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APRIL 2006
Volume VII • Issue 4

EDITORIAL: Re-thinking Knowledge
NEWS DIARY: March Roundup
COUTURE: Satya Paul Fashion Show
SOCIETY: The Stark Divide
COMPETITION: How Smart Are You?
HEALTH: Heart Disease and Indians | Health Tips for Immigrants
SURVEY: NCM Multilingual Poll
CONTROVERSY: Hindu Group Sues State
CINEMA: A Spoonful of Spice
TRIBUTE: Pak Star Mohammad Ali
PERFORMANCE: CCF Raas-Garba Contest
FESTIVAL: Holi in Fremont
CONCERT: Raghav, Juggy D, Veronica
ART: Contours of Life
AUTO : 2006 Mercury Mountaineer
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Film Review: Malamaal Weekly
TAMIL CINEMA: Mercury Pookkal
RECIPE: Sangar Ki Subzi & Paratha
Re-thinking Knowledge:
India’s Economic Future

Sam Pitroda is not just one of the most independent and visionary thinkers of India, he is also someone who has a passion for India and its future. An inventor, a technocrat, and a social thinker, the telecommunications whiz made the case that telecommunications – along with substantial food, clean water, and adequate shelter – were a fundamental component in the process of modernization. People dismissed him then, but he has had the last laugh after time has proven him spectacularly right.

So we thought who better to ask what he thought about the huge celebratory hype over IT and specially business process outsourcing, which many in the media were touting as India’s next big thing.

Pitroda was characteristically blunt. Yes, it was nice jobs were being created, especially in the urban areas, but what was the big deal about BPO? Pitroda said India needed far, far more jobs to address the needs of the millions of new entrants to its rank of unemployed, and the few hundred thousand jobs created by BPO was like a drop in the ocean.

In fact, India needed to rethink the whole concept of knowledge, he said. Now that sounded fascinating. So we pressed Pitroda on this, and he elaborated further on India’s Knowledge Commission, which is a unique body of extraordinary Indians who have been successful in various, diverse fields.

The Knowledge Commission had taken a close, thorough look at the basic concept of knowledge and where India was headed, and had come up with some innovative concepts about what needs to be done to ensure that India becomes a genuine player in the coming century.

In this month, we carry excerpts of an absorbing interview given by Sam Pitroda to Siliconeer.

Another entrepreneur and educator is also wondering about India’s coming gap in a pool of knowledgeable workers, and he has his own, ambitious plan to deal with it. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Alo Ghosh knows what he is talking about, because not only has he taught at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, he has also been involved in creating a hugely successful technology start up in Kolkata and actually headed an educational institute there that conferred bachelor’s degrees approved by the University of London.

Ghosh, who keeps a close canny eye on business development around the world, has discovered that increasingly, India’s tea gardens and some spice farms in the south are becoming unviable for a variety of reasons, including the realities of a murderously competitive global market.

One person’s problem is another’s opportunity, he figures. Here’s a great opportunity to get large tracts of particularly beautiful, sylvan land, and here is his conceptual masterstroke — why not get the land, turn them into high-end golf resort properties, and then plow in the revenues into building top-class educational institutions that offer solid, practical undergraduate degrees for thousands of young students who can jump in the job market right away.

Fully developed, the plan envisages a cluster of four campuses in India and two in China, and could produce tens of thousands of world-class graduates every year.
It’s not a pie-in-the-sky theory, either. Due diligence is going on as Ghosh eyes a plot to purchase in Kerala and rounds up potential investors, and he has done all the math. He writes all about it in this month’s issue.

India’s Bollywood is a multi-billion dollar filmmaking industry, but cinema is not just about entertainment, says avant garde filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak. The Stanford graduate student has been making films for 11 years, but don’t expect winsome nymphets to dance around bushes in his films.

Calling himself a “fringe of the fringe filmmaker,” he says is he not just outside the mainstream filmmaking world, he is not even part of the alternative documentary filmmaking community in India. “I look at films as means of artistic creation driven by deep aesthetic processes, and not a means of entertainment like Bollywood or Hollywood does, nor a means of producing political propaganda as television documentary does.”

How does he make films? “That’s easy,” he replies, “I make films using my own savings; people buy houses and cars, I make films.”

He is presently finishing a feature film in Bengali but hasn’t been able to complete it because he still needs $20,000.

Siliconeer presents a report this month on the work of this unconventional artist and the challenges he faces.

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

The Knowledge Advantage: What India Needs to Do -
A Siliconeer report
All the hoopla over the hundreds and thousands of jobs created by back office work leaves Sam Pitroda unimpressed. This is just a drop in the bucket, he says. To really get ahead, India needs a total knowledge makeover, because knowledge is not just about education, it is about a whole lot of things. A Siliconeer exclusive interview with Sam Pitroda.

You have recently told the BBC Hindi service that India’s success with BPO has been overhyped. Why?

I think BPO has gotten a lot of publicity in India, outside India. Rightfully so, in one way, because it has created jobs in urban areas, in modernized sectors. But at the same time we have lost sight of the fact that it has created only a handful of jobs in a nation of a billion people. We need to create 10 million jobs every year and BPO has created 500,000 jobs, which is really a drop in the ocean. But it affects well-to-do families, urban families . . .

Sam Pitroda is the chairman of India’s National Knowledge Commission.
In fact that was something I was going to raise with you. Do you think that one of the reasons BPO has gotten this much attention is that the Indian audiovisual media, and perhaps to some degree the print media, has a habit of focusing obsessively on the metropolitan areas and tends to extrapolate from that and draw conclusions about entire India?
Absolutely. Because they see if they go to a club, they go to a friend’s house, they go to a wedding, and they all talk about “Oh, my son’s working in BPO,” “My brother-in-law’s cousin is working in a BPO.” (That’s) the ecosystem in which they live in, and pretty soon they lose sight of the fact that this is not really India.

Let’s talk about the Knowledge Commission that you happen to chair. Has the commission as a whole done any work on this?

The commission has not done work on BPO because it’s such a small piece of the puzzle. The commission is really first focused on e-governance.

Okay, let me rephrase that question. Give our readers a sense about the organization. It’s a bit odd. You are there, DSE sociologist Andre Beteille, a lot of distinguished, interesting people are there, but we do not know a whole lot about it.

So give a thumbnail sketch for our readers on why you people were brought together by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and what your general agenda is, what you are trying to do.
The idea was that what we tried to do 30 years ago to telecom, in mid-’80s, had far-reaching implications for India in the 20 years down the road. At that time when I talked about telecom revolution down the road in India, people used to laugh at us saying, “Look, India needs water, agriculture and why telecom, why IT, why software? Why computers?” My answer then was, “Look, I know how to deal with telecom, I don’t know how to deal with water, so let me do my telecom job. Because I believe telecom is an important part of transformation of India because it results in connectivity, networking, democratization, resource utilization.” IT telecom did transform India.

Twenty years down the road, Congress government came to power. A national advisory council headed by Sonia Gandhi — I was a member — was asked to look at science and technology and education. I spent some time, and based on that I felt that if you focus on knowledge today, 20 years down the road, you will see some significant change in India.

And knowledge is not about education, it is about a whole lot of things.

So I put together a presentation for the National Advisory Council, gave them a presentation, and then I talked to PM and PM liked the idea. And I am sure PM must have talked to other people as well. But immediately PM said, “Sam, we want to do this.” So I said, let’s wait for six months, do a little bit of thinking and I want to internalize the issue. So I spent six months reading, understanding, talking to people at Harvard, MIT, Japan, you know, looking at what everybody is doing.

The Knowledge Commission: Objectives

The overall task before the National Knowledge Commission is to take steps that will give India the ‘knowledge edge’ in the coming decades, i.e. to ensure that the country becomes a leader in the creation, application and dissemination of knowledge.

Creation of new knowledge principally depends on strengthening the education system, promoting domestic research and innovation in laboratories as well as at the grassroots level, and tapping foreign sources of knowledge through more open trading regimes, foreign investment and technology licensing.

Application of knowledge will primarily target the sectors of health, agriculture, government and industry. This involves diverse priorities like using traditional knowledge in agriculture, encouraging innovation in industry and agriculture, and building a strong e-governance framework for public services.

Dissemination of knowledge focuses on ensuring universal elementary education, especially for girls and other traditionally disadvantaged groups; creating a culture of lifelong learning, especially for skilled workers; taking steps to boost literacy levels; and using Information and Communication Technology to enhance standards in education and widely disseminate easily accessible knowledge that is useful to the public.
(Source: Knowledge Commission Web site)
You say that knowledge is not the same as education. Would you elaborate on that?

You see, when you look at education, it is one piece of the puzzle. To me there are five aspects of knowledge. One is access to knowledge. Who has access to knowledge? How do you get access to knowledge? In access, we are looking at things like reservations, affirmative action programs, libraries, networks, portals to really improve access to knowledge for large number of people where they are all over in multiple languages.

Then second piece is: Knowledge concepts, which is basically education. Primary education, secondary education, university, distance learning, vocational training, all of that. Third piece is creation of knowledge. Where is knowledge created? In science and technology laboratories, in research activities. So that piece also includes intellectual property, copyright, trademark, innovation, entrepreneurship. Fourth piece is application of knowledge. How is knowledge applied? Where do you apply knowledge? Application in agriculture, application in industry and application in health. And fifth piece is knowledge-related services. How knowledge can transform governance. We have really not looked at transforming governance in the last 60 years. We have made incremental changes here and there. If you focus on e-governance, you can really begin to look at transformation of government in a very different way.

Take for example, how do you get a birth certificate? Or land records? An issue of perennial fights and arguments.

Absolutely. You know, all these processes are set up 70-80 years ago in British period, and today we are computerizing those processes. So Knowledge Commission has looked and said: “We need to really first redo the processes.” In other words, we really need to restructure the processes before we computerize. Today, we have to redo the process of getting land record, process of getting birth certificate, process of applying for admission to a school instead of doing it the same way we have been doing for the past 80 years.

So going back to the earlier question: There are really five areas of knowledge. Access, concept, creation, application and services.

So we are looking at knowledge horizontally, also vertically. We are also looking at traditional knowledge. We have set up this group of eight prominent people, they have different backgrounds, different sort of experiences. In first couple of meeting (we were) getting to know each other, we all have to click, and see the problem the same way. Then we decided to focus on something like 100 different activities, of which, we said: “Look, we can do only limited things.” So let’s focus on 20 for the first year. Now we are focused on 20 activities. We have set up some working groups, we had some meetings. First was really e-governance. We have submitted our recommendations to the prime minister on e-governance, very different from the way we are doing it today.

The Knowledge Commission: Members

Sam Pitroda, chairman of the Knowledge Commission, has spent four decades in the world of telecommunications helping bridge the global communications divide. His professional career has been divided between the three continents of North America, Asia and Europe.

Widely regarded as the architect of modern biology and biotechnology in India, Dr. P.M. Bhargava, vice chairman of the Knowledge Commission, is currently chairman of The Medically Aware and Responsible Citizens of Hyderabad, the Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal, and the Basic Research, Education and Development Society, New Delhi.

Dr. André Béteille is professor emeritus of sociology in the University of Delhi. He is known world-wide for his contribution to the comparative study of social inequality. He has lectured in many universities and is a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Dr Ashok Ganguly is currently the chairman of ICICI OneSource Limited and ABP Pvt Ltd., and has been a director on the central board of the Reserve Bank of India, since November 2000. In addition, he heads his own consulting company, Technology Network India Pvt Ltd.

Dr. Jayati Ghosh is professor of economics and currently also chairperson at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research interests include globalization, international trade and finance, employment patterns in developing countries, macroeconomic policy, and issues related to gender and development.

Deepak Nayyar is professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Earlier he has taught economics at the University of Oxford, the University of Sussex and the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata. Until recently, he was vice chancellor of the University of Delhi.

One of the founders of Infosys Technologies Ltd., Nandan M. Nilekani is currently its Chief Executive Officer. In the past he has also been its Managing Director, President and Chief Operating Officer. Nilekani co-founded India’s National Association of Software and Service Companies.

Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta is president and chief executive, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. He was previously professor of government at Harvard University and associate professor of government and of social studies at Harvard.
(Source: Knowledge Commission Web site)

Obviously you can’t detail the entire set of recommendations. But can you tell us one or two salient things that you recommended?

One suggestion is that we really need to focus on reengineering of processes before we computerize.

What do you mean by that?

What we mean by that is the current practice is to take the existing process and computerize. How do you file income tax? They are taking how you file income tax and then computerizing it, rather than saying that the process of filing income tax is wrong. If you had to redo in 2006, how would you redo it? So process reengineering is a prerequisite to computerization.

Then standardization. Today every state is doing their own thing. Karnataka is doing something, Andhra Pradesh is doing something else. We are saying, “Look, that is not acceptable. We must have some standards.” Why should birth certificates be different in every state? It could be different in language, but it should look alike. It should be Indian birth certificate.

We are doing our police records (differently). One state cannot read another state’s police record. One district cannot read another district’s police record.

So we are really attacking a problem in a very different way. Like standardization.

Then, Web-based services. Every state today is doing their work in letter-driven approach. We are saying you can’t do that, we should have a federal Web-based service.

Today, everybody is doing their own thing, and lot of this stuff is not viable because there is no business model.

We have done I think a reasonably good job — (Infosys CEO) Nandan Nilekani has spent a lot of time, I spent a lot of time, and we have basically accepted recommendations.

Reservations are a political minefield. How do you propose to navigate in this dangerous territory?

Let’s do one thing at a time. We know that we can’t do everything.

So first we have taken e-governance. Now we are taking university reforms, because our universities are in a mess. A country of a billion people cannot have 300 universities, you want 2,000 universities. We can’t have affiliated colleges, we can’t have same level of standardization university. We need different levels of universities — good universities, very good universities and okay universities. We need different pay scales. We have done a lot of work on university reforms. We will be submitting that in next few weeks.

Then we have started working groups on translation. We believe translation is a multi-billion dollar business in India, which we have not really focused on. You know, I don’t know good literature in Tamil or Gujarati, good literature in Bengali or Malayalam. We haven’t done that. We only translate English stuff.

Then we have working groups on traditional knowledge, on distance learning, on vocational training, on innovations. So we have lots of groups set up, we have meetings going on, we have talked to industry, we have started consultation process, we’ve met with the members of Parliament, all that process has started.

You are based in Illinois. Mr. Nilekani, presumably, is based in Bangalore. How do you work?

We are working through networking and all, because all these people have full-time jobs, and we wanted to make sure that people who have full-time jobs get involved in it and do not take this as a full time job, because I don’t want this to be a bureaucratic office. Nobody takes salary, everybody pays their own staff. There are ten bright guys who are helping us to coordinate our work. They are in Delhi. They are paid. It’s a contract, not a full-time government service. It’s a three-year contract.

We want our freedom to be able to say things and I insisted that we don’t want bureaucratic network, we don’t want IAS officers. We want to do it differently. We do networking. We are all doing our thing. We come together every two-three months, spend three full days.

Let me just give you the key areas that we are attacking. E governance, university reform, vocational training, distance learning, primary education, literacy, innovations, translations, libraries, networks, portals — we will have a national portal on water. Energy, education, environment. These are some of the areas we are focused on. And we want really generational transformation in these areas.

How is your focus going to change the current skewed media focus on BPO and outsourcing and the metropolitan cities?

First of all, we need the support of people like you. We need many more young, enlightened, journalists to really bring what we are doing (do the public).

Here’s the thing that bothers me. I am all for changing the license raj, and bringing in the market to serve Indian society where it can. But my real worry is that what we are seeing increasingly in India is essentially a class divide where elites in the metropolitan cities are enjoying the fruits and the media exercise has become a sort of insular navel-gazing where the privileged pay themselves huge salaries and they say everything is hunky dory. Yet vast swathes of India outside the metropolises have remained virtually untouched.

I buy that. I am all with you, I subscribe to your views. I am very concerned about water, literacy, health, rural development. All I am saying is that I want to take that knowledge and make sure that people really transform our quality of life.

Something as simple and stark as the digital divide is a cause for enormous concern. For all the strides in IT, capability of using vernacular Indian languages on the computer remains appalling. Yet nobody is talking about that.

Digital divide is not just a divide of computers, it’s also a divide of literacy. The divide is the divide in education, health, malaria research, it’s not about just computers.

One final question before we wrap up. From what I hear from you, it seems that what your team is doing is not only crafting an independent way of determining India’s knowledge needs, but also along the way creating a separate and independent model of addressing large public policy issues. Is that a fair way of putting it?

Absolutely. To me this is the lifetime job.

More information and contact email, addresses and phone numbers are available at the Knowledge Commission Web site at www.knowledgecommission.org.

