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JUNE 2006
Volume VII • Issue 6

EDITORIAL: Reservations Controversy
NEWS DIARY: May Round-up
CULTURE: Ode to Tagore, Nazrul
HEALTH: Taking On Insomnia
COMMENTARY: Canards and Attacks
POLITICS: The Odd Couple
TRAVEL: Ghosts of Groveland
SPORTS: World Cup Cricket Live
PERFORMANCE: Jagjit Singh, In Concert
GAMING: Teen Patti Winners
CONCERT: Bollywood Rocks
AUTO REVIEW: 2006 Audi A3 2.0T
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Review: Fanaa
TAMIL CINEMA: Pudupettai
RECIPE: Fern Wrap


You would think the world was coming to an end. The furore in India over the government’s decision to back reservations for the underprivileged created the sort of turmoil that echoed the violent Mandal Commission protests in the 1980s that brought down the government of V.P. Singh.

One can sympathize with the students; after all, the bottom line is that there are woefully few spots for a top-class technical education for anyone in India, and getting in is murderously competitive. Many of these protesting students and doctors have worked hard to get in, and many were raised in ordinary middle class homes.

But take a closer look, and you are bound to begin to have some qualms. To many of us, student life is a time of idealism, a time of selfless commitment to causes larger than oneself.

What we are seeing here? If anything, it’s a total self-absorption that is appalling in its selfishness. These guys think they are the smartest folks, and they own the world, and the rest of the world can go take a hike. You have to wonder: If this is what they are like when they are students, what are they going to be like when they enter the professional world?

Alas, you don’t have to look very far for the answer. In India, unfortunately, it’s everywhere. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that any system that allows less than 10 percent of its population — that’s a rough estimate of the size of the upper castes — to hog 90 percent or more of top jobs anywhere is simply out of whack.

When (upper caste) students fail to recognize this simple fact, you have to wonder what on earth they mean by merit.

Of course, this is not a popular viewpoint. Expatriate Indians, the bulk of them upper caste, have shown a unanimous solidarity with the students that would do the Nazis proud. Added to arrogance is the sanctimonious claim that politicians are playing identity politics.

Time for a reality check: Reservations are not about politicians. It’s about a government panel’s well-considered deliberations made 25 years ago that have withstood court challenges to be endorsed by the Indian Supreme Court. In principle, reservations are enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

The terrible wrongs of millennial oppression cannot be redressed without causing some pain. It behooves on those who have enjoyed an outrageously large share of society’s benefits for generations to make way for those who haven’t, with a modicum of grace if not with pleasure.

Our editorial stand is obvious, and our cover story reinforces it. However, we also include a dissenting view from a Bay area group that backs the (read upper caste) student movement to roll back reservations.

Now on to something more pleasant. We would be the first to admit that a fashion show is not the most cerebral of pursuits, but Dil’s San Francisco chapter’s ideal is lofty enough to draw both our respect and affection. DIL is primarily an effort by women to help less fortunate, future women, and it targets low female literacy rates in Pakistan and focuses its efforts on educating girl-children in the poorest and most backward areas of the country. The nonprofit Development in Literacy raised over $75,000 towards education of underprivileged girl children, and honestly, we cannot think of a more heartwarming, substantive gesture towards changing an underprivileged part of society.

A literate girl today means a literate mom tomorrow. That means you have set in motion a process of literacy that has profound implications for the future. The dreadful female literacy rate in Pakistan and many other Muslim countries is nothing short of a disgrace. For the generous, compassionate organizers of the DIL San Francisco chapter, we offer our warm wishes for setting an example.

Dil’s gesture has a broader lesson that’s well worth reflecting upon. Their work reflects the ability to look beyond oneself, to reach out and look upon others not an immediate part of one’s lives with empathy, compassion and concern. This stellar mindset alone can not only ameliorate social turmoil to a considerable degree, it can make this world, which, for all its flaws we love so dearly, a much better place to live. DIL echoes the message of an old African American spiritual song: “We’re in the same boat brother/ If you tip one end, you’re going to rock the other/ We’re in the same boat brother.”

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

The Furore Over Reservations: A Primer

Students from some of the elite Indian institutions have been on a rampage in a protest against the government decision to implement a recommendation that 27 percent of seats in higher educational institutions be reserved for a group of disadvantaged people who are officially labeled “Other Backward Classes.”

Rallying under such names as “Youths for Equality,” protesters would have you believe that this is a ploy by politicians to grab the vote banks of backward castes, giving merit short shrift. Many commentators and analysts have joined the bandwagon.

Is it coincidental that pretty much every protester belongs to the upper castes, a thin sliver of the Indian polity that has a virtual stranglehold of top jobs?

Did you know that the government is merely implementing a policy that was recommended way back in 1980 by the Mandal Commission? Who are the Other Backward Classes?

Get the facts in the following primer on the reservations debate that has India in turmoil.

The primer is the collective effort of Girish Agrawal, Shalini Gera, Sanjeev Mahajan, Anu Mandavilli, Ra Ravishankar, Ramkumar Sridharan and Raja Swamy, on behalf of Friends of South Asia.

A rally in Delhi in support of reservations.

Who are the OBCs?

OBC stands for Other Backward Classes. A community is classified as “OBC” if it qualifies as “backward” based on a complex set of social, economic and educational criteria, as specified by the National Commission on Backward Classes (NCBC)1 “The OBCs comprise, by and large, the lower rungs of the Sudras who, in the past, suffered from varying degrees of ritual prohibitions applied to the a-dvijas (literally, those not twice-born) and remain till today socially and occupationally disadvantaged.”2

Do Reservations Work? The SC/ST Experience

Though much of the debate around reservations in India has focused on the OBC category, it is instructive to recognize the positive impact of reservation policies in regards to the impact on the most socially and economically disadvantaged groups in Indian society — Dalits and Adivasis (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes). SC and ST reservations have been in place since 1950 (at 15 percent and 7 percent respectively), and the results of this policy have been found to be generally positive by researchers. For instance, in a study of the impact of reservations on SC/ST access to higher education, researchers note that the overall effect has been to “both redistribute SC and ST students upward in the university quality hierarchy and attract into universities significant numbers of SC and ST students who would not otherwise pursue higher education.”1 The gaps between performance in entrance examinations of SC/ST students and general category students has also been closing, in large part due to the generational improvement of access to secondary education and preparation for highly competitive entrance examinations. Similarly SC/ST graduates from elite universities tend to obtain and excel in responsible and well-paid positions, with the gap between their performance and that of non-SC/ST graduates tending to narrow. In other words, affirmative action policies have resulted in positive trends that have benefited SC/ST communities by opening up spaces for educational and hence economic empowerment.

1. Thomas E. WeissKopf, “Impact of Reservations on Higher Education in India”

“OBCs, by profession, being small cultivators, agricultural laborers, artisans and also being engaged in weaving, fishing, construction work etc. and these occupations being common to SCs and OBCs, the status of OBCs cannot be treated as very much different from that of SCs. …OBCs constitute a majority of poor and backward population which produces a variety of goods and provides a variety of services, but on terms and conditions unfair to them.3

“In absolute size, the OBC poor outnumber SC as well as ST poor population and account for more than half the poor population in the category of (residual non-SC, non-ST) others in both the rural and the urban areas and 31.5 percent (rural) and 38.2 percent (urban) of entire poor population.”4
Specifically in terms of defining OBCs in the context of reservations, one of the key observations of the Mandal Commission was that quantifying social, educational and social levels of each and every community in India would be a logistical nightmare and would invite large-scale corruption. The commission pointed out that many empirical studies indicate that there is a strong correlation between social, educational, and economic backwardness and membership in certain lower castes. So the commission suggested that instead of evaluating all the communities, it would be more practical to consider such castes as potential candidates for being classified as OBC. Once this has been done, one can then look at these castes more closely and determine if their social, economic and educational levels are below a certain predefined threshold.

Defined thus, OBC is a dynamic notion. For instance, if a community X improves dramatically in social, economic and educational indicators, it ceases to be classified as OBC. Note that this implies that evaluation of a community’s backwardness should be done periodically to determine if it still qualifies as being OBC. For a candidate to qualify for an OBC reserved seat, it is necessary that they belong to an OBC community, but such membership in an OBC community is not a sufficient condition. The candidate would also then have to show that her family’s economic and/or educational levels are also not too high, in order to avoid the “creamy-layer” exception.

But are the OBCs really discriminated against? Don’t they already hold a significant amount political power?

The answer to the previous question should also provide an answer to this question. Since OBC communities are by definition those communities that have dramatically low social, economic, and educational levels, one can plausibly argue that their dismal state is a consequence of systemic discrimination. As for political power, yes, lower castes are in power in the states of both U.P. and Bihar, but most of the administrative machinery including the police force is under the control of upper castes.

Would a poor upper-caste person be able to avail of reservations? Why isn’t the criterion for determining who benefits from reservations purely economic?

