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JULY 2006
Volume VII • Issue 7

EDITORIAL: The Mumbai Tragedy
NEWS DIARY: June Roundup
FUNDRAISER: Project Ahimsa: Picking Mangoes
COMMENTARY: Unsurprising Reflections
CULTURE: Anandamela | Bengali Fest
DIASPORA: NRI Remittances
LIVING: 10 Tips for Saving Energy
AUTO: Nissan’s New Hybrid
HEALTH: Healthy Summer Snacks
TRAVEL: Like a Full-Bodied Chianti
DISASTER RELIEF: In Aid of Quake Victims
FESTIVAL: Baisakhi in San Jose
PERFORMANCE: FFE Sunidhi Chauhan Concert
THEATRE: Natyamela
AUTO REVIEW: 2006 Pontiac Solstice
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Review: Krrish
RECIPE: Maalpua


The Fourth of July is a time when this nation takes a look at its history. We thought this is an excellent time to look at the experience of early Indian American immigrants in the U.S. who faced hostility, racism and legal barriers. They couldn’t buy land, they couldn’t get U.S. citizenship. However, they never gave up, but instead, steadfastly stood their ground. In the end, they triumphed, and one by one, all of the legal hurdles against naturalization were overcome.

Indian Americans today often tend to wallow in a self-congratulatory hubris. Inder Singh’s poignant, informative essay is a salutary reminder that the going was not always so easy, and it is incumbent on today’s community to remember the tribulations of the past and express solidarity with many less privileged who faced similar hardships today.

We deeply mourn the tragic and untimely deaths caused by terrorist blasts in Mumbai. We send our heartfelt sympathy to the friends and families who lost dear ones or are extending support to the injured.

No condemnation can be too strong for a mindless, barbaric act like this. We hope those who committed this inhuman act are brought to justice and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In the hearts of all people of goodwill, they shall forever remain the epitome of cruelty and inhumanity.

When one thinks of the bloodbath of the First World War, especially the Battle of Somme which alone claimed one million lives, one is tempted to agree with Mahatma Gandhi’s wry reply when asked what he though of Western civilization: “It would be a good idea.”

What is less well known is the fact that Indians, predominantly Sikhs, signed up for the British Indian Army in droves and fought with great valor all over the world. July 1 was the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. We commemorate the occasion with an account of the Sikh soldiers in World War I.

The connectivity of the globalized world has become a cliché; but just how much of this is relevant to vast expanse of the world where the relatively underprivileged live? Well, for a change, a bunch of innovative researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and Intel Corporation are helping thousands of villagers of Tamil Nadu get access to top quality eye care.

What the high tech researchers have done is to provide a low-cost Wi Fi connectivity to several vision centers in rural Tamil Nadu that is associated with Aravind Hospitals. As a consequence, villagers are spared the hassle of traveling several miles and can consult with a specialist doctor from their own village vision center. We carry a detailed story this month.

On a more personal note, we are delighted to welcome Shobha Hiatt, a long-time women’s rights activist and cofounder of the South Asian women’s helpline Narika. Shobha will be covering cultural events for us from time to time and also write on various issues. Welcome aboard, Shobha!

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

A Long Journey: Early Indian Immigrants in U.S.

As Americans celebrate 4th of July, this is a good time to remember and pay tribute to the first Indian immigrants who weathered outright racial hostility and discrimination and fought tenaciously for their right to U.S. citizenship, writes Inder Singh.

A Sikh immigrant family in California.

A brief history of immigration to the United States reveals prejudice, hostility and blatant discrimination against the people of Indian origin. The Luce-Celler Bill signed by President Harry S. Truman on July 3, 1946, gave citizenship rights to the Indian immigrants in the U.S. President Roosevelt also had supported the bill and wanted an end to “statutory discrimination against Indians” but he died before the bill could be enacted into law.

From the declaration of independence in 1776 to 1882, the U.S. government had an open borders policy towards immigration or emigration. The U.S. constitution, adopted in 1789, did not have any provision, nor were any laws enacted for almost 80 years, regulating immigration to the United States. The U.S. nationals were of European ancestry, so there probably was no need for laws to regulate immigration from Europe. However, when Asians started arriving, the U.S. passed the Naturalization Act of 1870 that denied Asians the right to become naturalized citizens. That new law was the first piece of discriminatory legislation against the people of Asia passed in the U.S. Congress.

The Europeans came to America through Ellis Island, while Asians landed on the West Coast where there was no Statue of Liberty to welcome them. The employers, however, welcomed cheap Asian labor for their lumber mills, railroad construction and farms.

The Chinese were the first among the Asians to come in search of economic opportunities. The unskilled white labor and their unions vehemently opposed the import of cheap Asian labor, and in 1882 America passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first law in U.S. history to restrict immigration. The labor unions and conservative politicians were not completely satisfied, so they continued to agitate against employment of “cheap” Asian workers. During the next few years, many laws were passed to restrict employment opportunities for Asians or to bar their immigration to the United States.

From top: Sikh immigrants at Angel Island immigration station, Calif. 1910; Sikh Gurdwara in Stockton, Calif., dedicated in Nov. 21, 1915. This is the first permanent Indian religious building in the U.S.; Sikh workers in Pacific and Eastern Railroad. 1909.
Indian national was first seen in the United States in 1790 in Salem, Massachusetts. He most likely had accompanied a British sea captain who plied a merchant ship. Sixty-one years later, in 1851, six Indians participated in the July 4th Independence Day parade in Salem. A Punjabi Parsi prince, Conjee Rustumjee Cohoujee Bey, participated in the American Civil War (1861-65) and then worked for 44 years in the U.S. Navy in San Francisco. Some traders and religious leaders also came to America during the nineteenth century. Swami Vivekananda attended the World Congress of Religions in 1893 and made a lasting impact. The founding of Vedanta Societies in America is attributed to the influence of Vivekananda. Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore visited the U.S. four times. It was during his visit that he received the news about his winning the 1913 Nobel Prize in literature. He even met President Herbert Hoover in the White House in 1930. Tagore, however, experienced racial prejudice during his visit to Los Angeles.

The first trickle of Indians in search of economic opportunities came to California at the end of the nineteenth century. On April 5, 1899, four Punjabis who had worked in the British Royal Artillery in Hong Kong, landed in San Francisco and were allowed to stay in the U.S. by the Immigration Service. The grant of permission gave the signal to others to follow those four pioneers.
In 1897, Queen Victoria of England, the then Empress of India, included a Sikh regiment from the Indian Army for her Diamond Jubilee celebration in London. On their return journey to India, the Sikh soldiers traveled via Canada. They were fascinated with the potential for farming opportunities in this far-away land and dreamt of returning after retirement from the army. The famine of 1899-1900 devastated the state of Punjab. Drought conditions of 1905-07 made living a virtual hell, forcing people to think of leaving their homeland. Canada and the United States of America, though half a world apart, were strong and attractive magnets for Punjabis to emigrate.

India and Canada were both British dominions, so there was no need for visa to travel to Canada. Thus Canada became the destination of Punjabi immigrants who quickly found jobs in lumber mills. The new immigrants were hard working and accepted lower wages, so some Canadian companies publicized the economic and job opportunities to entice more cheap labor from India. During the first few years, about 2,000 immigrants, mostly Punjabi farmers and laborers, were permitted to come annually. As the number of immigrants increased, the locals felt threatened by labor competition from the hardy, low paid and adventurous Punjabis. Fear of labor competition led to racial antagonism and demands for exclusionary laws from Asian workers. In 1909, severe immigration restrictions virtually ended legal Indian immigration to Canada.

By 1907, Indian immigrants saw the doors closing on them in Canada while America had an abundance of jobs in the lumber industry and building of railroads. There was plenty of land to farming land throughout the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Imperial valleys of California. Also, there were no restrictions in crossing the border between Canada and the United States, so Indians started coming to the U.S. Those Indians who had planned to come to Canada also decided to emigrate to the US.

Indians admitted legally to the U.S. during the first six years of the 20th century numbered about 850, and from 1907 to 1911, 5,400 more immigrants were allowed. However, the total number of Indians in the country was much larger as many had come directly from Canada. Most of these early immigrants were Punjabi veterans or peasants who had come either directly from India or from other countries, such as Hong Kong.

The United States had also welcomed qualified Indian students seeking admission to American universities. However, upon graduation, they were not able to get jobs commensurate with their qualifications. The discriminatory practices were against the very ideals of liberty and freedom they had experienced during their university days. The Indian students attributed the racial prejudice and discrimination to their being nationals of a subjugated country.

Indians in the United States and Canada were called “East Indians” to avoid confusion with native Americans, who were known as “American Indians.” But they were more commonly called “Hindoos,” (Hindus) irrespective of their faith. The majority of the arrivals from India were Sikhs who preserved their religious beliefs and practices by keeping their beard, long hair on their head and wore turbans. They were easily distinguishable from the rest of the immigrants, but unfortunately, they were called “rag heads,” a derogatory term used for the Indians at that time. Their very presence in America provoked hostility from the Asiatic Exclusion League which carried propaganda against the “Hindu invasion of America” and persuaded the media to write against “The Tide of Turbans.”

Indians had come here chasing their dream in a land of opportunities but they found the chase very challenging. They were eager workers, accepted low wages, poor working conditions and many times traveled from place to place in search of work. They did not want to turn down opportunities despite the many harsh difficulties they had experienced. The employers preferred the Indians to the whites but the unions despised them. As the number of Indian workers increased within a span of few years, they started encountering rampant prejudice and widespread hostility. In 1907, they became the victims of racial riots perpetrated against them. A mob of about 500 men assaulted boarding houses and mills, forcefully expelling Hindus from Bellingham, then a milling town in the state of Washington. The chief objective of the racial attack was to “scare them so badly that they will not crowd white labor out of the mills.” The town had a small police force which was overpowered by the white mob. The Indians had come in search of a chance for a better life for themselves and their families but the nightmarish incident forced about 300 Indians employed in various mills to leave the town in fear.

The Bellingham race riots had a devastating impact on the Indian community in the Pacific Coast. The Asiatic Exclusion League and other similar groups, however, became emboldened and wanted to prevent further immigration from India and force those already in the country to go back. Anti-Indian immigration groups also succeeded in getting the Alien Land Law passed in 1913, a new law that prevented “aliens ineligible for citizenship” to own property in California. The Indians responded by transferring, buying or leasing land or property in the name of American friends who sometimes deprived them of their harvest. A few Indians married Mexican women who were U.S. citizens, and leased property in the wife’s name. But some landowners hesitated to lease land to an Indian’s wife for fear of violating the Alien Land Act. In response to pressure, the U.S. passed the Cable Act of 1922 that stipulated that if an American woman married an alien ineligible for citizenship, she would lose her own citizenship. Right of citizenship would nullify the effect of the California Alien Land Law but it was an elusive dream for Indians.

The continuing pressure of exclusionary forces and various American labor organizations against the importation of labor from Asian countries resulted in the imposition of further restrictions. In 1917, a very restrictive and discriminatory Immigration Act was passed over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson. The new law virtually barred all Asians from entering the U.S. legally. It created the “Pacific Barred Zone,” which included many Asian countries, natives of which were declared inadmissible to the United States. It also imposed English literacy restrictions, allowing only those to immigrate who could read and write English. After the passage of the law, some Indians left the U.S. in disgust while the number of new arrivals from India dwindled drastically.

The U.S. citizenship conferred many rights and privileges but only Caucasian immigrants were eligible to apply. Among the Asians, Indian nationals were considered to be Caucasian, so sixty-seven Indians acquired U.S. citizenship from 1908 to 1923 in different states.

For Bhagat Singh Thind, a veteran of the U.S. army, the granting of citizenship in 1920 by an Oregon District Court was a joyous occasion but it was short-lived. The Immigration and Naturalization Service challenged the court decision granting citizenship to Thind. In 1910, in the U.S. vs. Balsara case, the lower federal court had held that Indians were Caucasians. In 1922, in the U.S. vs. Ozawa case, the U.S. Supreme Court had officially equated “white person” with “a person of the Caucasian race.” Thus in view of the decisions in the two cases, the granting of citizenship to Thind should not have warranted any challenge. Shockingly, however, Justice Sutherland of the U.S. Supreme Court, the same judge who had declared whites as Caucasians in Ozawa vs. U.S., pronounced on February 19, 1923, that Thind and other Indians, though Caucasians, were not “white” and thus were ineligible for U.S. citizenship. The judge obviously decided the first case on the basis of race, the second, on the basis of color; but neither on the basis of law of the land.

The Supreme Court decision had a demoralizing effect on many Indian nationals. All the sixty-seven Indians who had given up their Indian citizenship to become American citizens became persona non grata, nationals of no country as their American citizenship status was revoked. The economic impact for land and property owning Indians was devastating as they had to liquidate their land holdings at dramatically lower prices. Many U.S. citizens, who were formerly Indian citizens, were forced to surrender their American citizenship.

For years to come, Indian nationals continued to suffer humiliation and hardships because they could not obtain citizenship of the United States. There were about 2,000 or possibly 2,500 Indians, who could benefit by becoming citizens of the US. A legal challenge to the Supreme Court interpretation of the law was ruled out as a possibility. An amendment to immigration laws by Congress appeared an alternative worth pursuing. But the majority of the Indians were very skeptical if Congress could pass a major bill aimed at upsetting a historic decision of the Supreme Court. “It was not that they did not want citizenship rights, but they had suffered so many hardships and been knocked about so much that it was very difficult for them to believe that there was a chance of their winning,” said Dalip Singh Saund, later the first Congressman of Indian descent.

Nevertheless, Indians continued to seek ways to regain citizenship rights, particularly when the Chinese had been granted such rights through legislation. It was a major undertaking to convince the elected representatives of the American people to introduce a bill in Congress for the granting of U.S. citizenship to a handful of Indian nationals. Saund traveled all over California to mobilize the Indian community, mailed out thousands of letters hand written in Punjabi and raised funds for the Indian group in New York to lobby on Capitol Hill. The mobilization took quite some effort but soon it gained momentum and Indians in the U.S. were ready for an all-out effort to re-gain their citizenship rights.

J. J. Singh of India League of America, Mubarak Ali Khan of the Indian Welfare League, Anup Singh, Haridas Muzumdar, Taraknath Das, and from California, Dalip Singh Saund of the India Association of America led the lobbying effort. They were able to successfully convince Connecticut Republican Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce and New York Democrat Congressman Emanuel Cellar, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to jointly introduce a bill in Congress for the granting of U.S. citizenship to Indian immigrants. However, selling this concept to the majority of the members in the U.S. Congress was an uphill task, more so as the passage of the bill could open the door for other Asians who were similarly deprived of citizenship rights. For four years, the bill languished in the Congressional Committees and Indians continued running into obstacles in finding a powerful ally to push it through Congress. Although President Roosevelt wrote letters to Congressmen and Senators but some die-hard members of Congress and the American Federation of Labor would not relent in their opposition.

Fortunately, in 1946, President Truman took special interest in its passage and the Luce-Cellar Bill was enacted into the Immigration Act of 1946, conferring the right of citizenship on the natives of India. President Truman invited some prominent Indians to the White House, including Sardar J.J. Singh of Washington DC, president of the India League and Dr. Anoop Singh of New York and signed the bill on July 3, 1946, which truly should be celebrated as the Independence Day by Indian Americans. It was a great triumph for the Indian community that their relentless struggle for 23 years reversed the Supreme Court’s racial interpretation of the word Caucasian.

The granting of citizenship rights opened new opportunities for Indian nationals. They could lease or own land, which previously they could not under the Asiatic Exclusionary laws or take part in an election or even run for public office. They could go back for a visit to India or bring their spouses and minor children to the U.S. There was no more a bar on love or relationships; an Indian could marry an American citizen. Indians could immigrate legally up to 100 people per year and acquire U.S. citizenship.

Since the passage of the Luce-Cellar Bill in 1946, immigration laws have been modified several times. The Immigration Act of 1965 liberalized immigration, increasing per country quota to 20,000 people irrespective of race, color or creed. The new legislation, while ending the period of selective discriminatory immigration to the U.S., encouraged a new wave of Indian immigrants who were educated and skilled and have profited from their knowledge. The increased quota has also resulted in the exponential growth in the number of Indian immigrants and the wave of new arrivals still goes unabated.

At the turn of 20th century, many Indians packed their few possessions and headed towards America but their dreamland did not offer a friendly landscape. The Punjabi pioneers initially found only menial jobs in factories and lumber mills to ensure their survival. They lived in abandoned homes, slept under the open sky or in crumbling structures. The paths they took were varied, but their dreams were the same and would not have come to fruition without sacrifice, vision and difficult trade-offs. Many switched to the profession of their forefathers — agriculture, and some of them became very successful farmers.