- Sam Pitroda is the chairman of India’s National Knowledge Commission.


The University That Can: Alo Ghosh's UniverCity

Amid the celebrations over sky-high projections of the number of skilled jobs that are going to be outsourced to India, former McKinsey consultant Alo Ghosh asks the critical question: Will India be ready? He offers a very compelling answer as well.

Here’s the deal: India’s staggering growth in attracting outsourced jobs from all over the world may be spectacular, but it could well come to a disastrous halt if we don’t create the number of employable graduates with the right skills.

Alo Ghosh is a former finance teacher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, a strategy consultant for McKinsey, and a Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur.
After looking at the issue closely and giving it serious thought, I am convinced that there is an opportunity here to put together a large campus that provides a solid, employable education, makes money for its investors, and provide India with a real fillip as it takes on the challenge presented by the spectacular growth that analysts anticipate.

Intrigued? Good. Now please read on as I present my case.

The Challenge
It’s a good time to be Indian. Gone are the days when the tendency in the West, particularly in the U.S., was to treat the world’s largest democracy with condescension if not contempt. India was known for its poverty, its left-leaning policies, its bureaucratic red tape, its corruption.

What a difference a few decades make! The rapid strides in information technology has brought about a dramatic makeover in India’s image. Indian-educated technocrats have come to this country in droves and have either set up or been part of some of the most successful IT firms in this nation. Meanwhile, the likes of Infosys and Wipro have made the world sit up and take notice, and India is now increasingly recognized as a global player not only in terms of its economic prowess but also in terms of the knowledge power of its skilled and educated people who have unleashed a global traffic of jobs to the country.

So far, so good. But if you step back and think about it for a moment, there’s a big catch in this rosy picture if India doesn’t plan ahead. And it’s this: When all those jobs come to India, will we be ready?

According to a recent study from McKinsey & Co., the number of Indians employed in the BPO sector could potentially swell from 700,000 today to 2.1 million by 2010, with a further 6.9 million being indirectly employed.

Salil Tripathi puts it well in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal: “India produces engineers of both types. The engineers from the IITs, whom multinationals encounter in Silicon Valley, are part of the cream.

“Over the past 50 years, some 40,000 of them have left India, usually for the U.S. Some remain in India and some return home, rising quickly to senior positions in multinationals and leading local companies.

“That elite is vastly overqualified for most of the outsourced jobs. What the industry needs is a bigger pool of moderately-skilled transactional engineers and workers. But of the 2.5 million Indians who graduate each year, McKinsey estimates that only a quarter possess the skills multinationals want.”

Business Week wrote about the problem in graphic terms in November last year: “With India’s economy on a tear, these are heady times for Mumbai-based Larsen & Toubro Ltd. The company, India’s top construction and engineering outfit, has seen its sales jump by 35 percent in the past year as Delhi boosts spending on roads and ports and India Inc. invests in more factories and office parks. But L&T chairman Anil Manibhai Naik isn’t celebrating. That’s because he can’t hire enough mechanical engineers to keep up with all the work. Despite boosting wages for rookie engineers by 25 percent — to roughly $5,700 per year — Naik is still losing potential recruits to the software industry, multinational competitors in India, or rivals in the Persian Gulf that pay twice his current rate. Says Naik: ‘Everyone is growing fast, and India is facing a talent shortage.’”

That’s happening right now. Just imagine what the situation will be when the needs grow by the supply doesn’t keep pace.

Business Week hits the nail on the head when it points out the deficiencies of India’s education system: “While the country’s elite universities rival schools anywhere, they graduate fewer than 100,000 students annually. The rest of the 14 million people who finish high school each year must choose between lower-level universities and vocational training schools, which haven’t adapted to the requirements of India’s changing economy. Unless the education system can fulfill the aspirations of India’s youth, the current boom could turn into a disaster, warns Rama Bijapurkar, a Mumbai marketing consultant. “Without some changes, the aspirations of India’s employers — who need more and better-trained workers than ever — will remain unfulfilled as well.”

The Plan
There you have it. So what’s to be done? The old days of the government being the recourse of last resort are gone. Nor is it fair, or even practical, to expect the cash-strapped Indian government to subsidize tertiary-level education which middle-class Indians have been getting for a pittance.

Good, college-level education costs money, but this provides a pathway for graduates to raise their income astronomically, so it is perfectly legitimate to require them to pay their way, and a profit can be made.

This is not simply theory. I have studied the issue thoroughly, made detailed plans, and am ready to actually launch into it. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation has verbally agreed to back me, and could well end up financing up to 20 percent of the project.

My lawyers are going through due diligence as we speak and we are all set to buy 1,000 acres of land near Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve The completed project in Kerala alone will cost over $300 million.

While the opening up of Foreign Direct Investment in the real estate sector in India has generated a rash of investment funds today, their narrow focus on urban housing and office space, given the paucity of land with clear title in India’s largest cities, will likely generate very low return of investment for investors. We take advantage of a recent trend, the WTO induced decline of the tea industry in India, to originate large tracts of tea estate land in the hilly and cooler areas and target them for effecting a novel strategy to generate high return of investment while contributing significantly to the economic development of India. In the process, we hope to create the world’s largest educational institution by enrolment and a role model for employment-focused mass education.

Our strategy is to start with the first property being purchased (1,000 acres near Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve) and build a world-class golf community (along with health-care, yoga practices and ayurvedic healing) as our core return-on-investment component. It will also serve as the basis for attracting the best people to teach, whether as time-share visitors or full-time retirees. We plan to build a 27-hole golf course surrounded by 200 single-unit villas and another 200 apartment condos, priced at $500,000 and $250,000 respectively. Around this 350-acre golf and health-care community is planned a sprawling residential education campus consisting of an American/International School (supported partly by the U.S. State Department), an undergraduate program of B.Sc. degrees by the London School of Economics in business and technology subjects, a diploma program by Cambridge University in business and technology areas, an indigenous medical & nursing school, and future graduate programs in collaboration with some of the top universities in the U.S. The campus is planned to utilize another 350 acres of land. Total student population is planned at 50,000. Finally, corporations will be invited to locate their remote IT, R&D & BP outsourcing outposts in the remaining build-able land area of 350 acres to effect talent based synergies with the student and teacher populations in the campus. This utilization of the remaining vacant land will be in the form of long-term leases awarded to the corporations.

We plan to replicate this model in the East (Darjeeling/Gangtok), West (Sahyadri/Mahabaleswar), & North (Gangotri/Mussoorie) of India in phases once the golf community is pre-sold & construction has begun in each location during the course of the next 3 years. Expansion into China is also in the works. All of these campuses are planned to be networked into an extensive provider of Distance Education & E-Learning to thousands more at homes in India and China. As of now, only the land in Kerala has been finalized for purchase immediately. We are now embarking on the process of enlisting key investors in the equity of the new corporation being formed that will own and initiate this entire development process during the next three years.

We expect to take this entity public at that time when the growth multiple will be in full play.

We know the scene very well. I know all of the private players there. There is a huge need to create graduates — the number of employable graduates we have is not very different from Poland or Russia which is kind of painful to hear, because we are so much larger.

The idea is that we don’t have to give them a Stanford brand, we don’t have to give them a really bad education — it has to be somewhere in the middle. The biggest problem is infrastructure and the second biggest problem is lack of teachers.

Here’s where our future plans of distance education will come into play. India just hasn’t created the number of teachers required. Because we are going from 100s of institutions to tens of thousands. It’s not a joke, right? We have to take the best of teachers and marry distance education to them so that each can reach more number of students.

Alo Ghosh can be reached at alo@aloghosh.com.


NEWS DIARY: March Roundup
Girls to Perform Altar Duties | Three Indian Americans Named Truman Scholars | Scientist Who Fostered Re-think, Wins Stockholm Water Prize | Nuke Deal Tough Sell | Indo-Pak Goods Train | HIV Infection Rates Fall in South India | Medical Tourism Expo | Bollywood Rules Ramp at Fashion Week | Bangladesh Doing Well | Divorce Ruling Hailed | ‘Time’ Lauds Sunita | Pakistan Relocating Quake-Devastated City | Go Kingfisher | Thriving Pak Press | Boost for Lanka Peace | Paintings Fetch $1M | Happy 91st Birthday

Girls to Perform Altar Duties
Breaking a 2,000-year-old tradition, the Catholic church in southern Indian state of Kerala will permit girls to perform certain altar duties, which have normally been done by boys till now.
Girls up to the age of 14 will be allowed to “serve the altar” and assist the priest in liturgical ceremonies like mass functions, which were normally being done by boys, spokesman of the Syro Malabar Church Father Paul Thelakat, told PTI.

The altar girls will have specific roles to play during liturgical ceremonies, like lighting the incense, helping with the prayers and the priest to perform certain functions, he said.
But this was not a first step towards ordaining women as priests, Father Thelakat said. According to Catholic Church women are not to be ordained.

Christ had appointed 12 apostles who were all men. The church believes that priesthood is only for men, he said.

All the churches under the Ernakulam-Angamally archdiocese of Kerala have been permitted by Cardinal Mar Varkey Vithayathil to have altar girls to perform the duties. The parish priests have been asked to take a decision after consulting the parish councils.

Though the Vatican had allowed this few years ago and a couple of churches have altar girls on occasions, but this is the first time the church has given its consent, he said. The Kerala Catholic Bishops did discuss the matter last month and had stated that if parishoners and the priests had no objections, the girls can be allowed to perform altar duties.

Father Thelakat said permitting girls to perform altar duties did not mean that boys were being dissuaded.

He said there were certain stipulations to becoming altar girls. Only girls up to the age of 14 would be allowed to perform duties at the altar, they should be properly trained and should wear special vestments while performing their duties.
|Back to NEWS Diary|

Three Indian Americans Named Truman Scholars
Three Indian American university students have been named among 75 national Truman Scholars for 2006. Each student will receive a $30,000 scholarship for graduate study. The recipients are: Manasi Abhay Deshpande of the University of Texas-Austin, Mukul Kumar of the University of California-Irvine, and Kunal Malhotra of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, announced the winners March 28.

They were selected from among 598 candidates nominated by 311 colleges and universities by 19 independent panels on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability, and likelihood of “making a difference.”

Kumar, a history major at U.C.-Irvine, is involved in nonprofit housing and urban development issues. As a licensed court mediator, he worked to resolve landlord-tenant and small claims court disputes at the Fair Housing Council in Orange County.

Deshpande, in the Plan II honors program at the University of Texas, is majoring in economics and math. She works as a supplemental instructor in the economics department and is co-chair of Students for a Sustainable Campus.

Malhotra, who grew up in Fairfax, Va., is majoring in history and political science at U-Mass. Since high school he has been interested in community service and environmental issues, culminating in a policy internship at the League of Conservation Voters. He later did organizational work as a legislative coordinator with Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, where he worked to pass the Energy Efficiency Bill. Malhotra plans to pursue a law degree and an M.A in public policy.

Besides the $30,000 grant, scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government.
Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 as the federal memorial to Harry S. Truman, the country’s 33rd president.
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Scientist Who Fostered Re-think, Wins Stockholm Water Prize
India-born scientist Asit Biswas was awarded the $150,000 Stockholm Water Prize for his “outstanding and multifaceted” contribution to the issue of global water resources.

The 67-year old Canadian citizen is president of the Mexico City-based Third World Centre for Water Management.

Biswas helped foster a critical re-think among United Nations agencies, national governments, professional associations and others about how to improve delivery of water and sanitation services and management of the planet’s water resources, the Stockholm International Water Institute, which administers the annual award, said.

Biswas, a tireless water proponent who constantly challenges the “status quo,” has, through his multi-faceted roles as a scientist and educator, acted as an advisor and confidant to policymakers in water and environmental management in 17 countries, to six heads of the United Nations agencies and to other intergovernmental and international organizations.
Biswas fostered a new “socio-economic and political climate” that enabled translation of scientific (both natural and social) and technical advances into meaningful measures for people and planet, the institute added.

He helped to formulate and promote the International Water Supply and Sanitation Decade in the 1980s which significantly improved the lives of millions of people in the developing world, it said.

Biswas is the author of hundreds of books and articles and his work has been translated into 31 languages.
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Nuke Deal Tough Sell
The India-U.S. nuclear deal faces particularly difficult times as the U.S. Congress balks at U.S. President George W. Bush to rewrite the law to ratify his nuclear deal with India. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has been working Capitol Hill, trying to convince Congressmen on the merits of the Indian agreement, but India’s lobbying exercise with the much-touted India Caucus is faltering.

Emphasizing that its nuclear deal with the US was the result of “complex” negotiations, India has cautioned those pushing for so-called changes, including American lawmakers, not to upset this “very, very delicate balance” and that there will be a “loss in terms of expectations” if the pact was not approved.

A bill in the Senate and another in the House of Representatives seeks to amend U.S. legislation to ratify the deal, while an opposing bill has also been introduced in the House against the India-U.S. nuclear agreement.

The irony is that 10 of the 18 Congressmen who have co-sponsored or supported the opposing bill are members of the India caucus, billed as the largest caucus in the US Congress on any one country.

Almost all are Democrats, which is interesting, since most of the Indian Americans have traditionally been Democrat supporters.

It is the reticence of New York Democrat Sen. Hilary Clinton that has India deeply disappointed. Clinton, said sources, derives a large amount of campaign funding from Indian Americans, but her silence, verging on opposition is, as one Indian American said, “deafening.”

Meanwhile, Saran maintains that India would like to see the deal approved by Congress as quickly as possible, adding that there was “indeed wide support on Capitol Hill for the evolving bilateral relations” and that its culmination straddled both Republican and Democratic administrations.
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Indo-Pak Goods Train
With the Samjhauta Express between Attari and Lahore already through, goods train services between India and Pakistan may begin soon to boost trade ties between the two countries.

“Relations between India and Pakistan have improved and people-to people-contact got a boost with the starting of the train service under the peace process initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Efforts are also on to start goods train services between the two countries,” Union Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal said recently.

Turning to the border issue, he said fencing was expected to be completed in the next two months in areas where it could not be carried out initially due to some problem.

Jaiswal claimed that smuggling activities had stopped due to the fencing along the Indo-Pak border areas.

Replying to a question, he said security forces would not be withdrawn from the Indo-Nepal border owing to the recent developments in a reference to the sealing of the Panitanki- Kakarvita check point in West Bengal following a Maoist attack on a Nepalese security force camp across the border.
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HIV Infection Rates Fall in South India
The number of HIV infections has fallen by more than a third among young people in southern India, according to a study published in a medical journal.

The 35 percent drop in HIV cases among people aged 15-24 was the result of better prevention, researchers from the University of Toronto said in a study published on the Web site of the Lancet, a British medical journal.

The researchers singled out efforts by the Indian government, the World Bank and other non-government groups to educate sex workers and men who frequent them about the dangers of HIV, efforts that “appear to have contributed to a drastic decline” in new infections.

The study was conducted by a team of Indian and Canadian researchers who found that the prevalence rate in the four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, which account for about 75 percent of India’s HIV infections, fell from 1.7 percent in 2000, to 1.1 percent in 2004. India has an estimated 5.13 million people with HIV, second only to South Africa.

Still, there are fears that ignorance and the stigma attached to the disease could hamper prevention efforts and lead to an explosion in new infections across India.

“HIV remains a huge problem in India and we have to remain vigilant,” Rajesh Kumar, one of the authors of the study, said in New Delhi. “We’re not saying the epidemic is under control yet — we are saying that prevention efforts with high-risk groups thus far seem to be having an effect.”

In fact, another of the report’s authors, Prabhat Jha, warned: “The not-so-good news is that trends in the north remain uncertain and poorly studied.

“We have to identify the hot spots — highways, factories, places where young men gather — and scale up prevention efforts,” said Jha.
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Medical Tourism Expo
The second India Medical Tourism Expo, scheduled to take place in London 2-4 June, focuses on India as a global health care and tourism destination and patients traveling overseas for therapy.

With increasing waiting times and the prohibitive cost of seeking private medical treatment in the U.K., many patients are now seeking treatment in India.

India offers some of the best medical treatments in the world and has experienced a boom in recent years in patients or “medical tourists” as they have become known, traveling there for treatment.

Healthcare facilities are among the most cost effective in the world, with private hospitals and clinics offering treatments at a fraction of the price offered by private hospitals in the U.K.

Recently, a Briton, who was refused a desperately-needed operation by the National Health Service as he was too overweight, returned home satisfied after undergoing the surgery in India.

David Rogers, 62, was told that he was too overweight for the double hip and knee replacements that he desperately needed. Weighing almost 140 kg, he was told that he was about 37 kg too heavy for the surgery.

