalis.  Imagine being in the middle of 30,000 people in the Maidan to witness Ramlila, watching a fiery arrow being shot into one of the 10 heads of a Ravan lumbering overhead?  What an amazing sight! The thunderous roar from the crowd still rings in my ears.  And we saw a South Indian Dussehra, too.  How different from our own Bangali puja. 

We had Sindoor Khela in the private home of the Peerless Sen’s:  a traditional, joint-family event that showed what Kolkata Puja really was meant to be.

We witnessed a Dhuno/Dhaki competition with stalwarts as well as children and women “competing.”

Other than that, we also took in a tour of Kolkata, ate the most fantastic food  (Ah the food! Just the buffet at the Grand would have made it all worthwhile for us), visited the top clubs — bring back nostalgic memories of the up-your-nose, uptight pukkah brown sahib culture at the  Bengal Club and the somewhat loud ostentatious antics of the nouveaux riches back home — the Tolly Club.

We watched theatres and music concerts, for can any Kolkata experience ever be complete without the cultural exposure?  We were at the reopening of the famous Star Theater, owned by the grand dame of Kolkata theater Noti Binodini.  And to bring it all up to date, we had a gala banquet with a fashion show (yes a fashion show a la Mumbai Bollywood glamour with every designer worth the salt from Shagbark Datta to Amit (or something).

From top left: Some Puja festival organizers build elaborate, gargantuan structures which copy famous landmarks with remarkable accuracy; Durga Puja is marked by a host of rituals including ‘Sindoor Khela’ by married women; The end of it all — A Durga idol being immersed in the river.
Happenings is organizing the event again this year.  Four days from October 9-12, 2005. You will be picked up from the airport and dropped to the airport. All for the $475 double occupancy and $575 single occupancy (Everything included--passes, tickets, food, entertainment, what-have-you.

Happenings is not doing this for profit, but to promote Kolkata, hence their unusually reasonable rates). If enough people sign up, they are trying to get a really cheap negotiated price for Air-India air fare, too and group discounts on fares, but more about that when they know how many people will go.

For those interested in adding business opportunities to their schedule, this year Happenings will offer an extra two days with some seminars and conferences. Ask if you want more info.

Go for it! Even if you cannot go yourself, forward the information to your friends, especially out-of-touch Bengalis, non-Bengalis, our second generation children, and non-Indians who would like to experience Kolkata at its most beautiful and entertaining.  

Believe me, we sing paeans to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Carnival in Brazil, but truly, the procession during Bhashaan (immersion of the idol at the end) can hold its own with those festivals.

Imagine thousands of groups, each with their own proximal (the idol of the goddess) dancing all the way to the river where they immerse the idol.  Not only is it colorful and amazing, it is an incredibly emotional moment of reflection on our mortality and ties to our families and this world.

Happenings is doing an amazing job of promoting Kolkata which is certainly worthy of our support. They do not have any local booking agent, so I have offered to coordinate the bookings for them.

Interested readers can reach Nandini Pal at nandini.pal@gmail.com.
More info at the Web site www.happenings.in.


Not Just the Blues: Dealing with Depression

If you are depressed, don’t blame yourself. Suffering from depression is nothing to be ashamed about, and seek help, advises Thuan L. Tran, MD.

Twenty million people in America, including men and women of all ages, ethnic groups, and social classes, are affected by depression. But what is depression? How can you tell if you’re depressed, or if a friend or family member is depressed?

One of my patients, Mrs. Kim, had been struggling with headaches and insomnia for almost a year.  She had been to Urgent Care several times for these symptoms, but the doctors found nothing wrong with her health.

When Mrs. Kim came into my office, she told me about her family, three young daughters, and her job at a department store. Her husband wanted to have another child, hoping it would be a boy. As we talked, I learned that Mrs. Kim felt overwhelmed with work and raising three children and worried she couldn’t handle another.  She felt incompetent. She no longer wanted to be intimate with her husband.  Many mornings she didn’t even want to get out of bed. But she was reluctant to tell anyone for fear they would judge her as a bad wife and mother.

Symptoms of depression can range from feeling sad, empty, or hopeless to having difficulty concentrating or making decisions. Depression can also manifest physically, as headaches, body aches, fatigue, insomnia or oversleeping, and weight loss or gain.

With a diversity of symptoms, depression can be difficult to identify. While it’s normal for people to experience ups and downs, people with depression experience symptoms that make it difficult for them to function at work, school, or in a relationship.

Depression is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals and can be triggered by many different factors, like grief, stress, genetics, illness, medications, drugs, alcohol, or hormonal changes such as menopause. Treatment for depression often includes counseling and medications, called antidepressants. Often the most effective approach is a combination of both. Antidepressants can have more immediate results than therapy, but the effects of therapy last much longer than medications, even after the therapy has ended.

Mrs. Kim agreed to try an antidepressant and talk to a therapist. Over time, Mrs. Kim was happier at home and work and getting enough sleep. As a doctor, it’s important to help debunk myths people have of depression.  Mrs. Kim’s husband thought she would snap out of her depression eventually. It’s important to educate people that depression is a real condition that must be addressed with medical care.

Above all, don’t blame yourself for the depression and don’t feel like you have to deal with it by yourself. Suffering from depression is nothing to be ashamed about. The hardest part is the most crucial: Talk to your doctor and get the help you need.

To learn more about depression, visit www.kaiserpermanente.org. Email Dr. Tran at doctors-word@kp.org.

- Dr. Thuan L. Tran is a family physician at the Indian Hill Medical Office
of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group.


Keeping Cool this Summer: Energy Saving Tips

How do you keep cool in the summer heat without breaking a sweat or your bank? Siliconeer offers a few pointers.
Summer is here and temperatures are rising. How do you stay cool at home and the office without being an energy hog?

Buy ENERGY STAR qualified products and use them wisely. An ENERGY STAR label means that these products — like refrigerators, air conditioners, fans, and computers — use less energy and can save you as much as 30 percent on your energy bill. Besides putting money back into your wallet, using less energy helps keep our air, land and water clean.

Start cutting your energy bills with the following energy-smart tips:

Keep the sun out. Close curtains, blinds and shades during the sunniest time of the day to help keep your home and office from heating up.