The suggestion of using only economic criteria to address caste-based inequality is like saying that we should not address gender discrimination as an issue primarily concerning women, since men are also sometimes oppressed. While it is true that there are poor people among the upper castes too, reservations are specifically intended to address massive, systemic, historical subjugation of entire communities. Reservations are not meant as a tool for eliminating economic disparities across the board.

That said, economics do play an important factor in determining which communities are OBC and deserve reservation. As stated earlier, OBC stands for “Other Backward Classes,” and in accordance with the Mandal Commission recommendations, for a community to be classified as OBC, it must meet a complex set of social, economic and educational criteria. While this cannot ensure that every single individual who qualifies for reservation is truly “oppressed,” the procedures are designed to ensure that the bulk of the beneficiaries are socially as well as economically backward. The fact that most OBCs also happen to be lower castes is simply a reflection of how the upper castes control a disproportionate share of the nation’s resources.

Why should the son of an IAS officer benefit from reservations? In general, why should the “creamy layer”, or the well-to-do members of OBC communities get reservations?

As we pointed out in the answer to the first question, membership in a community identified as OBC is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to qualify for the OBC quota. Specifically, the National Commission of Backward Classes provides a list of persons/sections who are excluded from reservation because they constitute the “creamy layer” of the society.5 Sons/daughters of individuals who are classified as falling under the “creamy layer” cannot be considered eligible for reservation. The “creamy layer” spans various categories, including constitutional posts (president/vice president, supreme court/high court judges, etc), Class I/II officers (in Indian central and state government services), certain employees in public sector undertakings, high-ranking armed force officials, doctors, engineers and other professionals who possess a high level of income/wealth, property owners, and others whose income/wealth is above a certain level.

Mandal Commission: A Brief History

Constituted in 1978 by the Janata Party government, the Mandal Commission’s mandate was to identify sections of the population that could be classified as socially and economically disadvantaged, and recommend affirmative action measures to redress their situation. The commission utilized eleven social, educational and economic indicators to arrive at estimates of the proportion of the population under the category of OBC – Other Backward Classes — which is distinct from SC (Scheduled Castes) and ST (Scheduled Tribes), categories that roughly correspond to Dalits and Adivasis.

OBCs largely correspond to the Sudra caste in the four-fold Hindu caste system, and also include Muslims and Christians who may be considered economically and socially backward. A large and heterogeneous group, OBCs, at 52 percent, constitute the majority of the Indian population.

In 1980 the Mandal Commission recommended that 27 percent of public sector jobs and services run by the central government, as well as 27 percent seats in institutions of higher education be reserved for the OBCs. This did not apply to states like Tamil Nadu that already had in place over fifty percent reservations for OBCs.

For almost a decade after the recommendations, succeeding governments led by the Congress party did nothing about it, and it was the V.P. Singh-led government in 1990 that attempted to implement these recommendations. However this effort failed in the face of an upper-caste backlash led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its allies which used violent agitations against reservations.

The recommendations proposed by the Mandal Commission are consistent in letter and spirit with the Constitution of India, which calls for the “provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.”

In November 1992, in a landmark case, the Supreme Court upheld the implementation of Mandal recommendations for 27 percent reservations for OBCs and called on the government to proceed with implementation. The government at the time went ahead with reservations in employment but not education. The current effort by the Indian government to implement the recommendations is therefore more than a decade if not fifty years overdue.

A false charge against the Mandal Commission is that its recommendations are based solely on caste. While it is recognized that the lines of social and economic status correspond largely with the lines of caste, neither the commission nor its institutional affiliates reduced the former to the latter. In fact the National Commission for Backward Classes, instituted in 1993 after the Supreme Court’s Mandal decision of the previous year, has set up highly detailed guidelines for inclusion within the OBC category after “studying the criteria/indicators framed by the Mandal Commission and the commissions set up in the past by different state Governments and other relevant materials.” The criteria are exhaustive and include social, economic, and educational factors relevant to maintaining a current list of OBCs. The information has also been publicly available contrary to the claims made by some opponents about a lack of transparency.
What happens when a caste/ community classified as OBC advances socially, economically and educationally?

As described earlier, OBC is a dynamic notion. The evaluation of whether given communities qualify to be designated OBC is to be done periodically6 and if a community advances such that its socio-economic and educational levels are on par with state or district average, it ceases to be classified as OBC. The Supreme Court has mandated that a revision of this list needs to take place at least once every 10 years.7

As envisaged by the Mandal Commission, and as proposed to be implemented now, the policy of reservations is not the blunt instrument that it is falsely portrayed to be. It is a fine-grained program that will not result in an ever-increasing number of ‘reserved’ places at the table, but will more than likely always stay below the target threshold of 27 percent because it is designed to use overlapping measures of social and economic deprivation and fluid notions of identity and group belonging — dynamic measures that are subject to continual readjustments to minimize economic and social disparities as society changes.

Are reservations the best way to ensure better representation of socially disadvantaged groups? Are there studies showing their efficacy?

Yes, it is true that the disadvantaged should have access to high quality primary education. Yes, imaginative solutions should be found to overcome the centuries-old practice of caste-based discrimination, but none of this precludes reservation as a corrective measure.

Reservations cannot take the place of comprehensive societal changes, but they constitute a very important, necessary step in the process of compensating for centuries of discrimination. Reservations promote integration in the upper strata of society — by increasing the access of highly disadvantaged and under-represented communities to elite occupations and decision-making positions. In this manner, reservations result in greater empowerment of hitherto disadvantaged communities.

A study on the impact of three decades of reservations in higher education for the SC/ST community in India8 shows that “reservation policies at all levels of higher education both redistribute SC and ST students upward in the university quality hierarchy and attract into universities significant numbers of SC and ST students who would not otherwise pursue higher education.” This study also found that while such reservations were mostly availed of by the more well-off section of the SC/ST population, this was not surprising due to the immense challenges faced by the poorest of the poor in persisting through school in order to reach higher education. In addition, the average socio-economic status of the SC/ST students was significantly lower than that of other students, thus suggesting that reservation policy did not benefit well-off SC/ST students at the expense of less-well-off applicants from the rest of the population.

How about relying on merit to determine admissions? Is that not a neutral criterion?

Reservations or U.S.-style Affirmative Action?

India’s socio-political and constitutional drive for equality has enough superficial similarities to that of the United States that it is tempting for commentators in the media to compare and confuse the two.

In the current debate over the proposed reservations in higher education, some say that instead of “quotas,” India needs to have U.S.-style affirmative action. Although attractive, this argument has crucial flaws.

First, although India’s constitutional requirement of equal protection for all is similar to that found in the U.S. Constitution, the Constitution of India contains explicit exceptions. Where U.S. jurisprudence and social policy over the last three decades has devolved into mere equality of opportunity, India has embraced the idea of substantive equality, which requires preferential treatment to overcome the historic disadvantages suffered by groups. The Indian Supreme Court said 30 years ago in State of Kerala v. Thomas: “Equality means parity of treatment under parity of conditions. Equality of opportunity for unequals can only mean aggravation of inequality. Thus equality of opportunity can be gauged only by equality in result.”

Despite movement towards substantive equality following Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that desegregated U.S. schools, the U.S. Supreme Court changed course with Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) by rejecting arguments for using quotas to increase medical school admissions from racial minority groups. The Indian Supreme Court, on the other hand, has explicitly approved the use of quotas in multiple decisions, most importantly in its decision in Indira Sawhney vs. Union of India (1993), the so-called Mandal case.

Second, India does not rely on discrete markers such as race or gender as the U.S. does for affirmative action, but constructs compensatory policies using multiple, overlapping measures of subordination and disadvantage for entire groups. Affirmative action at best only deals with equality of opportunity for individuals.

Caste is such a potent force in India, and is embedded so deeply in the national psyche, that it is hard to get away from the fact that caste hierarchies continue to define how various forms of power, such as educational, economic and judicial, are distributed in India. Hence, even Indian-style reservations must be understood as only a way of breaking the stranglehold of upper castes on the levers of power, not as a way to bring equality.

If those who argue against reservations in India sincerely wish to see “quotas” discarded as a way to empower the historically marginalized, then they must work to put in place effective, functional institutional structures to ensure that caste hierarchies do not work to shut out entire segments of the population from access to education and jobs.
Merit is the product of socio-economic conditions and is intrinsically tied to financial advantages and social support systems enjoyed by students in communities of privilege. Given the vast and dramatic differences between students of upper and lower castes in terms of their access to good schools, tutoring facilities, financial support, and other forms of social capital, we cannot but evolve policies of compensatory preference. Relying exclusively on “merit” based assessments will have the result of favoring the status quo and shutting out students whose inherited socio-economic environments do not facilitate academic achievement in the same way as that of upper caste students, with whom they are nevertheless expected to compete.

Further, it is a false claim that students who enter universities through the reserved category are undeserving or unqualified compared to those coming through the general category. Students who make it through the reserved category still have to meet rigorous qualification criteria. Reservations only play a role in determining which subset of qualified people get access to the limited number of available seats.