The US proclaims “liberty and justice for all.” But Indians became victims of violence, experienced bigotry, encountered discrimination and suffered humiliation, and went through a long and painful struggle for parity, equality and dignity until they gained the right of citizenship. Each individual faced unexpected and harsh challenges, but gradually discovered new possibilities, and realized his or her own dreams that contributed to a brighter future for them and their next generations.

Valor in Battle: Indians in World War I
July 1 was the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the scene of ghastly, gruesome bloodletting that claimed a million lives. Indians enlisted in the British Army in droves and fought valiantly here as well as in many other fronts during World War I. Siliconeer presents a tribute.

La Chapelette Cemetery (Peronne, France) has graves of Sikh soldiers who died in World War I.

The 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme was on July 1. The Battle of the Somme was one of the most significant campaigns of World War I. The Allied Forces attempted to break through the German front line in northern France in 1916.

(From top): Sikh soldiers marching through France during World War I; Unveiling of the monument for Indian soldiers fallen in Belgium during the First World War. (Hollebeke, Belgium, 3 April 1999); An injured Sikh soldier in France during World War I.
The loss of life on the Somme was terrible: On the first day of the battle alone the British casualties numbered 60,000. The total number of dead is staggering: over a million.

A Sikh soldier, Indar Singh, fighting on the Somme in September 1916, wrote home: “It is quite impossible that I should return alive. [But] don’t be grieved at my death, because I shall die arms in hand, wearing the warrior’s clothes. This is the most happy death that anyone can die.”

The Indian Army fought in every major theatre of operations during World War I.

In August 1914, as the German Army advanced through France and Belgium, more Allied troops were desperately needed for the Western Front. The Indian Army, 161,000 strong, seemed an obvious source of trained men, and the Lahore and Meerut infantry divisions were selected for service in Europe. In October, shortly after they arrived, they were fed piecemeal into some of the fiercest fighting around Ypres. Losses were heavy. The average Indian battalion had 764 men when it landed; by early November the 47th Sikhs had only 385 men fit for duty.

Sikhs made up nearly 20 percent of the British Indian Army despite being only 2 percent of the population. It was the estimate of Sir John Maynard that the contribution of the Sikh community in men and material was ten times that of any other community of India.

These soldiers fought disease, filth, gas attacks, and the onslaught of German and Turkish troops and maxim guns with only their turbans to protect them from head wounds and their unshorn hair and long beards, as prescribed by their religious faith, in disease infested, muddy trenches.

The troops were taken out of the line and rested in early 1915, but were soon back in the trenches and involved in the heaviest fighting. The Indian Corps provided half the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March.

Flanders was a perpetual battleground in World War I. The Sikh regiment was the first Indian contingent to land in Europe. “Unique stalwarts from the east,” remarked the press.

The Lahore Division was thrown into the counter-attack at the Second Battle of Ypres in April. Morale seemed to pick up in the spring of 1915, only to decline towards the end of the summer when it became clear that an end to the war was not in sight. The 14th Sikh was virtually wiped out in Gallipoli as it lost 379 officers and men in one day’s fighting in June 1915 when, as part of the combined Anglo-French forces, they tried to assault the Turkish defenses.

It is said that some Sikh POWs, captured in Belgium, were believed to have been Muslims by the Germans and taken to Turkey to fight along side their fellow Mohammedans. However, they still remained loyal to the British Crown and escaped on a long trek to the British posts in Afghanistan, from Turkey through the Middle East, to once again fight under the British flag.

In total, 800,000 Indian troops fought in all the theatres of the war with 1.5 million volunteering to fight. They fought in most theatres of war including Gallipoli and North and East Africa. In all 47,746 were classed as killed or missing with 65,000 wounded.

The Indian Corps won 13,000 medals for gallantry including 12 Victoria Crosses. Khudadad Khan won the Corps’ first Victoria Cross.

Such was the cost of the war that India’s economy was pushed to near bankruptcy.

The Indian support given to Britain’s cause surprised the establishment in Britain. The Times wrote: “The Indian empire has overwhelmed the British nation by the completeness and unanimity of its enthusiastic aid.”

NEWS DIARY: June Roundup
Stealing PM’s Whisky | Berkeley Poet Honored by Uttar Pradesh | Urdu Literary Giant Dies | Million Jobs | Bangla Woman Fends Off Tiger All by Herself | Call for Negotiations | India’s Satellite Dream Comes Crashing Down | Experts Join Crash Probe | Happy Birthday! Darjeeling Toy Train | British Muslim Soldier Killed | Flourishing Pak Women | Ceasefire to Extend | Labor Alleges ‘Slow’ Progress | Martyr Reburied

Stealing PM’s Whisky
The Indian national airline Air-India is to take action against 14 crew members for allegedly stealing alcohol from the prime minister’s plane. The incident is said to have taken place in April during a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Germany.

Angry officials from the civil aviation ministry had questioned why it took Air-India so long to report the incident, accusing them of a “cover-up.”

During the visit last April, the prime minister’s security detail on board India’s equivalent of Air Force One panicked when they discovered that one of the aircraft’s cabinets had been broken into just before take off.

A security alert was immediately sounded as secret service agents and intelligence officials scoured the aircraft for a possible bomb.

But all that they uncovered was the disappearance of several bottles of whisky.

They were eventually discovered in the luggage of the crew.

The airline said that its internal inquiry had established beyond doubt that the alcohol had been stolen during Singh’s visit.

Fourteen crew members were found carrying 29 bottles of top-grade Scotch whisky with the aircraft’s captain — who is also a senior airline director — and a flight attendant found in possession of five bottles each.

When the captain was confronted, he said he had bought the whisky.

He is now likely to be charged with smuggling since Indian customs regulations only permit two bottles of alcohol to be brought in to the country by each passenger.
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Berkeley Poet Honored by Uttar Pradesh
Ved Prakash Vatuk

Berkeley, Calif., resident and poet Dr. Ved Prakash Vatuk has been named the recipient of this year’s Jaishankar Prasad Award by the Hindi Sansthan, which is run by the Uttar Pradesh government.

This Jaishankar Prasad Award is given for the best epic of the year. Dr. Vatuk was given the award for his epic poem “Bahubali.” The award carries a citation and a cash prize of Rs. 25,000. Vatuk will receive the award at a special awards ceremony on Hindi Diwas Sept. 14.

Hindi Sansthan previously honored Vatuk with its Pravasi Bharatiya Hindi Sahitya Bhushan Samman, an award given to a Hindi writer residing outside India. Vatuk was the first person to receive that award in 1996, the year the award was initiated. This year’s award has been given to Dr. Krishna Kumar, who lives in the United Kingdom.

“Bahubali,” is a story in verse — a khanda-kavya — borrowing a unique story from a myth from ancient India. This story is about Bharat and Bahubali — the two sons of the apostle of non-violence and peace, the adi tirthankar Rishavdev.

The elder brother Bharat, the ruler of Ayodhya, girded his loins to conquer the world in the name of world peace and found the Chakravarty rajya. However, his younger brother Bahubali, the ruler of Podanpur, considered sacrificing the lives of his subjects to protect his kingdom a policy preferable to accepting the primacy of his elder brother.

The battle between these two feuding brothers could have been as horrific as the war in Mahabharat, had not the blameless subjects and its leaders stood up to protest the imminent bloodshed of the innocent in the impending dharmyuddh. This message of the pointlessness of war and lust for power, and the proposal of an alternative, nonviolent society — this is the essence of his poem.
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Urdu Literary Giant Dies
Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi

One of the major literary figures in the Urdu language, Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, has died in Lahore at the age of 89.

In a career spanning almost 70 years, Qasimi published over 50 books and distinguished himself as a poet, writer, critic and journalist.

He was a leading member of the Progressive Writers Association, and between the 1950s and 1970s was arrested frequently and twice jailed.

In the last 40 years he edited several literary journals and magazines.

Qasimi was also credited with introducing several new trends in Urdu literature. It was the publication of his first collection of Urdu short stories, “Chaupaal” in 1939, followed by an anthology of poems, “Dhadkanen,” that established him as a formidable writer.

In later life, Qasimi was the secretary-general of the PWA’s Pakistan Chapter, which often brought him into conflict with the authorities and his imprisonment on two occasions. The authorities at the time regarded the PWA as an offshoot of the outlawed Communist Party.

Qasimi had three spells as editor of some of the best known Urdu journals that published creative writing.
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Million Jobs
Mukesh Ambani

Leading Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani says he plans to create a million new jobs through an agrarian and retail revolution by building an Indian version of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest store chain.

Ambani, head of petrochemicals giant Reliance Industries, said in an interview he wanted to revolutionize the country’s backward farming and retail sectors and to become a supplier to the world’s supermarkets.

He plans a network of stores in India with an annual sales target of 25 billion dollars by 2011 to make his company “a Wal-Mart in India,” he told Newsweek magazine.

Wal-Mart of the United States is the largest retailer in the world, having revolutionized the business through a super efficient management system overseeing thousands of suppliers.

“We are rebalancing the world. We are in fact lucky to be at the right place at the right time, contributing to our self-confidence as Indians. That’s what energizes me,” Ambani said.

He said the company, Reliance Retail, would work with farmers to improve productivity and build $20 billion of agricultural exports every year.

“We are also creating something that is totally missing in India: an efficient distribution system linked to supermarkets across the world.

“This will generate up to one million new jobs and make us the largest private-sector employer in India,” he told the magazine.

Retail giants like Tesco of Britain and Wal-Mart of the United States have shown great interest in India. However, the government has so far allowed 51 percent foreign direct investment in retailing by companies which sell only a single brand like Reeb.
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Bangla Woman Fends Off Tiger All by Herself
A Royal Bengal tiger

Armed with just an oar, a Bangladeshi teenage woman fended off a Royal Bengal tiger which was attacking her husband, according to police. The intrepid escape occurred near the Sundarbans mangrove forest.

Eighteen-year-old Nazma Akhter and her husband Anwarul Islam, 25, were fishing for shrimp in a canal on the fringes of the Sundarbans.

Tigers kill about 20 people a year in Bangladesh, mostly in the Sundarbans.

Police chief A.S.M. Zahid said the tiger bit the man on the knee and was dragging him off into the forest when his wife set about the big cat with her oar.

“This woman is extraordinarily courageous, because she alone fought the tiger and saved her husband,” he told the BBC. “I salute her for her courage.”

Zahid said that Akhter kept the tiger at bay for 10 minutes.

Local newspapers reported that such was the beating it received from the paddle that it was forced to beat a retreat into the forest.

Islam is reported to be recovering from minor injuries following the attack.

Police and forest officials said the incident comes after two fatal attacks on women in the Sundarbans area recently.

Tigers are believed by experts to be killing more people in the Sundarbans in recent years as pressure on their territory grows because of human encroachment.

Some scientists argue that they may also have become more aggressive because of the high salt content in water of the area which affects their mental stability.

The mangrove forest — which stretches across the border into the Indian state of West Bengal — covers an area of 5,800 square kilometers (3,590 square miles). It is the largest mangrove forest in the world.
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Call for Negotiations
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has said that the Tamil Tiger rebels must re- enter the process of negotiations as it was the only path to achieving peace in the island nation.

Addressing the inaugural session of a special advisory committee aimed at recommending a constitutional solution to the country’s long drawn out separatist armed conflict, Rajapakse said: “All our sincere attempts at bringing the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to the negotiating table have failed so far.”

The advisory committee meeting was boycotted by the main opposition United National Party but was attended by 13 other political parties represented in the national parliament.

Rajapakse stressed that Sri Lanka needs to devise a home-grown solution to the conflict that had claimed over 64,000 lives over the last three decades, say that “finding a political and constitutional solution to the national question requires a multi-party and an inclusive approach.”

Neither the Tamil Tigers nor their proxy political party, the Tamil National Alliance are taking part in the proceedings which have come as part of an all-political party forum called by Rajapakse to achieve broader southern consensus on the violent conflict.

Nearly 900 people have died since Rajapakse assumed presidency last November as the Tamil Tiger rebels stepped up violence against government troops.

The rebels in turn are accusing the government of unleashing violence against them. The atmosphere of violence has put in jeopardy the Norwegian backed peace process.

Rajapakse wants the special advisory panel convened to come up with a political package aimed at ending the conflict.
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India’s Satellite Dream Comes Crashing Down
GSLV spins out of control.

India’s attempt to place its latest communication satellite in space failed after the rocket carrying it veered off its trajectory and disintegrated due to a motor failure.

The rocket, GSLV-FO2 (geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle) was to have placed Insat 4-C in a geo synchronous transfer orbit.

Indian Space Research Organization chairman G. Madhavan Nair told reporters at the Sathish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, that ISRO had issued a destruct command after it found that the rocket was not following its intended path.

What’s even more intriguing is that the government and ISRO didn’t insure the satellite. This puts the entire burden of the loss on ISRO and the government.

While ISRO insures the satellites it places using other’s launch vehicles (France’s Ariane, for example), it doesn’t go for cover of launches made in India, an ISRO official said.

The crash means a loss of Rs. 2.56 billion, including Rs 1.6 billion for launch vehicle and Rs 960 million for the satellite. Bimalendu Chakrabarti, chairman, New India Assurance, confirmed that the satellite was not insured with his company.

New India Assurance has been the traditional insurer for the government’s space programs and has been covering satellite launches since 1990, including the INSAT-2E series.

Although New India has been issuing the policies, the risk was borne by international reinsurers such as Spaceco of the Allianz group who have the expertise in satellite insurance.

Industry sources said that one of the reasons for not insuring could be that the premiums are very high. Even for developed countries with the best track record the premium is over 25 percent of the sum insured. Although India has placed geo synchronous satellites in orbit earlier, 4C was by far the most ambitious venture.
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Experts Join Crash Probe
The crash site of a Pakistan International Airlines plane in Multan.

A three-member team of foreigners visited the Fokker plane crash site in Pakistan’s Multan in a bid to ascertain the causes of the July 10 tragedy that left 45 people dead.

The team included Holger Litzenberg, the aircraft accident investigator, and Mike L. Webber, the principal investigator engineering, both from Rolls Royce, the company that manufactured the engines used in Fokker planes, and Arthur Reekers, the air-worthiness certification engineer from Fokker.

Captain Shahnawaz Dara, the senior vice president of PIA Flight Safety and Health Safety Environment, said that the black box or the Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder would be sent to Aircraft Accident Investigation Board, U.K., to decipher the recording from DFDR and CVR.

“They have an advanced technology and sophisticated equipment to do this and a request to seek time from AAIB will be sent.”

He said that the engine of the ill-fated Fokker had reached Karachi where it would be examined in an effort to ascertain the cause of the accident.

The team of foreigners would also visit Karachi where it would hold meetings with PIA experts and Civil Aviation Authority officials, said Captain Dara.

He said the crash site would now be cleared of the plane wreckage as the investigation teams had completed their visits and over 1,000 photographs had been taken besides a detailed video footage.

He said the PIA and CAA had the expertise to find out causes of the accident but given the magnitude of the tragedy it was appropriate to seek opinion from foreign experts.
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Happy Birthday! Darjeeling Toy Train
The Darjeeling Toy Train

The Darjeeling Toy Train just completed 125 years. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, as the toy train is officially known, is the first, and still the most outstanding example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problems of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features intact.

The DHR ascends 6,850 feet from New Jalpaiguri, the climb begins at Sukna, continues uninterruptedly to Ghum (7,407ft) and descends the final 5 miles to Darjeeling. After independence, India’s partition resulted in the isolation of the Northeast region. Consequently, the DHR was merged into Assam Railways, it was closed for the construction of the Assam-Bengal link line and one of its extension lines to Kishanganj was converted to meter gauge. DHR’s other extension line to Kalimpong got washed away due to floods. On re-opening, the DHR was merged with Northeastern Railway in 1952 and later into Northeast Frontier Railway in 1958.

DHR’s genesis is significant both economically and in engineering terms. It was the first railway in India built exclusively with Indian capital. Its construction is one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. To overcome natural obstacles, follow the hill cart road, avoid the necessity of big bridges, avoid tunnels, keep the investments low and maintain the steep gradient by adhesion only, great ingenuity was shown.

The DHR achieved worldwide fame for a variety of reasons. It provided a gateway to spectacular Himalayas; the tiny 4-wheeled steam engines of the 19th century are living legends for sounds, fragrance and romance of a bygone era; and the curves, loops, “Z’s” and steep grades crisscrossing the road are a work of genius and a traveler’s delight.
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British Muslim Soldier Killed
Javed Iqbal holds a photo of his nephew, British Pakistani Muslim soldier Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi.