Tighten up your home. Stop air leaks around doors and windows that let cool air escape. Apply weather stripping and fill in any gaps to lower heating and cooling costs.

Install energy-efficient ceiling fans. ENERGY STAR qualified ceiling fans cost only pennies a day and use the same energy as a 100-watt light bulb. Ceiling fans can replace air conditioning on warm days. When it gets really hot, use both the ceiling fan and the air conditioner to spread cool air evenly throughout your home — this also works for winter heating. And remember to turn off the fan when nobody is in the room!

Use a programmable thermostat. ENERGY STAR thermostats adjust temperatures when you are at home or away. This saves up to $115 each year in energy costs, if used correctly. During the summer, set your room temperature to 78 degrees when you are at home and 85 degrees or off when you are away. This is especially important when you hear a Flex Your Power NOW! Alert that tells you when your area is using too much energy.

Upgrade your central or room air conditioner. An ENERGY STAR air conditioner in your home or business saves electricity and reduces smog. A new energy-efficient model saves money, too — $20 to $65 each year. Ask your utility company for rebates to help cut the cost of replacing your old air conditioner. And don’t forget to clean filters monthly to improve your air conditioner’s efficiency.

Taking action at home and at work not only help you save energy and money, but add to a healthy California. To learn more about how you can save energy and money at home and work, visit the Flex Your Power website at www.FYPower.org. With more than 1,000 incentive and technical assistance programs, all Californians can find all kinds of opportunities to save energy and money.

Scripting Reality: Pakistani American Theatre
- By Wajahat Ali

South Asians need to speak up for themselves, otherwise their voices will continue to be outsourced to media puppets who, by no coincidence, are almost all Caucasian, warns Wajahat Ali, who isn’t just talking the talk but has walked the walk with his successful debut play on Pakistani Americans, The Domestic Crusaders.

Would you like a Slurpee with that?” says the brown skinned, turban clad Sikh man behind the 7-11 counter. And this introduction serves as the basis for most Americans’ perception of the South Asian experience. We supposedly work 27 hours a day at gas stations, Patel-owned motels, quick shop marts, Subway stores, computer firms, or emergency wards — and that’s it. On television, our entire culture is represented by television icon Apu Nahasapeemapetalan, the Indian immigrant owner of “Kwik-e- Mart” on The Simpsons. A visually one-dimensional cartoon character with more animation and character than the one-dimensional cardboard caricatures seen in most Hollywood movies, TV shows (with the exception of Naveen Andrews in Lost); talk radio, and academic history books. Desis are also in the news because of “outsourcing:” Our brown brethren of the East are supposedly systematically destroying the American job market by working the same job for 1/10 of the pay. I readily admit to receiving many a phone call from “Ginger Ann” and “Gilligan” or “Johnny Walker” who talk with phony British accents and harass me for unpaid Visa bills. My gut tells me Ginger Ann is actually Jasdeep and Gilligan is Gaurav, but one can never tell. When we aren’t stealing jobs, we’re busy entertaining. It seems “arranged marriage” is all the rage — heavily featured as the central plot device in Monsoon Wedding, East is East, and Bride and Prejudice, which was a terrible movie but I’m prejudiced since I, like other desi males, fancy Aishwarya. As bhangra-remix music influences modern hip-hop, American audiences know that a good desi is a dancing desi is a lively desi is a happy desi.

Shahab Riazi and Nidhu Singh play the father and mother in a dysfunctional Pakistani American family in Wajahat Ali’s “The Domestic Crusaders.”
But we currently live in a violent, confusing world where hijackers brought down two towers. Where British citizens fear to ride the London Underground. Where an ever-growing Axis of Evil is being “brought down” by the Axis of Freedom and Democracy and Liberty and Values. Where Sikh men wearing turbans are beat down and called “Osama” because the violent, ignorant perps can’t tell the difference between us silly “rag heads,” (or towel heads). Currently, a Muslim is a Sikh is a Hindu is a Paki is an Indian is a Bengali is a fundo is a weirdo is a terrorist is the “other.” So, what should we do? Shall we bhangra and temporarily forget our woes to the pulsating beats of Daler Mehndi? Or, shall we simply blame those “war mongers” — you know whom I’m talking about — them dirty Moslems — the conquerors from the A-rab peninsula. Yes, that will surely make our collective South Asian life easier. Because, if you think the people who beat down the Indians, Sikhs, and Pakistanis could really tell the difference between the three, then you’d probably also believe I had chai with Bigfoot and Jimmy Hoffa.

The topical political-cultural climate of today is a conflagration of extremist opinions and passionate voices drowning out reason and sanity amidst a feverish race to promote a single-minded agenda and ideology. Experts on the radio and on television, who really aren’t experts but the printed title underneath their photos says otherwise, routinely paint the entire Muslim, Middle Eastern, and even South Asian population in such broad strokes you think they were too cheap to buy more than one color. The experts on Islam, Pakistan, India, and the Middle East are usually white, European, and Jewish or Christian. Can you imagine me being the de facto, supreme expert on the Irish American culture? Wouldn’t that be an insult to any self-respecting Irish American? If I was an Irish-American, I’d very logically ask, “So, where’s the Irish expert?” But not so with our people — our voices are “outsourced” to media puppets that routinely pillory our culture and identity to further the political agenda of their respective masters. So, what to do?

One elementary approach is to have South Asians speak and write honestly about the South Asian experience. How novel — an authentic South Asian American actually writing about the South Asian American experience — you’d think this would have been pursued? Unfortunately, the marketplace is only big enough for South Asian female writers, who despite their massive talent and gifts, aren’t usually allowed to challenge many of the status-quo representations of South Asian men (we are usually pilloried and denigrated as violent and misogynist, as is the case of all colored men).