He reduced his weight to about 115 kg but could not go beyond that. The surgery was required as his heavy weight had made his joints immobile.

“I was in so much pain I couldn’t lie in bed at night and had to sleep sitting in a chair. It was a vicious cycle because I couldn’t do any exercise, so I struggled to lose any more weight,” Rogers said.

His wife had seen a television program about Britons flying to India for medical treatment. Further investigations led her to a website that offered people access to top-class medical treatment in India.

Two weeks later, Rogers flew to Bangalore for the first phase of major surgery, a reconstruction of the knee and hip on the right side, costing about 10,000 pounds.

“I can’t speak more highly of the nurses and surgeons there. The treatment I received was first class,” said Rogers.
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Bollywood Rules Ramp at Fashion Week
Fashion designers seem to have been smitten by the Bollywood bug with the Lakme Fashion Week here featuring a number of Bollywood stars walking the ramp.

While John Abraham catwalked for designer Rocky S, it was the presence of Salman Khan that came as a surprise.

Later in the evening, celebrated Bollywood designer Manish Malhotra had a large film contingent comprising Jaya Bachchan, Kirron Kher, Malaika Arora Khan, Amrita Arora, Bobby Deol, Karan Johar, Sridevi, Boney Kapoor, among others, cheering his collection titled “Freedom.”

Actresses Kajol and Preity Zinta even walked the ramp wearing Malhotra’s designer wear.
In the afternoon, the shows of designers Bennu Sehgal and Maheka Mirpuri had Arbaaz Khan and Koena Mitra strutting their stuff on the ramp.

The Lakme Fashion Week showcased designers like Ritu Beri, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Manish Malhotra, Suneet Varma, Wendell Rodricks, Rocky S, Ashish Soni and Priyadarshini Rao.
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Bangladesh Doing Well
Bangladeshi farmer Badiuddin Ahmed cultivates his employer’s field with cows at Hothatpara. Bangladesh has outperformed most low-income nations, the World Bank reports.

Bangladesh has outperformed most low-income nations and its South Asian neighbors, except Sri Lanka, across a range of social indicators in the past decade despite perceptions of weak and deteriorating governance, the World Bank said.

“Bangladesh has recorded impressive economic and social gains in the past decade. The country has doubled per capita growth and taken strides towards reaching many of the Millennium Development Goals,” a World Bank statement said quoting a discussion at its headquarters in Washington DC on the Country Assistance Strategy for Bangladesh for 2006-2009.

It said gender parity in school enrollment at both primary and secondary level has been achieved, child mortality has been halved and life expectancy has increased significantly since the 1990s.

“These gains have been achieved despite widely held perceptions of weak and deteriorating governance,” it added.

“To explain this conundrum we must unbundle governance and recognize that Bangladesh has had both governance successes and governance failures,” said Praful Patel, World Bank vice president for the South Asia Region.

The new CAS for Bangladesh places governance at the heart of the WB’s program of support and it envisages a program of around $3 billion over four years.

The WB statement said among governance successes, Bangladesh has shown important gains in public accountability, with three successive free elections, an assertive Supreme Court, sound public procurement regulations, an active civil society, and a relatively free media.
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Divorce Ruling Hailed
Women’s rights activists in Nepal have hailed a Supreme Court’s ruling to scrap a law that allowed men to seek divorce if their partner was infertile. Under the 43-year-old law, men were able to file for divorce if they could prove through a doctor their wives were unable to conceive for 10 years.

Activists said the court verdict was a milestone towards scrapping laws that were discriminatory towards women. The court has issued a number of rulings on women’s rights recently.

The latest ruling was made a year after a case was filed by a Kathmandu-based women’s rights group.

The group said that the law did not consider the fact that men can also be responsible for a couple not being able to have children.

The court said the provision in the divorce law allowing men to divorce their partners on grounds of infertility was against the spirit of the country’s constitution and international law.
The court asked the government to scrap the law, and bring in a new one to avoid inconsistencies.

The latest court verdict has come in a series of what rights activists have praised as progressive judgments by the Supreme Court.

Last December the court asked the government to scrap a “discriminatory” rule that women must ask permission of family members before selling inherited property.

The court also eased the regulations for women to obtain passports and ruled that women should not suffer discrimination during the menstruation cycle.
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'Time’ Lauds Sunita
Sunita Narain and Bhure Lal, credited with cleaning up Delhi’s air and help build the world’s cleanest transport system, are among top environmentalists worldwide whose efforts have been praised by Time magazine.

The magazine notes it was a lawsuit filed by Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, in mid-1990s to force Delhi’s buses, taxis and rickshaws to convert to cleaner compressed natural gas fuel that set the ball rolling with the Supreme Court largely ruling in her favor.

“But busmakers and oil companies, supported by government ministers, objected loudly. So the court formed a committee led by Lal and Narain, to enforce its judgment,” Time writes.
And it was largely due to their fight that the last diesel bus had left Delhi by December 2002 and 10,000 taxis, 12,000 buses and 80,000 rickshaws were powered by CNG.

Recalling the days when they began the struggle, Narain, told the magazine that air pollution was taking one life per hour.

“The capital was one of the most polluted on earth. At the end of the day, your collar was black and you had soot all over your face. Millions had bronchitis and asthma,” said Lal, who was then a senior government administrator.

“Delhi leapfrogged. people noticed,” Narain said.
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Pakistan Relocating Quake-Devastated City
Pakistan has decided to relocate a quake-devastated city after experts declared any new construction dangerous, a cabinet minister said.

Balakot, a scenic town about 120 miles north of the capital Islamabad with a population of 300,000 people, was destroyed when the 7.6-magnitude quake hit the country on Oct. 8.

Thousands of people died in the debris and many others were left homeless. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the government had decided to move the city to a new location.

The October quake toppled homes, schools, mosques, hospitals and government buildings in northwest Pakistan, including its portion of Kashmir, killing over 80,000 people and leaving more than 3 million homeless. Many victims are still living in tents donated by the international community.

The area has since been plagued by aftershocks, including a magnitude-6.0 quake in November that unleashed landslides near Balakot.
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Go Kingfisher
You can’t advertise alcohol in India. But if you think that’s going to stop liquor baron Vijay Mallya, think again. He simply put his brand on an airline.

The man himself is a walking brand of sorts. The arrival at Kolkata airport of India’s self-styled “King of Good Times” attracts the kind of attention usually reserved for Bollywood stars.

The billionaire liquor baron, chairman of United Breweries and purveyor of Kingfisher beer is known for his ostentatious lifestyle — opulent homes, personal jets, racehorses, yachts and legendary parties — and Mallya delights in shattering traditional attitudes.

Now he is taking Indian business in a new direction. In the tradition of Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson, he has shamelessly wedded his lifestyle with his brand. Kingfisher and Mallya are fast becoming household names. “What I’m doing has never been tried before in India,” said Mallya, striding towards a brand-new Airbus that he has bought for his latest venture, Kingfisher Airlines.

“We have broken the shackles of conservative socialism. Indians are no longer going to remain subdued and live in a simple fashion. The growing middle classes want the kind of standard of living you enjoy in the West. So what I’m selling is a lifestyle. Young Indians want to be like me. They see that as something to aspire to.”

At 50, with a mane of black and grey hair, he looks like an Indian version of the boxing promoter Don King. His trademark jewelry puts even Ali G to shame. Diamonds sparkle from his earlobes and fingers; gold chains and pendants flash in the V of his open shirts and Armani silk suit. Around one wrist dangles a chunky, jewel-encrusted bracelet initialed VJM.

“You won’t have to go far to find people with all sorts of opinions about me,” he added, making his way along the airport’s VIP track. “They like to snipe at the way I live. But I make no apologies. I’m a businessman. I work damn hard and I play hard. What’s most important is my stock price. It’s through the roof. I’ve got market leadership everywhere I go.”
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Thriving Pak Press
A political cartoon in Pakistan which satirizes the relationship between President Musharraf and President Bush has been proving very popular, reports the BBC. The “Bush and Mush Show” is a spoof of the news conference held during the recent visit of the U.S. president and it is getting a lot of play.

The punch line? Bush casually dismisses concerns over Mush’s democratic credentials, in Pakistani street lingo. The lampoon seems to demonstrate a vibrant culture of criticism.

Indeed Gen Musharraf claims to have liberated the press, even though he is a military leader.

But is the reality really so rosy? The media here does have the freedom to mock the leader — a freedom for which Gen. Musharraf took credit at the real presidential press meet.

Television journalism has certainly taken off under his watch. The Aaj TV channel, which specializes in news and current affairs, is just celebrating its first anniversary.

But Aaj’s current affairs director Talat Hussein is wary of the president’s claims.

He says: “Musharraf certainly gave us licenses, and therefore the private sector channels came up. But, in terms of the tradition of doing critical, incisive journalism, that was always there — embodied in print journalism that we’ve seen in Pakistan.”

Indeed the Pakistani press has a history of being combative and taking on authoritarian governments. Despite problems the presses keep churning out the news. But even where there is freedom, its impact is limited, in a system dominated by the military, says Mohammed Ziauddin, the Islamabad editor of the liberal Dawn newspaper.

He says: “In order for the media to be effective, you have to have two other social controls as well working in tandem: that is the parliament and the judiciary.

“At the moment, both of them are very weak. Both parliament and the judiciary are operating or functioning under the thumb of the military.

“So that way, we can report what we see, but it doesn’t make much of a difference.”
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Boost for Lanka Peace
The crushing electoral defeat of Sri Lanka’s nationalist Buddhist monks and Marxists, who both oppose Norwegian-backed peace moves, could boost efforts to end ethnic bloodshed, analysts said.

Official results of the poll showed that President Mahinda Rajapakse’s People’s Alliance won 225 of the 266 local councils. By contrast, the Marxist JVP barely managed to retain their one council and the JHU all Buddhist-monks party failed to secure one.

“No doubt this augurs well for the future and the peace process,” the state-run Daily News said in an editorial. “It is quite obvious that those political parties seen as espousing the interests of specific cultural groups have been rejected.”

The JVP and JHU are both coalition partners of President Rajapakse in parliament but each contested the local elections independently.

The privately-owned Island newspaper said the Marxists were disappointed by the results as they had expected to control at least half a dozen councils and demonstrate their electoral strength.

But the poll had exposed the vote base of the Marxists, Island said, adding that the party had been left with only a “loin cloth”.

In an editorial headlined: “Road is clear, Mr. President,” it said the JVP had “overestimated its strength and, worst of all, came to believe in its own propaganda lies. It went to the extent of boasting that it was ready to even take over the country.”

There was no immediate reaction from either the monks or the Marxists, but the president’s party invited both to cooperate with him and work towards delivering services to people at the local level.

Both parties have a hardline stance against Sri Lanka’s peace broker Norway and oppose concessions to Tamil Tiger rebels, but the peace bid was not an issue during the local election campaign.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka’s drawn out Tamil separatist conflict.
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Paintings Fetch $1M
Paintings by two renowned Indian artists, Syed Haider Raza and Tyeb Mehta, have fetched a whopping sum of over a million dollars each at Sotheby’s.

At the recent sale, the top lot was Raza’s painting “Tapovan” (1972), which sold to an anonymous bidder for $1.47 million while compatriot Mehta’s “Falling Figure with Birds” (1988) fetched a close $1.24 million.

Sotheby’s heavily emphasized the modern works in its sale of Indian and Southeast Asian art which earned an astounding $13.6 million, well above the high pre-sale estimate of $10.7 million. It set a record for the highest auction total ever for Indian and Southeast Asian art, according to the house.

Other Indian painters whose works raised record prices included J. Swaminathan, Akbar Padamsee and Ram Kumar.

Contemporary Indian art is attracting new buyers, both among non-resident Indians and collectors on the subcontinent.

“We’ve seen Indians buying more widely over several categories,” Sotheby’s head of Indian and Southeast Asian art, Robin Dean, was quoted as saying.

This year, Christie’s is breaking its modern and contemporary Indian art into a separate catalogue. Its sale of Modern and Contemporary Indian art is estimated to bring between $6.9 million and 9.4 million while its sale of traditional Indian and Southeast Asian art is expected to raise $3.9 million to $5.5 million.

The works of Mehta, Raza, F.N. Souza and M.F. Hussain will be on sale.
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Happy 91st Birthday
Bailed out of penury by admirers, Bharat Ratna-winning shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan cut a 91-kg cake in a birthday celebration in Varanasi belated by four days in protest against the March 7 terror strike.

Khan turned 91 but deferred the party on account of it being Chehellum, 40th day of mourning of the slaying of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein, and to protest the Sankat Mochan temple and Cantonment Railway Station blasts that rocked the temple town early this month.

Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal who was to present the monthly check of Rs. 10,000 he had announced from his personal earnings, could not attend the function due to commitments in New Delhi.

However, several hundred people wished the renowned musician “Happy Birthday” while he was presented a cash reward of Rs. 100,000 by Sulabh International president Bindeshwar Pathak and Rs. 50,000 by media couple Shivnath and Nina Jha who are ardent fans.

The two, who run a publication in New Delhi, also presented the ustad a monograph of his life promising him royalties from the book as a “token contribution” to help him lead a comfortable life and a silver shehnai weighing 3 kg in recognition of his contributions to classical music.

The nonagenarian regaled music lovers with renditions from his vast repertoire and expressed a “last wish” to perform at Darbhanga in Bihar and at India Gate in New Delhi. Listening to classical music would give the people peace and rejuvenation, refresh their bodies and minds and inculcate positive thinking, he said.

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Redifining the Saree: Satya Paul Fashion Show
In barely a decade Satya Paul has made its name in India for redefining the concept of the saree with its bold designs and bright colors. Now the designer saree brand comes to the U.S. Som Sharma’s photo essay offers glimpses of some of the designs at a fashion show in Newark, Calif.


Avant Garde Cinema: Filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak
Amid the overwhelming clout of Bollywood and multiplexes, Ashish Avikunthak has dared to make avant garde, experimental films for 11 years. A Siliconeer report.

Scenes from films by avant garde filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak: His first feature film in Bengali “Nirakar Chhaya,” right; “Brihannala Ki Khelkali,” top, left; and “Kalighat Atikatha,” bottom, left.
Within filmmaking traditions in India dominated by Bollywood and multiplex films, art films is almost an endangered species nowadays. If you consider experimental, avant-garde films — then you are talking about a species virtually non-existent in India.
Ashish Avikunthak is one such filmmaker. One of the foremost experimental short filmmakers in India, he has been making films for the past eleven years. His works have been showcased in films festivals around the world.

A man of many vocations, Avikunthak was raised in Kolkata, and he did his undergraduate degrees in social work and archaeology in Bombay and Pune University respectively. He worked as a political activist for the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a folklorist amongst the Warli tribal community in Maharashtra and as an archaeologist has been part of excavation projects in India, Italy and Peru.

Presently he is a doctoral student at Stanford University, finishing his dissertation on the archaeology of the Indus Civilization.

After a decade of making short films, Avikunthak has finished a Bengali feature-length experimental film, Formless Shadows (Nirakar Chhaya). The film is a cinematic interpretation of the Malayalam novella “Pandavpuram” by Setu Madhavan. It explores the psychological universe of a lonely woman abandoned by her husband, awaiting a paramour who she imagines will rescue her from the mundane ennui of her daily existence and bring passion into her forlorn life. This yearning stems from both her emotional need to overcome loneliness and a suppressed sexual desire. As the yearning translates into an imagined reality, the film travels through the life of this lonely woman, inhabited by a loving sister-in law and an imagined paramour. “Socially the film is a reflection on contemporary urban society in India which is increasingly faced with the problems of alienation arising from nuclear family units and rising levels of marital separation and abandonment,” Avikunthak says. “In the absence of the support of the larger joint family, this alienation can take on the nature of a psychosis. The film attempts to probe into the complexities of such a state, which blurs the boundaries between reality and imagination.” The film, shot in both black and white and color, is a melancholic contemplation upon the reality of the imagined world that the protagonist of the film creates. The narrative of the film constantly oscillates between real and non-real, heightened by the usage of both black and white and color images to produce an intense emotional experience exemplified by loss and pain.

“This film is an interplay about the subtext of desire and secrecy between friends which simultaneously threatens and bonds any relationship,” the filmmaker says. The cultural anthropologist in Avikunthak comes out as the films attempts to deal with cultural complexities relating to religion, sexuality, performance and political identity in postcolonial India.

Nirakar Chhaya, like Avikunthak’s earlier films, is a self-financed film made with his savings from the stipend he gets from Stanford University. “This is not a low-budget film, this is a no-budget film,” he notes wryly. The film was shot in Kolkata with a small group of professional cast and crew. “The technicians were friends from my FTII days and the actors were from the vibrant group theatre movement in Kolkata,” he explains. “These are people who believed in my vision of the film and were willing to work on the project without remuneration, driven by a belief in making a work of art.”