British soldier Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi of 3 Para Battlegroup has been killed in Sangin, Helmand province, in Afghanistan on July 1, becoming the first British Muslim soldier to be killed in the “war on terror.”

Hashmi’s family said that he had been committed to bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Hashmi, 24, a devout Muslim, died during an attack by Taliban fighters on a British base.

His family came to Britain from Pakistan when he was 12 and he joined the Army 10 years later, in 2004. After moving to the Intelligence Corps he was posted to the Royal Signals last January and finished his training six weeks before being sent to Afghanistan.

Relatives said that despite having to face rebels from his own faith, he was determined that his tour in Afghanistan would end in success and that the Army could help to secure peace and democracy in the country.

His brother, Zeeshan Hashmi, 27, said: “The military was his passion, it had been for a long time. Ever since he was a little child he had wanted to be an Army commander. He was so happy when he got in and saw going to Afghanistan as a chance to build bridges between the East and the West.

“Jabron was a committed soldier and a committed Muslim. He was fiercely proud of his Islamic background and he was equally proud of being British and was very proud to live in Britain. My mother is absolutely devastated and all she wants is her son back.”
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Flourishing Pak Women
Pakistan Army doctor Maj. Gen. Shahida Badsha

Time was when the only job for a woman in Pakistan’s military was nurse. Now there are paratroopers, jet pilots and even an army general.

The profile of this Islamic country’s armed forces is slowly changing. The 4,000 women in the military make up less than one percent of its 550,000 personnel, but opportunities are opening.

“We don’t have cultural constraints to prevent women from modeling or acting, so why soldiering?” said Maj. Gen. Shahida Badsha, an army doctor who became Pakistan’s second female general in January.

In April, the first four women pilots got their wings in the air force. A couple of weeks later, the air force’s first two women paratroopers completed their training, leaping out of a plane to mark their graduation.

Now the army is enrolling 30 women officers into the signal corps and engineering, computing and legal branches. In the past, women could join only the army’s medical corps.

“It’s a good step to provide equal opportunities to both genders,” said the chief army spokesman, Maj-Gen. Shaukat Sultan. “Every day, Pakistan is becoming a more open society. It’s a basic requirement of a democracy.”

Critics are skeptical. Despite mouthing support for women, President Pervez Musharraf hasn’t revised Islamic laws that make it virtually impossible to prosecute a rape, and punishment is rare for the hundreds of “honor killings” of women slain by male relatives over alleged infidelities.

Critics pooh-pooh the participation of women in the armed forces as a cosmetic move that will have little impact in wider society. Only 35 percent of women can read and write, compared to 62 percent of men.

Be that as it may, the photos of the new airwomen inducted into the air force — in flying suits, posing by T-37 training jets — were splashed across every daily newspaper and covered by most Pakistani TV networks. Even the president of neighboring Afghanistan voiced admiration.
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Ceasefire to Extend
Nepalese pro-democracy activists during a rally in Kathmandu.

Nepal’s Maoist rebels are likely to extend a ceasefire due to expire in to support peace talks aimed at ending an insurgency which has killed thousands, a top guerrilla leader said.

The Maoists — whose decade-long fight for a Communist state has left more than 13,000 dead — declared a three-month truce in April after King Gyanendra bowed to weeks of protests, handing over power to an interim multi-party government.

With peace talks between the interim government and insurgents in progress, Maoist leaders say they hope to renew the truce which ends soon.

“Since the peace process is moving ahead positively I think the ceasefire will be extended,” Ananta, a deputy commander of the Maoist army, told Reuters.

He said Maoist chief Prachanda would meet Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to discuss the controversial issue of monitoring arms held by the Maoists and Nepal’s army. The rebels have said they will not surrender their arms.

The government this month called on the United Nations to monitor weapons held by both sides, but Ananta said the 36,000-strong rebels should merge with government troops under a new constitution to be prepared by a specially elected assembly.

“Until then our PLA will stay in the camps with their arms,” Ananta said.

Last month, Koirala agreed to include the rebels in an interim government to oversee elections for the special assembly to map the country’s future political set up, a key rebel demand to end the revolt.

Impoverished Nepal, wedged between China and India, should be turned into a republic — a federation with nine autonomous regions representing the oppressed classes, nationalities and genders, Ananta said.
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Labor Alleges ‘Slow’ Progress
Members of the Karmojibi Nari (Working Women) organization carry placards stating their demands during a protest in Dhaka.

The labor front Bangladesh Jatiya Sramik Jote alleged slow progress in implementing both the tripartite deal among garment owners-workers-government and bilateral accord between owners and workers. Garment workers’ frustration recently led to repeated violence and massive destruction of property. Workers’ say the unrest is the result of long-simmering resentment caused by exploitation, while factory owners allege a hand of foreign forces or the opposition.

BJSJ is planning a rally and will stage a human chain program in different industrial areas across the country demanding speedy implementation of the accords.

The announcement came from a press conference organized by BJSJ at Col. Taher Auditorium in city’s Bangabandhu Avenue.

At the conference, BJSJ president Shirin Akhter presented a recent survey conducted to evaluate the post-agreement situation of 100 garment factories in Dhaka and its surrounding areas.

BJSJ conducted the survey after the tripartite deal was signed on June 12.

Shirin Akhter said they would soon sit with the garment owners and the government to discuss the findings of their survey.

She hoped that the wage board, formed to fix minimum wages for the apparel sector workers, would announce the wages by Sept. 25 as announced by the Commerce Minister.

Akhter said there is no scope of bypassing the garment workers’ movement by terming it “a conspiracy of foreign force or opposition or government.”

“No one should do politics with the apparel industry. Even if anyone does so, we shall make all-out efforts to foil it,” she said.

A BJSJ survey shows that workers have to work for 16 hours a day in three garment factories, 15 hours in four factors, 14 hours in 55 factories, 13 hours in six factories and 12 hours in 18 factories in total violation of labor law.

Some 42 factories disburse the monthly wages in the second week of the month, 31 others in the third week and two in the fourth week, while there is no regular date of wages disbursement in two factories.

The survey also shows that there is no weekly holiday in 68 factories. And of the 100 factories, female workers of 63 factories do not get any maternity leave.
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Martyr Reburied
Bangladesh Air Force officers carry the coffin of war hero Motiur Rahman.

Air Force jets flew past and bugles played the last post as the 1971 Liberation War martyr Flight Lieutenant Birshreshtha Motiur Rahman was reburied in his homeland 35 years after he died with highest state honor amid 40 gun salutes. The remains were brought back from Pakistan recently.

Eight air force flight lieutenants carried the national standard-covered coffin to the grave while a contingent of army, navy and air force offered the honor guard ahead of the reburial of Motiur Rahman in a military ceremony. Jute and Textile Minister Shajahan Siraj, minister without portfolio retired Air Vice Marshal Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, Acting Speaker Akhtar Hamid Siddiqui, State Minister for Liberation War Ministry Professor Rezaul Karim, State Minister for Civil Aviation Fakrul Islam Alamgir, Army Chief Lieutenant General Moin U. Ahmed, Navy Chief Rear Admiral Mohammad Hasan Ali Khan and Air Force Chief Air Vice Marshal Fakrul Azam and the family members of the veteran joined the ceremony.

Earlier, the body remains were carried to Liberation War Veterans Graveyard at Mirpur in a military motorcade while it was laid to the grave amid the last post in air force bugle.

Five air force jets flew past the scene while eight air force men fired 40 gunshots from rifles as part of the state honor.

Earlier, Acting President Barrister Muhammad Jamiruddin Sircar placed wreaths on the coffin. Ministers, parliament members, leaders of different political parties, chiefs of the three services, senior civil and military officials, freedom fighters and retired officials of the armed forces attended the ceremony.

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Picking Mangoes
: Project Ahimsa’s Hollywood Benefit
Over 300 people in Hollywood danced to the music of BBC Radio 1 DJ Bobby Friction to raise $5,000 for Project Ahimsa, a non-profit organization dedicated to the empowerment of youth through music. A Siliconeer report.

Over 300 people danced to the music of the evening’s headlining performer, Bobby Friction, and other DJs at Los Angeles’ Standard Hotel Hollywood’s Lounge June 26.

Friction is a U.K.-based DJ/Artist who has represented the British Asian sound as a DJ all over the world and has built a reputation as a genre-mixing Asian turntablist from Asia to the U.S., and from the Middle East to the whole of Europe. His British Asian Urban compilation “Friction” has already sold 120,000 copies in India since its release and stayed at number 1 for 14 weeks.

The event, “Pickin Mangoes,” was Project Ahimsa’s third benefit event in the Los Angeles area. Previous Project Ahimsa fundraisers featured artists such as The Black Eyed Peas, 311, Lily Hayden, Ravidrums and Lal Singh Bhatti.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Manav Sadhna and Project Ahimsa Mahatma Gandhi Community Music Center in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. The Center will be built inside the Rampir No Tekro, the largest slum in Gujarat, across the street from Mahatma Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. The Center will house facilities for healthcare, education, women’s empowerment and micro credit, in addition to the Community Music Center.

The benefit event marked the beginning of the ArtWallah 2006 weekend. Held in downtown Los Angeles¹s Little Tokyo neighborhood, the ArtWallah Festival is an annual showcase of the South Asian diasporic arts featuring dance, film, music, spoken word, theater and visual arts from artists from around the world.

Project Ahimsa is a global effort to empower youth through music, with offices in San Francisco and Tampa, Florida. Since its inception in 2001, the organization has reached nearly 10,000 children around the globe through music education grants and musical instrument donations.

To learn more, visit www.projectahimsa.org.

A Year After the London Bombings: Unsurprising Reflections
As arrogant Western politicians remain unrepentant and bigots of every stripe spew their venom, moderate, progressive Muslims have no place to go, laments Sabahat Ashraf.

The top of a Number 30 double-decker bus blown clear in Tavistock Square in central London July 8, last year. (DYLAN MARTINEZ / AFP/Getty Images photo)

Were you surprised when you learned that the 7/7 bombers were British born and bred?”

That is one of the questions I have been going around here in the United States asking community activists, a few academics, and one person who was visiting from Britain. While this is not a statistically significant sample, or a scientific or academic analysis, the results, quite frankly, have not been surprising.

My sample itself has not been a balanced one. What I have been doing, you see, is looking for people who share what often seems like a quixotic position. I have been talking, for the most part, to people who are not involved in the religious side of things. I have not been talking to folks whose main social engagement has been centered around Da’wah, the word one hears very often nowadays amongst Muslims as the most important activity they engage in with respect to their faith. I have friends who, particularly before 9/11, would express an interest in social activism if and only if it overtly involved an element of Da’wah, or outreach to non-Muslims. Evangelization, if you will.

But these are not the folks I have been talking to. I have been talking to people who, while for the most part being of very strong faith and often engaged with their faith communities, are also very interested, and engaged in what is often called the secular well-being of the community. Enterpreneurial networks, professional groups, educational foundations and the like.

What I am trying to say is that my sample has been of people who, one would assume, has a broader view of things and is not overly focused in being defensive about their faith and their faith communities. But like I said. The results have been rather unsurprising. But that is not to say that they are positive or that they make me happy. For the majority has said, simply, “Yes.”

The same people who have always argued with me that there is no such right-wing tilt in the American community — or the ones who looked at me as if I had two heads when I suggested that there might be — have been the ones that expressed the most surprise about the bombers being local kids. And, interestingly, though not really surprisingly to me at least, the ones who say they are not surprised are often the folks within Muslim communities that are consciously moderate or progressive. These are the folks that are not the ones arguing that there is no such thing — or no need for such terms — as “Moderate Islam” or “Progressive Islam.”

And the blind spot is not one-sided. As the anniversary of the bombings in London comes around, I see the same stubborn refusal to get real, on most sides of this discussion and on both sides of the Pond, so to speak. British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s recent statement has me tearing out my hair, too. His complete dismissal of any role for his country’s foreign policies in even giving fanatics an excuse for their acts is mind-boggling. His and other peoples’ dismissal of such things is what makes the “moderate” Muslims’ job of countering extremist tendencies within our communities close to impossible. It is this mulish refusal to accept responsibility that had people like me so despondent that when 9/11 came around, we were sitting on the sidelines with our heads in our hands. As we say back home, you either think your listeners are completely foolish; or you are trying to make fools of them; or you are foolish yourself. None of those choices are pleasant or augur well for our planet.

And for every Lord Nazir Ahmed going on the BBC saying that he was “very surprised” that the British bombers were, well, British, there’s the bishop and his comment about a “false ideology.. I know that is his Anglican way of saying “evil ideology.” No surprise here. Dismissing something as being “false” in the theological sense, or “evil” in the plainspeak of the American frontier, stems from the logic in a lot of religious systems where anything that isn’t exactly the same as your point of view about the road to salvation is false, the work of the devil, and evil, and so on. But isn’t the equation of things that are false from one’s point of view with “evil,” and “satanic” what we are all talking about here?

Is the Right Reverend Archibishop of York trying to tell us that acts like 7/7 and 9/11 would be less heinous and evil if they were done in support of an ideology that is not false/evil/what-have-you? George Bush says similar things all the time. And it was the man he puts up as his icon, and our governor here in California, who did the most to give currency to the phrase “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

I am sorry but that is not a morally defensible position. It seems to imply that if a person who is otherwise committing a terrorist act does it for a valid cause like fighting for freedom, it is okay, or at least less “evil.” Let me say this as plainly as I can: To this moderate-to-progressive Muslim, it is not okay. Even if someone commits an act of terror for my personal, social, or national benefit, it is my moral, religious and legal responsibility to call it out as exactly that. An evil, yes, evil, indefensible act. And then it is my duty to either stop it, denounce it, or at least recognize it as such. The Islamic canon says it is a sign of how strong one’s faith is to either put it right with one’s hand, speak against it, or at the lowest level of faith, to know it is evil in my heart.

So where does all this leave the folks we often refer to as the silent majority of the Muslims? Stuck between a rock and a hard place. Usama and the local Mullah. And between “community leaders” in business suits who say they were “very surprised” that the 7/7 bombers came from their communities and the elected politicians who say that there is no way their policies could make anyone angry.

One can only shake one’s head in un-surprise.

Bangla Fest in Sacramento
: Anandamela
A sold-out cultural event paid homage to the rich heritage shared by Bangla-speakers all over the world. A Siliconeer report.

(Left): A traditional Bengali dance performance.
(Below): Some young performers dressed in traditional red and white outfits performing a dance sequence.

A full house at the Natomas High School auditorium in Sacramento, Calif., July 8 greeted the participants of Anandamela, a cultural variety show presented by Bangla-speaking immigrants in the Sacramento area.

The evening’s cultural festivities were preceded by a smallish mela or fair where food, apparel, and books from the old country were on offer. It’s a testament to their love of culture that about a hundred Bangla-speakers (the number swelled substantially later) braved the scorching hit of a Sacramento summer day.

Later in the evening, a cultural show presented the usual mix of a typical Bangla function: a few dances, some songs by Tagore and Nazrul. It’s not fair to be too exacting a critic of shows of this sort—the pool of talent in a small expatriate community isn’t that big.

What’s remarkable is the zest the organizers bring to their efforts. It clearly pays off: It’s no mean achievement to sell out a cultural show to amateurs.

What’s truly laudable about the entire effort, really, is the inclusive humanist spirit of Bengal the organizers and participants celebrate. At a time of bitter and violent ethnic and religious schisms, just how the organizers managed to bring together Bangla-speakers of West Bengal and Bangladesh is something to marvel at, and well worth emulating.

San Francisco Bay Area Bengalis, learn from Sacramento.

“Because of Anandamela, our kids are taking more interest in Bangla language and culture; this is truly unprecedented,” the organizers say in their brochure. “In addition, we can be proud about the bridge of friendship that has been built over the past three years between the communities of two Bengals. It is a testament to our age-old bonds of souls, which have surpassed the many differences among us. This has been made possible through the effort of many artists and volunteers.”

Bengali Fest
: Celebrating Five years of Porshi
Porshi, the monthly Bangla magazine published out of San Jose, Calif. is throwing a party Aug. 12 in Palo Alto, Calif., that includes a talent search, dance drama, mela and light Bangla vocal by Tapan Choudhury. A Siliconeer report.

The Bangla monthly Porshi is a testament to the passionate love for Bangla language and culture of three Bangladeshi expatriates who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and own the magazine. Over the years the magazine has managed to develop a small but avid following; now the magazine owners are about to celebrate five years of publication.

Like a good porshi (the word in Bangla means neighbor), the magazine has reached out to all Bangla-speakers. To its credit, it has managed to break down the benign apartheid that seems to separate Bangla-speakers from Bangladesh and West Bengal, and its five-year celebrations reflect that in no small measure.