So, here we are in 2005 with The Domestic Crusaders, a two-act play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living post 9-11 which had its showcase premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and its next showcase Sept. 10 and 11 in San Jose State University (www.domesticcrusaders.com). The writer of that play, yours truly, recalls sitting in Ishmael Reed’s short story writing class over three years ago at University of California at Berkeley. Reed took me aside one day and said I was a terrible short story writer (and I believe he was correct), but I had a “gift” (whatever that means) for dialogue and characterization — ideal tools for writing plays. Now, imagine if someone came up to you and said, “Hey, you can replace Aishwarya or Shah Rukh and become a Bollywood megastar!” You’d probably laugh and tell that FOB to go drink his chai and leave you alone. Reed might as well have asked me to be a ballerina or a teapot. However, I had to pass that damn class and I wasn’t passing until I gave him a 20-page play spec, which I reluctantly did. It was worse than pulling teeth. You just don’t tell someone to start planting a garden without teaching him how to plow the field or plant a seed. Yet, Reed and others, including my parents and the director of the play, Carla Blank, encouraged me and oversaw my attempts with encouraging pats on the back and technical edits (for example, I had written the entire play in the wrong format — requiring me to go back and compose it according to “play standards”). After 2 years, many cups of chai, cursing out loud, learning about writing plays by renting plays, and simply saying “Bismillah” and pounding furiously away at the keyboard, a play was born.

The intention of the playwright and hopefully the final presentation of the play is meant to convey a brutally honest, authentic, and no-holds-barred depiction of a family. Three generations of a Muslim American Pakistani family to be exact, featuring an aged grandfather (Dhada Hakim), his immigrant son and his middle aged wife, (Salman and Khulsoom), and their three American-born children (Salahuddin, Fatima, and Ghafur) who convene at the family house to celebrate Ghafur’s 21st birthday. As in all families, there are secrets, revelations, love, mistrust, resentment, loyalties, and regret. As in all cultures, no one really gets along but manages to find a way to hold on to that essential thread in that colorful fabric called “family.” The writer’s intention was to create six living, breathing, multidimensional, and complex characters that should (or could) resemble members of your family. You take away the brown skin color and make it white, replace the Urdu-Hindi with Spanish, take away the Islam and replace it with Hinduism or Christianity, and substitute meatloaf for chicken biryani, and you should see universal topics and conversations that play out in every family every day of the week. However, these similarities are never shown the time of the day in the current news or media. Complexities of characters cannot be afforded media coverage when it’s so much simpler to make us all backwards and exotic, dancing and jumping, or angry and yelling.

Wajahat Ali is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and currently attends UC Davis School of Law. The Domestic Crusaders is his first play.
The three standing ovations from the three shows recently presented at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre indicate that people, especially those not desi or Muslim, are starving for an authentic South Asian voice. The multicultural audience gave BRT more color than perhaps any show in the past 10 years. The requests we’ve had for the play to come perform in LA, Auburn, Washington, Canada, and even Chicago have been overwhelming; and many of these are non Muslim and non desi organizations. With my five seconds of fame (note: it’s not 15 minutes, because we’re too poor and can’t afford it), I’ve been invited to talk on the radio and to newspaper personalities about the Muslim South Asian American experience. The interviewers and their listeners are “refreshed” (a word I keep hearing) to hear a person of my background speak candidly about their experience. The refreshing words that spew from my mouth are neither brilliant nor original, I just consider them common sense that has been passed down from generation to generation. Listen to the other point of view. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Don’t judge a book by its cover, and so forth. Elementary, really.

So it’s up to us. South Asians, Americans, Muslims, Hindus: a people whose voice has been outsourced for far too long to self-proclaimed experts who fail to present the complexities of our existence. We are neither heroes nor villains, simply people, whose time has come to stand up and reclaim our identities, which are shamelessly marketed for the profit of an almighty dollar (or rupee). A play written by a 24-year-old punk kid who grew up in Fremont is just a step, nothing more and nothing less. But it’s a start. It’s up to others to take us the rest of the way.

There will be two performances of the play at San Jose State University Sept. 10 and 11. Details at www.domesticcrusaders.com

COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Picnic in Sacramento | Insurance Workshop Hosted By SevA | Offline Matrimony Center | Mata Ka Jagran | Sernd an ATM Home | MTV Desi Launched in U.S. | Faith Channel

Picnic in Sacramento

The Indus Valley American Chamber of Commerce hosted a picnic July 17 at the Elk Grove Regional Park in Elk Grove, Calif.

Highlights of the day included a multi-lingual feast of songs in Hindi and Punjabi by Permjit, Punam Malhotra, Aapar Singh Sahota and Gyan Sharma. Master Gulrajan provided the dhol beat. Jokes and recital of Urdu poetry brought variety to the show.

A hot lunch was prepared on site and served by Maharaja restaurant. The crowd then dug into a two-hour-long antakshari contest followed by a volleyball game for those who were ready to brave the scorching heat.

Insurance Workshop Hosted By SevA

SevA founder Anu Peshawaria receiving a community service award from Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman as Prabhat Singh looks on.

SevA, a non-profit organization with a mission to provide free advice to the Indian Community in the U.S., hosted a workshop on insurance July 24, according to an organization press release. Many aggrieved persons narrated their travails while attorney Anu Peshawaria along with four insurance experts answered all their queries. Insurance experts talked about their subject and how their firm could help individuals.

Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman, the city’s community affairs advisor Prabhat Singh and the city council member Anu Natarajan were present. Over 100 people attended the event.

The mayor presented an Outstanding Community Leadership Award from Fremont City to SevA president Anu Peshawaria.

SevA has already held workshops on immigration laws and procedures, Indian matrimonial issues and patents.

Formally inaugurated Jan. 29 by noted Indian police officer Kiran Bedi, “SevA aims to provide professional advice and guidance to empower common people in topics and issues that touch them in everyday life,” the release added.

Offline Matrimony Center

BharatMatrimony.com, the No. 1 Indian Matrimony service provider, has announced the launch of its first ever offline business venture — the BharatMatrimony Centre in Chennai in a press release. The centre will cater to customers who either do not have access to the Internet or those who are tech-savvy but looking for easy and quick service and people who are looking for a trustworthy brand in the matrimony space to provide them with an alternative offline solution, which delivers quality service, the release said. The center will be the one-window access to the best potential profiles available not just in India but from around the world, the company says.

BharatMatrimony CEO Murugavel Janakiraman said, “BharatMatrimony.com has always redefined the online matrimony industry in India and over the years has grown from strength to strength to become India’s No.1 matrimony service provider. We are delighted to extend and expand our domain expertise and range of services aggressively through our offline initiative with the launch of BharatMatrimony Centers across India and around the world. This combination of leadership in the online space with in-depth reach of our offline initiative through the 300 centers will enable us to go closer to all our potential customers and service them in the best way – the way in which they prefer.”