Shot in three weeks in October 2004, the film took nearly six months to edit because of its complex narrative structure. At the moment, Avikunthak is working with an award-winning Stanford University composer laying the music of the film and doing its sound design. He hopes to get the film ready by the end of this year for the festival circuit next year.

Experimental films as a genre does not have existence in India in the way it does in Europe and the U.S. Nonetheless, there have been a few practitioners of this art form in the Indian government-run Films Division in the 1960s -70s. Early Indian parallel cinema directors in the 1970s like Mani Kaul, Kumar Sahani, G. Arvindan are considered by many film scholars to be filmmakers who were making avant garde narrative films. Almost all these film were funded by the National Film Development Corporation, various state governments and the Films Division.

With the advent of liberalization in 1991, the state-funded mechanism of funding art cinema died, and with it directors who were making parallel cinema faded away or were subsumed by all-powerful Bollywood. It was in this depressing context that Avikunthak started to make films.

Avikunthak considers himself as a “fringe of the fringe filmmaker.” Not only is he outside the ambit of mainstream filmmaking world, he claims he is not even part of the alternative documentary filmmaking community in India. He passionately notes, “I look at films as means of artistic creation driven by deep aesthetic processes, and not a means of entertainment like Bollywood or Hollywood does, nor a means of producing political propaganda as television documentary does.”

He says he is an outsider because he works not only outside the logic of commercial or art cinema in India, but also outside the framework of documentary films making tractions, which are supported by television grants or NGO money.

Then how does he make films? “That’s easy,” he confidently remarks, “I make films using my own savings; people buy houses and cars, I make films.”

A self-taught filmmaker, Avikunthak never went to a film school, but started making films while he was doing his MA in archaeology in Pune, in 1995. He worked with filmmaker friends at the neighboring Film and Television Institute of India, assisted them on their student films, watched classics of world cinema and learnt the craft hands-on. The first film he made was a single shot, single take, conceptual film that shows a man walking nude in a derelict landscape for nine minutes. Shot on 16mm, during the pre-digital days, Ashish made this film with a small sum of Rs. 7,000 that he had saved from writing articles for local newspapers.

He has come along way since then. He has made more than half a dozen short films and two videos that have been shown in various film festivals throughout the world In London, New York, Los Angles, Paris, Brussels. One of them, Kalighat Fetish (Kalighat Atikatha) won a top award in 2001 at the Tampere Film Festival, Finland, one of the biggest short film festivals in the world. His films have been showcased at retrospectives of Indian experimental and documentary films in Brussels, and he was recently invited in February 2006, to an avant-garde film festival in Lyon, France — Les Inattendus, a premier experimental film festival in Europe which honored him with a retrospective of his work.

Avikunthak’s films are experimental in the sense that they are not about story telling but about image making. “They are about producing ephemeral experiences, and not about telling a linear story with a beginning, middle and an end,” he explains. These are experimentations with both form and narrative, and consist of powerful images tied together in a cohesive montage, through which a cinematic experience is conveyed rather than a story told. Avikunthak conceives of films as a series of images rather than a story or a narrative, but is driven by a thematic focus, which are usually conceptual in nature. For example, Kalighat Fetish deals with the ceremonial performance of male devotees cross-dressing as Kali, interwoven with grotesque elements of a sacrificial ceremony, which forms a vital part of the worship of the goddess. This film is an attempt to negotiate with the duality that is associated with the ceremonial veneration of the Kali, the presiding deity of Kolkata. Avikunthak clarifies that “this film is an exploration of the sexual subtext central to the Mother Goddess cult and ruminates on the nuanced trans-sexuality that is prevalent in the ceremonial performance of male devotees cross-dressing as Kali.”

Dancing Othello (Brihannala Ki Khelkali), made in 2002, a film Avikunthak made after he had come to the U.S., explores a moment of imaginative intersection of two seventeenth century classical artistic traditions — Shakespearean tragedy and South Indian dance Kathakali. The director’s statement of this film declares that this is a film in which “Shakespearean theatricality meets the subtlety of Kathakali, subverted in the dramatic space of street theatre to give birth to a performative ‘caliban’ — Khelkali — a hybrid act of articulating the post-colonial irony of contemporary India.”

His latest venture, a Hindi short film — End Note (Antaral) — was made last year and was recently shown as the Asian Short Competition at the Bangkok Film Festival in February this year and is scheduled to be shown in film festivals in Canada and Germany. This film is an abstract interpretation of one of Samuel Beckett’s shortest plays — “Come and Go.” Shot in Kolkata, this film deals with nostalgia and loss among three women who reminisce about their times at school and rekindle and affirm old friendships.

Avikunthak believes that he would have been able to complete Nirakar Chhaya, his first feature film, last year, but lack of funds, the impossibility of getting a commercial producer in India and the difficulty in getting grant money from a handful of international organizations delayed the completion.

At the moment he is still nearly $20,000 short and now looking for support. His friends are organizing fund-raising parties to help him raise funds to finish this film.

Avikunthak can be reached by e-mail at avikunthak@gmail.com.


The Stark Divide: The Pitfalls of Unequal Growth

There is an India that is looking to grow over 10 percent. There is another India which is watching this as an outsider. The tensions are showing, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

From top, left: For India to sustain its prosperity, some of it must reach people like this Mumbai kid and his sister; A smiling banana seller who hasn’t benefited much from India’s ballyhooed growth; Opulence fit for a Maharajah for today’s nouveaux riches; Not everybody is invited to dinner yet in India’s stratified prosperity; Yesteryear’s feudal luxuries within easy reach of today’s rich.

There is an India that is looking to grow at over 10 percent per annum. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on a recent visit to Mumbai, reiterated his Mumbai-as-Shanghai dream and talked about full convertibility of the rupee. However, there is another India that is witness to the growth and prosperity without any participation in its fruits. And the tensions are beginning to show.

China recently closed one of its longest debates on economic reforms as Beijing approved a five-year plan that seeks to address the income inequalities that separates cities and the countryside. This gap has been related with corruption, land grabs, rise in unrest in the countryside that is home to more than 700 million people who earn a third of the wages of the urban average. India too is simmering, with close to 700 million still out of the ambit of rising incomes.

Only recently there has been widespread rioting in New Mumbai, the new outsourcing and information technology hub, in the suburb of commercial capital Mumbai. Though the immediate cause seems to be an incident of sexual harassment of a woman, discontent has been simmering within the local community which has been witness to the economic boom in the area without entirely being a part of it. Employment has been garnered by migrant labor that is a cause for angst. High paying executives driving fancy cars are housed in spanking new buildings that was once farmland. Local residents, mostly young boys, attacked several passing vehicles.

As India progresses, so have crimes related to what are considered flashpoints of a consumerist existence. Recently a 29-year old employee of software giant Infosys was killed on way from Pune to Mumbai. His murderers took away his credit card (one of the killers ostensibly shopped for his girlfriend with it). In Delhi, two prominent lawyers, a mother and daughter duo, were found murdered inside their upmarket flat. The police are working on they hypothesis that robbery or a property dispute are possible motives.

Car thefts are on the rise, so are credit card frauds and other forms of financial embezzlement. Women have increasingly become targets, with Delhi being declared the rape capital of India, with a record of over 700 reported cases last year.

Crime is not just an urban phenomenon. Elsewhere, while the focus is on terrorist attacks in Indian Kashmir, north eastern states and other parts of India, a bloodier battle is being waged in the hinterlands of several Indian states (Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Orissa), where the Maoists and Naxalites rule with the gun. Close to a hundred deaths have been reported this year from just one district of Dantewada in the central Indian state of Chhatisgarh due to Maoist violence.

Recently, communist rebels captured a train with over 60 passengers in a remote part of Jharkhand. The passengers had a miraculous escape as it seems that the Naxals only wanted to convey a message of the extent of damage they can inflict. In February, Maoists attacked a truck convoy in Chhattisgarh, blowing up one of the vehicles and setting two on fire. Twenty-four people were killed, and 32 injured.

To be sure, many conflicts are results of local issues, but one of the main reasons for the festering of the Naxalite problem has been the absence of land reforms. The Maoists feed on the cadres of tribals and dalits (considered to be of the lower castes) who have been dispossessed of their lands with the indifferent state machinery adding to the alienation. The police and landlords remain the two biggest targets of the Maoists.

A study by the federal home ministry study said murders of police personnel by the guerrillas jumped 53 percent to 153 in the year to March 31, 2006, while 516 civilians were killed, an 11 percent increase on the previous year. “As many as 76 districts in nine states ... are badly affected by Naxal violence although in a varying degree,” the report said, adding that the banned groups have also established inter-state logistics and communications links among its cadres.

Since 1991 India has been following a path of economic reforms and industrial liberalization, unshackling what was called the license permit raj. The reform process included the free entry of private players in areas hitherto controlled by the government, invitation of foreign direct investment and divestment of public sector behemoths that were set up as the commanding heights of a planned Indian economy, as envisaged by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

In the past decade, a broad consensus has developed about the entry of private players who now play an active role in sectors ranging from telecom, banks, health, automobiles, airlines, consumer durables, computer hardware, finance, retail, property development and more. The consumer has been the beneficiary due to competitive pricing and better customer service. Airline fares, telecom rates, prices of consumer durables have been on a downward spiral the past few years.

However, India’s recent political history is strewn with leaders who were at the forefront of economic reforms and yet lost in elections. These include former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and former chief ministers of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, S.M. Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu, respectively. Their successes in engendering growth and changing the lives for some created resentment among the many more who witnessed tall buildings, flashy cars and swanky lifestyles, but had no access to any of this.

Although China has announced its intention to look at the countryside now, New Delhi has been looking at this aspect for close to a year now. Keeping the angst of those left behind in mind the Manmohan government launched a rural upliftment project last August that will cost over $40 billion per year. The aim is to provide a human face to India’s economic reforms. As per the contours of the anti-poverty scheme, the government will provide a minimum wage of close to $1.5 per day to all rural households in 200 districts for a period of 100 days. 90 percent of the expenditure will be borne by the center and the remainder by the states.

New Delhi has also announced an urban renewal scheme in December that has a provision for disbursing funds to upgrade the infrastructure of 63 selected cities. Over $12 billion has been earmarked for the project and will be disbursed over seven years.

Both the schemes translate into a cost and scale the government believes it can pull off by cross-subsidizing via taxation from the high-growth areas. This is one of the reasons that the government has hiked the service tax from 10 to 12 percent. The service sector now contributes more than 50 percent of the GDP.

Indeed, the sobering realization has dawned on both policy makers as well as India’s political bosses that no matter how good the growth rates look on paper, there is a severe price to be paid in terms of social harmony and economic stability if at least some of the fruits of economic growth do not reach all sections of society.

That’s not a very fashionable viewpoint in these days of market-worshipping free-market ayatollahs of the Washington consensus, but India’s political leadership knows better, because to India’s eternal credit, it is a democracy with real teeth, where the poor actually vote, and have a disconcerting habit of throwing out the government if all the fruits of growth accrue to the wealthy and they are obliged simply to watch the tamasha.

Growth cannot be uni-dimensional. In order to guard against social unrest, every effort has to be made to spread out the gains through institutional reform and decentralization.

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


Meeting Derek O’Brien: How Smart Are You?

Indian quiz master Derek O’Brien, popular television host and prolific author, will conduct a series of quiz shows in different parts of the U.S. with a high number of Indian Americans. A Siliconeer report.

Renowned Indian quizmaster Derek O’Brien will conduct a quiz in several U.S. cities in a show hosted by ICICI Bank, according to a press release from the bank. The quiz show will be open for people of Indian origin in the U.S.

The quiz will cover a variety of subjects related to India such as history, heritage, language, mythology, geography, politics, science and arts.

“Quizzing is the best form of purposeful recreation that integrates general knowledge and creativity,” the ICICI release added. “Through this quiz show, ICICI Bank aims to combine competition and entertainment for the entire family.”

The quiz will be held in cities/states with a high Indian American population, such as, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Sunnyvale. The first show will kick off on March 25, 2006 in New Jersey and the quiz will end in Sunnyvale on May 20, 2006.
The quiz show will be conducted by Derek O’Brien.

Participants can register in two categories — Junior (Grades 5 through 8) and Open (Grades 9 and above), and the participants can form teams of three on the day of the quiz at the venue. The elimination round will be a written test and six teams will advance to the final round. There will be two final rounds (one each for the Junior and Open categories), which will be conducted live on stage by Derek O’Brien.

More information is available on the bank’s Web site: www.icicibank.com

ICICI Bank is listed in the New York Stock Exchange and is India’s second largest bank and its largest private sector bank. With over 50 years of financial experience and with assets of $47 billion, the bank offers a wide range of banking products and financial services to corporate and retail customers through a variety of delivery channels and through its specialized subsidiaries and affiliates in the areas of investment banking, life and non-life insurance, venture capital and asset management. ICICI Bank has over 15.5 million retail customer accounts, a network of over 610 branches and extension counters, and 2,121 ATMs.

ICICI Bank Limited set up its international banking group in fiscal 2002 to cater to the cross-border needs of clients and leverage on its domestic banking strengths to offer products internationally.

Its international presence spans 12 countries and includes three wholly owned subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, Russia and Canada, offshore banking units in Singapore, Hong Kong and Bahrain, a branch in Sri Lanka and representative offices in the United States, China, United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh and South Africa.


A Living Dangerously: Heart Disease and Indians
Why is the risk of heart disease increasing with the Indian American population? What can each of us do about it? Kavita Sharma, M.D., offers some answers.
Kavita Sharma, MD is board certified in internal medicine and shares a private practice with her husband in Los Gatos, Calif.
Why is the risk for coronary heart disease higher — and increasing — for Indian Americans? In January’s issue, we took a look at general factors concerning a healthy heart. In this issue we go into more specifics, particularly why the risk of heart disease is increasing with the Indian American population, and what each of us can do about it.

Upon initial reflection, one would not expect Indians in the U.S. to be more susceptible to heart disease than any other group. This is because many Indians are vegetarians and do not smoke. They are also highly educated and less obese. However, the incidence, prevalence and mortality from coronary heart disease among Indian Americans have been 50 to 300 percent higher than Europeans, Americans and other Asians in the U.S.

The high rates of coronary heart disease in Indians appears to be a global phenomenon, shared by the inhabitants of the four countries of the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) as well as immigrants from these countries to various regions of the world. The death rates from coronary heart disease among overseas Indo-Asians have also been higher than other populations, irrespective of gender, religion, or social class. Indo-Asians also have a higher risk of coronary heart disease at a younger age. During the past three decades, the average age of a first heart attack in the U.S. increased by 10 years but decreased by 10 years in India. About 50 percent of all heart attacks among Indian American men occur in those under the age of 55 and 25 percent occur in those under the age of 40. Indian Americans have a 5-10 year earlier onset of first heart attack than other populations. In those under 40, there is also a 5-10 fold higher rate of heart attacks and death than other populations. Indian American women are not immune as coronary heart disease rates are as high or even higher in the women as men. In Indian American women, the heart disease is often premature (occurring before menopause), more sever and aggressive, and often follows a more malignant course.

Why Heart Disease is Increasing. The higher rates of coronary heart disease among Indian Americans are seen despite half of them being life long vegetarians and despite the low rates of traditional risk factors such as hypertension, smoking, and obesity. The excess burden of coronary heart disease among Indian Americans has been linked to lipid disorders. The typical disorder seen is low high density cholesterol (HDL), borderline elevated low density cholesterol (LDL) and total cholesterol (TC), and high levels of triglycerides (TG). Diabetes and insulin resistance has also been commonly seen. Furthermore, there is higher prevalence of emerging risk factors such as high levels of homocysteine and lipoprotein (a).

High Density Cholesterol (HDL). Low levels of HDL are a strong predictor of occurrence and recurrence of heart attacks. Low levels have also been associated with premature heart disease as well as severe heart disease involving multiple vessels. It is also found be associated with poor survival rates after bypass surgery. Low HDL levels are defined as <40mg/dl for men and <50 mg/dl for women. Approximately 50 percent on Indian American men and 65 percent of Indian American women have low HDL levels.

Total Cholesterol (TC). The optimal total cholesterol level is 160mg/dl with a doubling of heart disease seen for every 40mg/dl increase in TC. However, among Indian Americans, lower levels of TC seem to carry the same risk of heart disease as higher levels in other populations. For example, a TC level of 200mg/dl in Indian Americans carries the same risk for heart disease as a TC level of 280 mg/dl among white Americans and a TC level of 320mg/dl among Japanese Americans.