Its festival sponsors include the Bay Area-based organization of West Bengal expats Sanskriti, the Sacramento, Calif., Bengali association that includes both Bangladeshis and Bengalis from West Bengal.

Sanskriti will present a dance drama. Sacramento Bengalis will present some cultural performances. Porshi itself will present a performance of “Nakshi Kanthar Math” (The Field of the Embroidered Quilt) a famous poem of Jasimuddin.

In addition, there will be a mela and a talent search for kids.

In its earlier celebrations, Porshi has brought famous artists like Runa Laila, Baby Nazneen and the first Bangladeshi pop band Zinga. Given the near-impossible logistics of hosting a half-way decent Bangla event (it is simply impossible to recoup costs of even bringing over a single artist, given the reluctance of the Bengali audience here to pay a high ticket price), Porshi deserve credit for both persevering and continuing to host cultural events despite the daunting challenges.

Interested readers can get more details from the Web site at www.porshi.com.

From Berkeley, With Love:
Telemedicine for Tamil Nadu's Eye Patients
Thousands of Tamil Nadu villagers now have access to quality eye care thanks to a collaborative effort between an Indian hospital network and the researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, and at Intel Corporation. A Siliconeer report.

A patient at the Ambasam Vision Center.

A rural village in Tamil Nadu may seem a long way from Berkeley, Calif. But that gap has been bridged, thanks to a cooperative project that brings together researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Intel Corporation and a Tamil Nadu hospital network. With new technology developed by Berkeley and Intel researchers, villages are able to make use of low-cost rural connectivity and thousands of Tamil Nadu villagers are receiving quality eye care.

This new technology, based on “Wi-Fi” wireless networks, allows eye specialists at Aravind Eye Hospital at Theni in Tamil Nadu to interview and examine patients in five remote clinics via a high-quality video conference, according to a UC Berkeley news release.

“The information technology revolution holds tremendous potential for addressing problems in developing countries,” said Eric Brewer, a UC Berkeley professor of computer science who initiated efforts to develop the technology. “Historically, though, most projects have been either too expensive or too technologically complex to be used in poor, rural areas. What we’ve done here is develop a simple, inexpensive software and hardware system that can provide villages with a high-bandwidth connection to computer networks in cities as far as 50 miles away.”

With high-speed links to the hospital, three of the clinics, also known as vision centers, screen about 1,500 patients each month. Centers are run by a nurse trained in eye care. Patients first see the nurse, then spend about five minutes on a Web camera consulting with an Aravind doctor. If the doctor determines that a closer examination or an operation is necessary, the patient is given a hospital appointment.

(From top): This patient at a rural vision center in Chinnamunoor is teleconferencing with an eye specialist at a hospital 10 miles away; The rural vision center in Chinnamunoor in Tamil Nadu; In this satellite map graphic of the Aravind network, green lines indicate links from the central hospital to rural vision centers in five rural towns. All distances are in kilometers. (Sonesh Surana pic)
Typically patients receive glasses, medicine or remote diagnoses for more serious problems that often require a hospital appointment or surgery. About 5-10 percent of patients — already about 100 people a month — experience significant vision improvement as a result of treatment, usually by cataract surgery. A recent study conducted by the hospital showed that following treatment, 85 percent of the men and 58 percent of the women who had lost their jobs due to sight impairment were reintegrated into the workforce.

The original Aravind Eye Hospital was established in 1976 with the mission of eradicating needless blindness in Tamil Nadu. Relying on its financially sustainable model of high volume and low cost, the organization has grown in the state into a network of five eye hospitals that provide care for anyone with eye problems.

In an effort to reach the 70 percent of its target population that lives in rural areas, hospital administrators came up with the concept of establishing village vision centers where patients could receive basic eye care backed up by online videoconferencing with doctors at the hospitals.

But here they ran into a roadblock: In some areas, there were no Internet service providers whatsoever, and in areas where there were providers, service was not only very expensive, but it was too slow for effective videoconferencing, with typical dial-up speeds of 33 to 35 kbps.

In August 2004, Sonesh Surana, one of Brewer’s Ph.D. students in computer science, made a one-day trip to Aravind.

“I did an initial survey and realized that the telemedicine project that they wanted to do was a really good fit. They had this need, and we had a solution,” Surana said.

Surana returned to Aravind four months later with other UC Berkeley associates to work with Aravind staff and local vendors. They installed the long-distance Wi-Fi system in a vision center in the village of Ambasamudram, about seven miles from the Aravind hospital in Theni.

“It took about a year,” Surana said, “but by the beginning of 2006, the new system was up and running reliably, and they were using it for everything.”

In January and March 2006, Surana’s team again worked with Aravind and local vendors to install systems in two more vision centers. And at the end of May, Aravind staff and vendors trained by Surana and others installed another two systems, this time with no help from Surana.

“So many times people have come into an area to do a project and then, when they leave, everything falls apart,” Surana said. “It’s been a very important part of our work to make this a project that people can build and manage all on their own.”


Homeward Bound: NRI Remittances

India is the largest recipient of remittances by overseas workers, estimated at $21 billion, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

For Indians home is where their money should rest. India is the largest recipient of remittances by overseas workers, estimated at $21 billion — up almost 150 percent since 1995, says a study by investment bankers J P Morgan. The Indian diaspora is estimated at 20 million. Unlike previous phases of migration, better educated Indians have moved abroad in the last decade, especially to U.S., U.K. and Canada.  

The JP Morgan study reaffirms RBI figures released recently that found remittances were double the amount of net foreign institutional investor inflows and one-fourth of the merchandise export earnings of the country.

The study reports that stock of deposits by NRIs amounts to around $32 billion or 23 percent of foreign exchange reserves. Portfolio and real estate investment has been largely concentrated in the IT space.  

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

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

There is, however, still a way to go as far as foreign direct investments into the Indian economy are concerned. The Planning Commission has said the country needs and can absorb $16 billion of FDI annually. Describing this as a “reasonable target,” it maintains that this can be achieved during the 11th Plan period, commencing 2007-2008.  

The commission has said the FDI inflows worth $5.4 billion annually achieved in the 10th Plan was still below the country’s potential. During 2005-2006, the FDI inflow was $8.2 billion, substantially higher than the average of $3.7 billion during the ninth Plan period. With companies such as IBM ($6 billion), Microsoft (close to $2 billion), Intel ($1 billion), Cisco ($1.1 billion), Vodaphone ($1.5 billion) committing investments in India, the future looks good. But, it’s still quite a way from China with FDI pegged more than $60 billion. 

The JP Morgan report notes that the diaspora can be a “powerful catalyst,” in helping India realize its aspiration of 10 percent annual GDP growth. It is one of the main reasons the government is keen to recognize and address the interests of the growing diaspora, including granting of dual citizenship, conducting the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (festival for Indians abroad) and easing norms for investments in property as well as flow of funds. 

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi has already mooted a plan to set up a Welfare Fund for the overseas workers. Over 2.5 million Indians work in the Gulf countries, and there are close to 2 million in the U.S. who are estimated to affect the welfare of over 10 million back home. 

The GEP report says remittances sent through informal channels (such as the hawala in India) could add at least 50 percent to the official estimate, making remittances the largest source of external capital in many developing countries. The report says migration `”should not be viewed as a substitute for economic development in the origin country as ultimately, development depends on sound domestic economic policies.” 

The above reports add to the emerging economic literature that migration has been beneficial both to the host and home countries. The UN Economic and Social Survey has said in the recent past that migration benefits both destination and host countries. There is ``no significant’’ decline in wages and employment rates in the host country 

According to the survey, migrants are bigger contributors to capital inflows to their home countries than official development assistance from the developed world. Overseas migrants are also major investors in their home countries, an example being the Chinese diaspora. 


No More Butts: Smoking Drops in Calif.
Smoking costs California nearly $16 billion annually in direct medical costs and indirect costs. So the news that the state’s adult smoking rate is going down is cause to celebrate. A Siliconeer report.
California’s public and social efforts to curb smoking seem to be paying off — a smaller proportion of adult Californians smoke than any time.

California’s adult smoking rate dropped to 14.0 percent last year, the state’s lowest level on record, State Health Director Sandra Shewry has announced. The new mark is down from a rate of 14.6 percent in 2004 and represents a 38 percent decline since 1988, when California voters passed Proposition 99, which established the state’s comprehensive tobacco education and prevention program.

“The continued decline in smoking is proof that the state’s comprehensive efforts to stop tobacco use and improve the health of Californians are working,” said Shewry. “Despite this great progress, however, there are still nearly four million smokers in the state. It is imperative that we continue our efforts to help protect all Californians from the disease and death caused by tobacco.”

In addition to the state’s overall drop in smoking prevalence, smoking among adult men fell from 18.2 percent in 2004 to 17 percent in 2005. This is the first time that the percentage of California male smokers has fallen below 18 percent. Smoking among 45 to 64 year olds also declined from 15.3 percent in 2004 to 13.8 percent in 2005.

The study also found that while 18 to 24 year olds are smoking less, they still smoke at the highest level of all age groups — 18 percent.

“The ongoing decrease in the number of people smoking in California is a major public health achievement,” said State Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Horton. “With California adults smoking 25 percent less than the rest of the nation, our state continues to benefit from lower rates of tobacco-related illnesses.”

The majority of lung cancers are linked to tobacco use. The continuing decline in smoking in California has helped promote a decrease in lung cancer incidence that is occurring four times faster than in the rest of the nation.

Tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of disease and death in California, killing more than 40,000 Californians each year or about 118 people every day.

In addition to its impact on human health, smoking and secondhand smoke have huge financial implications. Smoking costs California nearly $16 billion annually in direct medical costs and indirect costs, including the value of lost productivity from illness and premature death.

In November 1988, Proposition 99 was approved by California voters, instituting a 25-cent tax on cigarettes and earmarking 5 cents of every cigarette pack sold to fund the California Tobacco Control Program, the nation’s longest running and most comprehensive anti-tobacco program.

Charts illustrating the data are available for download at www.dhs.ca.gov/tobacco/.


Save Energy: 10 Tips for Summer

A little tweak here, a little nudge there, and before you know it, you can save real money on energy and also save the earth while you are at it. A Siliconeer report.

Here are ten easy steps that could help you save up to 40 percent on your electricity bill during the summer months.

Turn off the lights. Don’t light an empty room. Take advantage of natural light whenever possible, especially while the days are long. Save 2 percent on your bill.

Turn up the thermostat. When using the air conditioning system, set your thermostat to 78°F when you’re home and 85°F or off when you’re away. Each degree above 72°F saves you 1-3 percent on your summer electric bill.

Watch the clock when you use appliances. To help prevent electricity outages, use major appliances before noon or after 7 p.m. Save 2 percent on your bill.

Use the warm or cold water settings to wash clothes. Use cold water to rinse. Save up to 4 percent on your bill.

Test for air leaks. With the windows and doors closed, hold a lit incense stick next to windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches and other locations where there is a possible air path to the outside. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing or weather stripping to ensure the cool air from your air conditioning unit stays inside. Save 2 percent on your bill.

Line-dry your clothes. Save up to 5 percent on your bill.

Run full loads if you need to use the clothes dryer. Use the moisture-sensing setting and clean the lint trap after each use. Save 0.5 percent on your bill.
Run the dishwasher only when it is fully loaded. Turn off the dry cycle and air-dry dishes. Save 1 percent on your bill.

Change the air filters in your cooling and heating system. This simple change will produce real results for your annual energy bill and overall health. Replace air filters monthly for maximum benefit. Save 1-2 percent on your bill.

Unplug or recycle that old second refrigerator. Older refrigerator models are inefficient energy-suckers. If you don’t really need that extra fridge chilling sodas in your garage, you could save 10-20 percent on your energy bill — that’s up to $150 per year — by simply unplugging it.


Nissan Goes Green: Altima Hybrid

The Altima Hybrid is Nissan’s first attempt to break into the hybrid-vehicle market. A Siliconeer report.
(Top): The 2007 Nissan Altima and the 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid (bottom).

The Altima Hybrid is Nissan’s first attempt to break into the hybrid-vehicle market. “Nissan strives to offer the most advanced fuel-saving, environmentally-friendly technology available without sacrificing any of the style or performance attributes that remain at the top of the reasons for buying a new Nissan,” says a company press release.

“Most hybrids focus on smaller engines with environmental benefits like emitting cleaner exhaust fumes but Nissan’s hybrid will also have the same driver performance and speed as any Altima,” said John Schilling, Nissan communications senior manager.

The Altima Hybrid will be available in eight states. The vehicle has been certified to meet California emissions requirements and will be sold beginning in early 2007 in those states that have adopted California emissions regulations: California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New Jersey.

“The all-new 2007 Nissan Altima is not only evolutionary in design, but also revolutionary in its platform and hardware,” says a Nissan press release.

More information is available on the Web at www.nissanusa.com.

Summer Time Healthy Snacks
Summer means vacation and wonderful weather and fun. Here are a few healthy recipes to make it also a time of healthy living.

Summer has arrived! Not only is school out and the weather nice, but it’s also the season of delicious fruits and vegetables. As a parent, you can teach your children to eat well and enjoy healthy snacks, such as:
  • String cheese
  • Whole-wheat crackers and peanut butter
  • Air-popped or low-fat microwave popcorn
  • Frozen juice bars made with 100% real fruit
  • Fruit and dried fruit
  • Baby carrots with hummus or bean dip
  • Low-fat yogurt

Here are some of the favorite recipes and healthy eating tips from doctors who have given their health advice for "A Doctor's Word."

Dr. Arnel Reyes
Mango Snacks and Melon Drink

Mangoes are always a standard delicious and healthy snack for Filipinos. Fresh are best, but you can also find dried mangoes in many Asian stores.
Many Filipinos also eat cantaloupe. As a refreshing drink, grate the melon and mix with ice water and a little sugar to taste.

Dr. Gonzalo Garreton
Frozen Grapes

Frozen grapes are my family's favorite summertime snack. And it's easy, just put grapes in the freezer for a refreshing, sweet and fun snack.

Dr. Thuan Tran
Pineapple Orange Popsicles

In a blender, mix and puree together: One 8-oz carton plain or vanilla frozen yogurt. One cup fresh pineapple (or one 8-oz can crushed pineapple). Six oz can frozen orange-pineapple juice, thawed.

Divide into 8 paper drinking cup.  Freeze until partially frozen (about 1 hour).  Insert a wooden stick into each cup. Continue freezing until firm (about 2 more hours).  Peel off paper cups.  Enjoy.

Dr. Mubasher Rana
Mango Lassi

This yogurt drink is a favorite among South Asians. The Lassi, although popular throughout India, is originally a drink from Punjab.

Mix in a blender:
1 cup plain yogurt
2 glasses of cold water
1 cup ice cubes
1 cup fresh mango or other fruit
2-3 teaspoons of sugar (or sugar to taste)
Makes 2 glasses

Dr. Tat Lam
Sweets in Moderation

My favorite summertime snacks are sweet buns with egg yolk, mango pudding, boba tea, and shaved ice with red/green beans, fruits & condensed milk -- all of these are quite sugary and not very healthy. My advice is not to give up your favorite foods, but to eat them in moderation and take advantage of fresh fruits and vegetables.


Lika a Full-Bodied Chianti: Half Moon Bay
Sheer cliffs drop precipitously to the foaming, wild ocean crashing on the monster rocks below. The air is clean and invigorating. Half Moon Bay, a lovely outpost of tradition and small-town charm, keeps casting its spell, writes Al Auger.

Fog, hills and sea conjure up scenes of spellbinding beauty at Half Moon Bay.

Like a full-bodied, rich Chianti, a mountain smothered in powder snow, or a beautiful woman who loves you, there are roads not forgotten. The first time I snaked down Highway 1’s notorious Devil’s Slide south of Pacifica on my way to Half Moon Bay is just as imprinted on my mind as the last time. The sheer cliffs drop precipitously to the foaming, wild ocean crashing on the monster rocks below that has seduced many errant drivers. The air is clean and invigorating and Highway 1 becomes your muse and an the joy of unfettered travel becomes an experience to be remembered well beyond the memory of your destination.

Even though I have been visiting this lovely outpost of tradition and small town charm since the age of ten, this was my visit back in over 20 years. When we entered Half Moon Bay from Highway 1 it was as if being swallowed up in an All-American-ugly-town aura of the kind that has been springing up all across the U.S.

The marina at Half Moon Bay.

As I sat at the signal, surrounded by fast food emporiums, strip malls and multi-faceted signal lights, we braced ourselves for the degradation that all this “progress” must have foisted on the once charming Half-Moon Bay’s downtown along Main Street. Against all odds, the malo mojo that modern society is hell-bent on worshipping has left Main Street untouched. Lo and behold, Main Street is thriving with fine dining establishments, boutiques, even the historical Cunha Country Store is as much of a throwback as ever with modern conveniences nicely hidden. Main Street is a little brighter, a bit glitzier, but all the up-to-date visitor expediencies are softened by traditional businesses and commerce.