Mata Ka Jagran

Over 7,000 people gathered July 2 at the Hindu Temple and Community Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. to hear Narinder Chanchal perform Mata ka Jagran.

Mata ka Jagran is an event of devotional singing that pays homage to Durga, and is particularly popular with expatriates from Punjab.

Chanchal, who visited from India with his own musicians, has a formidable following there, performing to crowds of upto 20,000 people.

In Sunnyvale, Mata devotees arranged for food and snacks for all attendees and the entire event, which extended till the wee hours of the night was free and open to the public.

Send an ATM Home

Xoom Corporation has launched an ATM card that senders in the U.S. can buy for their beneficiaries in India, according to a company press release.

The Xoom Card is a reloadable ATM card that senders in the U.S. can purchase on Xoom.com. After ordering a Xoom Card online, the sender can have the card shipped directly to a recipient in India. The Xoom Card enables cash withdrawals for a nominal fee from any Maestro or Cirrus ATM worldwide.

“The Xoom Card is aimed at allowing Asian Indian senders more options and added convenience to their beneficiaries in India,” the press release says.

Xoom, a pioneer in online-to-offline money transfer, zeroed in on the fact that ATM penetration in India has grown steadily in the last few years. “We decided to use India’s existing ATM infrastructure and build our new services around it. Since we are first to introduce such a service, we will have many exciting new products for our Asian Indian clients once the installed ATM base in India grows,” said James Beser, marketing manager of Xoom Corporation.

Senders may return to the Xoom Web site (www.xoom.com) to add more funds to the ATM card. The funds are usually available within minutes and can be accessed by the recipient in India using the ATM card.

MTV Desi Launched in U.S.

MTV president Christina Norman announced in New York the launch of MTV Desi, the new network serving young people with ties to the Indian sub-continent but living in the US, on DIRECTV July 12. DIRECTV has added MTV Desi to its HindiDirect programming package at no additional cost.

“Young Americans are increasingly diverse, multi-ethnic, and cross-cultural — they demand entertainment that caters to their individual backgrounds,” said Norman. “MTV Desi is the first of many MTV World networks that will serve these growing niche youth audiences with customized programming tailored specifically to their life experiences.”

The channel will present a host of shows including Top 10 Desi Countdown, MTV Desi News, Live From..., Maximum Party, Bollywood on Ice, The Mirror and Video Khichdi

Presenters include Tim Kash, of Sri Lankan heritage but born and raised in the U.K. who hosts the daily MTV UK News. Kash has interviewed some of the worlds biggest stars including Tom Cruise, Will Smith, 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, and all of the Spice Girls.

Faith Channel

AASTHA Television, the first faith channel of India, announced the launch of its channel in the U.S. recently at Royal Albert Palace, Fords, N.J., according to a press release.

It is the first Indian spiritual television network in the U.S., available exclusively on DIRECTV.

AASTHA’s chairman and managing director Kirit Mehta said in a message, “We recognized a need that South Asians have.  Whether in India or America, our deep-rooted cultural and spiritual beliefs need to be maintained in the household for our future generations.  We have, therefore, joined the DIRECTV platform to be offered alongside other leading South Asian programming that DIRECTV is bringing to the United States.”

China, India: Different Roles | IT Executive Quits | Focus on Asia Pacific
Eyeing UNIX Leadership | Opens Retail Outlet | Talks to Buy i-Flex Stake
$63 million for IT Parks | VSNL Buys Teleglobe

China, India: Different Roles
A report by Forrester Research says that rather than matching India as the top IT destination, China will play a larger role supporting other Asian geographies rather than as an offshore destination for U.S. operations.

“The bulk of activity in China will come from three areas — as a centre for BPO to support customers’ Asian operations; as an application development hub for companies with large operations or headquarters in Japan, Hong Kong, or Korea; and as a global risk diversification play beyond India for multinationals,” the report said.

During the past two years, China’s visibility as an offshore destination increased dramatically as vendors moved beyond simple off shoring to a full Global Delivery Model, it said.

“Multinational suppliers like Accenture and Capgemini as well as Indian players like Satyam and TCS are taking the next step in building out their GDMs with investments in China. Moreover, sophisticated clients look to limit their exposure to geopolitical risk.”

With its huge population and perceived low costs, China is at the top of the list of non-Indian options, it added.

“Given the government focus and the level of investment going into China, the country offers a real set of offshore benefits, including a high volume of technology university education programs, government focus on IT and offshore, a mix of language skills in Japanese and Korean, and strong infrastructure.”

Despite this, issues such as fragmentation in local market are hindering China’s development as a premier offshore destination. The largest export player in China is Neusoft, with 1,000 employees doing offshore work.

IT Executive Quits
Wipro Ltd., India’s third-largest software and services outsourcing company, has announced that Rich Garnick, the company’s head of America sales, has resigned from his position. The announcement marks the third departure of a senior executive from the company in recent weeks.

Garnick, who said he is leaving Bangalore -based Wipro to spend more time with his family, was credited by the company with establishing its sales operations in North America and helping it become one of the largest outsourcing providers for North American companies. He will be replaced by P.R. “Sekar” Chandrasekhar, who currently heads Wipro’s European operations, the company said.

Chandrasekhar will relocate to the U.S. and will be responsible for the company’s operations in both markets as chief executive of Americas and Europe, Wipro said. Garnick will remain with the company during Chandrasekhar’s transition to his expanded role.

The announcement of Garnick’s departure comes less than one month after the company’s Silicon Valley-based vice chairman and chief executive officer, Vivek Paul, announced plans to leave Wipro to join Texas Pacific Group, a private investment firm. Also in June, Wipro lost another senior executive, Raman Roy, who headed the company’s business process outsourcing services business.

Focus on Asia Pacific
Infosys Technologies and Oracle Asia Pacific reiterated their commitment to jointly address the business needs of customers in the hi-tech manufacturing and financial services sectors in the Asia Pacific region.