TC to HDL ratio. This seems to be a better predictor of heart disease risk than TC or LDL levels alone, especially among Indo-Asians. A TC: HDL ratio > 5 has a two-fold higher risk of heart disease than a ratio < 4. The risk increase to 5 fold for a ratio > 8. Among Indian Americans, a TC: HDL ratio > 5 was found in 60 percent of the population when TC levels and LDL levels were near normal. Thus the ratio helps identify more people at higher risk for heard disease.

Triglycerides (TG). High TG levels >130mg/dl are found in nearly 50 percent of the Indo-Asian population and may be associated with a diet high in carbohydrates. High TG levels are associated with higher risk of heart disease.

Homocysteine. Homocysteine is an emerging risk factor for coronary heart disease. The risk for heart disease increases two-fold when homocysteine levels are >12mmol/l and 12 fold if two other risk factors for heart disease are present. Indian Americans have higher levels of homocysteine with one study showing 77 percent of the population being affected. Low vitamin B-12 levels, possible due to a vegetarian diet may be a contributing factor to this.

Lipoprotein (a) – Lp (a). Lp (a) seems to a major risk factor for developing premature heart disease. Lp (a) levels are largely genetically determined but high intake of trans fat through fried foods may also raise Lp (a) levels. Indian Americans around the world have high levels of Lp (a), second only to blacks. More than 40 percent of Indo-Asians have levels >0.5 - 0.7 mmol/L.

What to do About It. Testing is important in determining the health status of an individual Among Indian Americans, homocysteine and Lp (a) appear to be as common, if not more common than traditional risk factors. So in addition to the standard lipid profile (TC, HDL, TG), homocysteine and Lp(a) should be measured in all Indian Americans <65yrs once in a lifetime, but need not be repeated if found to be optimal. Fasting blood glucose levels and blood pressure measurements should also be done.

Therapeutic Goals.

(Lower for Indian Americans than those recommended for other Americans)

Treatment. Lifestyle changes include exercise, no tobacco use, decreased saturated fat intake, and weight loss, especially reduction in waist size.
Statin drugs are good for lowering TC, LDL and TG levels. Little elevation of HDL levels is seen.

Niacin is good for lowering Lp (a) levels and has modest results in raising HDL levels.
Vitamin preparations containing folic acid, B-12 and B6 can lower homocysteine levels.
Treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes is crucial.

Conclusion. Conventional risk factors do not fully explain the excess burden of coronary heart disease in Indian Americans. Therefore, conventional approaches to testing and treatment of risk factors are not sufficient in this population. A more aggressive approach to all risk factors, including HDL, Lp (a), TG, and homocysteine is warranted.


Taking Care of Yourself: Health Tips for Immigrants

When it comes to your health, be aggressive and get the help you need, advises Thuan L. Tran, M.D.
When Mr. Pham first noticed the mole on his back had grown, he didn’t think much of it. It occurred to him to call a doctor, but since he moved to the U.S. from Vietnam he wasn’t sure how to set up an appointment. Mr. Pham worked hard as an elementary school janitor during the day and at a restaurant at night to put his two children through college. Time passed and he forgot about the mole.

Months later, Mr. Pham collapsed at work and was rushed to the hospital. Before the collapse, his health had begun to decline. Weeks earlier he had begun coughing, losing weight and his legs felt weak. Doctors found a large melanoma — a tumor in the skin — on his back. The tumor had spread to his spinal cord, lungs and liver and was no longer treatable. Mr. Pham died a few months later.

Among the challenges facing people new to the U.S. is learning how the health care system works. Health care systems work differently in every country, and in the U.S. patients need to be proactive with their medical care. The system here is complicated — with insurance, co-payments and paperwork — and the best way to get the care you need is to be aggressive.

Don’t be intimidated. Doctors, nurses and receptionists are there to help you, even when they’re busy. You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity.

Don’t be embarrassed about your symptoms or timid about any lack of medical knowledge. If you don’t understand instructions, ask again. Don’t leave with any question unanswered.

Dr. Thuan L. Tran is a family physician at the Indian Hill Medical Office of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group. He can be reached by email at: doctors-word@kp.org
Don’t change the story of your ailment to hide an unpleasant fact or protect someone. If your injury was caused by someone rather than from an accident, please let the doctor know so he or she can give you the correct treatment and help you prevent it from happening again.

Make an appointment to see your doctor rather than dropping in. Your doctor needs an adequate amount of time to thoroughly evaluate your medical problem.

Make a list of items and questions to discuss with your doctor before the appointment, especially if it’s the first visit. Ask the receptionist what you need to bring.

Be patient. The doctor may not be able to solve or to address all of your concerns in one visit.

Request a professional interpreter rather than rely on family members to translate. A mistake in interpreting can lead to a misdiagnosis. U.S. law says you have a right to an interpreter during any medical encounter.

Tell your doctor what other treatments you use, especially herbal products. Herbs and supplements can mimic internal diseases or interact with prescribed medications.
Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor if a treatment isn’t working. Your doctor needs to know so he can adjust it accordingly or try something else.

Don’t buy your doctor gifts or presents. Doctors in America are paid well and would appreciate a thank-you note more than a material gift.

Above all, don’t ignore your symptoms. Early detection is crucial for many health problems, and delaying a doctor’s evaluation can be tragic, like in the case of Mr. Pham. You work hard to be successful in life. Don’t let any barriers between you and the health care system affect your American dream.


Immigrants Take on Congress: NCM Multilingual Poll

A majority of 26 million legal immigrant oppose new Congressional proposals to restrict illegal immigration, according to a multilingual poll. A Siliconeer report.

Immigrants protesting a recent draconian bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives that criminalizes any assistance to undocumented workers.

A majority of legal immigrants — numbering 26 million Americans — are strongly against new Congressional proposals, including measures passed by the House of Representatives last December, to restrict illegal immigration, according to a multilingual poll whose results were released March 27. Solid majorities of legal immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia oppose current proposals and legislation that include criminalizing and deporting the undocumented, building a wall along major sections of the Mexican border, and prosecuting advocacy and religious groups that help illegal immigrants.

“This poll is significant because it takes the temperature of those closest to the current immigration debate,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a co-sponsor of the poll. “The survey results are striking and reinforce the call for responsible immigration reform worthy of a nation built by immigrants.”

Legal immigrants also expressed alarm over the tone and substance of the debate about immigration policy in Congress and the national media. Two-thirds of them believe that an “anti-immigrant” sentiment is growing in the United States and many report that it has affected their families negatively. A large majority believe that this sentiment is fueled by racism against immigrants from Latin America and Asia.

These are key findings of a poll of 800 legal immigrants, from 43 different countries, conducted in nine different languages (English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Hindi, and Haitian Creole) and in 47 states.  The poll was conducted by Bendixen & Associates for New America Media, a national association of ethnic news outlets.

“The poll results remind me of similar findings in California in 1994 when immigrants from Latin America complained about racism, discrimination and disrespect against them and their families because of the xenophobic message of the supporters of Proposition 187,” says pollster Sergio Bendixen. 
“The poll gives immigrants the first chance to participate in the debate rather than be targets of the debate,” says Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media.

“The country’s top dozen ethnic media dailies — along with the major in-language broadcast network — published the results simultaneously March 27 in a coordinated effort to ensure that these key voices are part of the national discourse.”

“The need for fair and comprehensive immigration reform is too important for the debate in Washington to be conducted based on misinformation and prejudices,” said Dan Restrepo, senior policy advisor at the Center for American Progress, a co-sponsor of the poll.  “It is essential that policymakers understand the true views of our immigrant communities and this poll is a leap forward in that regard.”


The Textbook Controversy: Hindu Group Sues Calif. State Board
The Hindu American Foundation has sued the California State Board of Education, saying the latter has  approved sixth grade history textbooks that demean and stereotype Hindus.
A Siliconeer report.

The Hindu American Foundation has filed suit against the California State Board of Education in California Superior Court in Sacramento March 16. A press release from HAF said that after months of correspondence with the SBE and California Department of Education, HAF filed suit as the foundation contends that a fair and open process was not followed in adopting textbooks that introduce Hinduism to sixth grade students.

HAF sued the SBE for failure to perform those duties required by the California Education Code and the Standards of Evaluation of Instructional Materials with respect to Social Content.
“Today Hindu Americans have taken a stand against not only the illegal machinations of the SBE and unfair treatment Hindus received during the textbook adoption process, but also the inaccurate and unequal portrayal of their religious tradition in school textbooks,” said Nikhil Joshi, Esq., member of the HAF board of directors. “This is about treating Hindus in America and their religion with the same level of sensitivity and balance afforded to other religious traditions and their practitioners.”

The HAF complaint alleges that the SBE violated the law when it approved textbooks for sixth grade history-social science that tend to demean, stereotype, and reflect adversely upon Hindus; that portray Hinduism as undesirable; that hold Hindu beliefs and practices up to ridicule or as inferior; that inaccurately describe and characterize Hinduism; and discourage belief in that religious tradition. HAF identified five areas where the foundation holds that the staff recommended edits were not only inadequate, but also inconsistent.

HAF asks in the lawsuit that 1) the description of the role and status of women in Hinduism be neutral and consistent with the treatment accorded this issue in the context of other religions; 2) the description of the caste system and the social practice of “untouchability” be historically accurate and consistent with descriptions of social inequities in other societies that are falsely perpetrated by some in the name of religion; 3) description of Hindu theology and its understanding of divinity be consistent with the understanding of practicing Hindus; 4) Hinduism not be unfavorably compared with other religions or made to appear as a more regressive or archaic belief system; and 5) the text present the Aryan Invasion or Aryan Migration Theory as one possibility, along with the prevailing view among Hindus that Hinduism is indigenous to India.

On Dec. 2, SBE’s Curriculum Commission initially approved several Hindu edits that addressed these issues. The SBE decided to ignore the Curriculum Commission only in regards to the edits suggested by Hindu groups. HAF further argues that the SBE violated the California Open Meeting Act among other procedural violations when it made numerous private determinations that effectively subverted the public process. The Bagley- Keene Open Meeting Act requires that certain state agency meetings be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed.

HAF is seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the publishing of the textbooks until the issue of whether the textbooks meet the state standards have been resolved by a court of law.

“We’re dealing with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars here,” stated Suhag Shukla, HAF Legal Counsel. “We need to ensure that the suggested edits by the Hindu American community are given due consideration and that ultimately the text is fair and accurate before it goes to the print.”

A hearing for injunctive relief is scheduled for April 21. A copy of the complaint and exhibits are available on www.hinduamericanfoundation.org


A Spoonful of Spice: South Asian Films at SFIAAFF

Amid the 126 films and video from 21 countries, the 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film festival had a marvelously diverse group of films of South Asian interest. A Siliconeer report.

Top, left: A scene from Deepa Mehta’s “Water.” ; Right: A scene from Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s “Memories in the Mist.” ; Middle: A scene from “Leaving Lhasa,” a film by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam; Bottom, left: Misu Khan in “Punching at the Sun.”

This year the San Francisco Asian International Film Festival’s South Asian offerings ranged from cinema verite-style feature films (Punching at the Sun) made on a shoe-string budget to Hollywood-backed and lavishly produced (Water), with a spicy Bollywood morsel thrown in — the period romance Parineeta.

If truth be told, without taking anything away from Deepa Mehta’s Water, for this reviewer it was the independent shoe-string projects like Punching at the Sun and Leaving Lhasa that were easily the most affecting, notwithstanding the admittedly uneven quality of their production values. No wonder Punching in the Sun won the Best Narrative Feature Award in the festival.

Siliconeer presents reviews of some of the rich South Asian fare presented here.

PUNCHING IN THE SUN. Director: Tanuj Chopra. Producer: Tanuj Chopra
Writers: Tanuj Chopra, Hart Eddy. Cast: Misu Khan, Nina Edmonds, Ferdusy Dia, Hassan El-Gendi

Think about the South Asian diaspora and you are about to be drowned in a torrent of self-congratulatory clichés.

The model minority. Strong family values. Brilliant, overachieving kids. Entrepreneurial spirit. You’ve heard it all, but it’s only part of the story. What about the thousands of working-class South Asians who struggle in inner cities? What about their kids, who have to find their own place in a racially charged environment?

Welcome to the tough, real world, thanks to Tanuj Chopra, a youthful Bay Area-raised filmmaker who had the gumption and vision to present a slice of Indian American life that does not fit the much beloved stereotypes.

Teenager Mameet Nayak (a fantastic debut performance by Bangladeshi American Misu Khan) is pissed off. He used to be a good basketball player, but he is slipping. His coach is frustrated. His mom is worried. His kid sister chafes as he tries to boss over her. His Puerto Rican girlfriend is confused.

Mameet simply cannot deal with the fact that his beloved elder brother has been the fatal victim of a hold up. His brother was talented, respected. Then his life was lost, and Mameet is troubled, angry and wounded by the pointlessness of the loss.

The film shows a slice of South Asian life that you will not see very often. Forget leafy suburbia, a BMW in the garage, or kids happily going to Ivy League schools.

Here is South Asian life as it is lived cheek by jowl with a multiplicity of ethnicities in the overheated multi-ethnic cauldron of working-class New York City. There are racial tensions, to be sure, but there are also friendships — Mameet’s African American basketball coach is almost like a father figure, and his affectionate girlfriend is Puerto Rican, though don’t tell his parents!

The film’s gritty honesty conveys an utterly convincing sense of South Asian reality that’s its greatest suit — the South Asian rapper, the neighborhood basketball courts, the corner store, the small, claustrophobic apartment — it’s almost as if you have walked into the life of a South Asian family in New York.

Sure, it’s rough and uneven — you cannot expect Hollywood values with a shoestring budget. The acting isn’t uniformly good either, though the main characters are surprisingly convincing, considering that all of them are amateurs.

But the film makes up for all its technical limitations with its honesty and heart. It’s a tradeoff, but the end result is a real gem of a film, warts and all, that’s an unforgettable document of the South Asian diaspora experience.

LEAVING LHASA. Directors: Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam. Producer: Ritu Sarin.
Writer: Tenzing Sonam. Cast: Jampa Kalsang, Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso, Tenzin Jigme, Phuntsok Namgyal Dhumkhang.

Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam’s touching portrait is a richly-nuanced, many-layered inquiry of the meaning of identity. The film focuses on the exiled Tibetan community in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, but the eternal questions it raises will resonate with anybody who has experienced displacement.

New York-based Karma is fully Tibetan, at least she thinks so. She is on a trip to Dharamsala, working on archiving the harrowing tales of torture brought about by Tibetan exiles who leave their homeland which is now occupied by the Chinese.

Here, she discovers anew how exile and displacement can wreak havoc with the mental peace of a community. Dharamsala, for all its picturesque beauty, houses a community in flux and turmoil. Particularly noteworthy are the young people, who do not have the cultural moorings of the Buddhist faith of their elders, and seem adrift, aping the west and pining for a visa to the United States.

Karma meets Dhondup, an ex-monk who escapes from Tibet who is in search of a person to whom he wants to deliver something. Karma is fascinated by Dhondup’s solid sense of identity, of where he belongs, despite the suffering he has encountered in the hands of the Chinese, and she joins him in his search, which reveals, as they follow a fascinating trail, the diversity of the exiled Tibetan community.

The low-budget film has the feel of a documentary, and has all the technical flaws of a low-budget project; however it exudes a heartfelt honesty and passion that makes the film remarkable affecting.

WATER. Director: Deepa Mehta. Producer: David Hamilton. Cast: Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham, Sarala

I’ll probably be crucified for saying this, but Deepa Mehta’s Water is like a lavishly-dressed up mannequin — it looks gorgeous, every detail has been given meticulous attention, money has been no object, yet at the end of it all, the film lacks that vital spark that separates a good film from a truly great one.

The hype over this film preceded the screening—Hindu militant goons stopped shooting in Varanasi, where the film’s action takes place, so Mehta had to go to Sri Lanka—and the film’s heartbreaking theme of widow oppression strikes a chord with many human rights supporters.
The film is set in pre-independence India. After an older “husband” whom she never met dies, Chuyia (wonderfully played by Sarala), a feisty eight-year-old, ends up in a sort of a widow’s home. Here head is shaved, and she is obliged to live the rest of her life dressed in white and celibate.

However, a closer look reveals the hypocrisy of it all. The aging matriarch who runs the place seems to have access to creature comforts, the youngish widow Kalyani (Lisa Ray, hopelessly miscast) seems to have another, secret life as she visits the homes of rich men at night.
Narayan, an idealistic youth committed to Gandhi’s values, runs into Kalyani, and falls in love. Their relationship offends one of the most inviolable taboos of Hindu society at that time, but Narayan is committed.