We chose to share the finery of our chariot with the glorious surroundings and floral magic of the Mill Rose Bed and Breakfast Garden Suites on Mill Street just off Main. There’s not an open space at the Mill Rose that isn’t occupied by riots of floral color and the air is filled with the mingling perfume of the garden. Some people have green thumbs and some, as co-owner Terry Baldwin, have green fingers and toes. Responsible partner and wife, Eve, handles the beautiful flower arrangements, interior decorating and every- day affairs of running the inn.

(Clockwise from top): Child on pumpkin. Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival, 2005; Cunha’s Country Store, Half Moon Bay. Chardonnay label; Highway 1 towards Half Moon Bay.

After checking into the elegant Renaissance Rose Suite we pampered ourselves with a mind-massaging soak in the outdoor flowered gazebo’s hot tub. Refreshed, we walked downtown under slate gray skies to the warm and inviting Cetrella Bistro and Café on Main Street.

The Cetrella has been a dream of owner Paul Shenkman since he opened the Pasta Moon years ago in Half Moon Bay. Cetrella imparts words one uses to describe the soft light and warmness of Tuscany. We were treated to the serendipitous pleasure of dining in the romantically muted Tuscany tones of the room while four fireplaces blazed forth throughout the intimate dining rooms. Cetrella features richly tasteful meals inspired by Mediterranean villages of France, Italy and Spain as served up by executive chef Lewis Rossman. There are three dining rooms of dark woods, stone and umber walls plus a café bar featuring tapas. Their extensive and award-winning wine cellar encompasses over 3,500 bottles overseen by wine director Timothy Patrick Little and 400 labels from around the world. Live jazz is featured Thursday-Saturday.

After a filling Mill Rose breakfast of artichoke frittata, butter with triple sec, apple crunch with sour cream and champagne from the local Obester Winery we decided to take advantage of the bright sun and Lindsay-blue skies and head south down the panoramic Highway 1, one of the most lovely and bucolic country sides on the coast side of the Bay Area.

After the turmoil of the storm the lovely white farms high on the bluffs overlooking the churning surf were calming to the emotions. From here the seduction of the south coast drew us into a debate of “what to see, what not to see.” The choices were many and so varied it was difficult choosing one over another. Luckily, we chose to stop at San Gregorio State Beach to take a relaxing moment from the rigors of driving.

From here we had our choice of live stars such as gray whales at Pigeon Point Lighthouse or just enjoying the beauty and environment of the lighthouse itself. More entertainment is provided at Ano Nuevo State Reserve by the harems of elephant seals, the alpha males and wannabe young. The seals are kings of the turf and these large, entrancing creatures roam at will and your attendance is simply tolerated. Offshore on Ano Nuevo Island the stage is taken over by California seal lions and rare stellar seal lions.

The mountains overlooking this teaming sea of exotic water creatures is literally overrun by a host of wild animals. Here you can easily round a bend in the trail or see watching you quietly bobcats, mountain lions, gray foxes, wild pigs and mule deer.

For a “different” lodging experience check in at the Costanoa, half-way between Pigeon Point. Here you will find a sophisticated lodge surrounded by a broad choice of overnight choices from the full amenity lodge suites to a pitch your own tent spot. In between are Douglas fir cabins, Cypress canvas cabins and RV spots with full hookups. Costanoa, surrounded by wilderness, rolling hills and secluded beaches has a distinctly south coast aura.


In Aid of Quake Victims: Ben Kingsley at Pak Fundraiser
Sir Ben Kingsley might have won an Academy Award for his performance in Gandhi, but he wasn’t acting at all when he urged folks to help out at a fundraiser for Pakistani earthquake victims, and that made his performance even more compelling, writes Ras. H. Siddiqui.

(Clockwise from top): Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley at the RI fundraiser in Palo Alto, Calif.; OPEN charter member Amra Tareen; A section of the audience at a fundraiser in Palo Alto, Calif., for Pakistani earthquake victims; Relief International CEO Dr. Farshad Rastegar; and Emergency medical physician Dr. Hernando Garzon.

Just when some of us had thought that last October’s earthquake in northern Pakistan and Kashmir had been forgotten and now resided in our disaster archives, Relief International proved us wrong and held two fundraisers for its victims in California during the first week of June. This reporter had the opportunity to attend the $250 per plate affair at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto, Calif., where the Who’s Who of the local community included representatives from local Afghani, Indian, Iranian and Pakistani American communities, who once again gathered to show their support for a cause that RI has already helped a great deal with. With the added help of and appearance by Oscar-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley, the event drew attention.

As this fundraiser was held on the same day as the highest profile annual gathering of Pakistanis in this part of the United States, the OPEN Forum, some confusion was generated as to who was in charge. The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America was certainly a strong sponsor here, but this was an RI affair, which OPEN’s charter member Amra Tareen opened to the delight of all. Amra is no stranger to our community here and has taken a very active post-earthquake role along with a few other women from within the Pakistani American community (Paru Yusuf also comes to mind here).

Amra explained how she was at times hesitant, and her American husband concerned, when she proceeded back to Pakistan after 10 years to participate in earthquake relief. She also shared with us her thoughts after seeing the magnitude of the destruction. “These people did not have much to begin with. What they had, they lost to this earthquake,” she said. She said that by March, most of the people were moving back where they came from. Her focus shifted to micro-credit, it also brought on the topic of buffalos. The very idea of Amra and buffaloes sounded amusing (she works at a major venture capitalist firm), but she was very serious about her newfound knowledge about the Punjab water buffalo. RI is currently trying to raise funds to help rebuild the lives of at least 1,000 families in Pakistan’s earthquake ravaged area, and the replacement of lost livestock including buffaloes for women heads of households is a major part of this effort.

Relief International CEO Dr. Farshad Rastegar echoed Amra’s thoughts about the importance of the buffalo to the dairy economy in northern Pakistan. He spoke of the earthquake area there, the widespread misery, and how RI was targeting women for its help since women are the best agents to prevent poverty. “I was stunned by the magnitude of this one,” said Dr. Rastegar. Stressing RI’s micro-credit effort, the good doctor quipped that some women there may want to exchange their husbands for a good milk buffalo.

Dr. Hernando Garzon, an emergency medical physician at Kaiser in Sacramento, Calif., presented reflections of a volunteer at this gathering. He has shared his thoughts at other events as well. We thank him for volunteering to visit Pakistan and helping out when the need was great. And a special word of thanks to Chip Duncan (producer, Duncan Entertainment) here for his video documentary of this enormous earthquake tragedy.    

Of course, the star attraction of the evening was Ben Kingsley. When you have Sir Ben Kingsley deliver an appeal for a cause like this, people listen. And its style and delivery is talked about for weeks. Sir Ben did not mince words here about how the assistance that is needed and provided will prevent extremism in that area. His words were chosen and delivered with great care and his speech had the caressing smoothness of finely spun silk. Sir Ben has chosen to become a part of this earthquake tragedy and the audience was held captive by his delivery. He said that we must not allow hatred to take root. People are more susceptible to violence when they feel ignored and forgotten. He also said that as an actor he feels his role is to act as a bridge between different communities and faiths. He took this to the next level by encouraging all of us to act as humanitarians — to bridge the gap between the “haves and have nots.”

Sir Ben Kingsley has won an Academy Award and has continued to be nominated on a number of occasions since then. But at this Relief International event he was not acting. He was helping out people who have suffered a great tragedy. And for this, Sir Ben along with Amra Tareen, Dr. Rastegar and the many others at Relief International deserve our collective salute.

Summer Fun in the Park: Baisakhi in San Jose
Jaskaran Singh’s photo essay offers glimpses of joyful festivities at the June 11 Baisakhi Mela in San Jose’s Evergreen Valley College.


Sunidhi Chauhan: Dhoom girl rocks San Jose
Bollywood playback singer added a dash of filmi glitz at a rocking concert July 9, a benefit for the Foundation for Excellence, at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts. She was joined by Rahul Vaidya, Javed Ali, Manasi Parekh and Ayub Patel. A photo essay by Som Sharma.


Natyamela: Bangla Drama Fest
Children and adults presented a rich and diverse array of plays at the Bangla theatre festival. A Siliconeer report.

Clockwise from top:Scenes from Bay Bahurupee’s “Prabhat Phire Esho”; A scene from “Prantik,” written and directed by Pradosh Sarkar of Sanskriti, who also helped organize the Bangla theatre fest; Kisholoy’s “Thakurmar Jhuli”; and Utsav’s “Babuder Dalkukure.”

A drama festival in Bangla? You’ve got to be kidding, would be your first reaction, right?
Well, think again. For the second year in a row, Bay Area-based Bengali association Sanskriti presented a festival featuring four groups including one from Sacramento and another from Los Angeles. On hand was Dr. Dilip Basu, professor of history and director, Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who opened the festival.
The four participating groups were Kisholoy from Los Angeles, Utsav from Sacramento, Bay Bahuroopi and organizer Sanskriti.

Kisholoy was established in 2005 in Los Angeles. The group promotes Bengali cultural heritage in children. Kisholoy presented a play based on a story from the Bangla anthology of fairy tales, “Thakurmar Jhuli” by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Mazumdar.

The play, where most performers were children, was written and directed by Siddhartha Dattagupta. It’s about a little girl, Payal, who travels in her dream to a magical world of this Bengali fairy tale.

Payal is a second generation Bengali-American, whose world of imagination is ruled by the likes of Harry Potter. One evening, when Payal is watching Harry Potter, her mother comes into her room and asks her to go to bed. Payal is reluctant, so her mother offers to read her a bedtime story out of Thakurmar Jhuli. The magic unfolds and Payal’s imagination spreads wings.

A group of Bengalis who had been performing drama in the Davis/Sacramento area since 1997 organized itself in 2002 under the name Utsav. The group presented Manoj Mitra’s “Babuder Dalkukure,” directed by Somen Nandi.

The play was a comedy about a contest between two state ministers competing to impress their chief minister to get his permission to take a government-paid trip to the Netherlands. With slapstick humor, the play poked fun at the spinelessness and utter self absorption of politicians.

Founded in February 1996, Bay Bahuroopi is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their first production was a full-length drama production of “Kenaram Becharam” in May 1996. The group presented Manoj Mitra’s “Prabhat Phire Esho,” directed by Subhankar Bhattacharya.

Struggling writer Soumya and her actress wife Jhumur do love each other, but their marriage is not a harmonious one. It’s further complicated by the arrival of Prabhat, an unsophisticated suitor of Jhumur from her college days whom Jhumur tends to indulge in order to get financial assistance at times of dire need. Soumya isn’t happy about the proposed meeting.
However, a big surprise is about to be sprung by Prabhat, as this dark play combines love, affection, deception and subterfuge into an absorbing and traumatic denouement.

Sanskriti, the organizer of the theatre festival, itself presented a play, and an original scripted play at that. “Prantik” was written and directed by Pradosh Sarkar. The play centered around the eponymous retirement home set up by a good-hearted man whose daughter Chandrabolee helped him run it. The play began with light banter between Chandrabolee and Suronjon, but took on a much more somber mood when the audience got a chance to dwell on the life and times of two sexagenarians, Subodh and Neeraja. The play’s reflection on old age and its poignant circumstances left a lasting impression on the audience.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Leader Honored | South Asian Heart Center Opens | Gujaratis Celebrate Culture in New Jersey | Law Convention | Meeting Lungren | Remembering Gita | Calif. Fair | Pak Beauty Honored at Pageant in China | Second Hindu Human Rights Report | Tamil Fest | Parade Preparations | NRI Center

Leader Honored

Dr. Parveen Chopra, acting chairman commissioner, Nassau County Human Rights Commission, Usha Chopra, New York attorney general Elliot Spitzer, Samir Chopra, Anuraj Parkash and Ved Parkash.

Dr. Parveen Chopra, a longtime Asian community leader who is currently president and founder of the Asian American Coalition since 1980, was honored by the South Asian Coalition of Unions representing more than a million South Asian workers in New York City from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bhutan and Indo- Caribbeans from Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica and Surinam, according to a press release. Chopra was honored with the Distinguished Community Service award June 16 at the Astoria World Manor in New York City.

New York attorney general Elliot Spitzer, while handing out the award, said immigrants who are 40 percent of the New York City population, are hard working family-oriented people who emphasize education of their children and take the State of New York forward.

Chopra is the first Asian who was appointed twenty years ago and served as Commissioner of Human Rights of Nassau County. He was also Commissioner of Planning from 1996-2002. Dr. Chopra is past president of the Federation of Indian Associations for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He was general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Associations.

South Asian Heart Center Opens
The first nonprofit center in the world devoted to the prevention of coronary artery disease in people of South Asian descent has opened at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif.

The unique South Asian Heart Center is designed to address the epidemic of heart disease among people from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, who are four times more likely to suffer a heart attack, and at younger ages, without prior symptoms or warning and without presenting the same risk factors as the general population.

More than half of heart attacks among South Asians occur before age 50, compared to an average age of 65.8 for the general male population, and 70.4 for the female population. In California, South Asians have four times the hospitalization rate compared to Caucasians and other Asian populations. The higher rates of heart disease in this group apply across the population, even for lifelong vegetarians who exercise regularly, do not smoke and are not overweight. This global epidemic affects both male and female South Asians living in the United States (including 350,000 who reside in the Bay Area), urban South Asia and elsewhere.

“Most physicians evaluate South Asian patients the same way they evaluate other patients when assessing for coronary artery disease risk,” said Cesar Molina, M.D., medical director of the SAHC. “We now know that applying western standards and traditional guidelines to South Asians leads to underestimating the risk in this population. Additional risk factors—beyond high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity—may play a causative role, and as a result, they must be screened and treated differently from other ethnic groups. One of our goals is to educate physicians to be aware of and respond to these critical differences.”

The SAHC has drawn interest and support from some of the world’s leading cardiologists and physicians, such as Dr. Kanu Chatterjee, the Ernest Gallo Distinguished Professor of Medicine at the UCSF Medical Center and Dr. Enas Enas, director of the Coronary Artery Disease Among Asian Indians Research Foundation whose pioneering research initially inspired ECH physicians to develop the program. More information is available at the Web site at www.southasianheartcenter.org.

Gujaratis Celebrate Culture in New Jersey

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi lighting the lamp to inaugurate the first Gujarati Convention in New Jersey July 7. (Mohammed Jaffer/SnapsIndia photo)

At the first-ever global Gujarati convention, in addition to the business of networking and community building, delegates took time off and flaunted their skills — be it in flying kites, singing songs or displaying their culinary skills.

It was indeed a refreshing sight to catch some of the rich and affluent members of the community trying to show off their kite-flying skills to the lesser mortals at the convention center. “We have grown up flying kites and it is sad that today’s children do not see this as a pastime or even a hobby,” says Dr. Sudhir Parikh, winner of this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Award.

The event, organized by the Gujarati Associations of North America, a part of the Federation of Indian Associations, saw more than 2,000 delegates from all across the United States, Canada and the U.K. dressed at their festive colorful best and dining on choice Gujarati food over the three days that they were in New Jersey over the weekend.

Among the notables at the event included Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen, Subramanian Swami, president of Janata Dal; Urmilaben Chimanbhai Patel, the wife of former the chief minister of Gujarat; Asha Parekh, Bollywood actress of yesteryears; TV and film actress Raj Laxmi besides several lawmakers from Gujarat.

While lawmakers from Gujarat made a fervent appeal to the NRI population to pump in investments, actress Asha Parekh highlighted the philanthropic spirit of the Gujarati. Parekh, who was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by the organizers, said she was impressed with the community retaining their culture in an alien land.

In his brief speech, Ambassador Ronen Sen said that Gujaratis should be proud of what their state has given India. “Your state and institutions like BAPS have given spirituality and human service a new meaning,” he said referring to the philanthropy work carried out by BAPS in the state and around the world.

Law Convention
NASABA keynote speaker Neal Katyal remained cool before his landmark Supreme Court decision and addressed NASABA attendees.

The North American South Asian Bar Association, representing the interests of over several thousand South Asian attorneys, hosted close to 400 attendees from 22 different states in the U.S., as well as attendees from Canada and India, at its third annual convention, according to a press release. IndusBar of Georgia hosted the convention at the InterContinental Hotel in Atlanta, June 16-17.