Commenting on the joint initiatives and relationship, Derek Williams, executive vice president, Oracle Asia Pacific, said: “Infosys is a strategic global partner for Oracle and we strongly value this partnership because of their rich domain understanding, expertise in building software solutions and execution excellence.”

“The synergies between the two companies, together with Infosys strong business process knowledge and Oracles product innovation, will result in lower operating costs and improved focus to address the business needs of our Asia Pacific and global customers,” he added.

According to an Infosys statement, both organizations have experience helping Asia Pacific customers in the hi-tech, manufacturing and financial services sectors, especially in Japan, China and Australia, to effectively manage IT and business systems.

The two companies are working together to provide a solution based on Oracle’s 10g technology for banks and financial institutions in Japan, as an alternative to mainframe technology.

Eyeing UNIX Leadership
IBM emerged as the number one vendor in the overall server market in the country, according to IDC’s quarterly tracker. However, it has not been able to repeat this success in the Unix market in India. Now, IBM hopes to change this scenario by focusing on acquiring more customers. The company recently signed on Titan Industries, HDFC and Bajaj as Power5 customers. 

From a 27 percent market share in 2004, the company increased its share of the Unix pie to 30.2 percent in Q4’04. Betting on its flagship, Power 5-based servers, the company hopes to target high potential verticals like telecom, banking and financial services and the government sectors in India. 

IBM India Systems and Technology Group country manager Alok Ohrie said, “Our Power5 range has set a record by achieving 57 performance benchmarks worldwide. We are confident of IBM Power5 series being a good choice for SAP customers.” To enable more customer wins, IBM is increasing its engagement with its tier two partners. The company would be rolling out channel enablement and training programs across six cities for 200 business partners. IBM P series and Open Power country manager Jyothi Sathyanathan said that the next generation Power6 processor is expected to ship in 2006.

Opens Retail Outlet
Printing and imaging giant Hewlett Packard India has opened its premium retail outlet in Chennai, promising to give consumers an “interactive and informative shopping experience” and an ambience to “touch and feel” the company’s growing range of products.

The retail outlet Experience Zone would give consumers an opportunity to experience and evaluate products so that “they can take a good judgement call,” Varadarajan Krishnan of Hewlett Packard India told reporters after its inauguration.

“H-P believes in enhancing consumer experience by offering user-friendly solutions. The H-P Experience Zone is an attempt to provide consumers with an interactive and informative shopping experience,” he said.

Outlining H-P’s retail strategy, Varadarajan said the state would play a significant role in the expansion plans of Hewlett Packard India.

“Tamil Nadu has plenty of industries in the form of BPOs, manufacturing, SME and software. People from these industries are tech-savvy and are constantly looking out for new technologies and products,” he said.

Talks to Buy i-Flex Stake

Oracle is in talks with Citi group to buy out its majority 44 percent stake in software products and services company i-Flex solutions.

If the talks work out, the acquisition will give Oracle instant access to core banking solutions and services business. i-Flex’s main product Flexcube is the largest selling core banking solutions product.

Based on i-Flex’s closing price of Rs. 920, the 44 percent stake acquisition can cost Oracle Rs. 30 billion. Besides, a 20 percent mandatory open-offer will cost Rs. 13.7 billion. The i-Flex stock has gained nearly 20 percent in the past one month.

The Oracle spokesperson was unwilling to comment on the issue, while a Citi group spokesperson declined to “comment on speculation.” i-Flex executives did not respond queries either.

Oracle is a leading player in the ERP solutions space. The company has two development centers in India — one each in Hyderabad and Bangalore — apart from six sales and marketing offices spread across the four metros and the two tech cities.

$63 million for IT Parks
GE Commercial Finance will invest $63 million in the Indian IT Parks Fund, sponsored by Ascendas Pte Ltd, a leading business space provider and real estate fund management company, which will own and invest in technology parks that support infotech and IT-enabled services.

Ascendas will contribute two of the premier IT parks in India to the fund, International Tech Park, Bangalore, and Vanenburg IT park in Hyderabad, GE has said.

“Our investment with Ascendas underscores GE`s commitment to grow our presence in the Indian commercial real interest market,” GE India president and chief executive Scot Bayman said.

The fund plans to acquire and develop assets worth $500 million over the next seven years.

GE Commercial Finance Real Estate Asia Pacific will now have aggregate real estate investments of more than $4 billion, with operations in Japan, Korea, New Zealand and India. 

VSNL Buys Teleglobe
Videsh Sanchar Nigam has signed an agreement to acquire Bermuda-registered Teleglobe International Holdings for $239 million.

This will be its second overseas acquisition after the Tyco Global Network takeover in November last year for $130 million.

The acquisition would make VSNL a leading player in wholesale voice, bandwidth and enterprise data market, VSNL official N. Srinath told reporters. A Nasdaq-listed entity, Teleglobe is a leading provider of wholesale voice, data, internet protocol and mobile signaling services.

VSNL intends to set up a wholly-owned subsidiary in Bermuda, VSNL Telecommunications (Bermuda) Ltd, and merge Teleglobe with the new company. The deal is subject to approvals from various governments, Srinath said.

VSNL is buying out Teleglobe’s largest shareholder Crberus, a venture capital company, at $4.50 per share, a 20 percent premium on its Nasdaq price. This will amount to $178 million. Besides, VSNL will take over $61 million worth of debt of Teleglobe.

VSNL expects the acquisition to be completed in the next seven to eight months. “We will recover the cost in the next four to five years,” Srinath said. The Tata group company intends to synergize the new company’s operations with TGN which operates an undersea cable network that spans 60,000 km and the continents of North America, Europe and Asia.

The acquisition will give VSNL access to an extensive global network of Teleglobe that touches over 240 countries and territories with advanced voice, data and signaling capabilities, and ownership interests or capacity in more than 80 subsea and terrestrial cables.

Luxurious And Safe: 2005 Acura MDX - By Sally Miller Wyatt
The 2005 Acura MDX is a classy looking vehicle that is packed with plenty of safety features and seats seven, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.
The 2005 Acura MDX may be classified as a luxury SUV, but I like the fact that it’s not “in your face” about it at all. It is a classy looking vehicle that is packed with plenty of safety features and even one big surprise that should really please families: It seats seven.