Lush photography, excellent production values add a luster to the film which, in the end, proves to be its undoing. The curious thing about this film is that it’s hard to tell it’s made by an Indian: The good thing about it is the production values are on par with Hollywood, the downside is that it looks too much like a Hollywood film, where India comes across as an exotic, foreign place. It shares also with Hollywood a conclusion which is a bit too pat.
In the end, it’s a well-crafted, good film, entertaining and informative, but it does not quite reach the heights of greatness.

MEMORIES IN THE MIST (Kaalpurush). Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Producer: Jugaal Sughand. Writer: Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Cast: Mithun Chakraborty, Rahul Bose, Sameera Reddy, Labony Sarkar

The great charm of seeing a film by the talented Bengali filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta is his penchant for whimsy. His film combines two themes: The failure of a perfectly decent man to gain respect in a society completely corrupted by material greed, and a bittersweet, touching yet painful reflection of filial discord.

Sumanta (Rahul Bose, superb performance) is a decent Kolkata everyman, who goes to work everyday in the Byzantine government bureaucracy, and returns home to his two little kids whom he adores.

But he gets no respect—his wife, thrilled about a trip to the U.S., is annoyed with his lack of progress in his career; his boss says he isn’t going to go far. Yet we discover that this docile, gentle Bengali man has a core of steel when it matters—he refuses to ignore the corrupt shenanigans even when the boss threatens him with dire consequences.

Then there is Ashwini (touching performance by Mithun Chakraborty), an absconding father who, at a later age, pines for a reconnection with his son, his wife. Is he for real? When Ashwini and his son Sumanta have a poignant reunion, is that a figment of the son’s imagination or does it actually happen? To Dasgupta it doesn’t matter.

What we wish, what we imagine, has every bit as much validity of what actually happens.

This gentle, affecting film is enhanced by some lovely, lush photography of the misty countryside and some loving scenes of Kolkata.


Pak Star Mohammad Ali Dies: Mera Pyar Yaad Rakhna
Mohammad Ali, who with his wife Zeba formed an immortal romantic pair during Pakistan’s golden years of cinema, died recently. Ras Siddiqui offers a tribute.

Pakistani cinema superstar Mohammad Ali died March 19 in Lahore after prolonged illness. He was either 69 or 71 years old, depending on which report one follows (a phenomenon not uncommon in Pakistan since the late melody queen Noor Jehan was reported to have at least two different birth names i.e. Allah Rakkhi and Allah Wasai when she died a few years ago).

Pakistanis worldwide, especially those who remember the golden age of Pakistani Cinema during the 1960s and early 70s, will mourn his passing.

The Pakistani Urdu film industry is in a pathetic state of decline. Piracy and easy access of Indian films has made it very difficult for Pakistani films to compete.

Ras Siddiqi is a Pakistani American community activist and writer. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.
But that is not all. The separation of Bangladesh was the first major blow to local movie making (Bengal gave us Shabnam, Nadeem, Rehman etc.) And Pakistani society itself underwent quite a change since Z.A. Bhutto fell. The Zia Regime and the lawlessness that engulfed the country since the Afghan war drew family entertainment indoors as people sought refuge in the VCR and now DVD + Satellite TV. The cinema halls lost both respectability and customers since the 1980s and many have now been transformed into marriage halls or shopping plazas.

Fifty-two Urdu movies were released in 1966, 41 in 1970, 30 in 2000 and 13 in 2005, according to a Pakistani film magazine.

Whatever this slow decline of Urdu films indicates, Ali-Zeb films will always be remembered with fondness by us old folks. We also thank our stars for Pakistani television and the survival of our music in an increasingly intolerant environment.      

Mohammad Ali started his film career in director Fazal Karim Fazli’s film Chiragh Jalta Raha which was inaugurated by Fatima Jinnah in 1962. He gained critical acclaim in Hassan Tariq’s Kaneez in 1964 but it was not till he acted in director Humayun Mirza’s Aaag Ka Darya in 1966 that he shot to full stardom.

The year 1966 can be spoken of as one of the finest years for Pakistani films because Waheed Murad’s blockbuster Armaan was also released the same year. Mohammad Ali made his last (?) film Dam Mast Qalandar in 1995.

He married the leading lady of the Pakistani film industry Zeba in 1968. During his illustrious career he acted in over 250 films and won numerous Nigar awards. The late 1970’s and early ’80s movies Salakhen, Aawaz and Kiran Aur Kaali were possibly his last memorable films. 

His acting abilities were utilized to their fullest in a number of films but in my humble opinion his role in Shabab Kairanvi’s Insaan Aur Aadmi was the best work that he had ever done. As Noor Jehan sang in the film “Tu jahan kahin bhi jaye mera pyar yaad rakhna.” Pakistanis worldwide mourn his loss as our heart goes out to Zeba and Samina. We will miss you, Mohammad Ali.


Colors of Culture: CCF’s Raas-Garba DANCE Contest
Now in its 14th year the annual raas-garba folk and film dance festival by the Charitable Care Foundation has become the premier cultural event for the Indian community in the Bay Area. Shashi Desai presents a photo essay of the many splendored celebration of folk culture by enthusiastic contestants of all ages.


Festival of Colors: Holi in Fremont
Over four hundred people celebrated Holi and Dhuleti at the Fremont Hindu Temple, writes Pravin Desai.

Holi and Dhuleti heralds the arrival of spring. Welcoming the change of season in a riot of colors, hundreds of Indian Americans celebrated Holi in the San Francisco Bay Area March 18 at the Fremont Hindu Temple.

Pravin Desai is a long-time resident of Eritrea and Ethiopia. He now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Holi celebration was organized by the Bay Area Youth Vaishnav Parivar. Over four hundred men, women and children from all walks of life gathered at the temple.

In Hindu mythology, Hiranyakashipu was the king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. He grew arrogant, and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping gods and start praying to him.

Hiranyakashipu’s own son, Prahlad, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu in spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu. All of Hiranyakashipu’s attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlad to sit on a pyre on the lap of his sister, Holika. Prahlad readily accepted his father’s orders, and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, Holika was burnt to death, while Prahlad survived unharmed. The burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.

BAYVP is working to raise funds for its own facility. Honorary president Suresh Gandhi appealed for financial support. The cultural show was conducted by Ravi Desai.


Desi Pop Concert: Raghav, Juggy D and Veronica
Three of desi-pop’s brightest stars — Raghav, Juggy D and Veronica — performed in concert at the Oakland Coliseum’s Eastside Club March 18. A photo essay by Som Sharma.

Clockwise from top left: Indo-Canadian pop sensation Raghav live in concert in Oakland, Calif.; Raghav (3rd from l) flanked by organizers Mehta brothers; Juggy D and Veronica; and Raghav working a crowd of fans in Oakland.


Contours of Life: The Art of Prabin Badhia
Prabin Badhia recently exhibited his art with Steve Skaar and Inna Jane Ray in Berkeley, Calif.

From left:
Sax Player (2005) 24”x36” Oil on canvas; Figure 3 (1999) 26”x48” Oil on canvas; Couple (2006) 36”x48” Oil on canvas; Drawing 1 (2006) 26”x48” Conte on paper; Artist Prabin Badhia

Prabin Badhia, originally from Orissa, India, exhibited 17 pieces of art in a recent exhibit at Berkeley, Calif. His work included bright bold oils on canvas as well as drawings.

The theme of his exhibit was “The Limbs.”

“I believe that life has an order that exists without regard to reason, faith, or need,” he explained. “This order manifests in action and happenings. Each life form has an urge to do something, which is influenced by the rhythm and pattern of its surroundings.

“My theme, The Limbs, is a most direct way to convey my story. Limbs are the first thing I witness during my process. I try to draw the tension, the movement, and their relation with other objects. Sometimes, if necessary, I deform the life and object on my canvas to let them follow the order.”

Badhia said he was overwhelmed by the response of friends and well wishers. He is thinking of doing a solo exhibit soon.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Little Miss Beautiful Smile | Tri Counties Bank Hosts Ethnic Business Meet | Spelling Bee | Appointed Commissioner | Holi in Reno | Wins Upjohn Award

Little Miss Beautiful Smile

Sonal Agarwal seen here with her mom Sadhana

Fifteen-month-old Sonal Agarwal won the title of Miss Beautiful Smile at the Hawaiian Tropic Pageant for Kids held March 25 at the New Park Mall in Newark, Calif.

Sonal is the daughter of Amit and Sadhana Agarwal, who live in Fremont, Calif. She had previously won the title of Miss Beautiful Eyes last October.

The Little Miss & Mr. Hawaiian Tropic International Pageant is a children’s model search in which Hawaiian Tropic’s models are selected for their “Just For Kids” and “Baby Faces” suntan products national print ad campaign. Hawaiian Tropic gives importance to educating children and their families on sun protection since most skin damage occurs before the age of eighteen.

Interested readers can find more information at the following Web site: www.htkids.info.

Tri Counties Bank Hosts Ethnic Business Meet

Top: (L to r) Tom Bhe (APAPA), B. Purewal (IVACC), C.C. Yin (APAPA) with IVACC’s Sukh Chain Singh, Vandana Sharma and J.P. Singh; Bottom, left: Attorney Ann Kanter; Bottom, right: (L to r): Tri Counties Bank vice president and regional manager AJ Elias receives a plaque of recognition from IVACC’s J.P. Singh.

The Indus Valley American Chamber of Commerce and its counterpart Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs, both ethnic organizations supporting the cause of Asian American business and political awareness in mainstream America held a business dinner mixer March 28 in Sacramento.

The event was hosted by Tri Counties Bank at their Arden Fair branch.

Tri Counties Bank vice president and regional manager A.J. Elias welcomed the audience and spoke about various options for business banking.

The meet addressed immigrant issues such as the current visa laws and proposals for immigration reform in Congress. Attorney Ann Kanter of Kanter Immigration Law Office provided valuable insights on the current visa and immigration debate that has roiled Congress and drawn nationwide protests in particular from Hispanic immigrants. She also answered questions on immigration law from the audience. Attorney Michael T. Shepherd spoke on issues related to Americans with Disabilities Act.

APAPA representatives spoke about the need for greater awareness and involvement in mainstream politics by members of ethnic minorities, particularly at a fraught political time when the immigrant community is sometimes targeted by politicians.

Sponsors of the event were honored with plaques and a raffle draw gave prizes to audience members.


Spelling Bee

The Los Angeles chapter of North South Foundation, a non-profit organization helping poor students in India, will hold its annual educational contests including Spelling Bee at the Jain Temple of Southern California in Buena Park April 22 and 29.

Participants will receive certificate and giveaways. Winners will receive medals. Participants with high scores will be invited to the National Championship finals during Aug-Sep. First, second and third place winners may receive scholarships ranging from $250-$1,000.

Interested readers can visit the North South Foundation’s Web site at www.northsouth.org for more information.

Appointed Commissioner

The Board of Supervisors of Sacramento County has appointed Inderjit Singh Kallirai a commissioner for Sacramento County’s Adult and Aging Commission. The Adult and Aging Commission serves as an advisory body to the board of supervisors on planning and policy issues relating to the elderly and dependent adults.

A resident of Elk Grove, Calif., Kallirai has worked with Indo-American Cultural Heritage in promoting the culture and heritage of India since 2003 through the California State Fair. He serves as a member of the Cultural Advisory Council for CalExpo.

Prior to moving to Elk Grove, Inderjit lived in Vacaville, Calif., where he served as vice chair of the Community Services Commission, City of Vacaville. In 2003/04 he served as president of California Association of Parks and Recreation Commissioners and Board Members. Kallirai has presented multi-cultural and senior issues seminars to Park and Recreational professionals throughout the nation.

He works for the California Department of Fish and Game as an information systems analyst. In addition he has his own real estate investment company with rental properties in Washington, California and England.

Holi in Reno

Reno celebrated the third annual Holi festival April 1, according to a press release from organizers. About 200 community members and students participated in this festival of colors at the Manzanita Bowl of University of Nevada-Reno. The event began with folk tunes from India. Revelers created a riot of colors, coloring each other with red-yellow-green-purple-blue pink gulal. Even the dogs were not spared from the color sprays. Many participants were covered with colors from hair to shoes.

Luke Cameron Barrett, a Truckee Meadows Community College student, who was drenched in color and was chasing others to shower them with gulal, said, “The whole community seemed to merge into one big fraternity under the guise of colors, without any distinction of creed, color or sex.” Irena I. Yamboliev of UNR was impressed by the zeal and enthusiasms of participants, many of who were not even aware of the background of this boisterous festival. Roozbeh Nakhaee, who participated for the first time, liked it so much that he offered to help the organizers next year. Parveen Abhishek Hangawatte, admired the universal brotherhood theme of this festival.

Local Indian restaurants India Garden and Indian Kabab and Curry donated food for the event and appetizers came from the homes of some local Indian American families. Jointly organized by the India Association of Northern Nevada and International Club of UNR, the event brought together students from UNR, TMCC and community members from all walks of life, with Indians surprisingly outnumbered four to one by others.

According to Rajan Zed of IANN, Northern Nevada has about 500 Indian American families. Diwali, Gurpurb, Id, Baisakhi, Holi, Raas Garba, and Onam are regularly celebrated here. There is a gurudwara and a mosque and efforts are being made to build a mandir here. A tax-exempt organization, Hindu (Sanathan Dharam) Temple of Northern Nevada Inc., has been formed for this purpose.

There are many students from India in UNR, mostly doing graduate degrees in engineering and sciences. Many doctors, professors, and engineers of the area have Indian origins.

Wins Upjohn Award

New York-based attorney Samir Chopra was recently honored as one of the international recipients of the Walter E. Upjohn Award, given to individuals who have based their work on integrity, innovation, excellence, leadership, performance and community service.

Samir Chopra has worked for a variety of leading organizations including: the U.S. Government, U.S. Health Care Financing Administration, Centers For Disease Control, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte & Touche, Citigroup as a vice president and the chief judge of a U.S. District Court.

He is a lifelong trustee of the Hindu Center, director of the South Asian Bar Association and chair of the judiciary committee, state chairman of the New York Indian American Republican Committee and founder of the first Indian American fraternity in the United States.

Dr. William E. Upjohn was the CEO of Upjohn Pharmaceuticals founded in Michigan in 1885 and served as company president for nearly 40 years. The W. E. Upjohn Awards were first presented in 1938, five years after Upjohn’s death, to honor his principles and his personal philosophy. Dr. Upjohn’s life and career were characterized not only by sharp business acumen and technical innovation, but by a social conscience and devotion to civic duty. He is most famed for solving local and    national unemployment problems of the Depression. The W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research was established to study methods to combat unemployment and alleviate the distress caused by that condition.

Other international recipients of the award include: Brad Burns from Australia, Friedrich Wenzelmann of Germany, Nathalie Bidet of France, Katy Battrick  of the United Kingdom , Sergio Rivolta of Italy, Hei-Soo Cho of Korea, Kyoko  Imamura of Japan and Raimundo Getulio Chav of Brazil

Breakthrough Agreement | IT Survey: Chennai Beats Bangalore | MindTree to Hire 3,500 | $80 Million Deal | Chip Plant | Indian Firms in Nepal IT Show | Bharat PC | FutureGen | $380 Million Bid for MphasiS | Scalability Benchmark

Breakthrough Agreement
Small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe can finally start reaping the benefits of business process outsourcing to highly specialized companies in low-cost India. Two internationally renowned knowledge centers have joined forces to make this possible in an agreement signed this weekend in Amsterdam. Business process outsourcing, or BPO, covers activities such as call centers, finance and administration, data processing, research, back office processes, document management, human resource management and many others.

NASSCOM, India’s largest branch organization for this sector, will work together closely with the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries, the CBI. Together the two institutes have set up a unique export development program which offers SMEs in the European Union unique opportunities. The agreement means the days when BPO to low-cost countries was something only big-budget enterprises with plenty of outsourcing expertise could afford are definitely over.

“This agreement offers us a chance to create a highway for SMEs where until now there was not even a footpath”, said CBI managing director Ton Lansink on signing the agreement. “For European buyers the CBI and NASSCOM will be on hand as knowledge centers to help them formulate exactly what their outsourcing demand is and to help them find a perfectly matching partner. Indian entrepreneurs can count on us to provide maximum assistance exporting to Europe. It’s a double-edged sword from which all parties will benefit.”

“To us this is an important agreement”, confirmed NASSCOM president Kiran Karnik. “The success of India in the fields of IT and IT-enabled services is considerable, but we wish to see more European firms, particularly SMEs, become stakeholders in that success by entering into sustainable partnerships with our companies. In India, too, SMEs have until now not been able to fully share the success of large enterprises in the BPO sector. So this is a win-win agreement for SMEs in the Netherlands and Europe as well as in India.”