It is also a little odd to assume that someone who was admitted into, say, a medical college under a reserved category and completes the requirements for his or her degree would not make a good doctor. Because degrees are granted only after students successfully fulfill all academic requirements of the program, it is hardly relevant whether someone initially gained admission through reservations or not.

Don’t caste-based reservations result in further promoting casteism?

Reservations do not enforce or promote casteism. Rather, they are an acknowledgement of its brutal reality, and attempt to provide corrective measures to compensate for the centuries of oppression faced by lower castes, and the resultant inequalities of contemporary society. Opposing caste-based reservations for the sake of “equality” is disingenuous, since this argument is in denial of the fact that caste-based inequality already exists. Very much like apartheid in South Africa, slavery in the United States and post-Civil War segregation and exploitation of blacks, the caste system not only drastically exploited Dalits and other lower caste groups, it also concentrated advantage in the three upper-caste groups. Despite accounting for only around 10 percent of the population, upper castes in India control virtually everything. Nearly sixty years after independence from British rule, upper-caste individuals continue to hold an overwhelming majority of academic, administrative and executive positions, including over 95 percent of the appellate judicial positions. The upper castes also control more than two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. Even within the upper caste groups, Brahmins, less than three percent of the population, occupy nearly all the upper rungs of federal administrative structure and most of the senior academic positions. To question this extremely lopsided distribution of power is the ethical responsibility of all Indians, but in particular that of all upper-caste Indians.

During the civil rights movement in the deep South, the white racists argued that the movement was creating schisms between blacks and whites, and that the violent reaction of whites was essentially a result of agitators from the North creating dissatisfaction among blacks who were otherwise quite happy with their situation. Protests by upper-caste Indians (who constitute less than 15 percent of Indian population) against the attempts of Indian government to make elite educational institutions accessible to people who have suffered under the millennia-old tyrannical and brutal caste system are also equally disingenuous.

Is not the government pandering to vote bank politics by announcing these reservations? Instead, would it not be better if the government worked for the national interest?

This question involves a clarification of what constitutes a democracy. A democratically elected government is necessarily accountable to the people who elected it. In so far as the OBCs constitute a sizeable portion of Indian society, reservations that are meant to ameliorate their socio-economic condition do serve the greater common good. If the accusation is that the government announced 27 percent quota for OBCs to get re-elected, then the government is guilty as accused. Of course, every elected government wants to get re-elected. That is what democratic politics is all about.

As for the national interest, this concept has mostly been used to further whatever is in the best interests of the country’s elite, and unless one defines precisely what it is supposed to mean in a more substantive way, one cannot build a reservation policy based upon it. .

We are talking about reservations for the OBCs in particular. What percentage of the Indian population is OBC?

The best estimate is about 52 percent of the population. That translates to almost 600 million people. While different surveys have shown variations (as low as 40 percent and as high as 65 percent), the Mandal Commission compiled the most comprehensive data base and estimated the OBC population as about 50 percent. The Mandal statistics have also withstood extensive scrutiny.

“Other Backward Classes” comprises mostly lower castes, a few upper-caste communities and some religious minorities (yes, socially and educationally backward segments of the Christian or Muslim communities, for example, do qualify for OBC classification). To put things in perspective, let’s look at India’s overall population distribution:

Lower Castes (Sudras): 42-44 percent (≈ 475 million)
Dalits (“SC”s): 16-18 percent (≈ 190 million)
Upper Castes: 12-14 percent (≈ 145 million)
Muslims: 12-13 percent (≈ 140 million)
Adivasis (“ST”s):7-8 percent (≈ 80 million)
Christians: 2 percent (≈ 22 million)
Sikhs: 2 percent (≈ 22 million)
Others (Jains, Parsis, Buddhists, Jews, etc.): 2 percent (≈ 22 million)

The numbers do not add up to 100 percent partly because they are best estimates, and partly because there is some overlap between various categories. Note that lower castes, Dalits and Adivasis, when taken together, number about 750 million, almost 70 percent of India’s population.

What does the Indian Constitution have to say in regard to reservations?
Reservations are constitutionally mandated in India. Article 14 requires equal protection of the laws, while Articles 15 and 16 prohibit discrimination by the state or by private persons in public accommodations and employment. These articles provide explicit exceptions to the Article 14 mandate of formal equality to allow for special measures for upliftment of backward sectors in society. Article 15 states: “Nothing in this article … shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.”

Similarly, the Ninety-Third Amendment to the Constitution of India came into force on January 20, 2006, and allows the government to make special provisions for the admission “of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens” to “educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State[.]”

Are quota-based reservations the best way to go? What about other models of positive discrimination?
Reservations are one way of ensuring that traditionally underrepresented communities get access to higher education. However, many other alternative models of positive discrimination have also been proposed such as the Yogendra Yadav and Satish Deshpande model9 or the Purushottam Aggarwal model.10 Many opponents of reservation have claimed that they are in favor of “affirmative action” and have proposed one of these alternative models as a possible solution.

The quota system and the afore-mentioned models of positive discrimination converge on many vital aspects. In the quota system, some communities are determined on the basis of socio-economic and educational parameters to be “backward” and their members (other than those excluded in the “creamy layer”) are all given the benefit of being put in a separate category (“reserved” category) where they only have to compete with other backward class members. In these other positive discrimination models, a handicap is awarded to each individual on the basis of different socio-economic, educational and gender based factors.

The main difference between the two is that the quota-system is a constitutional mandate to have a certain representation of backward classes in the institutions of higher education, while the handicap-based models of positive discrimination are not. It is possible that even with the handicap, the disparities in the forward and backward castes remain. Since the main purpose of having reservations is to ensure a certain representation of the underprivileged OBCs in the educational institutions, the handicap based models can only do the job if the handicap is adjusted so that at least 27 percent and 22.5 percent of the seats in higher education institutes are indeed occupied by OBCs and SC/STs respectively.

The other main difference is that the quota system treats the entire community as a whole (sans the creamy layer), while in the handicap based models, the unit is the individual. So, in the former case, a community as a whole is determined to be “backward” or not, on the basis of some parameters, while in the latter, individual handicaps vary from person to person even within the same community. In this respect, the handicap method allows for a greater fine-tuning of the measurement of “backwardness” but also increases the burden on each individual to show his or her qualification for a certain level of “backwardness.” We believe that the quota-based reservation model is a simpler model in administrative terms and has clearly been shown to work well in increasing the representation of SC/STs at elite institutions. We are, however, open to the suggestion that other positive discrimination models can also bring about similar or better representations of underprivileged communities in equal or lesser time.

Further Information
Here are some Web links on reservations and caste:
We find, though, that the claim by anti-reservation groups that they are only looking for better models for decreasing inequality to be quite disingenuous. If that is indeed the case, then we urge them to take a public stance in favor of positive discrimination, so that the public debate is limited only to the debate of which is the best model for doing so. On the other hand, we fear that the use of these alternative models in the discourse of groups such as Youth 4 Equality is merely to stall the discussion of any kind of positive discrimination from going forward.

Due to space restrictions, we could not present some statistical tables that provide graphic evidence of upper caste hegemony. These tables and more information on the reservation debate are available at the Friends of South Asia Web site at: www.friendsofsouthasia.org/caste/reservations

  1. Guidelines for consideration of requests for Inclusion and complaints of under inclusion in the central list of OBCs http://ncbc.nic.in/html/guideline.htm
  2. See page 44 of the United Nations Development Program’s paper, “Caste, Ethnicity and Exclusion in South Asia: The Role of Affirmative Action Policies in Building Inclusive Societies” http://hdr.undp.org/docs/publications/background_papers/2004/HDR2004_DL_Sheth.pdf
  3. See pages 20 and 23 of “Socially Disadvantaged Groups”
  4. See page 9 of “Poverty among social and economic groups in India in the nineteen nineties”
  5. Persons/Sections excluded from reservation which constitute the “creamy layer” in society
  6. Revision of the Central List (http://ncbc.nic.in/html/revisionofthe.htm)
  7. National Commission for Backward Classes - FAQ 8 - “Is there a provision for the revision of Central Lists, and if so, how is it done?” http://ncbc.nic.in/html/faq8.htm
  8. Thomas E. WeissKopf, “Impact of Reservations on Higher Education in India”
  9. “Reservation- An Alternative proposal” by Satish Deshpande, The Hindu, May 23, 2006.
  10. See http://www.purushottamagrawal.com/miraa.html


Are Reservations A Good Idea?
No, Do a Study First
The Indian government’s decision to implement an additional 27 percent caste-based reservations in higher educational institutions is not backed by facts or figures but instead motivated by caste-based vote politics, writes Manish Lohani on behalf of Bay Area Indians for Equality.

Some of the 500 Indian American protesters who gathered at the Fair Oaks Park in Sunnyvale, Calif., to protest the indian government’s decision to implement a 1980 panel recommendation to reserve 27 seats in higher educational institutions for Other Backward Classes.

The Indian government has recently decided to implement an additional 27 percent caste-based reservations in all higher educational institutions in the country. While we all have our personal opinions on whether reservation in any form is good or bad, we believe that the current policy and implementation is wrong, because it is not backed by facts or figures but instead motivated by caste-based vote politics.