For 2005, the Acura MDX adds even more safety enhancements to its already long list. Of course, you would expect these safety features to include driver and front passenger air bags, as well as side air bags. Now, the 2005 Acura adds a side curtain air bag with rollover sensor. Side impact door beams, front and rear crumple zones, anti-lock brakes, and upgraded Vehicle Stability Assist are also on board. A tire pressure monitoring system is also included, as it will be on all vehicles soon, thanks to our government’s insistence.

Once on the road, you’ll be impressed with the Acura’s solid grip on the pavement, thanks to its four-wheel drive system, its variable assisted rack-and-pinion steering, front and rear stabilizer bars, and responsive 3.5-liter V6 engine.

Bet the kids won’t notice, however, as they’ll be glued to the roof-mounted DVD entertainment system. Since the Acura MDX has seating for seven, you can bring the whole gang. But, if only five of you are going on the trip, the two rear seats fold down to increase cargo-carrying capacity.

As for extras, the Acura has them, as you would expect. The dash-mounted navigation system has been enhanced by a rear-view video screen that engages when you put the car in reverse.

The Acura’s interior is well dressed in leather seating with a heating feature for the driver and front passenger. The dashboard is accented by wood trim. Also available in the MDX is a Bose music system with six-disc CD player and eight speakers, which was part of the Touring package. The 2005 models have also been outfitted with XM Satellite Radio, and anyone who regularly reads this column knows I love this feature, particularly the Comedy Channel. Who wouldn’t want to laugh their way through thick commute traffic?

Behind the wheel, you’ll find the front and second row of seats are firm and there is good head and leg room throughout. Visibility is good. The second row of seats folds in 60/40 configuration, and the floor board is flat so you don’t have to give up foot room for a console.

On the road, we found the Acura MDX handled well, and was well insulated against road noise, even at freeway speed.

What family wouldn’t appreciate all the head and leg room, the extra seat belts and all those safety features?

For 2005, all MDX models equipped with the Touring Package also receive HandsFreeLink, which enables a Bluetooth wireless interface with mobile phones allowing calls to be made and received using the MDX’s voice recognition and audio interfaces. To make a call, drivers push the steering wheel-mounted HandsFreeLink button, which connects their phone to the system. The driver then says the number to call or indicates an entry stored in the system’s phone book. The voice recognition system responds, confirms the number or phone book entry and dials. The number being dialed as well as other calling information is shown on the navigation system screen. The HandsFreeLink system can be programmed to accept up to 6 different phones, and up to 50 numbers may be stored in the system’s phone book.

The Acura Navigation System with Voice Recognition is available as a factory-installed option on models equipped with the Touring Package. For 2005, the navigation system has been enhanced with expanded memory and a faster processor to provide quicker start up and route search times, more points of interest and access to the Zagat Survey Restaurant Guide. This easy to use system features a menu of 560 voice commands, an 8-inch display, a comprehensive destination guide with over 7 million points of interest, 3-D graphics for freeway interchanges, on and off-ramps and turn-by-turn voice guidance. In addition, all U.S. cities and street names (1.7 million) may now be accessed through the voice recognition system. The navigation system can be used through the steering wheel-mounted voice recognition button or by using the menu on the touch screen.

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



Worshipping Big B
Now you wouldn’t bat an eyelid if I told you that we all worship Big B, would you? After all, this guy seems to have lost none of his charisma at such an advanced age and his career is going great guns, so you gotta marvel at him.

But seriously, if I told you that fans in Kolkata worship Amitabh Bachchan, you would think it was just a figure of speech, right?

Think again. I mean literally worshipping. As in ceremonially installing his shoes on a throne, a la Lakshman in the Ramayana during Ram’s exile.

I kid you not. On Guru Purnima July 21 , when the faithful worship their gurus, hundreds of starry-eyed fans got together in south Kolkata to pay their respects to Big B.

Placed on a king-size ornamental throne from Bachchan film Aks were a pair of shoes that he wore in Agneepath as fans touched them and, in true traditional style, put imaginary dust on their foreheads.

“Lord Ram was worshipped by younger brother in absentia through his shoes which ruled over Ayodhya. Amitji rules our hearts and we accord him the position of god as a guru is worshipped in Hindu tradition,” Sanjay Patodiya, state secretary of the All Bengal Amitabh Bachchan Fans’ Association, said.

Bachchan was ubiquitous in the audio tapes run at the venue, in the chantings by his admirers and in the huge posters put around the venue.

There you go, then. No more can north Indians smirk when South Indians fans get silly about their celluloid idols, like attempting suicide when a star dies. In terms of wackiness, this certainly takes the cake.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Making Real News
She is back in the headlines again, the fair damsel from Pakistan. That should be reason to be happy, right? After all, the Pakistani film star has just had her debut release in India, Mahesh Bhatt’s Nazar, so it must be good if people are talking about her, right?

Well, the fact is nobody is talking about her film. For all the hype and controversy, it didn’t create much of a stir, and is dying a deserved if premature death.

Meera’s trouble is she keeps making news in the wrong places. As in off screen, rather than on screen.

Take the recent incident in Lahore. Photographer S.A. Raza charges that as he was heading home to Faisal Town, a Lahore suburb, a car came from behind and hit him. As he fell off, five armed men came out of the car and beat him up, telling him he was being punished for printing “bad things” about Meera. “If you go to the police, it will be even worse,” was the friendly message conveyed by one, Raza claims.

Raza has slapped a lawsuit against Meera and her mother Shafqat Zohra, but Meera claims she is innocent. “I have no idea what was going on and had nothing to say about it.” Pretty soon, though, as the case goes to court, she will have to open her pretty mouth.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Best Actor Saif?
You have to hand it to Saif Ali Khan. The Bollywood star has pulled off quite a surprise in the National Film Awards, winning the Best Actor Award for his performance in the Bollywood film Hum Tum, pipping to the post other strong contenders like Shah Rukh Khan, who everybody seemed to be saying was going to win it for his performance in Swades.

Meanwhile, Page 3, the superb and unusually realistic take on celebrity-driven media, ruled the roost, winning three honors, including the Best Feature Film Award.