IT Survey: Chennai Beats Bangalore
India’s number one IT destination Bangalore has slipped in the rankings of the country’s cities as a destination for offshoring, according to a new study. In AT Kearney’s Indian City Attractiveness Index 2005, Chennai emerged as the most attractive destination followed by Hyderabad and the National Capital Region (including Noida, Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad).

Bangalore was ranked fourth. Kolkata is emerging as a credible alternative to cities with more established offshoring services industries. With rising wage rates and real estate costs in the country’s big cities, smaller towns like Jaipur and Kochi are making their way up, but availability of skilled labor still remains a challenge there.

Mumbai and NCR continue to remain attractive, though challenged by high attrition, cost of living and wage rates, it said. Nine Indian cities — Chennai, Hyderabad, NCR, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, Kochi and Jaipur were assessed in the survey.

The cities were ranked on the basis of three categories — financial costs (compensation costs, infrastructure costs, cost of living) and business environment with a weightage of 35 percent each and people skills and availability at 30 percent.

Chennai emerged the leader across all categories. “Chennai stole a march over other cities as the cost of living was low and the city has abundant supply of skilled labor,” Marcy Beitle, vice-president, A T Kearney, said. “Chennai’s cost of living was very close to Tier II cities of India and the lowest among metropolises.”

MindTree to Hire 3,500
MindTree Consulting, an information technology and research and development services provider, plans to float an initial public offer during the current financial and also hire 3,500 professionals by 2007-08, the management said.

The company has become the fastest Indian IT company to cross the $100 million mark in revenue. The Bangalore-based firm reached $102 million mark in revenues in 2005-06, an 83 percent growth over the previous year; the company in which ventral capitalists hold a stake of around 40 percent, proposed to go public in the second half of 2006-07, its chairman and managing director Ashok Soota said.

R&D and IT services grew by a robust 75 percent and 87 percent, respectively. The company crossed the milestone in just six years. Historically, Indian software companies have taken two or three times as long to reach the $100 million mark, he added. Currently the company has a headcount close to 3,200.

Its general manager Puneet Jetli said the firm plans to hire 1,500 to 1,600 employees in the current financial year and another 2,000 in 2007-08.

$80 Million Deal
India’s third largest software exporter Wipro Ltd has won an 80-million-dollar outsourcing deal from one of the country’s top banks.

Wipro will manage the information technology network of the HDFC Bank, which has 535 outlets across India, the company said in a statement March 31.

“The contract is valued at approximately 3.6 billion rupees (80 million dollars) over a period of 10 years,” the statement said.

Software and customer services outsourced in the country were forecast to grow 25 percent a year by the end of the decade to 60 billion dollars, according to a report released in December by India’s premier software body.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies and consulting firm McKinsey and Co. estimated that outsourced services would earn 110 billion dollars worldwide by 2010, and that Indian companies will receive more than half of that business.

In September last year India’s two largest software companies, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys Technologies, were awarded their largest ever outsourcing contracts by the Dutch-based bank ABN Amro in a deal worth 400 million dollars.

Chip Plant
Intel Corp. is expected to hold an equity stake of $32 million and become a technology partner for a chip manufacturing project in Hyderabad.

NanoTech Silicon India Pvt. Ltd. has already begun working on the wafer fab, and the NTSI facility is a project supported by SemIndia Inc., a Palo Alto-based consortium of expatriate Indians.

The Andhra Pradesh government is expected to hold equity of $24 million and provide infrastructure and tax exemptions. Santa Clara-based Intel agreed to participate after meeting with the state’s chief minister, according to a Business Standard report.

The NTSI plan is to initially build a logic semiconductor fab with a capacity of 30,000 wafers a month. When it begins operations, the fab is expected to make peripheral chip sets for PCs, cell phones, television, DVD players.

Indian Firms in Nepal IT Show
Over 100 exhibitors, including three from India, are showcasing their products and services at the information technology show which kicked off in Kathmandu.

CAN Info-tech 2006, the 11th Information and Communication Technology show, was held for a week. Vice Chairman of the council of ministers Tulsi Giri opened the exhibition that aims to promote Nepal’s gradually growing IT sector and attract foreign investment in the information and communication technology field.

It is being organized by the Computer Association of Nepal which is showcasing latest software, hardware and other cutting-edge technologies, including e-shopping, mobile set with internet facility, Nepali-nux.

Phoenix Contact Pvt. Ltd., Suvarna Technoft and Quark Systems Pvt. Ltd. are the Indian Information and Communication Technology companies participating in the show.
An info-tech conference was also organized. About 300,000 visitors attended the IT show and conference.

Bharat PC
Wipro Infotech has launched the SuperGenius Bharat PC, designed specifically for use in rural India.

SuperGenius Bharat PC was based on Intel’s innovative PC platform that had been developed exclusively to meet the needs of villages and rural communities in the country.

Designed to define locally relevant computing solutions based on Intel technology, the Community PC platform was equipped to operate in a community setting, while accommodating the varying environmental conditions prevalent in the country, Wipro Infotech announced in a release here.

The hardware and software features of the Wipro SuperGenius Bharat PC differentiate it from the standard desktop PCs and make it an attractive platform for the rural environment. These desktop PCs come with enhanced benefits and flexibility backed by Intel quality and reliability, the release said.

Wipro SuperGenius Bharat PC consisted of a rugged chassis that is  engineered to resist extreme dust and heat conditions. Additionally, unlike typical desktops, the new PC could continue to operate if AC power was unavailable without loss of any data. The Central Power System Unit enabled the system to operate on both AC and DC power, the release added.

India and the U.S. have signed an agreement for New Delhi’s participation in the prestigious $950 million FutureGen project, which aims at producing electricity from coal without any carbon emission.

The Framework Protocol, signed by power secretary R.V. Shahi and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy Jeffrey D. Jarret, follows the decision taken during the visit of President George W. Bush in March.

“It makes us proud to say that India is the first government member in the prestigious project. The government will contribute 10 million dollars in this,” Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said after the signing in ceremony.

The FutureGen project is a public-private initiative to build and operate the world’s first coal-based power plant in the U.S. that removes and captures carbon dioxide while it produces electricity and hydrogen.

The project, expected to be commissioned by 2012, could also see participation by Indian companies, Shahi said, adding India would benefit immensely from the project.

As per the protocol, participation in the project would entitle India to full membership on the FutureGen Government Steering Committee to provide guidance on the project, relating to scope, design, objectives, testing and evaluation.

India would also have access to reports and other project related information, access to Indian scientists and engineers for visiting project facility and a royalty-free license in all countries to translate, reproduce and distribute reports arising from cooperation under the agreement.

$380 Million Bid for MphasiS
Information-technology services company Electronic Data Systems Corp. has offered to acquire a majority stake in Indian software services provider MphasiS Ltd. for $380 million.

EDS is looking to acquisitions to expand in countries such as India, where it can take advantage of low labor costs and an ample supply of software engineers.

EDS said it will make a tender offer of 204.5 rupees, or about $4.58, for each MphasiS share. It said the offer will be contingent on EDS acquiring 83 million shares — a 52 percent stake in the Bangalore-based company.

Officials at MphasiS could not immediately be reached for comment.

“This offer is complementary to our overall strategy to enhance EDS’ presence and capabilities in India ,” EDS chief executive Mike Jordan said in a statement.

EDS, based in Plano, Texas, has a cash pile of about $3 billion and expects to generate $800 million to $1 billion in free cash flow this year, Co-chief operating officer Steve Schuckenbrock said at the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms summit in February.

Schuckenbrock said that was more cash than the company needed, and EDS would prefer to have reserves in the “couple billion-dollar” range.

Besides India, EDS is looking to make acquisitions in China, South Korea and Central Europe over the next few years, he said.

Scalability Benchmark
In benchmark tests, Chennai-based iSOFT’s LORENZO healthcare solution handled six million “real” transactions per hour for 25,000 concurrent users. “This proves LORENZO is scalable, capable, and quick,” said iSOFT’s technical director Phil Davies.

“It is also an extremely cost-effective solution since it minimizes the hardware footprint using mainstream technology.”

LORENZO is iSOFT’s core application for single practices to large regional healthcare organizations.

These performance results were achieved with HP, Intel and Microsoft during a regional scale user benchmark proving the scalability to 25,000 concurrent users of LORENZO, Davies said adding that results were validated by analysts from International Data Corporation and its Health Industry Insights subsidiary. iSOFT’s product development facility in Chennai has played a key role in developing LORENZO, a solution developed to address comprehensive requirements of modern healthcare settings.

One of the largest of its kind in health care, the benchmark provides a deployment model for very large-scale, multi-site LORENZO implementations. The benchmark was performed on iSOFT’s LORENZO Regional Care solution and achieved subsecond transaction response times. It shows the application supports the trend towards centralized, regionally-based solutions, Davies said.

“Healthcare organizations worldwide are interested in improving quality of care by providing accurate, up-to-date patient information to authorized care givers at the point of decision. The results of the benchmark studies show that iSOFT’s LORENZO application running on Intel Itanium 2 and Dual-Core Intel Xeon processor-based servers can cost-effectively help healthcare organizations meet those goals through integrated care records that can be securely accessed in real-time across regional care networks,” said Doug Busch, VP and CTO of Intel’s Digital Health Group.

“Microsoft is excited to see the results of iSOFT’s LORENZO benchmark.” said Neil Jordan, executive director of world wide health and human services at Microsoft Corp. “We believe our mutual enterprise customers will benefit from this robust market leading solution running on SQL Server 2005.”

An SUV for the Family: 2006 Mercury Mountaineer
The 2006 Mercury Mountaineer handles beautifully, makes remarkably tight U-turns, has a whisper-quiet ride even at freeway speed and is nicely appointed, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

We recently had an opportunity to spend the week driving around in the all-new 2006 Mercury Mountaineer, which felt a bit like deja vu for our family.

When we first started test-driving cars as a family several years ago, the Mercury Mountaineer was the first car we received in what has since become a long, long list of vehicles and test-driving adventures. It was our first exposure to sport utility vehicles and cars loaded with “options.” We’re basically a no-frills family, so having a car packed to the nines with power features was memorable. The kids still remember the Mountaineer’s “high-up” ride, its running boards and luxurious leather seats.

Now here it is again, and I have to say I am still impressed, but for many more reasons.

The 2006 Mercury Mountaineer may be a sport utility vehicle, but it does not possess many of the irritating features of some SUVs. It is a good-sized vehicle with seating for seven, but it is not unwieldy and awkward to drive. In fact, the Mountaineer is a distinct pleasure to drive. The vehicle handles beautifully, makes remarkably tight U-turns, has a whisper-quiet ride even at freeway speed and is nicely appointed. Plus, it has seating for seven, which is bliss for families.

For 2006, the Mountaineer has a more powerful V8 engine, a crisp new exterior design, an all-new interior, and the Next Generation Personal Safety System. Mercury also revamped the frame and suspension, which did a lot to create the vehicle’s impressive ride, handling, steering and braking attributes.

Last, but not least, on the list of new-for-2006 features are the Mountaineer’s nifty running boards. They are integrated into the side panels, and roll out when the doors are opened.

The Mountaineer’s new engine is a three-valve, 4.6-liter V8 that adds efficiency to power. It has been paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, a revised suspension and several noise, vibration and road-harshness prevention features. Although the side view mirrors are larger, their new design — created after testing in wind tunnels — helps reduce wind noise even further.

Six-speed automatic transmissions boost a vehicle’s performance and fuel economy, by getting the most out of the more powerful V8 engine. Although less than one percent of all their vehicles sold today are available with a six-speed automatic, Ford Motor Company estimates that number will increase to 50 percent by 2015.

On the inside, the Mountaineer has new seats, a redesigned instrument panel and flexible seating arrangements. The second-row seats are available in three different configurations: a 60/40-split fold-flat seat bench seat, an enhanced bench seat with reclining backs and second row bucket seats with center console. The second- and third-row seats also fold down flat for carrying cargo. The third row of seats are also available with a power-folding feature.

The seats in the test car were covered in a tuxedo-like combination of black leather and white cloth trim.

Families are concerned with safety, and the Mercury Personal Safety System offers a number of safety technologies, all brought together into one vehicle. AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control uses state-of-the-art gyroscope technology to detect an impending roll condition. If detected, countermeasures are employed, through the braking system and even the engine, to help bring the vehicle back under control.

About the only complaint we could make would be about the gas mileage, which is on the thirsty side.

The 2006 Mercury Mountaineer is a right-sized sport utility vehicle that has lots of seatbelts for the family and is a pure pleasure to drive for Mom and Dad.

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


Making the Chinese Dance | Bollywood Dazzles at Melbourne Commonwealth Games | Reality Sucks | Perfect Creation: Hrithik Becomes Proud Father of Boy | Raving About Talent | Errant Producers | Big B Exhausted, Bollywood Anxious | Cannes Calls | Bollywood, My Love | Beating Up Tenants

Making the Chinese Dance
You have to give her credit. Farah Khan is going places internationally. After choreographing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams, she is now dancing eastwards.

Hollywood producer Andre Morgan, who was Bruce Lee’s agent and has produced films like Enter The Dragon, Return of the Dragon, The Godfather, and more recently, Million Dollar Baby, approached her, and the upshot was Farah choreographed the Chinese musical, Perhaps Love. Critics are raving about it.

Directed by Peter Chan, Perhaps Love is an epic love story spanning almost 30 years and is based around the experiences of a film crew.

Khan said she worked with a 10-member team of choreographers and the film was shot at a stretch.

How it came about was surprisingly simple. The producers were looking for Indian choreographers. They met a few in India, but when Peter Chan met Farah and saw her work, they felt she was the best person to do the film. They were amazed at how she could put together her songs so quickly, particularly, “Chaiyya Chaiyya.” The song, by the way, opens the credits of the latest Spike Lee film Inside Man.

Perhaps Love was shot in Shanghai in a 50-day schedule, and the lush, evocative musical could well become a cult favorite.
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Bollywood Dazzles at Melbourne Commonwealth Games
Guess what? The Aussies (and other foreign contingents) at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games got a masaledar helping of Bollywood in all its many-splendored glory, and they keep asking for more.

And who can blame them? With the likes of Bollywood stars Rani Mukerji, Saif Ali Khan and Sonu Nigam performing live, with Shiamak Davar’s choreography, Shankar-Ehsan-Loy’s music and Gulzar’s lyrics, the performance sizzled.

Rani Mukerji, who performed a Dhamaal song written by Javed Akhtar and composed by Vishal-Shekhar, with Saif, exulted: “It was a wonderful experience to represent the country. The ambience of the huge stadium with thousands of cheering audiences was irresistible. At that moment you couldn’t be an Indian and not be proud of it.”

Poor Saif Ali Khan had never done Bhangra before and was worried stiff. But as the Aussies say, no worries, mate.

“It was unbelievable,” said Sonu Nigam. “Only three minutes were given to Shreya Ghosal, Shiamak Davar, Sunidhi Chauhan and me to do our song ‘Dilli chalo.’ Gulzar saab’s  words and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music made such an impact.

“At that moment on stage with the whole world watching us I felt so proud to be an Indian. It’s a moment that won’t come back that easily.”

Bollywood, tune kamaal kar diya, yaar.
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Reality Sucks
The way things are going, the reality talent show Indian Idol might want to change its name to Indian Bias. Over the last few weeks, Indian Idol judges Anu Malik, Farah Khan and Sonu Nigam have repeatedly chafed at the emotional bias that seems to dominate the viewing public’s voting, sometimes descending to outright parochial prejudice.

Take a recent instance. With four weeks to go for the finals, N.C. Karunya from Hyderabad and Suresh Wadkar disciple Amey Date (who has sung in the Hindi film Desh Devi under Ismail Darbar) were the best bets, with Sandeep Acharya (Rajasthan) and Anuj Sharma (from Himachal Pradesh) ranking a distant third and fourth.

The episode airing March 13 had Anuj in poor form while Sandeep was decent compared to earlier limited performances. On the other hand, Karunya was brilliant and Amey excellent. This was the unanimous verdict of the judges and that week’s celebrity judge Dia Mirza, coincidentally also from Hyderabad, who even said that she would stop believing in the show if Karunya’s singing did not win him the title!

Well, Dia, maybe it’s time for you to join the skeptics. To the utter shock of all impartial observers, the results episode the next day eliminated Amey Date. The voters clearly begged to differ. In an unprecedented move, the judges walked out in protest against the voters’ caprice.