Let us be clear: We believe in affirmative action. What we are saying to the Indian government is this: Show us the evidence that it has done proper study/analysis of the problem and the current policy will solve the problem. If it has not already done this study, then it should first do it and only then implement whatever is the recommendation of such an analysis.

The fact that the government does not want to study the problem before implementing it suggests that its motive is not really solving the problem but to divide people on the basis of caste. We reject caste-based politics outright and do not believe that it will help us build a casteless society. If by spending a few months on the problem, we can build a general consensus for a solution and avoid caste-based politics, it will only strengthen the social fabric and be more beneficial to the disadvantaged.

Various organizations and individuals have urged the government to justify its move and provide more transparency on this policy intervention, which is going to directly affect many people and influence the social and economic future of the country. Lack of any response from the government on the above demands has raised concerns that the policy may be motivated by personal agenda rather than national interest.

The goal of our group, Bay Area Indians for Equality, is to unite together and send a strong signal to the Indian government that in a democracy, people want more transparency in decision making. Our aim is to urge the government to justify whatever policy it comes up with, and to back it with facts and figures.

We demand that:

An expert committee be formed comprising apolitical eminent experts of repute to review the current caste-based reservation policy of the government. The objective of such a committee will be to explore various approaches to affirmative action not limited to reservations.

Till such a committee comes out with its recommendations, the implementation of the current caste-based reservation policy be put on hold.

The recommendations and analysis of such a committee be made available to public.

A lot of us are not directly affected by the current reservation policy by the government. It is precisely why we should take a stand. Being non-resident Indians, we have a unique perspective on the issue. We need to become a voice for the interest of the country since the government does not seem to be working for it.

This issue is relevant to every Indian who has any stake in the future of India. So, if you have family/social /business/cultural ties to India, this issue is relevant to you.
Specifically, this issue is relevant to you if:
  • If you are a technology entrepreneur, with a development centre in India.
  • If you are an employee of a company with an India office.
  • If you are a businessman who has family/friends in India.
  • If you are a potential/current investor.
  • If you are an alum/faculty of any educational institute that will be affected by the upcoming reservation policy.
  • If you have family/friends in India who will be directly affected by the reservation policy.

While the Indian government has set up a review committee to oversee the implementation of the current policy of 27 percent reservation for OBCs in central educational institutes, it has no intention as of now to review the policy itself.

The Supreme Court of India has asked the Indian government to justify how it arrived at the 27 percent number. This is a step in the right direction. However, it still does not question caste as a basis of reservation and does not directly question the government on whether it has done any recent study/analysis/review of the problem.

While medical students have quit their strike at the order of the Indian Supreme Court, the issue is still alive. The Indian government is planning to bring in a bill in Parliament in the monsoon session.

More information on Bay Area Indians for Equality is available at the group’s Web site at: www.bayarea4equality.org.

- Manish Lohani is a Bay Area-based professional and
a volunteer for Bay Area Indians for Equality


NEWS DIARY: May Roundup
Court Orders $1.2M Award | Indians Sweep National Geographic Bee | Sensex Free Fall | Politician’s Son Makes Recovery | Indian Wins $50,000 Top Intel Science Award | Bangla Factory Riots | Five Given Ellis Island Medals of Honor | Hybrid from Delhi | Joint Moon Venture | Two in USA Today’s Academic Team | Docs End Strike | Maoists Rally in Nepal | Left Sweeps Polls | Cloistered Scientist

Court Orders $1.2M Award
A federal judge has awarded a group of 52 Indian men more than $1.2 million after finding an oil equipment manufacturer guilty of fraud, false imprisonment and civil rights violations.

U.S. District Chief Judge Claire Eagan’s ruling May 24 described an environment of threats and intimidation, daily harassment and open hostility from management at the John Pickle Co.

“Defendants recruited Indian workers in India, brought them to the United States, housed and fed them separately from the non-Indian JPC employees, identified them as Indians and made numerous discriminatory comments about their ancestry, ethnic background, culture and country,” Eagan wrote.

The verdict came more than four years after the workers left the factory. John Pickle Co. ceased operations shortly thereafter and there was no way to reach company officials. The company has maintained its innocence.

Joseph Chakkungal, an oil refinery worker, had emptied his savings and sold his motorcycle to move to the United States. He made three 36-hour trips from his hometown to Mumbai, completed interviews with Al-Samit International, an Indian recruitment agency, and had met with John Pickle himself.

When he learned he had made the cut, he quit his $300-a-month job as a vessel fitter at an oil refinery and packed his bags.

Balaraju Salapu, a 31-year-old newlywed, bid farewell to his pregnant wife, convinced he could build a better life for his family here.

He and others say they were told they’d receive at least two years’ work with American wages, have nice apartments with a pool and gym, free food, medical care, a car for every four of them — and if they did well, a chance to bring their families here.
But nothing was to be.

The men said they were forced to work long hours for only a few dollars per day. They also accused the company of making them live in a dormitory on the factory grounds and keeping them from leaving, even when off-duty.

If divided equally, Chakkungal and Salapu and all other workers might receive more than $20,000 each.
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Indians Sweep National Geographic Bee

Bonny Jain holds up a $25,000 cafter winning the 2006 National Geographic Bee.

Three Indian American eighth graders from Illinois, New Hampshire and Georgia swept the top three places in the 2006 National Geographic Bee, held May 24 in Washington, D.C.

Twelve-year-old Bonny Jain from Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Moline, Ill., scrawled the word “Cambrian” to win a tiebreaker by answering the question: “Name the mountains that extend across much of Wales from the Irish Sea to the Bristol Channel.”

Jain won a $25,000 scholarship and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, the sponsoring organization.

Seven Indian American students figured among 55 finalists representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories. Six of the seven made it into the top 10.

Taking second place and winning a $15,000 scholarship was Neeraj S. Sirdeshmukh, 14, of Fairgrounds Middle School in Nashua, N.H.

Capturing third place and a $10,000 award was Yeshwanth R. Kandimalla, 13, of Simpson Middle School in Marietta, Ga.,

Jeopardy! game show host Alex Trebek emceed the national geography competition for students in grades four through eight.

Trebek noted that Jain’s fourth place finish in 2005 turned out to be lucky. If he had placed second or third, he would not have been allowed to compete this year, according to contest rules. “(Last year), I wanted first most, then fourth,” Jain told one reporter.
“It feels pretty cool to have gotten up to the top of the nation from second in the school,” he said.

Each of the other seven finalists in the top 10 received $500 scholarship awards. They included Suneil K. Iyer, 11, of Havencraft Elementary School in Olathe, Kansas; Krishnan V. Chandra, 13, of West Middle School in Andover, Mass; and Matthew J. Vengalil, 13, of Parcells Middle School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. Nirbhay Jain of Ottawa Hills Junior High in Toledo, Ohio.
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Sensex Free Fall

A Mumbai stockbroker watches his terminal during trading as Indian shares plunge.

A bout of panic selling triggered by a global meltdown, pushed the benchmark Sensex down by over 674 points at mid-session on the Bombay Stock Exchange May 31.

The Sensex dropped by 674.67 points to touch 10,111.96 at 1330 hrs, while the National Stock Exchange index Nifty fell by 12.40 points at 2,972.90.

Metal stocks led the downward rally, losing over 558 points, influenced by overnight weakness in base metal prices in the London Metal Exchange.

A robust 8.4 percent growth in GDP failed to have any impact on the market.

All the 30 sensex related scrips were deep in the red with ONGC, Tata Steel, Grasim Industries, TC Ltd, Housing Development Finance Corporation and Hero Honda leading the losers pack.

The downfall in the metal stocks reflected in the BSE-metal index, which was down by 7 per cent closely followed by the BSE-FMCG index down 6.49 percent.

BSE PSU index was also in the red by 5.68 per cent from its previous close of 5438.80.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the fall in stock market would not affect consumer demand, even as he attributed selling by FIIs partly to a meltdown in global meltdown.

“Our consumer demand is very huge and our growth is driven largely by domestic demand... Global markets are down and it is partly reflected on Indian markets also,” he told reporters here.
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Politician’s Son Makes Recovery
The son of a leading Indian politician killed last month is recovering in hospital after suffering from a mysterious ailment, doctors say. Rahul Mahajan was taken critically ill and an associate of his found dead from the same condition.

They were taken ill after the two ate a meal at Mahajan’s house in Delhi. Police are questioning three men who visited the house.

It has emerged that traces of drugs have been found.

Results of a post mortem on Mahajan’s companion are still awaited. Doctors said earlier that initial reports suggested both men had been food poisoned.

The incident came less than a month after Mahajan’s father, Pramod Mahajan, a former government minister, was shot dead by his own brother.
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Indian Wins $50,000 Top Intel Science Award

Madhavi Gavini flanked by Hannah Wolf (l) and Meredith MacGregor. All three got top honors at the 2006 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Indianapolis May 12.

Indian American Madhavi Gavini is among three young scientists to win one of the world’s top science and technology awards for high school students.