Kannada actress Thaara won the Best Actress Award for her powerful portrayal of a young Muslim wife boldly questioning the traditional laws of her community in the film Hasina at the 52nd National Film Awards announced here July 13.

The award for Best Popular Film providing wholesome entertainment was shared by Yash Chopra’s Veer Zaara and Tamil film Autograph.

Veteran filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta won the Best Direction Award for the Bengali film Swapner Din for his complex handling of the socio-political situation in West Bengal.

But back to Saif. He beat other contenders such as Shah Rukh (Swades), Vijay Raaz (Hari Om) and Subodhro (Krantikaal) to win the Best Actor Award for his role in the frothy romantic comedy Hum Tum for what the jurors praised his “his sheer ease, subtlety and spontaneity in portraying a complex and demanding role.”

The Bollywood grapevine is less impressed. Amid raised eyebrows everywhere—the general consensus being that for once, Shah Rukh really deserved it for his performance in Swades—the rumor mill is working overtime to figure out how he managed to please the powers that be to get the award—a popular parlor game here during National Awards.

Pity the fellow. It seems like in cynical Bollywood, you simply cannot win.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

From Poland With Love
Let’s say a Shah Rukh Khan film is showing. Youths are literally dancing to his tune. Hordes are turning up in the cinema to see him in action.

Your tired response well may be: So tell me something I don’t know. What if I told you, this is happening not in Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata, not even the desi redoubts of Southall or New York, but in Poland?.

Poland. Who would have thought? Recently five of the King Khan’s films have been screening at an Indian film festival in the Polish city of Cieszyn (I know, I can’t pronounce it either), and young folks seem to be going bananas.

Every evening at 10 p.m. they were showing Shah Rukh’s films, and young crowds have been lapping up his performances in Kal Ho Na Ho, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Main Hoon Na and Dil Se. The moment the song and dance sequences began, they start dancing and clapping.

A canny Polish distributor is now distributing his films all over Poland, and he says the response is overwhelming. Well, what can you say? The King Khan conquers—again.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Angry Lovebirds
Bipasha Basu and John Abraham aren’t just in love, they are also seething with rage. The issue, if you are willing to believe the lovebirds, is yellow journalism. Apparently the romantic twosome are maha gussa at the gossip mill and reports spreading stories of John’s—um—extracurricular proclivities.

Not only has he been linked with a string of starlets before—Tara Sharma, Udita Goswami, Lara Dutta---the list goes on, but now, to add insult to injury, whole soap-opera-ish scenario’s are being concocted out of whole cloth, the couple claim.

The latest story claims Bipasha and John are headed for splittsville thanks to John’s, shall we say, fondness for Esha Deol. Not just that. Stories are making the rounds that Bipasha and Esha were involved in an unseemly catfight in which the feisty Bengali babe had what is known in diplomatic parlance as a “free and frank exchange of views” with Esha.

It’s all balderdash, fumes Bipasha, who is livid, because all this juicy stuff is distracting from the attention to his talent, which she thinks John deserves as his career continues to grow, particularly with the recent release of Viruddh.

Well, I am all for sympathizing with the duo, but first a word of advice for the lovebirds. Folks, if you flaunt your bodies on screen, don’t expect people to focus on your talent, at least not all the time. And Bips dear, you need to calm down. Weren’t you the one who once made the delightfully insouciant comment that you didn’t give a toss who the yellow journalists linked you with as long as he was a hot stud? That’s the way to deal with these folks. Getting mad at gossipmongers is like throwing red meat at a pit bull: It just gets you even more unwelcome attention. So keep your shirt on—figuratively speaking, of course.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

HINDI CINEMA: Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya
Produced by: Dhilin Mehta and Sohail Khan
Directed by: David Dhawan
Music: Himesh Reshammiya
Starring: Salman Khan, Sushmita Sen, Arshad Warsi, Sohail Khan, Katrina Kaif, Ishaa Koppikar, Rajpal Yadav, Shashi Kiran & Bina Kak

Katrina Kaif, Salman Khan and Sohail Khan in “Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya”

Expecting high-class cinema from David Dhawan is rather like expecting haute cuisine at a dhaba — the shame is on you for expecting the impossible. So we are not going to go there.

The dhaba analogy is admittedly limited by the fact that while a really good dhaba serves wholesome delicious food, “wholesome” is not the first word that springs to mind when one thinks of David Dhawan.

The great man has been living in obscurity for a while after his heydays spinning out slapstick capers starring the king of tapori antics Chi Chi aka Govinda. The smiling superstar, of course has now been lost to the murkier world of politics.

However, I digress.

Coming back to David Dhawan — the man had pretty much a lock on an especially zany genre of comedy that delights people, and who are we to quarrel with that? This film is no exception, and despite its flaws (hey, this is a David Dhawan film) it packs enough high-octane entertainment to mark a real big comeback.

So let’s move on to the story line. Sameer (Salman Khan) is in love, and makes no bones about it. Oops, pardon the terrible pun. Sameer, you see, is a haddiyon ka doctor. When it comes to women, the good doctor also takes a keen interest in what’s wrapped around their bones.

After serial flirtations, it appears that Sameer has fallen in love with Sonia (Katrina Kaif), but he is afraid of commitment — so he bullshits Sonia. He tells her he has to dump her because he is married.

Sonia calls his bluff. She wants to see his wife. What wife? Where the heck does he get a wife. There is one woman who has all the patience in the world, and that’s Naina (Sushmita Sen), his nurse. In fact, she provides service above and beyond the call of duty, and that includes a few stints as the fake bahu.

The going is stickier this time, because after seeing the fake bahu (Naina) she wants to see the kids. Then she wants to meet his mother. Poor Naina can cover up only so much.

Meanwhile, Sonia’s smitten neighbor Pyaare (Sohail Khan) continually throws a spanner in the works as he keeps finding holes in Sameer’s stories.

Add to this melee Sameer’s real mom, and his best friend Vicky (Arshad Warsi) with his fake patient, and the proceedings get really, really crazy.

The wacky comedy is brought to life by some well-etched characters (Rumi Jaffrey’s script) and boosted by breezy performances with super comic timing and chemistry. Salman Khan is effortlessly natural, Katrina is surprisingly good, Sushmita pretty much steals the show and Bina Kak is a scream as the terrifying mother.