Calm Amey tried to placate his mother and finally, in a heartbreaking moment of gentlemanly behavior, embraced winner Anuj (who won the second lowest vote) warmly. Even the hard-headed host Mini Mathur was moved to tears.
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Perfect Creation: Hrithik Becomes Proud Father of Boy
Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan March 28 became father of a baby boy. Hrithik’s wife Suzanne, who is daughter of actor Sanjay Khan, gave birth to a baby boy at a city hospital, sources close to the actor said.

Dad Hrithik was ecstatic. “I can proudly say I’ve at last created something that’s absolutely perfect,” he said.

Hrithik was away for shooting in Brazil, and came back four days before the baby was born.

“Just in time, four days before Suzanne had our baby. And though we shot a really cool song in that exotic location in Rio, my heart was completely back home,” he said. “I can’t tell you how it felt to be there in Rio knowing it (parenthood) can happen any time. It was like being all packed and ready for a holiday to paradise. But this was one journey—fatherhood--from which I was not going to come back. So I was torn between these two extreme emotions of extreme joy and utter apprehension

He waxed philosophical about the experience: “The journey into fatherhood is the biggest bliss a man can experience. I started feeling the change within me nine months ago. And now I feel that journey has finally culminated. I’ve never felt happier. This is the most perfect experience of my life.”

His newly-born son has been named Rayhaan. “We were toying with another spelling for the name. But we all decided that this was the best spelling for the little one. His friends in school can call him Ray if they want.”

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Raving about Talent
Actress Konkona Sensharma is raving. This talented new actress, who plays a pivotal role in Naseeruddin Shah’s directorial debut Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota, can’t stop raving about the veteran actor.

“I am a huge admirer of Naseer, both as an actor and a stage director. He has a formidable reputation on stage and is reckoned as an actor of substance. So when Shabbir told me that Naseer was directing the film, I had half made up my mind about the film,” Konkona told a magazine.

Konkona says it’s every bit as wonderful as she had expected it to be. “Naseer exudes the same energy as director as in his performances. Working with him gave me a new creative high.”

Now that’s saying something, because Konkona is no novice. In addition to superb, award-winning performances in a slew of Bangla films, she has drawn international acclaim for her outstanding performances in films like Mr and Mrs Iyer and Page 3. I suppose it takes one to know one, huh?
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Errant Producers
You would think poor Salman Khan must be having a terrible time, what with the law after him for poaching and hit-and-run accidents. How ironic it must be for our buff Sallu, whose flexing muscles and six-pack abs on screen makes men tremble and ladies swoon.

Well, it turns out that reel life is not that far from real life after all. Machismo is the middle name of Bollywood’s enfant terrible, it turns out, as he is hauling producers to court for unpaid dues of a whopping Rs. 2.6 million. Or rather, if you want to be technical about it, he is pissed off at Cinevista producers for actually paying him with checks that bounced higher than a basketball.

Salman has filed eight criminal complaints in a magistrate’s court in Mumbai against directors of Cinevistas for recovery of Rs. 2,642,000 due to him as professional fees for acting in their film Garv — Pride and Honor, released two years ago.

The court had issued bailable warrants against the directors of Cinevista, Sunil Mehta and Premkishen March 2 but cancelled them later after they appeared before the magistrate.

The actor served legal notice on Cinevista and its directors Aug. 6 last year. When they did not respond, the actor moved the court. You can almost see Sallu’s biceps bulging.
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Big B Exhausted, Bollywood Anxious
Oh dear, dear. Is it time for Bollywood to have a collective heart attack? The latest news is that Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who resumed shooting after two months of rest following an intestinal operation, cancelled a trip to Kolkata citing health problems.

Bachchan, 63, had been slated to leave for Kolkata March 25 but backed out at the last minute after apparently suffering from a bout of exhaustion.

“He has been shooting continuously for the past five days for Karan Johar’s film Kabhie Alvida Na Kehna and also for his make-up man Deepak Sawant’s Bhojpuri film Ganga,” a source on the sets of Sawant’s film said.

“Obviously, he has suffered from exhaustion... it is nothing serious but he wanted to take rest,” the source added.

Considering the huge amount of money riding on Big B — films, advertisements — any sign of his sickness makes a whole lot of people antsy.

However, Bachchan’s family doctor Jayant Barve denied any knowledge of the star’s illness and also said he did not know of any impending surgery.

Big B had been hospitalized for more than 20 days after he was operated for diverticulitis of the small intestine on Nov. 30 last year at Lilavati Hospital here.

The actor’s illness had led to consternation in the film and television industry, where projects worth nearly Rs. 2 billion starring Bachchan were at stake.
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Cannes Calls
Nobody should be surprised to see the smile on Preity Zinta’s face wider than usual. For starters, she along with Karan Johar are this year’s invitees to the Cannes Film Festival. Oh la la! Zinta and Johar will be representing India at a special dinner. We all know how Aishwarya Rai and Mallika Sherawat had created a media sensation when they went to Cannes. There’s no telling what might happen when Preity is there, right?

Apart from this festival, there is a lot to look forward to for the dimple-faced beauty. Preity is looking forward to her month-long world tour, “The Heat.”

Her forthcoming films include Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Jaaneman and a special appearance in Krrish. She has also signed Shaad Ali’s next Jhoom Bara Bar Jhoom with Abhishek Bachchan.
Like we said, Nobody should be surprised to see the smile on Preity Zinta’s face wider than usual.
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Bollywood, My Love
It’s almost a land that time forgot. Decades of autocratic rule have pulled a bamboo curtain over the country which is not only a neighbor of India but once used to be part of the British empire, just like India.

We’re talking about Myanmar, once known as Burma. Shortly after independence, the country got took over by a military dictator and its long life under isolation began.

Yet a visit to the picturesque capital showed that Indian movies have left an indelible mark on the psyche of the local population.

While the youngsters see films like Paheli and No Entry on DVD or TV, some cinemas in Yangon are showing Pardes, starring Shah Rukh Khan.

Though only two to three cinemas show Hindi movies, people see the latest films on DVDs, which are plentiful in the capital, thanks to pirated copies from Pakistan and China.

Big B, Hrithik, Rekha, Kajol and Bipasha are the favorite stars of the local people. The city has witnessed shooting of some Hindi films in the past and old timers recall with relish films like Mother India, Nagin and Bobby as very good movies.

Students of Basic Education High School here played the well-known lines of the film Kati Patang — “Pyar Diwana Hota Hai” when Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited the school. Kalam was so overwhelmed with the music that he himself went to the stage and posed for a group photograph with the students on the dais.
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Beating Up Tenants
Two Mumbaikars, Arvind Savardekar, 52, and Deepak Nalavade, 32, have claimed that their landlord, playback singer Abhijeet, entered their showroom recently and assaulted them. “He came with four men armed with steel rods and destroyed some electronic goods and assaulted my employees too,” claims Savardekar.

Nonsense, scoffs the playback singer, who said the duo had defaulted on paying their rent.. “Three checks bounced and they fed me with a sob story. But my accountant told me that the late payment would cause me accounting problems, so I asked them to vacate, which they did not.” Abhijeet also filed a counter complaint about bounced checks.

While the assaulted parties were admitted to a hospital, the police sealed the premises and told the tenants they would reopen it only when the dues of Rs. 300,000 were cleared. The tenants complained that they had cleared the dues later but the cops were siding with the owner. Abhijeet counters that he found that when the tenants surrendered the keys, they had made a duplicate set and had gained access.

Meanwhile, the controversial singer has actually been lauded by readers. “Defaulting tenants usually take the refuge of the law and the media to unrightfully keep possession of a property bought by someone else with their hard-earned money. What is the owner to do when the law does not assist him in his fundamental rights? Abhijeet is a hero for showing landlords a simple way to get back their possession from unscrupulous tenants,” said a letter-writer.

Go figure.
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Chock Full of Chuckles: Malamaal Weekly

Sahara One Motion Pictures and Percept Picture Company’s
Malamaal Weekly
Written and directed by: Priyadarshan
Music: Uttankk V Vorra
Starring: Om Puri, Paresh Rawal, Riteish Deshmukh, Reemma Sen, Asrani, Shakti Kapoor, Sudha Chandran, Sarita Joshi and Rajpal Yadav

Southern import Priyadarshan has not had an easy time in Bollywood lately. His intent was to make serious films in Bollywood, so he made Gardish and Virasat. But the success of Hera Pheri had convinced him that maybe comedy was his forte.

Hulchul and Yeh Teraa Ghar Yeh Meraa Ghar, though, didn’t exactly set the cash registers ringing.

So it was back to the drawing board for Priyadarshan, and he has returned with a wacky comedy about greed and cupidity in an Indian village.

It has to be said Priyadarshan has learned his lessons well: his latest film is a considerable improvement on his recent attempts, and the certain box office success is sure to please him.

While Malamaal Weekly won’t be a darling at the film festival circuit, but few Bollywood buffs care. What Bollywood aficionados crave and do not get often enough is what Priyadarshan delivers — a film that is set within the limits of the populist entertainment aesthetic of masala Bollywood films and yet delivers humor, wit and entertainment is spades.

His stroke of genius is sticking to a time-honored and fool-proof formula for humor. Along the line of theatrical farces, he creates an absurd situation, and then as various people try to con each other, the situation continues to get even more out of whack, adding continuously to the hilarity.

Here’s the story. The people of Lahoni village have been fallen into some really hard times. As if poverty and bad harvests were not enough, a monstrous harridan of a moneylender called Karamkali (Sudha Chandran) is sucking their blood dry.

This isn’t to say the rest of the villagers are paragons of virtue. There’s Balwant (Om Puri) who earns from selling adulterated milk from his remaining cows, his servant Kanhaiya (Riteish Deshmukh) who suffers Balwant only because he loves and gets to be near his sweetheart Sukhamani (Reemma Sen).

Kanhaiya’s father Chokhe (Asrani) is a professional mahout who moves around on his mortgaged elephant. Then there’s Baaj Bahadur (Rajpal Yadav), Karamkali’s wicked brother and the local once-rich guy Anthony (Innocent) wallows in alcohol after losing his family.

Not exactly a gallery of saints, it’s true, but still undeserving of the pure hell that is visited upon them in the form of the dreadful Karamkali. So it should be no surprise that the only guy making a quick buck off the village misery is Lilaram (Paresh Rawal), who sells Malamaal Weekly lottery tickets. Everyone dreams of winning the lottery and getting out of the clutches of Karamkali once and for all, and one person’s dream is Lilaram’s source of income.

The tamasha begins when Anthony wins a Rs. 10 million lottery prize and dies of shock, holding the ticket in his hand. When Lilaram realizes that it is one villager (who cannot even read numbers) who has won the prize, he takes a loan from Karamkali and throws a “goodwill” bash for all villagers who have been his loyal customers so long without winning with the proviso that they have to hand over their ticket to him to enjoy a feast, complete with a dance show.

But the winner, Anthony, is dead, so of course he does not turn up. Lilaram soon discovers his dead body, and while trying to extract the ticket from his palm, is caught by Balwant who has come there for his own reasons. Reluctantly Lilaram takes him into confidence by agreeing to share the prize money.

Then things start getting more and more out of whack as more and more villagers find out, and the hapless Lilaram is forced to promise an ever-decreasing share of the financial pie.

The completely wacky situations that result are enhanced by the excellent, realistic dialogues (Manisha Korde), while a superb ensemble cast fleshes out the characters with verve. Asrani’s Chokhe will remind viewers of his great comic turn in Sholay, and both Om Puri’s Balwant and Paresh Rawal’ Lilaram are hilarious. Rajpal Yadav as the maniac Baaj Bahadur sometime grates but is mostly great, and Riteish Deshmukh is impressive.


Fairly Engaging Entertainer: Mercury Pookkal

Director: S.S. Stanly
Cast: Srikanth, Meera Jasmine, Sameeksha, Delhi Ganesh, Karunas, Mahadevan

The movie centers on love after marriage, going through the whole gamut of emotions — the bickerings, separation and the reconciliation. It’s about Kartik and Selvi, married to each other against their will, locked in a marriage that happened because their fathers were old buddies. Kartik is from the city and Selvi from the village, and they fight like cats and dogs from day one or rather from the first night.

The duo continues its squabbles even after Selvi comes to stay with Kartik and his family. He has the upper hand, warding off her overtures of affection, losing no opportunity to taunt and tease her for her lack of sophistication.

Kartik’s affection is reserved for his sophisticated college mate Nisha, and he alienates his wife as he makes no secret of where his preference lies. But realization dawns soon enough, and the tables are turned as he attempts to win her back.

The performance of the lead players and the realistic way in which the director keeps the action moving keeps the viewer engaged for the most part. Srikanth is a natural, spontaneous actor and the consistency with which he maintains the mannerisms he’s adopted for the character are worthy of appreciation.

Meera Jasmine’s expressions are a delight to watch, and the duo’s scenes of interaction are enjoyable. But certain scenes do remind one of Jasmine’s earlier film Sandakozhi, particularly the scene of Selvi with her friends at the theatre, which has been lifted in its entirety from the earlier film.

Karunas gets a substantial role, and is funny in some scenes and earns audience sympathy towards the end. Lending a touch of realism to the narration is Delhi Ganesh and Mahadevan as the fathers of the lead pair.

Overall, Mercury Pookkal is a fairly engaging entertainer.


Rajasthani Delight: Sangar ki Subzi with Stuffed Paratha

Here’s a traditional Rajasthan favorite dish that will delight your guests. Seema Gupta shows you how to make it.
  • 2 cup sangar (boiled in a pressure cooker till whistle blows thrice)
  • 2 tbsp mustard oil
  • 2-3 tbsp butter milk
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 boiled potato, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 5-6 green chilies, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds

Heat oil in a pan, add cumin seeds, cloves, ginger, green chili. Stir for a minute. Add all spices. Mix with 1/2 cup of water and tomato paste, stir for 2 minutes. Add boiled sangar, buttermilk and boiled potatoes. Stir for 15-20 minutes.

Stuffed Paratha

  • 2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup gram flour (besan)
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • A pinch of asafetida
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder,
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder,
  • 1/2 tsp aniseed (saunf),
  • 1/2 tsp sugar,
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp sun-dried green mangoes (amchur)

Heat the oil in a pan. Add asafetida, besan, and fry for few minutes till
light brown color. Add all spices, mix well. Allow to cool..

Roll dough, fill 1 tbsp besan mixture, cover it and roll it out again into an 8-inch diameter rote.
Fry both sides on iron griddle, serve hot.

Serves six.

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


HOROSCOPE: April By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You will be giving finishing touches to a project that will make you famous in professional as well as social circles. Business trip will be good and results will beat expectations. You might think about replacing your vehicle with a newer model. You will receive blessings of a holy person.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Things will suddenly start moving in the right direction. Projects on hold will finally takeoff with a bang. You will be spending money and may start a major loan application as well. You will develop a taste for hot and spicy food. You will start to enjoy company of a new and younger colleague.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Mars in first will cause health concerns. Competition in business will grow and few new faces will start throwing challenges at you. Expenses will come down a lot but only after making a final payment on several bills. There will be an addition in the family soon. Property deal can also materialize. You will attend a big social event with family.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Weak planets will cause big concerns about career. Some of you will need to move to another location in the near future. You will have several opportunities to make money in stocks and timely action will get you there. You will miss someone badly and may suffer from minor depression.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): It is going to be morale boosting period. Health will improve and you will feel strong. Strong determination will help turn things around and your image will improve in the social circles. New opportunities to make money will keep cropping up as you may grab a few good ones. Sign all papers after reading them carefully.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You will not like the changes taking place at work. Avoid confrontation with your boss, remember, the boss is always right. There will be changes in partnership and an important partner will decide to quit. People in business will be spending more money on advertising in order to stay ahead of strong competitors.

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

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Do not let obstacles demoralize you and keep working towards your goals. With the right help success will come though with slight delay. You will go on a pleasant trip. You will make a big sacrifice to make others happy. An old friend will send an invitation.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): A new member will soon be added to your family. There will be some positive developments at work as you are in for a big promotion. Trip will be good and relax you. Spouse will lack energy and may need to relax more. You will be slowly working on a long distance trip also. You will receive a refund check.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Hard work will pay off and you will see money rolling in. You may get some money out of a property deal as well. Some of you will be getting ready to go on a long distance trip. Irregular food habits will cause burning sensation in stomach. Spouse may be slightly depressed because of a health problem.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will enjoy life with family and old friends. You will go an important business trip to distant place. You may loose some money due to a bad contract signed in a hurry in the past. Do not under estimate your opponents and do not take a chance with weather. You will be involved in charity work.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will be writing a big check to the government in lieu of back taxes or a fine. You will have your eyes set on a beautiful property. Car will need minor repairs. Some one will try to involve you into an unnecessary argument at a party. Trip will be entertaining and you will receive a valuable gift.

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


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