The Starkville, Miss., high school junior, along with Meredith MacGregor of Boulder, Colo.; and Hannah Wolf of Allentown, Pa., received a $50,000 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Scholarship May 12 by taking top honors at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2006.

They excelled among a worldwide pool of 1,482 competitors from 47 countries, regions and territories.

“It is a privilege to meet these outstanding young people and be inspired by their curiosity, enthusiasm and dedication,” said Craig Barrett, Intel chairman. “This generation of young scientists and inventors will surely find solutions to global issues and change the world for the better.”

Nearly 1,500 students from over 47 countries competed for $1 million in scholarships, grants and scientific field trips. In addition to Gavini, at least 34 Indian Americans and 2 Indo-Canadians are among award winners in 14 scientific disciplines. In addition, five students from India and one from Pakistan have also won an Intel Award this year.

Gavini, 16, discovered a novel method to destroy a common and deadly infectious bacterium — Pseudomonas aeruginosa — that causes secondary infections that often lead to death in patients with compromised immune systems, such as those with cancer, AIDS and serious burns.

The idea for the project came after she received a five-volume set of books on Indian medicinal plants from her Kerala-based grandfather M.V.K. Warrier, an ayurvedic physician, historian and editor of a ayurvedic magazine called Aryavaidya.
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Bangla Factory Riots

A riot policeman stands guard outside a garment factory set afire by workers in Dhaka.

Police and security forces have been deployed to protect garment factories in industrial areas of Bangladesh. The operation has prevented a repeat of widespread rioting which destroyed or damaged dozens of factories.

Many owners kept their businesses closed for fear of more attacks. Only about a quarter of the factories in the capital, Dhaka, were operating.

Unions say garment workers are angry over low pay and long hours.

Wages in Bangladesh’s garment factories can be as little as $20 a month.

All through the working day, the police, the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles and the Rapid Action Battalion were deployed in heavy numbers around garment factories.

The garment industry, which brings in 80 percent of Bangladesh’s exports, has been hit badly by three days of rioting in a week.

What began as a dispute over dismissals in a single factory quickly spread to engulf industrial areas. Factory owners and the government have suggested a conspiracy may be behind the violence.

Some owners have claimed that agents from rival garment-producing countries might be stirring up discontent.

Bangladesh’s industry has grown by about 20 percent since a quota system that regulated the world’s garment trade was phased out at the start of 2005.

Later, the government sacked the head of the Economic Processing Zone.

The readymade garment industry in Bangladesh employs about two million workers, mostly women. Last year, it earned about $6 billion — about 80 percent of the country’s total export income.
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Five Given Ellis Island Medals of Honor

Five Indian Americans received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor at a ceremony in New York May 13: New Age guru Deepak Chopra; Dr. Navin C. Mehta of New York; Dr. Navin Nanda, director of the Heart Station/Echocardiography Laboratories at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; Utah entrepreneur Dinesh Patel; and Niranjan Shah, chairman and CEO of the Chicago-based Globetrotters Engineering Corporation.

Awarded by the New York-based National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, Ellis Island medal winners are listed in the Congressional Record. The Ellis Island Medal of Honor is one of the highest awards to immigrants. Previous honorees include U.S. presidents, Nobel Prize winners and noted leaders of minority communities.
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Hybrid from Delhi
A hybrid car designed by students of the Delhi College of Engineering was displayed at the 18th annual Tour de Sol, or Green Car Festival, in Saratoga Spa State Park, N.Y.

The car, named Fledge, has been designed to meet the world’s need for clean vehicles and suit Indian lifestyle and driving conditions. It runs on gasoline and electricity.

It was built by seven students of the DCE — Abhinav Bhatia, Abhinav Duggal, Abhishek Agarwal, Anubhav Jain, Ashish Dudani, Nitesh Gupta and Siddharth Arora — all in the 6th semester of their bachelor’s course in mechanical engineering.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions and the mounting burden of petroleum prices on the common man has kindled a spark in the DCE students to unearth this new technology with a revolutionary drive train,” team leader Agarwal said.

The prototype was built with the assistance of carmaker Mahindra and Mahindra and funding from the Department of Science and Technology.

Power transmission in the hybrid car occurs on the engine as well as on the motor mode providing the user with an option of switching to either mode at any point of their journey, the students said in a release. It is powered by an 18BHP, 346cc engine along with a 3.5HP, 3000 rpm permanent magnet DC motor.

Fledge employs its customized drive train incorporating less complex components, making it more efficient. It has near zero emissions in urban conditions.
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Joint Moon Venture
ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair and NASA administrator Dr. Michael Griffin, signed Memoranda of Understanding at the ISRO Satellite Centre in Bangalore on inclusion of two U.S. scientific instruments on board India’s first mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1. These instruments are a mini synthetic aperture radar developed by applied physics laboratory, Johns Hopkins University and funded by NASA and Moon Mineralogy Mapper), jointly built by Brown University and Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA.

Chandrayaan-1, scheduled during 2007-2008, is India’s first unmanned scientific mission to moon. The main objective is the investigation of the distribution of various minerals and chemical elements and high-resolution three-dimensional mapping of the entire lunar surface. ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV, will launch Chandrayaan-1 into a 240 km x 24,000 km earth orbit. Subsequently, the spacecraft’s own propulsion system would be used to place it in a 100 km polar orbit around the moon.

The two U.S. instruments, Mini SAR and M3, were selected on the basis of merit out of 16 firm proposals from all over the world received in response to ISRO’s announcement of opportunity. The main objective of Mini SAR is to detect water in the permanently shadowed areas of lunar polar regions. The objective of M3 is the characterization and mapping of minerals on the lunar surface.

The inclusion of US instruments on Chandrayaan-1 has added a fillip to the Indo-US cooperation in the space arena which dates back to the very beginning of the Indian space program. More recently, the India-U.S. Conference on Space Science, Applications and Commerce held at Bangalore during in June 2004 led to the setting up of a Joint Working Group to enhance the cooperation in civil space between India and the U.S.
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Two in USA Today’s Academic Team
Two Indian American students, Shiv Gaglani (r) of Melbourne, Fla., and Anish Mehta (l) of Cincinnati, have been named in USA Today’s 2006 All-USA High School Academic First Team. Six others were included in the second team, and three more in the third team. Seven students received honorable mention.

Gaglani is a previous winner at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair and a Presidential Scholar. With a GPA of 4.0, he has been admitted by Harvard University.

Working with a Clemson professor aiming to modify inkjet printers for use in tissue engineering, he advanced a branching method that may one day be used to “print” a rudimentary blood vessel, USA Today said. That achievement earned him a second place Grand Award at the Intel science fair.

Mehta, 17, has joined the University of Pennsylvania. He spent two summers volunteering with Soteni International in Kenya, building a census database on rural children and developing programs for AIDS orphans, and also founded a Soteni Club at his school to raise awareness.

A student body vice president, Mehta was a member of the school’s Mock Trial Team and has won the best attorney award. Also, he won four gold medals and one perfect score in the National Latin Exam.

The following were named in All-USA High School Academic Second Team:
Aditya Joshi, Sheela Krishnan, Kiran Pendri, Nimish Ramanlal, Raj Ranade, Ritu Varadarajan.

The following were on the All-USA High School Academic Third Team:
Abhiram Bhashyam, Sameer Gupta, Vinayak Muralidhar.

The following won honorable mention: Nikhil Nevrekar, Sukrit Ranjan, Amulya Bhagat, Amol Jain, Anarghya Vardhana, Ameya Velingker, and Neil Parikh.
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Docs End Strike

Doctors, with their children, at a candlelight protest in Chandigarh.

Doctors and medical students protesting against a controversial affirmative action plan in India called off a strike following a Supreme Court order.

The court had said the strike was inconveniencing a large number of patients and ordered the doctors to return to work.

The doctors and medical students had been on strike for nearly three weeks.

They were protesting a plan to reserve half of state-funded professional college places for lower castes.

Those opposing the affirmative action plan say it will lead to lower standards.

The Supreme Court said the government should assure the doctors that they would face no punishment after they called off their strike.

The court also said the doctors whose services were terminated due to the strike would be recalled when they returned to work.

Earlier, the Supreme Court questioned the affirmative action proposal and asked the government to provide details within eight weeks of the rationale for the plan and how it would be implemented.

Under the new plan, the government intends to reserve nearly half of state-funded professional college places for lower caste students from 2007.

The new plan would set aside an additional 27 percent of places in educational institutions for Other Backward Classes.

Many Indians fear this would mean fewer college places and lower standards, but the move has the backing of millions of lower caste Indians and other disadvantaged groups.
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Maoists Rally in Nepal
Their fists raised in the air and clutching red flags, some 200,000 Nepalis gathered in the capital for the first Maoist rally in three years to build pressure for a constituent assembly to decide the country’s future.

Tens of thousands of people filled into a public ground in Kathmandu, many berating King Gyanendra. Chants of “Gyanendra thief, leave the country” and “Hang Gyanendra” were heard.