Underscoring the influence wielded by South Asian attorneys was keynote speaker Neal Katyal. The Georgetown University Law Center professor, who received NASABA’s Outstanding Advocacy Award, is lead counsel for detainees at the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which Prof. Katyal successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in March, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision to agree with Katyal’s challenge to the constitutionality of military tribunals established by the U.S. to try the detainees at Guantanamo, Cuba.

The opening keynote was provided given by Judge Stanley Birch of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, who is best known for his decision in the Schiavo case. Judge Birch stressed the need for judicial independence.

NASABA started with 12 chapters in the Fall of 2003. Less than three years later, it has 23 chapters. The 2007 convention will be held in Union Square in San Francisco and will capitalize on the Bay Area’s activist roots as well as the entrepreneurial contributions of South Asians in that area. The theme of the 2007 NASABA Convention is “Bridging Borders.”
NASABA is currently accepting speaker and panel ideas for 2007. Interested speakers can e-mail inderpreet@chugh.com.

Meeting Lungren

Indian American community activists with Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Ind., after a meeting where they sought to enlist his support for the U.S.-India nuclear agreement.

Members of Indo-American Cultural Heritage and Indo-American Political Association met with local Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., to enlist his support for the U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement, according to a press release.

IACH and IAPA representatives met with the two-term California attorney general and 1998 Republican gubernatorial candidate to garner his support for legislation introduced in both Houses, permitting the U.S. to share civilian nuclear technology with India and build a broader strategic partnership between the worlds two major democracies.

The group advised the congressman that this historic agreement on civil nuclear cooperation reflects a transformation in United States-India relations. The nuclear deal between the U.S. and India will not only promote democracy, stability, prosperity, and peace within the region as well as globally, but will strength ties economic and strategic between two of the worlds largest democracies.

Remembering Gita
Gita, one of the four elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Elephant lovers, a Hindu priest and members of the Los Angeles Indian community gathered at the Los Angeles Zoo amid fruits, flowers and other ritual offerings, to remember Gita, the 48-year-old Indian elephant who died prematurely after suffering for many years from painful chronic foot disease and arthritis that were a direct result of keeping her in inadequate conditions at the zoo. Gita is the thirteenth elephant known to die at L.A. Zoo.

Gita was taken from her family in India in 1959 and put on exhibit at the L.A. Zoo when she was just a baby. She had spent the last 2½ years of her life in an off-exhibit enclosure at L.A. Zoo, standing on concrete flooring in the barn, which exacerbated her joint and foot disease — conditions that are frequently lethal to elephants in zoos.

“We are honored to be joined by a priest from the Hindu Temple in Malibu in remembering Gita, not as a zoo specimen, but as an individual with a history, a family and a homeland,” said Catherine Doyle of In Defense of Animals, a co-sponsor of the event. “She suffered immensely in the zoo and her premature death will not be in vain.”

Gita’s plight is a centerpiece in the national debate about the ability of zoos to provide for the vast spatial and social needs of elephants, earth’s largest land mammal. After reviewing Gita’s medical records from May 20, 2005 through August 9, 2005 and observing her at LA. Zoo, 23-year zoo and wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Mel Richardson said, “I believe Gita’s condition is poor to guarded. I will be astonished if she lives another six months. Gita is in this condition directly because of the over forty years of inactivity and over forty years of standing on concrete and/or hard packed substrate.”

Calif. State Fair
The Indo-American Cultural Heritage will promote the rich and colorful heritage of Indian subcontinent at the California State Fair in Sacramento, Calif., as it has done over the past few years, says a press release from the organization. This year both dance and kitchen craft events will be held on a competitive basis, and interested participants are encouraged to contact the organizers.

Events coordinator Vijay Kumar said: “Indo-American Cultural Heritage was established to address the issues encountered by all people from the Indian subcontinent after September 11th 2001.”

About 100,000 people attend the state fair on a daily basis. Indo-American Cultural Heritage is able to attract a large number of these people through its various programs and make them aware of the rich and colorful heritage which is shared by all people from the region.

All individuals interested in participating in the kitchen crafts and dance competitions should contact Indo-American Cultural Heritage. More information is available at the organization’s Web site at www.indoamericanculturalheritage.com.

Pak Beauty Honored at Pageant in China
Mariyah Moten

Mariyah Moten, Miss Pakistan Tourism 2006, has won the Miss Charity title at the Miss Tourism Queen International 2006 pageant in China. Pakistani organizers for the Miss Pakistan World pageant in Toronto, Canada, are delighted. Pakistan World pageant organizer, Sonia Ahmed, “Just to stand out in between 87 countries is a very big thing, especially for a country that does not have a 50 year old resume in regards to beauty pageants.”

Moten was in China for almost a month, going through the world’s fifth largest pageant’s vigorous training programs, as well as making friends from many countries. She traveled to Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Hunan and many other cities, learning about the rich culture of China and its people.

To train for this pageant, Moten had to study Pakistan history as well as the tourism industry of Pakistan. She also learned about the monuments of Pakistan and its culture. She talked about the Kalash Valley, which is a very attractive tourist region in Pakistan. Questions such as how to promote tourism in Pakistan were asked and what she loved best about China.

The winners of the Miss Tourism Queen International 2006 pageant are as follows: Miss Philippines took the crown this year, followed by Miss Serbia Montenegro, Miss Republic of Congo, Miss Singapore and Miss Brazil.

Moten was born in Karachi. After moving to the U.S. her family moved around a lot, which gave her an opportunity to meet numerous people with different backgrounds at a very young age. She is currently majoring in hotel restaurant management at the University of Houston.

“One message that I have for all the girls is to always keep your eyes on your dream and your feet on the ground because anything is possible as long as you believe in yourself,” Moten said.

Second Hindu Human Rights Report

Hindu American Foundation executive director Ishani Chowdhury presenting a copy of HAF’s 2nd Annual Hindu Human Rights Report to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehitnen, R-Fla. Also seen (l-r): HAF board member Nikhil Joshi, intern Rajit Das, and board member Dr. Aseem Shukla.

The Hindu American Foundation has released its second annual report on the status of human rights of Hindus in South Asia, Afghanistan and Fiji in Capitol Hill, according to an HAF press release. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., senior ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, co-hosted a press conference. In her remarks, Ros-Lehtinen expressed serious concern over the facts presented in the human rights report and welcomed the document as a crucial resource.

A House resolution calling attention to human rights violations against Hindus prompted by, among other things, the HAF report is being prepared and the congresswoman is expected to deliver a separate floor statement highlighting human rights violations that are particularly severe in Bangladesh.

“The second annual report on Hindu human rights is an objective compilation from reports by credible human rights groups of the genocide, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, and discriminatory laws that Hindus face everyday in parts of South Asia and beyond,” said Ishani Chowdhury, executive director of HAF. “This report documents a humanitarian tragedy that fills an important void existing in reports by both governments and other human rights organizations.”

The 105-page document is entitled “Hindus in South Asia & the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights (2005)”. The report has garnered a broad array of endorsements from several members of Congress, various academics and human rights and religious leaders of diverse faiths.

“By documenting human rights violations against Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Fiji and the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Hindu American Foundation continues to raise global awareness of these abuses,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., as he joined Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., and many other members of the U.S. Congress whose endorsements of the report continue to be received daily at HAF offices in Washington, D.C.

Tamil Fest

Dignitaries on stage at the opening of the FETNA convention.

Indian Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss inaugurated the 19th annual convention of the Federation of Tamil Associations of North America in Manhattan Center in New York July 1, according to a press release from organizers.

In his speech, he referred to various steps taken by the federal and state governments to promote Tamil and said that the Dr Manmohan Singh government had accorded ancient language status to Tamil on par with Sanskrit. “

Dubbed as one of the biggest shows held in the U.S., the “Thamizhar Thiruvizha (Tamil festival) attracted over 2,000 Tamil families across the U.S. and Canada.

Popular film hero and former Member of Parliament Sarathkumar recalled the achievements of Tamils. Sarathkumar has an uncanny ability to reach out to the audience.

This is the first time that politicians belonging to different regional parties of Tamil Nadu are appearing on a same platform. They all mingled with each other cutting across party lines.

Sarathkumar’s actress wife and queen of Tamil television Radhikaa Sarathkumar spoke at the media forum on her experiences with Indian television. Radhikaa is the CEO of Raadan Television which is a multi-million rupee public company that produces TV serials in several Indian and foreign languages. Poet Vairamuthu enthralled the audience with his 40-minute speech on the richness of the language and its origin.

Earlier, the Consulate General of India, New York, hosted a reception for select Tamil community members. Consul General Neelam Deo introduced the chief guests and Dr Prakaash M. Swami, executive committee member of the federation, moderated the event. Dr. M.N. Krishnan, chairman of the convention committee, presided over the function.

The two-day program held at the Manhattan Center included bhajans and classical songs by versatile singer Vani Jayaram and a dance drama on Tamil by Kalaimamani Krishnakumari Narendran and troupe from Chennai. She came with just two dances from India and at the eleventh hour and assembled 15 of her students across the U.S. and after a rigorous two day rehearsal staged a mammoth dance drama Thamizh Muzhakkam.

The highlight of the second day’s evening was light film music by Mervin Michael of Washington in which Vani Jayaram, Harish Raghavendra, Mathangi Rajasekhar, Anitha Krishna rendered music to the cheers of the audience. A cultural show by film and television stars from Tamil Nadu featured Swathi, Devipriya, Manikandan and Vinodhini.

Parade Preparations

New York-based and FIA Tristate past president Sudhir Parikh (l) with visiting Indian minister Oscar Fernandez. FIA Tristate has kicked off pre-parade preparations with a dinner at the Indian Consulate. (Mohammed Jaffer/SnapsIndia photo)

The Federation of Indian Associations of Tri-state will hold the 26th India Day Parade in New York on Aug. 20 and pre-parade preparations were kicked-off at a dinner organized at the Indian Consulate, according to a press release.

“The event is expected to be of historic significance with several senior politicians and other VIPs from India slated to attend the event this year,” the release added. “The parade will be flagged off from the 48th Street on Madison Avenue, culminating on 23rd Street, where the review stand would be set up. The gala banquet will be held the following day, in New Jersey.”

Local Congressmen, Senators and a number of community leaders besides political representatives from India are expected to participate, said Jayesh Patel, president of FIA-Tri-State. New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine, New York Gov. George Pataki, Congressman Frank Pallone and India Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Gary Ackerman and New Jersey Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, will attend the event.

Besides Bollywood stars, the major attraction of the parade will be the floats this year. At least 30 floats will be part of the parade this year. Among them will be corporate floats that include General Motors, American Airlines and Continental Airlines.

The Federation of Indian Associations is the oldest and largest umbrella organization of Indians in the tri-state area. The FIA hosts the largest Indian Independence Day parade outside of New Delhi. Last year, it celebrated the silver jubilee of the parade, held annually in Manhattan on the Sunday following August 15 — India’s Independence Day.

NRI Center

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi, with Indian American community representatives in Washington, D.C. (Kiran Jagga photo)

India proposes to open an NRI centre in Washington to “encourage, instigate and provoke” Indian Americans to become partners in the progress of their native country, according to visiting Minister for Overseas Indians Affairs Vayalar Ravi.

Working under the Indian ambassador, the proposed centre is to provide assistance to overseas Indians who wish to invest in or contribute in some way to the economic development of India, as also help Indians abroad in distress, he said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Ravi, who is on his first visit to the United States since assuming office in January, said a parliamentary standing committee was considering a proposal to extend voting rights to Indians working abroad by removing the six-month residence requirement for enrolment as voters.

While the Persons of Indian Origin and Overseas Indian Citizen certificates did not exactly offer dual citizenship, it was almost amounting to that as its holders will be treated practically as Indians, he said.

Asked what New Delhi was doing to channelize investments from Indians abroad, Ravi said under the liberalized regime, states have full freedom to invite overseas investment and in fact a healthy competition was developing among them.

Pune Loves Google Earth | Tech Profits Up | Swedish Firm Ties | $35M Order from China | Telstra Support | New R&D Unit | New Chairman | GSM Wireless | New IT Hubs | $400M Deal | Global Top 20 | KPCB Buys Stake | IT Training Programs | Eyeing Rs. 125 Crore Turnover | Study Outsourcing

Pune Loves Google Earth
When D. Balwadkar walked into the office of Rajesh Choudhary of Prestige Developers to offer his land for sale, he was all set for the long drive to the city’s outskirts to show the property. To his surprise, he did not have to move an inch.

For, even as Balwadkar explained the location of his land, Choudhary brought it up on his monitor— complete with the boundary wall and the huge peepal tree. No magic, just Google Earth.

The Web site, after it had net addicts in a tizzy having traced everything from their home to their office to their favorite restaurant on the monitor, is now being taken to its next logical phase — practical usage.

And amongst the first to cotton onto the trend is the city’s builder and developer community. ‘‘It just makes things so much easier,’’ says Vilas Parmar, a recent convert to Google Earth who feels the tool is revolutionary in terms of visual information.

Choudhary, who started using the portal about a month and a half back, found the images so helpful that he has even subscribed to Google Earth Plus, that offers some value additions at a nominal price. ‘‘The biggest and simplest advantage of Google Earth is that it allows you to see a property you may have an interest in, anywhere in the country without leaving your office.’’

Add to this the luxury of measuring the area, checking the distances from any point down to the last centimeter, inserting polygons, getting an idea of the surface terrain and even tilting the area to get a better 3-D view.

‘‘In Google Earth Pro, one can superimpose your project on the site, examine the cross-sections and it even gives you superior print quality,’’ says Choudhary, who now uses the image almost every day for clients.

‘‘These images are much better than the location drawing and maps we used earlier, as they are as easily comprehensible to people as photographs,’’ he adds.

Tech Profits Up
India’s top software companies’ quarterly earnings grew by more than a third, boosted by robust demand for outsourcing and a falling rupee, but analysts say rising wages are a concern.

Indian firms, led by Infosys and Tata Consultancy, are set to grab a growing share of the outsourcing deals as Western companies look to cut costs to stay competitive, but analysts say profit growth may be slower due to tougher competition and staff costs.

For the full fiscal year, operating margins in the sector will see a reduction of 50 basis points on account of rising wages, an analyst with a Mumbai-based brokerage said.

Analysts say companies are finding it difficult to retain staff as foreign firms expand their operation in India. Salaries are climbing 15 percent a year.

IBM, which has 43,000 employees in India, said in June it would invest nearly $6 billion over three years to expand its services, software, hardware and research businesses in India.

IBM’s plans will make it harder for Indian software industry to keep staff, Lakshmi Narayanan, the chief executive of mid-sized Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., said last month.

Still, demand for outsourcing will remain strong, says India’s National Association of Software and Service Companies. It has estimated contracts worth a combined $100 billion will come up for grabs over the next two years.

Swedish Firm Ties
Satyam Computer Services Limited has announced that the company has formed an alliance with EPiServer, a Swedish content management and portal software company.

EPiServer is one of the world’s largest providers of Microsoft.NET based content management applications. Its product, EPiServer Solution, is used as a platform for Internet, Intranet, and Extranet content solutions.

In a notice to stock exchanges, Satyam has announced that the partnership will enhance its ability to implement, maintain, and provide training services for EPiServer-based solutions, and EPiServer will benefit from Satyam’s global presence and implementation expertise.

Additionally, the arrangement will help both organizations reach a broader range of customers.

To date, there have been more than 2,000 implementations of EPiServer, mostly in Northern Europe. EPiServer is counting on the alliance to increase that number on a global scale.

The company has informed that it will announce its first quarter results of the current financial year on July 21.

$35M Order from China
Reliance Communications Ltd. has won a bandwidth order from China Netcom for an estimated value of $35 million, a company source told Reuters.

The order involves providing close to 50 giga bytes of bandwidth for retail broadband operations of the Chinese company, the source said.

Telstra Support
Australian telecom and IT giant Telstra is talking to Indian services giant Wipro about support for its $300 million network operations support system.

The telco has announced the full roster of vendors for the critical mix of software and hardware, which sits between the network proper and business software systems, such as billing.

U.S. company Amdocs has won the biggest slice of the contract, a deal worth up to $100 million. In addition to Amdocs, the other successful vendors were Cramer, Syndesis, Metsolv, Infovista and VPI, Telstra said.

Some of these vendors have contracts at Telstra, but Netcracker, a major support system vendor, seems to have missed out.

Talks with Wipro, which has minor contracts with Telstra, are understood to be on managing the system and the so-called transformation network, sources familiar with the project said.

Telstra spokesman Andrew Maiden said last week that he was not aware of talks with Wipro.

Telstra’s latest document signals the first phase of the company’s new deal with Sun Microsystems, which was also revealed.

New R&D Unit
Accenture has opened a research and development technology lab in Bangalore, its fourth R&D unit operated by Accenture Technology Labs. The company already has facilities in the United States (Palo Alto, Calif., and Chicago) and France (Sophia Antipolis).