Of course, do not for a moment thing it’s all original. Parts of the 1969 Walter Matthau- Goldie Hawn comedy Cactus Flower are grafted to a few scenes from the final episode of the television show Friends — you get the idea.

For all its humor, the film sometimes seems to suffer from an identity crisis—there are moments of melodrama and pathos that don’t sit well with its light comic character, the end result is confusing. If you can forget the pretty disappointing climax, it’s not a bad film—one has to marvel at Dhawan’s capability of total suspension of logic.

This is Bollywood, buddy, so don’t ask too many questions. Learn to shrug off all consistencies with a shrug like Salman who offers this deeply philosophical reflection: “Kyun, why, kaiko ka koi jawab nahi hota.”

Rating: **1/2 (Mediocre)


Chinna: Pshcyo Thriller
Director: Sunder C.
Cast: Arjun, Sneha, Vikramaditya, Arthi, Manivannan, Mansurali Khan, J P Reddy, Riyaz Khan, Livingston, Ponnambalam.

Deranged minds, split personalities, multiple personality disorders, schizophrenia, call it what you will. But it seems to be the favorite theme of filmmakers these days. That’s how you get Chinna, a dreaded rowdy and the favorite hireling of local don Vajravelu who seems to suffer from some brain damage. No reason given, no psychiatric evaluation done.

Chinna is an orphan brought up by Vajravelu. He is ruthless and remorseless when dealing with his boss’ enemies. Enter Gayatri, the pretext is some research work on coral rocks. Though Gayatri doesn’t hesitate to berate Chinna for his hooliganism, her warmth and sincere attempt to reform him, which he understands as love, thaws him enough into changing track. But circumstances land him in jail for a murder.

Four years later, when he comes out, Gayatri is married to Raghu, trying to put her past behind her, and get on with her new life. But Chinna is not one to give up so easily, his target being Raghu. Darr-type situations follow.

The backdrop to the story is the wide sandy beach, with fishing boats around, and the cool waters of Rameswaram, which, when contrasted with the violence around it, gives an interesting and a different flavor to the scenes. The director has kept the narration fast paced, with Imman’s songs peppy, and the theme tune for Chinna’s entry catchy. There is no separate comedy track, though Ponnambalam and Mansur playing henchmen to Chinna try desperately but in vain to draw some laughs. 

Arjun, expectedly, does his fights and stunts with flair, his intense grim look suiting the role well. It’s when the story moves into the second half that the director falters with the introduction of the schizophrenic factor, an unwanted and an unnecessary element in the story, which seemed to have been added more as an afterthought. For, except for one half-hearted attempt at twitching his neck, a psycho’s mandatory mannerism in Tamil films, there is no evolvement of the character due to the split personality factor.

Throughout the film, Chinna is just a plain rowdy, violence is his way of life, and he is an obsessed lover drawn by Gayatri’s affectionate overtures, his violence and obsession needing no further excuse or explanation!

Sneha looks good in some fetching costumes, tries to get into her character and does a fair job of it. But the director’s attempts to show more of her in some glamorous outfits in the song-dance numbers backfires. Because Sneha just won’t reveal, let alone sizzle the screen.

— Malini Mannath


Mexican Treat: Veggie Taco
- By Seema Gupta
In the mood for something different? Seema Gupta shows you how to make a delicious Mexican snack.

  • 10 Taco shells (1 box)
  • 1 cup chopped cabbage
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 can refried beans
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • ½ tsp Black pepper
  • 1 tsp chili paste

Heat pan on stove. Add cooking oil. Add chili paste and ½ cup onion. Fry for two minutes. Add refried beans, salt and pepper. Mix and fry for five minutes. Remove from stove.

Toast taco shells in toaster for 30 secs. Taka each taco shell, fill with 1 tbsp refried beans mix. Then 2 tsp onions, 2 tsp tomatoes, 2 tsp cabbage and finally 2 tsp of cheese.

Serve with salsa.

Serves five.

- Seema Gupta is a homemaker. She lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


August 2005 Horoscope
By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Opportunity arrives on a silver platter. You will successfully negotiate a great deal with a reputed organization. Gamble will pay off. Domestic issues will take unusually longer to resolve. Concerns about a child will rise.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Negotiations will end favorably. You will be involved in a legal battle. Keep an eye on your belongings during a trip. Spouse will have great business ideas. You will take a short family vacation. A big opportunity is just around the corner.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): A stitch in time saves nine. Stick to your plans, success is well within reach. You will be extremely lucky in all financial matters. Listen to your spouse, it will help avert a bad situation. You will invite friends at your place.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): The wait will be finally over. You will need a lot of patience and hard work to get out of a messy situation. You will be going on an important trip. A new project will make you famous and of course rich. You will spend more time with children and pass on valuable knowledge.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): Business will improve all of a sudden and so will all the hassles of running it. Problems will follow an easy way out. You will sign important papers. Some one will try to irritate you but will fail to do so. You have an important trip coming soon.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): Last minute issues can jeopardize a deal in final stage of going through. You may decide to abstain from attending a religious function. Change at work is almost certain. Financially you will stay comfortable. You will go on an interesting trip with children.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Sudden changes will cause a lot of excitement in life. Money matters could cause some panic. Some one close in the past will provide a very useful tip. Workload will multiply. Errors committed earlier can cause a huge financial loss now.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Your journey towards financial freedom starts now. Avoid people who have troubled you in the past. You may decide to move to a better residence. A property deal will bring in extra cash. An old friend will call on you.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will be headed towards taking a big risk. Avoid making long term plans, go for a quick kill. A better job is well within reach. An old health issue will flare up again. You will plan for trip to a distant place in the near future.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): There will be a big improvement in your situation and you will get good news this week. Your expenses will reduce as you head towards increasing your savings. Avoid any arguments at home or with a close friend. A plan that you have been working on will bring stability in career.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will start a new venture with an old friend. Hurdles will diminish, making room for quick progress in career. You will make an important and long term investment. You will receive excellent suggestions on exploring business possibilities.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will tend to become an extravagant spender and end up throwing money on unnecessary things. You may cut down on your efforts to start a new business. Some electronic gadgets will need replacement. Planets will divert your financial strategy.

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


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