Weeks of violent street protests forced Gyanendra in April to give up his absolute grip on power, reinstate the parliament he disbanded in 2002 and return power to political parties.

The Maoists have held rallies outside the capital to win support since Nepal’s new multi-party government last month matched an earlier cease-fire declared by the militants.

Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the chief Maoist negotiator for talks with the government, called for the formation of an interim government that would include the rebels and organize the assembly poll, and said his group was committed to peace talks.

“Our party has come for the talks with a big sense of responsibility for the people and we are very honest and sincere to make the meeting successful,” Mahara said.

Dozens of soldiers carrying automatic rifles stood in front of the heavily guarded palace. Riot police maintained a vigil outside where hammer and sickle Maoist banners fluttered.

Thousands of posters bearing the portraits of rebel leader Prachanda had been put up in the ancient temple-studded city, but he was not scheduled to attend the meeting.

“We want to build a new Nepal,” said Chhemata Biswokarma, a 20-year-old woman who had traveled 125 miles to attend the Kathmandu rally.

Prachanda told local journalists last week in a rare interview that the rebels would abide by the people’s wishes.

“We have full confidence that 99 percent of Nepalese want a republican state,” he said. “If, however, people opt for any other system in spite of our presence in the interim government we are bound to accept the verdict.”
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Left Sweeps Polls
India’s Marxists scored two significant electoral victories, tightening their grip on power in their West Bengal bastion and defeating a Congress-led alliance in the southern state of Kerala.

The streets of Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, turned into a sea of red flags after results put the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist far ahead for a record seventh term in office. With 277 results declared, the Marxist-led alliance had garnered an unbeatable 221 seats in the 294-member state assembly, an election commission official said. The opposition won 56 seats. “It’s not my victory. Its our victory,” an elated West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told reporters outside a counting centre.
“The credit goes to the people. I thank them.” The Leftist alliance had 199 seats in the outgoing assembly.

Another Marxist leader, Shymal Chakraborty, said the results showed that allegations that the Left parties had previously rigged polls to win the elections were incorrect. “We have won because the people are with us,” he said.

In the picturesque state of Kerala, another Marxist-led alliance secured a majority to defeat the incumbent Congress-led government. The Left Democratic Front won 98 seats in the 140-member state legislative Assembly, while the Congress coalition secured only 42 seats after a three-stage election.

“We respect the people’s verdict. We will function as a responsible opposition,” Kerala’s outgoing Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said. The elections saw the rout of many prominent legislators from the Congress and its ally the Muslim League.

Meanwhile, India’s flamboyant film-star-turned politician, Jayalalitha Jayaram, saw her party routed in elections in southern Tamil Nadu state, despite offering free gold, officials said.

A coalition led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham under her bitter foe K. Karunanidhi won an absolute majority in the 234-seat state assembly. The coalition grabbed 126 of the 169 seats declared by Thursday afternoon, officials said. The 58-year-old former actress, aka the “Revolutionary Leader” to adulating supporters of her All India Dravida Munnetra Kazagham party, did not appear in public as the poll results were announced.
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Cloistered Scientist
Abdul Qadeer Khan has few visitors these days. His home, a large house in a plush district of Islamabad, is now his prison.

Khan has been confined to house arrest since his confession in February 2004 that, as the man who had helped deliver the nuclear bomb to his native Pakistan, he had gone on to transfer nuclear secrets and technology to an array of countries around the world.

One of the few people who had been allowed to visit regularly was his daughter Ayesha.

But for the past five weeks, she has been unable to enter her father’s house.

No other family members are allowed to visit.

In recent months, other friends and former associates of Dr Khan have been instructed not to talk to journalists or anyone else about him after previously being allowed to do so.

The timing for the tightening of security is mysterious.

Meanwhile, the US has been quietly but consistently pressing for greater access to Dr Khan. The US wants to talk to Dr Khan not primarily to answer the question of Pakistani government involvement but rather to see if the scientist could reveal more about his support for Iran’s nuclear program.

The US particularly wants to know whether Iran is peaceful in intent, as Tehran claims, or geared towards making nuclear weapons, as Washington argues.

But the mystery remains as to why security would be tightened at the house and visits restricted at this time.

Dr Khan himself remains isolated, his health reportedly deteriorating.

Trapped with him are the secrets regarding what exactly he did, why he did it and precisely who helped him.
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DIL Meets Design: Fundraiser for Pak Kids
A fashion show headlined DIL’s laudable effort to bring the written word to Pakistan’s underprivileged girl children, writes Ras H. Siddiqui.

(Left, top and bottom): Models display outfits by Pakistani fashion designer Hasan Shehryar Yasin.
Right: Hasan Shehryar flanked by board members of DIL.

The San Francisco Chapter of Developments in Literacy — DIL — held its annual dinner and fundraiser at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, Calif. April 30. That DIL is also the Urdu word for “heart” is not accidental here, because over the years the Pakistani American community has seen a lot of heart and soul put (into this effort by volunteers of DIL) towards raising funds to educate the very poor in our country of origin. And additionally, this is primarily an effort by women to help less fortunate, future women, because this organization has made it a point to target low female literacy rates in Pakistan and is focusing its efforts on educating girl-children in the poorest and most backward areas of the country.

It’s no secret that most of the ladies locally involved in this DIL effort are blessed with a certain degree of affluence, but just communicate with them especially before this fundraiser held every year and you will notice their dedication to the cause. So right off the bat (most of the males attending also love the cricket), we need to recognize Sara Abbasi, Lubna, Sheikh, Asma Sheikh, Saira Siddiqi (who could not be here) and Paru Desai Yusuf of the DIL San Francisco chapter for continuing this annual effort, while we men play our supporting roles (who says Pakistan males cannot follow instructions from females?) Kidding aside, this is one event of the year that the “Who’s Who” of the Pakistani-American community in the San Francisco Bay Area just cannot miss.

The program started off when emcee for the evening Dr. Javaid I. Sheikh invited Sahar Pirzada for the customary recitation from the Holy Qur’an.

Guests at the DIL fundraiser in San Jose, Calif.

Dr. Sheikh, who also happens to be a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, certainly knows a great deal about anxiety and he did not take too long in putting the 400 or so in attendance at ease. He explained the housekeeping and the agenda for the evening and said that the target was to raise $75,000 during this fundraiser of which $55,000 had already been raised. A raffle and a silent auction of special gifts were also on the cards and last but not least, the envelopes were there at each table for individual contributions. He also thanked the 40 or so volunteers, Platinum Sponsors Bhoomija and Saeed Malik and Roya and Shahid Sheikh, OPEN president Umair Khan, and all the lovely models who volunteered their time to be involved with Hassan Shehryar Yasin’s fashion show. Dr. Sheikh had a few more comments to add. “There is no better way to start nation building than to take young girls and educate them,” he said.

He gave the example of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh Muslim University model as an effort to emulate and invited DIL San Francisco’s Sara Abbasi to say a few words.

Abbasi welcomed and thanked everyone on behalf of the DIL Board. She went into an introduction into the great work that the organization has been doing in various impoverished and educationally underserved areas of Pakistan and wanted everyone to know that the girls there really want to get educated. DIL schools only go up to the 9th Grade. “The fact that these girls want to continue their education past the 9th Grade is heartening,” she said. She also shared a unique experience on a trip to Baluchistan Province. A non governmental organization working there with DIL used jeeps to travel around the area to promote female literacy, and one day found one of its jeeps and the people in it forcibly taken away by armed men. Everyone was concerned about their safety till they showed up later to tell their amazing story. It appeared that these armed men had heard that wherever this jeep visits, a girl’s school is opened, so they decided to take the jeep and the team to their own village in the hope that such a school will open there too.

Models display outfits by Pakistani fashion designer Hasan Shehryar Yasin.

Sara added that DIL was working hard this year in the areas impacted by last October’s earthquake in Pakistan. Temporary schools were being set up in areas like Manshera, and that a really ambitious effort was under way to get children back to their studies.

Dr. Sheikh came back on to the podium quoting the poet Allama Iqbal and proceeded with the showing of a moving video/DVD presentation on DIL’s School Activities. Just watching these girls who were determined to get an education was a moving experience. Imagine, if circumstances had been different, these could have been our own children! From the mountains to the plains, DIL schools are certainly making an impact (and God bless them).

Pakistani fashion designer Hasan Shehryar Yasin.

Keynote speaker Saeed Malik next addressed the gathering. Chairman and founding member of Silicon Turnkey Solutions, Malik has been described as a serial entrepreneur on occasion and has already had a number of business successes here in Silicon Valley. He is an alumnus of the University of Karachi and San Jose State University. But beyond that (as we discovered on this occasion), he can move people with both his sensitivity and eloquence. This was one of the best speeches heard at our community events for quite some time. “This is the night of DIL,” he said. He was all praise for this organization that strives to bring the written word to children who would otherwise have been deprived from reading. He spoke of love and passion, quoting from the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Lebanon’s Kahlil Gibran. But it was the picture of the slum outside of Karachi that Malik painted that was really special. “It is 8:05 a.m. in Orangi Town in Karachi, Pakistan….” He described the battle for survival there and poor children waking up. “Certainly no clothes to change,” he said. “If they live long enough, these children will find the curse of the slum. Life in the slums has very few escape hatches,” he added. But he said that miracles do happen but “you cannot win the lottery without first buying a lottery ticket. Miracles do happen to those that are ready for them.”