The Accenture Technology Labs-India will focus on original research and development in systems integration and software engineering. The goal will be to enable businesses to reduce the cost and improve the quality of technology solution delivery.

“Technology innovation is a key driver of high performance. The role of the labs is to create a vision of how technology will shape the future and invent the next wave of cutting-edge business solutions and new ways to develop those solutions,” said Scott Rose, global managing director, Accenture Technology Labs. “In combining technology expertise with business acumen, our researchers take new and emerging technologies and create prototypes and cutting edge solutions that help our clients maximize future performance.”

Accenture already has a significant presence in India through its Global Delivery Network, with 17,500 professionals working in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune, and serving more than 200 Accenture clients. Accenture’s Global Delivery Network has more than 44,000 people around the world providing a wide array of services in system integration, application outsourcing, and business process outsourcing.

New Chairman
Infosys Technologies has elected a new chairman and chief mentor. According to market predictions, Nandan M. Nilekani, currently president, CEO and managing director of the company is likely to take over as executive chairman or vice chairman and CEO, while Kris Gopalakrishnan, chief operating officer of Infosys, will take over additional responsibilities of managing director.

The company is also likely rope in an outsider as chief mentor. N.R. Narayana Murthy, who will retire on Aug. 20, would be elected as chairman emeritus.

During the annual general meeting of the company in June 2006, Murthy had said that he would be vacating chairman and chief mentor position. “Though I will be vacating my present posts formally Aug. 20 when I turn 60 and retire as chairman and chief mentor, I will continue as non-executive chairman if the board approves at its meeting on July 11.”

Infosys board now consists of 17 directors including the founders. Sen. Larry Pressler recently didn’t seek the re-appointment to the board. The company has inducted David L. Boyles and Jeffrey Kehman as additional directors of the company.

GSM Wireless
Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s top mobile services provider, has launched a fixed wireless service based on GSM technology as part of a plan to broaden the services it offers, a company statement said.

New Delhi-based Bharti already has a small fixed-line operation and is concentrating only on high margin customers in that sector.

“The fixed-line market in India is currently underserved, largely on account of inadequate infrastructure,” Sanjay Kapoor, joint president for mobility at Bharti, said

The company plans to progressively roll out the new wireless service across 4,000 towns and neighboring villages in India.

New IT Hubs
Kolkata, Chandigarh and Bhubaneshwar will be the future Information Technology hubs of India, experts say. “Kolkata and Chandigarh are developing very fast and Bhubaneshwar, which started off even before Kolkata, has good prospects,” National Association of Software and Services Companies president Kiran Karnik told UNI.

Focusing on Kolkata as an example of how environment of cities can be developed to make it friendly for the IT industry, he said, “Whenever people ask me how to bring the IT industry to the state, I give the example of Kolkata and the role played by the state government in it.”

Karnik said that the industry was also targeting cities like Kanpur, Dehra Dun and Lucknow in the North, Patna and Siliguri in the Eastern region, Nagpur in the West and Coimbatore and Kochi in the South.

However, he added that infrastructure like international air connectivity, road transport and power has to be developed in these places. “Many of the cities do not yet have the right kind of infrastructure, but there is a great potential for development,” he stressed.

$400M Deal
HCL Technologies Ltd. is close to signing a $400 million, multi-year outsourcing deal with a unit of South Africa’s biggest insurer Old Mutual, an industry source said, boosting its stock nearly 7 percent.

Indian software services companies have been thriving on an outsourcing boom and analysts say they are expected to grab a growing share of large deals as pressure rises on more companies in the United States and Europe to cut costs to stay competitive.

“The deal with Skandia can be signed fairly soon,” the source, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Old Mutual won control of Swedish savings firm Skandia earlier this year with a $7.35 billion hostile bid after a protracted takeover battle.

“HCL has adopted and articulated multi-service, multi-million dollar client engagement strategy,” Vineet Nayar, president at HCL Technologies, said in a statement.

Global Top 20
Pune-based e-learning company Harbinger finds its name in the top-20 list of specialized learning process providers, brought out by TrainingOutsourcing.com, a leading analyst in business strategies for learning, based in the U.S.

Harbinger made it to this global list as a content development tools provider. Other international and Indian companies in this top 20 list include Hewlett Packard, Hewitt (admin services), Thomson Prometric (assessment and testing) and Adobe (content development tools), Tata Interactive Systems, Genpact, IBM Learning solutions and Convergys.

The list rates companies recognized as leaders in supplying specific learning process services in support of comprehensive training outsourcing service providers.

Harbinger is a provider of software products and services. It is the creator of Elicitus, the globally benchmarked rapid authoring tool, and Raptivity, the world’s first rapid interactivity builder, which is based on a patent-pending technology.

The company also provides custom e-learning design and development services to clients worldwide.

KPCB Buys Stake
Silicon Valley private equity firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers and its Indian partner Sherpalo Ventures have bought an undisclosed stake in Indian mobile commerce enabler Paymate, senior fund officials said.

KPCB’s third investment in India suggested that the private equity business was flourishing and that bigger deals could be on the way, industry officials said.

Sherpalo and KPCB together are investing more than $5 million in the three-month-old company that had been developing for nearly three years a software product to enable transactions on mobile phones, but is yet to launch it.

“The investment is upwards of $5 million,” said Sandeep Murthy, partner at Sherpalo Ventures and the Indian representative of KPCB, but declined to discuss details.

KPCB has been reluctant to disclose the valuation about investments in India.

KPCB’s latest investment follows a strong first half of 2006 for private investments in India which witnessed big deals such as the $900-million purchase of Flextronics International Ltd. by buy-out firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.

Private deals jumped more than four-fold in the period to $3.5 billion in 146 deals, from $795 million in 67 deals in the first half a year earlier, according to Venture Intelligence, a private equity tracking firm.

“Deals of size of $100 million are getting frequent, compared to four years ago when very few could think of such size,” said Arun Natarajan, chief executive at Venture Intelligence. “(A) few deals like Flextronics have boosted numbers for the half year, but the future is going to see more such big deals.”

IT Training Programs
Borland India, a subsidiary of Borland Software Corporation, has tied up with Pragati Software to offer training programs to IT professionals and students on optimizing software development and delivery through better processes and technology. The program is aimed at providing knowledge dissemination, technical evaluation and training activities to support and encourage Borland’s business vision of aligning people, process and technology for software delivery optimization.

As a Borland Learning Partner, Pragati Software will run extensive training programs in several Indian cities, including Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mysore, Pune and Thiruvananthapuram.

Under the program, course offerings span the entire lifecycle of software development, helping IT professionals learn the processes and technology required for successful project delivery and automation. Borland products that automate and enforce these processes, such as the company’s Caliber requirements management system and Together visual modeling tool, will be used to train students. Courses on application lifecycle management, lifecycle quality management and Borland Tempo IT management and governance system will be part of the training program. The two companies will also design specific modules for the training program.

“We selected Pragati as partners in our Endeavour towards making process management a required discipline in the IT industry as they have the experienced faculty and facilities to support such an advanced curriculum. Educating the developer network is critical to our vision of transforming the software delivery process for customers,” said Satyen Parikh of Borland India.

Eyeing Rs. 125 Crore Turnover
Pathfinder Software Solutions Limited, a Chennai-based software solutions company, is eyeing a turnover of Rs. 125 crore this year, from Rs 75 crore last year. The company is also looking at expanding its base in the overseas markets.

“We have been registering a year-on-year growth of 45 percent. This year, we are targeting a growth of over 60 per cent leveraging the growing market for our solutions,” M. Ahmed Hussain, managing director of Pathfinder Software Solutions Limited, told reporters.

Pathfinder provides solutions like retail management, point of sale, barcode automation, mobile solutions on personal digital assistants, enterprise solutions and Web services.

The company representatives were in Hyderabad to announce the launch of their retail product for the F&B segment – XtreMe Hash House. Through this product, orders can be taken on a PDA and sent to the kitchen via a printer while simultaneously sending a copy to the cashier.

“Considering the boom in the hospitality industry, we expect at least 100 clients for the product in this year, amounting to revenues of Rs 40 lakh,” Hussain said.

Study Outsourcing
The National Association of Software Companies has commissioned management consultants Booz Allen Hamilton to undertake an exhaustive study of the potential for the Indian IT companies’ outsourcing business.

The study, already underway, is expected to be completed in August.

Nasscom chairman Kiran Karnik told a gathering of chiefs of Pune-based information technology companies that the software body intends to intensify its thrust on the engineering services domain.

He said, a part of the thrust is to assess the true potential for outsourced IT projects for the Indian companies. “We have commissioned Booz Allen for the study and expect their findings and recommendations by August this year,” Karnik said.

The gathering, held on the eve of the first executive committee meeting of Nasscom in Pune, witnessed a high turnout.

The executive committee has three members from Pune, including Ganesh Natarajan, managing director, Zensar Technologies, Ravi Pandit, chairman, KPIT Cummins and Anand Deshpande, managing director, Persistent Systems.

Karnik stressed that the study will act as a catalyst, as it will bring to fore the potential of India as an attractive destination for outsourcing of engineering services by global IT players.

Snappy Looking Roadster: 2006 Pontiac Solstice
With its cockpit-like interior and its nothing-else-like-it looks, the Pontiac Solstice is aimed to please the true driving enthusiast, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

Pontiac’s brand-new 2006 Solstice sure has created quite a bit of buzz.

Not only is it Pontiac’s first two-seat roadster, but it received an unusual introduction to the general driving public when it was featured on an episode of the popular NBC hit, The Apprentice. In the segment, Donald Trump’s potential protégés were charged with creating an advertising campaign for the roadster, and then viewers were offered an opportunity to submit orders for the first 1,000 production vehicles. It took only 41 minutes to pre-sell those exclusive 1,000 units, according to Pontiac’s press materials.

Anyone watching the show could see why the car was such an immediate hit. It’s a snappy-looking sports car aimed to please the true driving enthusiast.

The Solstice’s rise from concept to reality was an unusually short journey, by automotive standards. The car was initially shown as a concept at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It caused a big enough stir with admirers and within General Motors that it went from concept to production to showroom floors in just four short years.

The most intriguing aspects of the Solstice are its list of standard features, its cockpit-like interior, and its nothing-else-like-it looks.

True sports car enthusiasts will appreciate its rear-wheel drive, four-wheel independent SLA suspension, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels and a powerful 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with a hefty horsepower rating of 177. The five-speed manual transmission is standard. An automatic will be available later.

Standard features on board the Solstice are reclining and racing-style bucket seats, dual front air bags, four-wheel disc brakes, an adjustable steering wheel, rear window defogger, AM/FM stereo with CD and six speakers, leather wrapped shift knob, vanity mirror for the driver and three cup holders. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think having a vanity mirror available for the passenger is a small, but significant convenience. Also, one of the cup holders has been placed far back in the center console, which makes reaching it difficult for the driver, especially when the driver is also dealing with the manual transmission shifter.

The test car came equipped with several special packages, which raised the car’s price from $19,915 to $26,490. If you’re on a budget, perhaps you could pick and choose which options are most important to you. The Premium Package included leather seating and steering wheel-mounted radio controls for an additional $690. The Convenience Package added cruise control, a driver information center and integrated fog lamps for $465. The Power Package adds power door locks, windows and side mirrors, as well as remote keyless entry for $625. Air Conditioning was another $960, and OnStar was $695. The 18-inch aluminum wheels were $545, and a CD changer with MP3 capability was $495. Anti-lock brakes were $400. If six speakers aren’t enough sound concentration for you in such a small car, you can also add a Monsoon Premium Sound System for another $395.

On the road, you’ll find the Solstice handles just as you would expect from a roadster: tight, precise and responsive. Visibility to the front is very good, although side views are diminished because of the low roof line and the rear view is contained completely in the rear view mirror. The side view mirrors have been placed very close to the driver; you almost wish they were forward a bit.

Seats are firm and provide stiff lumbar support. There is a good amount of leg room here, which Pontiac notes should please taller drivers.

Overall, we found the Solstice to be an eye-catching and fun car to drive, and for those who love to be the first on the block with something, this is the ticket.

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


No Skin Please, He’s My Brother-in-Law | Baap Ka Beta | Bad Turn for India-Pakistan Ties | Court’s Displeasure | From Australia, With Love | Artist’s Muse | Bollywood in Europe? | Going Commercial

No Skin Please, He’s My Brother-in-Law
Whaddaya know! Here was this little nymphet strutting her stuff—literally—and making any questions about any actual acting talent moot, and lascivious frontbenchers were having a field day. Suddenly, it’s a different story. Amrita Arora has decided to follow U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan’s advice when a filmmaker has asked her to get close and personal. She has decided to “Just say no.”

The trouble started with Deepak Bahry’s forthcoming film. Amrita was asked to get cozy with Arbaaz Khan. Trouble is, Arbaaz is married to her sister Malaika. So as the proposed scenes got hotter and hotter, poor Amrita got more and more antsy.

It isn’t as if it were straight romantic scenes, because that’s old hat in Bollywood. You’ve got Anil Kapoor romancing sister-in-law Sridevi in several films even after bro Boney married the Southern beauty. But this apparently was too hot to handle.

“The lovemaking scenes are an integral part of the script and should not have been told to me at the last minute,” says the actress. “The narration was clear enough before. But they kept adding more physical scenes, and I was not comfortable about them. Deepak was understanding about it and admitted that he should have told me before. But he said that he was happy that I told him before we started shooting.”

Since this is Bollywood, there are about as many versions as there are people. Deepak Bahry is singing a completely different tune. He says that Amrita knew about the scenes all along but had opted out of his film due to date problems.! “Mine is a clean film on vendetta, it is not a skin flick,” he says.

Welcome to tinseltown, the world of make-believe.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Baap Ka Beta

Baap Ka Beta, Sipahi Ka Ghoda, Kuchh Nahin Tab Bhi Thoda Thoda. Okay, guys, for those you don’t understand Hindi (Why in that case you would be reading Guftugu beats me), that roughly translates into “Like father, like son.”

Let the critics debate whether the chhote miyan has inherited the acting talent and charisma of Big B, but what Abhishek Bachchan has surely inherited is his father’s classy modesty.

“You never beat Amitabh Bachchan, who lets you win,” was his gracious comment after emerging the top spot in the ‘Best supporting actor’ category at both IIFA and Filmfare, for which his father was also nominated.

“I think it’s a privilege to share the frame with him,” Abhishek says. The father-son duo share screen space in Karan Johar’s forthcoming Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.

After a string of box office failures, Abhishek is finally emerging on his own, and getting commercial and critical success.

“’Keep trying,’ is the best piece of advice my parents have given me,” he says.

He is also starring in a sequel -- Dhoom II —and a remake — Umrao Jaan.

The 29-year-old Bollywood star believes that these are interesting times for an actor. “The day of the niche is over. No longer is the actor an angry young man, the romantic or action hero. There is everything in one movie and the job of the actor is to entertain,” says Abhishek.

How times change. AB Corps., the production house that had pushed the Bachchans to the brink of bankruptcy, is now making five movies, two of them starring the junior Bachchan himself.

For someone who is considered a style icon, Abhishek says he leaves it to his mother to decide on what he will wear. He says he sports the rings on the finger because it brings a smile on his mother’s face.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Bad Turn for India-Pakistan Ties
You’ve got to hand it to the Pakistanis. They seem to have an uncanny knack of sticking their foot in their mouth. Just when things were really warming up, ties between the two nations were really growing as visiting Indians told wonderful tales of hospitality experienced when they traveled to Pakistan during the cricket series, somebody in the Pakistani establishment decided to throw a spanner in the works.

Right when a Bollywood who’s who was getting ready to visit Pakistan to raise fund for Pakistan’s earthquake victims and the colorized version of the Bollywood epic Mughal-e-Azam was all set to premiere, some wise guy in Pakistan decides that this is a good time to deny a visa to Javed Akhtar.

Yep, you heard us right. Javed Akhtar. What’s wrong with these guys? Don’t they know that Javed is one of the most respected lyricists, poets and scriptwriters in India?
Javed was understandably surprised.

“I learnt that out of the 25-member delegation that was to visit Karachi for the premiere of Mughal-E-Azam, I was the only one to have been denied a visa. I am quite surprised at this,” Akhtar said in Mumbai. “I don’t understand what kind of a threat I can pose to that country. In fact, we were going for a very noble cause, where a day after the premiere, we were scheduled to participate in a telethon to raise funds for earthquake victims.”

Major Bollywood stars such as Saif Ali Khan, Urmila Matondkar, Akhtar’s wife and actress Shabana Azmi, Zeenat Aman and Sridevi were to attend the event, Akhtar said, adding that the organizers had now decided to postpone the premiere.