“Learning is wealth for the poor and an ornament for the rich,” he said. “Miracles tend to happen where there is less rather than more,” he said. Malik spoke of a girl named Gul Bahar (the Flower of the Spring). “Who says that flowers don’t grow in the slums?”

He was full of praise for the efforts being made here. “Thanks to people like you and volunteers of DIL, a miracle is happening at this very moment,” he said. “I must congratulate this organization for forging ahead.” He ended with an appeal: “Teach the child the written word. When you sleep tonight the sun will have risen in Orangi Town…”

The silent auction, raffle and fundraiser took place during and after a fine dinner catered by Mehran Restaurant (the event raised over the target $75,000) after which came the much awaited fashion show.

Fashion designer Hassan Shehryar Yasin is certainly making his mark abroad now since his impressive beginnings in Pakistan. He had for the audience this evening a wide variety of women’s clothing that the models were able to gracefully display. He said that he wanted the world to know that Pakistan was a moderate and progressive country and not the extremist place that some may think. His clothing lineup during this presentation was progressive, tasteful but not daring. Hassan is certainly media savvy, projects himself well and his HSY collection certainly speaks a great deal of his abilities.

So DIL San Francisco now has another big fundraising success to its credit. It certainly was a glamorous evening during which people had a great time and all for a wonderful cause. And for Pakistanis here, it just doesn’t get much better than this, because for the cause of education of girl children, our heart — DIL — beats as one.


Ode to Tagore, Nazrul: An Evening of Bangla Songs

Bangla music lovers, mark your calendars. On 26 August, two top exponents of Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Geeti will perform live in Berkeley, Calif. A Siliconeer report.

For Bangla-speaking music lovers, Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Geeti are two of the most popular genres of light music. And two of its most distinguished exponents, Rabindra Sangeet singer Rezwana Choudhury Bannya and Nazrul Geeti singer Khairul Anam Shakil will be presenting an evening of Bangla songs Aug. 26 at the University of California at Berkeley.

The concert is being presented by the International Institute of Bengal Basin, a Berkeley, Calif., based nonprofit which is focused on exploring ways of handling environmental challenges in the Bengal Basin, a geographic area that includes Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal.

To the rest of India, Rabindranath Tagore is a sage and author of the Indian national anthem. To Bangla-speakers, he is the affectionate paterfamilias of modern Bengali literature and culture. The appeal of Tagore, Asia’s first Nobel laureate, transcends political boundaries as Bangladeshis also sing his ode to Bengal, “Amar Sonar Bangla,” as their national anthem.

Tagore’s surpassing talent continues to enthrall Bengalis. There is virtually no area of Bangla literature and culture that did not benefit from his talent; he was a sage, essayist, novelist, an exquisite short story writer, a deeply perceptive poet, a painter, and an educator with farsighted ideas who tried to bring them to fruition at Santiniketan, his unique institution in West Bengal’s Bolpur.

Kazi Nazrul Islam was a wild tornado of talent who swept pre-partition Bengal with his youthful energy and vigor. He wrote revolutionary poetry that could get the blood of a freedom fighter boiling, and his songs inspired Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose so much that the Bengali leader loved to take him along in his rallies.

All his life Nazrul fought against fundamentalism, superstition and obscurant behavior, especially among Muslims. The October revolution in Russia in 1917 inspired Nazrul deeply, who cared passionately for the underdog. He was also outspoken against British rule, who jailed him.

What was remarkable about him was that though the son of an imam, he was equally comfortable writing Islamic songs as he was writing Hindu devotional songs.

His songs are a delightful cornucopia of rich and diverse influences: Hindustani classical influences, even the ghazal, was as welcome as traditional folk music influences.
For details of the concert, send an email to the following address: Ashfaque.swapan@gmail.com.


Taking on Insomnia: A Few Simple Steps
A few simple steps could help relieve insomnia, advises Dr. Deborah Gould, MD.

Most people have trouble sleeping from time to time. Stress from work, loss of a loved one, relationship and money problems and other worries can interfere with normal sleep. However, if you have difficulty sleeping for more than three weeks, you may have insomnia.

Insomnia is the most prevalent sleep disorder, affecting over 37 million people in the United States and over 100 million people worldwide. Symptoms of insomnia include:
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Waking too early
  • Not feeling rested even after sleep

Contributing factors to insomnia include consuming caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and medicines that keep you awake as well as stress and over stimulation prior to going to bed such as watching TV or exercising.

If you are suffering from insomnia, here are a few things you can do:

  • Establish a regular sleep routine that is the same for both weekdays and weekends. This includes: Going to bed within 1/2 hour of the same time every night, and getting up at the same time each morning.
  • Limit daytime naps to no longer than 20 minutes.
  • Reduce mental stimulation during the hour before bed.
  • Avoid family conflict or upsetting discussions within a few hours of your bedtime.
  • Make sure your sleep conditions are comfortable, quiet, and dark.
  • Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sexual intimacy — remove the TV!

People in the United States spend approximately $2.5 billion on hypnotics and sedatives to treat insomnia — but these medications will not cure insomnia.

Sleep medications can be helpful for an occasional sleepless night, but using them regularly does more harm than good. Common side effects of insomnia medications include daytime drowsiness, memory problems and difficulty driving or doing things that require you to be alert. The most serious problem is that many of these medications are addictive.

Consult your physician prior to starting any insomnia medications or herbal preparations to ensure that they will not interfere with any other medications you are currently taking. For example, patients with glaucoma, constipation or an enlarged prostate should not take over the counter antihistamine sleep medicines.

The first step to treat insomnia is to improve your sleep habits. Try implementing some of the tips listed above. Set up a daily routine to ensure that the last few hours before you go to sleep are relaxing and calming. Take the time to care for yourself and be sure to consult your doctor. It may take several weeks before you notice any improvement — but the results are well worth it!

Canards and Attacks: The Hindutva Onslaught

Activist Sandeep Pandey writes that committed volunteer groups like Asha and AID and people like himself are the target of nervous rightwing groups because the Sangh Parivar cannot answer a simple question that even committed RSS supporters are asking: Where has the money collected to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya gone?

During my last visit in October 2005 to the U.S. and Canada there was renewed propaganda against me by the rightwing Hindutva groups which have branded me as a terrorist or a Naxalite. They even tried to unsuccessfully prevent my entry into the U.S. by reporting to the airport authorities at San Francisco that I was arriving on a particular day. On my second day at two meetings at Stanford and in the Bay Area one or two people came to protest. They were shouting and distributing false information outside these events. They have even circulated an anonymous questionnaire for me over the Internet asking me to clarify my stand on certain issues. In this article I would like to examine the question as to what interest of the Hindutva groups am I hurting because of which they have to go after me in the U.S. with a blatantly malicious campaign?

Who are these people who refuse to identify themselves? The person who was distributing fliers outside the Westin Hotel event would not reveal his name or that of his organization. He kept telling me that I should dissociate myself completely from CPI(ML) because it was a group that supported armed revolution. After having told him that I did not support violence and only supported the pro-poor stands of this party, when I asked this person to come and have a dialogue with me inside the hotel he just kept repeating the accusations.
I invite my rightwing friends to prove if I have ever been involved in any violent action or have ever instigated a violent action. Just because I attend some meetings of CPI(ML) doesn’t mean that I support violence. Guilt by association is not acceptable. The reason I like to work with communist parties, even though I’m not a member of any party, is that they are among the very few parties in India which raise the issues of poor and marginalized communities, a constituency that I share with them because of my Gandhian orientation. I find that communist parties are the only ones among the mainstream parties who are not just in the game for acquiring political power by any means. They are less likely to compromise on their ideological positions. They are the ones raising issues of land reforms and fighting to get land rights to landless dalits. Sometimes these struggles get violent. I have once seen activists of CPI(ML) at the receiving end of violence in Ballia District of UP when they were taking out a procession of dalit labourers against powerful landlord castes. Communist parties are probably also the most honest ones when it comes to keeping accounts of their funds. And most importantly they are brave. In Siwan, Bihar, they are the only ones who can take on the powerful mafia don MP Shahabuddin in spite of getting into quite violent situations at times.

The activists of CPI(ML) are not cowards who prefer to remain anonymous, running slander campaigns from the safe confines of the U.S. If our rightwing friends think that they can scare people away in the name of communists they are mistaken. In India communist parties are playing a very important role and ruling two very important states. CPM is in power in West Bengal for the longest time any single party has held power anywhere in the country and the left parties clearly have an important role in the running of present UPA Government at the centre. CPM-CPI-RSP-Forward Bloc are exerting important influence on the Congress-led Government to ensure that it doesn’t compromise on the interest of common people of the country.