At a hurriedly-called press conference in Karachi, distributor of the film Nadeem Mandviwala said PTV had withdrawn its sponsorship of the Indian stars’ visit without citing any reason.

Asked if he was hurt at not getting the visa, the lyricist said: “I am, in fact, quite amused at it. I feel they have given me too much importance. The only thing that comes to mind is that I have been too frank for their comfort on sensitive issues and in a society where there is no tradition of having opposition, this is bound to happen.” Well said, Javed.
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Court’s Displeasure
Boy, talk about being given a hard time for striking a sexy pose. Poor Shilpa Shetty and Reema Sen must be ruing the day they posed for the photos that got splashed on the Tamil evening paper Tamil Murasu, because like an icky itch, the trouble caused by those photos won’t go away no matter how hard they try.

Now a local court has issued arrest warrants on the Bollywood actresses following the publication of their “obscene” pictures.

The city judicial magistrate, Elangovan, directed the commissioner of police, Mumbai, to arrest the actresses as early as possible and produce them in court.

Dakshninammorthy, a city-based advocate, had filed a case against the actresses, and Murugan, editor of Tamil Murasu, for publication of the “obscene” pictures, thus violating laws including Sec 109 of IPC (indecent representation of women), Prevention of Publication of Obscene pictures Act and Sec 3 of the Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act. The advocate contended that the pictures “polluted the minds of young people” and demanded action against them.

The actresses should have appeared in court, as per the non-bailable warrant issued by the court March 10. They were then asked to appear with a warning that arrest warrants would be issued against them.

The actresses, through their lawyers, contended that they were not in a position to come to the court as they were busy shooting for a film. They also claimed that they were not aware of the pictures being published in the evening newspaper, which had apparently occurred without their permission.

Besides, give me a break. Polluted the minds of young people? Now where exactly does this bozo advocate live? In Mars? Hasn’t he seen the suggestive music videos, the naughty ads, the double-entendre lyrics, the Bollywood skinfests that’s saturating the media? When you consider the ocean of smut, Shilpa and Reema’s photos are a drop in a bucket.
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From Australia, With Love
She may be live in Australia, but her heart thrills at the idea of Bollywood. Sabrina Houssami, the beauty queen with roots in India who will represent Australia in the Miss World contest, says she is open to acting in Bollywood films. The first person of non-Australian parentage to win the Miss Australia title last month, 19-year-old Sabrina was born to an Indian mother and a Lebanese father.

Sabrina, who supports a charity called Astara Angels that works with children in Rishikesh, said she might consider offers from Bollywood although this will be only “for a short while.” Her long-term goal is television journalism.

“My community has been getting a bad rap from the media in recent times, and I want to do my bit to present the real picture,” she said in an interview to a local Australian daily. She says she will promote a diverse and multicultural look for Australia when she competes for the Miss World title in Poland in September.

“I think the advantages for me in this country is I have adopted some Western values and being a Muslim, I have Eastern values too,” the Sydney university student said. “As long as I believe in the right things and treat others well, it shouldn’t matter what religion I am.” Asked about her chances of winning the Miss World crown, she says she might get into the top ten. “Perhaps the world is not yet ready for someone as multicultural as me,” Sabrina said.

But Sabrina, you have to admit, is quite ready for the world.
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Artist’s Muse
For older fans of Bollywood, here is some great news. The classic beauty of Bollywood

Madhuri Dixit will reportedly make her comeback in internationally-acclaimed filmmaker Shaji Karun’s tentatively-titled Suryamukhi (Sunflower).

The film is supposed to be the story of the late painter Raja Ravi Varma, who fell in love with his muse, who modeled for his paintings of goddesses. Varma lived between 1848 and 1906 when society was much more conservative, and Varma was married at the time.

Varma had won honors at the Vienna Art Exposition in 1873 when he was just 25. He had painted over 700 pictures of goddesses, whose oleographic prints sold far and wide in India and abroad. This was in the phase he left his wife and children in Kerala and moved to Mumbai where he met Sugunabai, a beauty of Goan-Maharashtrian lineage, who posed for him not only for goddesses but for some of his work where the female form was undraped.

Orthodox Hindus filed suit in court against his lifestyle and “lewd” paintings. Varma fought his own case. He won but lost his muse.

Shaji Karun, 54, a FTII graduate in cinematography, won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988 for his first directorial venture Piravi in 1988.

He is a six-time National award winner. Bobby Bedi will produce the film, which has been offered to Madhuri for the fleeting resemblance as well as versatility and Maharashtrian beauty. A top star is expected to play Varma.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Bollywood in Europe?

After making inroads in the U.K. and U.S., Indian films are now becoming popular in France, Germany and Poland, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan has said.

The Bollywood heartthrob, who was here for the release of the soundtrack of his new film Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, told reporters that the film, scheduled to be premiered Aug. 11 will have a sub-title in French.

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Indian director Karan Johar’s first directorial role in five years, is a story of two complex relationships of marriage, disappointment and ultimately betrayal.

On the theme of the film — extra-marital relations — Khan, who has so far featured in a string of super successful love stories including Dil To Paagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kal Ho Naa Ho and Veer Zaara, said it showed “the sign of maturity of the director.”

“It is a great story, with great music,” he said.

Asked whether Bollywood directors produced films keeping NRIs in mind, Johar said: “We are quite emotional people and we produce films for Indians, whether in India or abroad.”

Set in New York, the story revolves around the relationship between Dev (Shah Rukh Khan), and Maya (Rani Mukherjee). They are both married to different people. Dev is married to Priya (Preity Zinta) and Maya is married to Rishi (Abhishek Bachchan).

However, when Dev and Maya meet, the holes in their respective marriages become more apparent as they realize that they are perfect for each other.

Asked whether he planned to work in Hollywood films, Khan, who has won more awards at the Filmfare Awards than any other star in the history of Bollywood, said: “I have not been offered any Hollywood roles.

“I feel very proud of those Indian actors and actresses who have been offered Hollywood roles.”

Noting that Bollywood has a global audience of three billion worldwide, Khan said he was grateful to people who are kind to him.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Going Commercial
Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh is associated with meaningful cinema/arthouse films. Now he thinks it’s time for a change. He’s all set to direct his first full-fledged commercial film, states Shubho Shekhar Bhattacharjee [, the production house that’s producing the film. “It’s a comedy with elements of fantasy. A unique concept,” Shubho adds.

Titled Sunglass, the film will be made in two languages simultaneously -- Hindi and Bengali -- and will star Sanjay Suri, Konkona Sen Sharma, Jaya Bachchan, Naseeruddin Shah and Raima Sen in principal roles. Shooting of this bilingual will commence from August 1. The film will have four songs, composed by the music band 21 Grams.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Spectacular Success: Krrish

Produced and directed from his own story by: Rakesh Roshan
Music: Rajesh Roshan
Starring: Rekha, Naseeruddin Shah, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Special Appearance: Preity Zinta, Sharat Saxena, Ahmed Khan, Hemant Pandey, Manini De, Puneet Issar, Akash Khurana, Kiron Juneja Sippy and Archana Puran Singh

Superman, eat your heart out. Spider-Man, take a hike. Because here comes Krrish from India, who can beat all of you in the superhero sweepstakes.

I didn’t believe I would live to see the day when I could be able to say something like that. But it’s true. And I mean every word of it.

What’s a good film? Wait, the question isn’t as much of a no-brainer as it sounds. Films are a powerful source of mass entertainment, but they are also an art form, which in the hands of master filmmakers, have resulted in unforgettable renditions of the human condition.

The Indian contribution to art cinema has not been altogether nonexistent. Regional cinema has led the way here, and filmmakers like the late Bengali giant Satyajit Ray or Kerala’s Adoor Gopalakrishnan have found a secure place in world cinema.

But in today’s globalized world, where the West is looking at India with newfound respect as its IT prowess and insatiable appetite for outsourced jobs makes the West nervous, a new resurgent self-confident India wants more.

If IT can take on the West, why not Bollywood, Indians wonder.

Not so fast. Bollywood films in many ways remain mired in the retro culture of a bygone Hollywood era of studios and the star system, and the financing and production of films in Bollywood are still not professional. Most important, the quality of the final product in the majority of cases, quite frankly, sucks. Oh, if you think I am being too harsh, don’t take my word for it, just look at the recent box office returns for Bollywood film.

Bollywood fans — the world’s most indulgent audience, if truth be told — have given the bulk or recent films a smart kick on its backside, a fate richly deserved, I may add.

Hyped attempts to penetrate the Western market have yet to succeed — Asoka fell flat, Lagaan got some decent reviews in the Western press, but the long-duration music-filled genre is still too foreign for Western tastes.

In a word, Bollywood has a long way to go before it can actually take on Hollywood. That’s what makes Krrish so significant, because it is the first Bollywood film that in terms of the overall production values and storyline makes a strongest suggestion yet, that at its best, Bollywood is ready to take on Hollywood.

It helps that mass entertainment doesn’t seem to be about showing real people in actual realistic circumstances. Thanks to cult heroes like Batman, Superman and Spider-man, Hollywood movies have veered off from reality to a simpler, fabulous fantasyland where good and evil are clearly demarcated, where the comic-strip world’s gaudy mixture of science fiction, melodrama and daredevilry rule the roost.

This is a world where Bollywood can fit in well, but let’s not take away from Krrish’s remarkable achievements.

Special effects and stunts from abroad have been used in Bollywood films before, but Rakesh Roshan has managed to use these elements and craft together a remarkable package of tight editing, excellent acting and screenplay to make a film that really feels of an upmarket international standard.

And the beauty of it all is that the film feels, at the same time, quintessentially Bollywood.

Now for the story: (remember, the film is a sequel to Koi .. Mil Gaya.) Rohit Mehra, you may remember, had acquired extraordinary powers from the alien Jadoo in that film. In this film he has grown up, and is working for Dr. Arya (Naseeruddin Shah), developing a computer that can tell the future. Little does he know that Arya is a megalomaniac with evil intentions. Rohit is able to tell his mother (Rekha) this, but just before he dies in a fire. Just at that time, Krishna is delivered, but his mother, Rohit’s wife, dies of shock when she hears about her husband’s terrible fate.

Krishna goes to live with his grandmother, who moves him to a remote place away from civilizations when she realizes Krishna has inherited his father’s special gifts. Krishna grows into the handsome Hrithik Roshan (hey, this is a Hindi film, after all) whose life takes a dramatic turn when he meets a Singapore-based television executive Priya (Priyanka Chopra), who is a visiting tourist.

Krishna falls in love. Priya pretends to be in love, too, when she needs to bring Krishna over to Singapore to save her job — she is supposed to exclusively televise his special gifts. Krishna, needless to say, is none too pleased when he learns this. By this time Priya has really fallen in love with him. In a word, typical masala Bollywood conundrum.

However, bigger things are about to happen. Krishna, though he has special powers, has made a promise to his grandmother to keep it a secret, so he dons a mask and a cape when he does good deeds. And Krishna becomes Krrish.

Soon Priya becomes a tool as Krishna/Krrish is sucked into a monumental battle of good and evil with Dr. Arya, who is still hatching his megalomaniacal plots.

The film isn’t perfect — the music seems perfunctory at times, for example—but overall, this film is surely Bollywood’s best salvo yet across the bow to take on the world’s most powerful movie industry. A few films like this, and Bollywood films may actually begin to make a mark in the West.


Moderately Funny Comedy: Kusthi

Director: Raj Kapoor
Cast: Pabhu, Karthik, Manya, Flora, Vadivelu, Vijaykumar, Raj Kapoor, Arthi

It has a huge star cast, playing characters with various hues who bungle their way through the story, leading to goof-ups and mix-ups. It may not be the best of comedies, but at least it doesn’t bore you, and it keeps the pace moving, generating laughs now and then.

Prabhu and Karthik put up a good show, with the duo in their elements. And with Vadivelu in tow, they contribute a lot to the fun moments in the film.

Prabhu plays Jeeva, who, to avoid marrying the village elder’s plump, slightly mentally imbalanced daughter (a spirited Arthi) escapes to the city to join his friend Velu (Vadivelu) who runs a roadside eatery. Karthik is Singham, who with his henchmen, tries to extort money and wield power.

Jeeva falls for Divya (Manya) a doctor who mistakes him for a wealthy philanthropist, while Singham is enamored of Divya’s sister Abhi (Flora) who does research on gangsters. The heroines are just ornamental pieces, with the uninhibited Flora making the most of her swimsuit scene.

Then there is the real thug sporting the “Anniyan” look (Raj Kapoor) who, chased by the cops, leaves his stolen money in Singham’s car. And finally there is the village bigwig and his daughter who, with their entourage, come to the city in search of Jeeva.

The characters in the later part are all brought under one roof, leading to mix-ups and some hilarious moments. Jeeva saves the life of Bhagyalakshmi (Lata) who turns out to be the estranged daughter of an estate owner in Kodaikanal. Jeeva takes the woman who is in coma to her home, is mistaken for her son and goes on with the act, for the place offered him refuge from the village elder and gang. With the two girls turning out to be the estate owner’s granddaughters, with Velu and Singham entering the household under various impersonations, and with both the thug and the village elder also entering the place, there can only be more fun.

It’s slapstick comedy which is loud, some of it enjoyable. But at least it’s a welcome change from all those gangster-sagas. Again, since it was not one of those hyped films, there is no expectation and no disappointment either.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Delicious Dessert: Maalpua

Here’s a Bengali dessert that’s a perennial favorite. Is simple and easy to prepare, as Sudha Gupta shows.

  • For paste:
  • 1 cup chapati flour
  • 1 banana
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 2 tbsp yogurt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp aniseed (saunf)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • For preparation:
  • 3 cup canola oil
  • For garnish:
  • ½ tsp saffron
  • ½ tsp cardamom powder
  • 1 tbsp almonds sliced

Add all ingredients for the paste and churn it in the mixer to form a thick paste.

Heat canola oil in frying pan and add one table spoon of the paste. Deep fry till golden brown on one side then reverse the sides to deep fry the other side as well. The paste will gradually spread in the pan turning into flat 3 inch wide patty.

Remove the flat patty when golden brown on both sides and place it on a plate as shown. Garnish with saffron, almonds and cardamom powder as shown. Serve hot.

The above ingredients should make about 20 maalpuas.

- Sudha Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: July By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Play your cards right and you could win an ongoing important battle. You will continue to look for a better job opportunity and may extend your search out of state. Children will show big improvement in studies. Trips will be fruitful.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): A small miscalculation will upset your budget and you will need to make extra efforts to raise last minute funds. You will need to replace some electrical items at home. Efforts to change financials will be successful to a limited extent. You may be moving to a better place soon.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): It will be hard to take the right decisions, as you will be torn in between the right and the wrong. Number of opponents and competitors is on the rise. You will be working on a short trip towards the end of this month. Relocation plans will get delayed. You will be visiting few old friends.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Major changes will take place in career and you will be relieved of past stress. You will keep exploring new avenues to improve your income. Legal papers will need to be signed and dispatched in a hurry. Money will just slip out of your grip. You will consult an old confidant.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): Hard work performed in the past will start to show results and bring revenue. Health issues will come under control with diet and exercise. You will find a suitable match for your child. Some of you may locate a lucrative business and start formalities to procure it.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): Your seniors at work will not appreciate your ideas. Business will slow down suddenly. You will be searching for right advice and help. A government agency will accept your appeal and at least some of the roadblocks will be lifted. An old acquaintance will invite you for a celebration.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Even the temporary separation from some one too close in the past will hurt you badly. Money anticipated for long will finally start to come but in parts. You will invest money in business in a big way. Trip will be short and hectic. You will receive advice from an experienced person.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Concentration of planets in eighth house in not favorable. Use extreme caution and do not take any risk at all for some time. There will be changes at work and the new boss will be very accommodating. Savings will take a dip because of some unexpected and unavoidable expenses.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): An old partner will quit and may move out of area. You will feel exhausted from the extra running around you have been doing in the past. Pregnant women should be very careful for next few weeks. You will receive a great suggestion from an older person and will start working on it.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Opposition and competition may be little too much for you to handle. Victory will be yours but in due course of time. Do not panic, as major turn around will take place in career soon. Health will get better with new medication. Payment will come but only in parts.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You may hear conflicting reports and avoid taking an important decision. A minor surgery will be needed to completely cure an ailment. Spouse will support your ideas and also motivate you. A government agency will give the green signal and lots of confusion will disappear from your life.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will speculate in a big way and pocket huge profit. Some fine quality items on hold will finally be purchased. Negotiations about new job will go well. You will be making plans to travel overseas this summer. Some one will try to test your patience but will not succeed.

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


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