One allegation I face is that I support only Muslim organizations and don’t work for Hindus. In Ayodhya I have been working mainly with Hindus, some of them like Acharya Satyendra Das, the chief priest of the Ram Lalla temple (the makeshift temple at the disputed site), important sadhus and saints, to form a forum called the Ayodhya ki Awaz. This forum has played an important role in providing a platform to the common people of Ayodhya who had gotten fed up of the politics of temple construction. This forum wants all parties using the Ayodhya issue for their political gains to keep out of Ayodhya. They feel that the Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya are capable enough of solving the Babri Masjid-Ram Janam Bhumi dispute and outsiders must respect their sentiments. The politics of using religion got exposed around 2003 when people of Ayodhya started asking the question that why do Ram Sevaks/Ram Bhakts/Kar Sevaks from all over India come to Ayodhya not with construction material or equipment but with trishul in their hands? What has the instrument of Lord Shiva got to do with Ram temple construction? The politics of trishul meant to spread hatred was exposed and since then people of Ayodhya, UP and India have rejected this communal politics. I should also mention that when Ashok Singhal was distributing trishul in Sultanpur, I, along with other friends, was distributing Gita from the platform of Loktantrik Samajwadi Party and eight times more people came to our program, clearly indicating their preference for what they thought was a better symbol of Hindu religion!

This propaganda against me is there only in the U.S. and over the Internet. Along with me groups like Asha and AID are also targeted. If we carefully look at the reason it is quite clear that RSS is perturbed by the fact that it now has competitors. Since the rightwing Hindutva groups have started losing credibility, because they have not been able to account for the money and bricks collected for constructing the Ram temple in Ayodhya, their donor base is shifting to more genuine organizations involved in community development work in India. The funds raised from all over the world for temple construction in Ayodhya were never deposited in the VHP account. The temple never got built and nobody knows where all that money went. This question is being asked by committed RSS supporters. The rightwing Hindutva groups have cheated the unsuspecting middle-class Hindus who were innocent supporters of their temple movement. These middle-class Hindu families now find secular alternatives like Asha and AID more reliable. Both Asha and AID have a policy of transparency with the funds that they collect and anybody can visit their Web sites to find how much they collect and where exactly it goes. All funds and projects are up for all to see and if volunteers make a mistake, they are willing to take criticism, and make changes. These are also groups that are based on values of equality, rights, and empowerment of all. Asha, a group which I help found, has a policy of zero overheads, functions in a decentralized fashion and is completely accountable to its donors. My last trip to the U.S. and Canada was funded not from donations to Asha but by individual contributions from volunteers. Similarly my present trip is not paid for with Asha’s money. People find the spirit of volunteerism in Asha and AID quite refreshing and hence choose them over Hindutva groups which are closed groups that have traditionally been hierarchical, and non-transparent.

There was a time when in a disaster like the one at Bhuj, RSS was the first one to enter to carry out relief operations, but now AID was able to mobilize $3 million and played a more active role in tsunami relief. This is something very difficult for RSS to digest. Hence their supporters are indulging in unreasonable mud slinging. It is a well-known fact that the Hindutva movement in India was funded in a major fashion by NRI money. With the Hindutva politics in disarray at home in the aftermath of L.K. Advani’s deviation from the communal ideology, Uma Bharati’s exit from the party and unfortunate happenings in the Pramod Mahajan family, the shifting donor base of these organizations in the U.S. has become a major source for concern for them. That explains the reason why these Hindutva groups are active against somebody like me only in the U.S.

Kala Pul: Karachi, Through a Dark Lens

Karachi-born playwright Saqib Mausoof brings weapons, drugs, extremists of all hues and the partying rich together into a combustible mix in his dark, brooding rumination of a city out of control, writes Ras H. Siddiqui.
(Left, top): The promotional poster of “Kala Pul.”
(Bottom): The cast of “Kala Pul” takes a bow in front of the audience after a performance.

Every once in a while, creative writing juices flow in the English language through the Pakistani-American community here in the San Francisco Bay area producing something noteworthy. In the past couple of years, local playwright Wajahat Ali has tackled the post 9/11 impact on a Pakistani American family with his Domestic Crusaders and rattled quite a few critics and observers with that effort. Now Karachi-born actor and writer Saqib Mausoof has taken a different route with Kala Pul (Black Bridge) producing results not unlike Satyajit Ray’s Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder) to expose the impact of 9/11 in Pakistan. In this play, in a unique way the World Trade Center attacks lead to the death of one member of a family in Karachi. But that is not all or the only focus of the play presented at the Cellspace on Bryant Street in San Francisco. 9/11 plays a minor role in Kala Pul , but its impact on an already divided ethnic, religious and economic city is certainly felt distantly.

The narrator (Ali Mumtaz) introduces us to Karachi by quoting Sir Charles Napier; “One day she will be the Queen of the East,” he had said a century ago. The main character Arsalan Mirza (Brian Dean) is introduced as a hero/antihero who has not outgrown his violent past. He lives in hiding in Dubai and comes back to Karachi after consulting with the wise Parvati (Ashok Malani took over that role in the absence of Ijaz Syed). Arsalan wants to find out the truth about the killing of his brother Hamza and to avenge it. He returns to his home after 12 years and finds his grieving father Abu (Rak Pakala) who is delighted to see his son. Abu curses a political party and its leader for the mess that has been created, and calls him a traitor. “Mir Jaafar kahin ka,” says Abu. Arsalan also finds out that his sister Alia (Maheen Adamson) has become quite independent and has taken over the responsibility of running the household. His youngest brother Osman (Atif Naqvi) is exhibiting extremist religious tendencies, but what is noteworthy is that their father figure Abu, the immigrant Mohajir from India, shows little support for any extremist views. Between Abu, Alia and Osman, Arsalan gets quite a homecoming, but it is when he meets his old friend Nizam Elahi (Khurram Anees) and his wife Mona (played by Tania Ahmad) and her sister, the vivacious Zoya Kamal (superb acting job by Aaliya Dadabhoy), that things get really interesting.

There is plenty of beverage consumption during this play, but the local stuff is missing. “No desi in this house,” says Nizam, after Arsalan asks for a Murree beer. There is also a great deal of profanity in this script, along with adult innuendos, so this play can be deemed for mature audiences only.

Divorced Zoya takes an interest in Arsalan and volunteers to show him around.

Next, we are introduced to the liberal and intoxicated Karachi at a French beach party through Zoya’s ex-husband Naufil Kamal (Muder Kothari), who hits her after an argument. Zoya’s interest in Arsalan matures after he is perceived to be protecting her.

A high-energy Bollywood-style dance performance by four dancers from Dhol Rhythm pleasantly distracts the viewer next, as we get ready for the next part of the play.

We are introduced to ICEY (Sonny Harris) who runs his own “security company.” He recalls Arsalan’s past and offers to forward his request for information. We next see Arsalan sharing a beach view with Michael Lopez (Ali Mumtaz), a gay, Christian DJ who is also in the business of selling the light weaponry which Arsalan requires. They talk turtles, drugs and guns; “Some kind of revenge killing?” inquires Michael, as he completes a transaction to be delivered later with the help of Linda Perez (Rabia Razak), also known as Madame X.

Arsalan is arrested and beaten up in a lockup by a police inspector (Muder Kothari), and is saved by Suleiman Brohi (Ashok Malani) in the nick of time. Suleiman is a multi-talented individual, calls himself a trader, a Sufi mystic and self-proclaimed Karachi historian. In the mean time Arsalan’s young brother Osman is showing increased extremist tendencies (TV reports are helping him there). Arsalan and Alia (reluctantly) visit their murdered brother Hamza’s grave.

There is some inference of or discussion on the significance of Kala Pul throughout the play as the bridge that divides the lifestyle of Karachi’s rich and those less fortunate. But in this two hour play, little time is devoted to the poor side as we are to visit the Nando’s chicken fast food outlet. Alia is full of information here on how you can find anything in the world that you want in Karachi, Pakistan now. “The only thing that you cannot find here are parking and Osama (Bin Laden),” she says.

We are also introduced to journalist Rab Nawaz (Muder Kothari) who is full of information, too. He informs Arsalan that his brother was probably not murdered by the fundamentalist Lashkar. He brings up the volatile situation in Karachi, Daniel Pearl’s murder and of course America’s CIA, India’s RAW and Pakistan’s ISI. Here we also learn about Maulana Zahoor (Saqib Mausoof) who heads the Lashkar fundamentalists. Saqib Mausoof does not make just a cameo appearance playing the role of the Maulana Zahoor character here. “We don’t do drive by shootings,” he says to Arsalan absolving his organization in his brother’s murder. He also tries to recruit him for the cause. “Choose your side now,” Arsalan is told.

All the main characters have been introduced in this writing and the khichri ingredients have been identified in this play. From here on, the scenario of weapons, drugs, extremists of all hues and the partying rich come together in a volatile ending. Saqib Mausoof is not one to hold back, either in language use or content. Kala Pul comes to a wild climax where the innocence of the sea turtle’s return to the Karachi beaches is the only significant presence remaining.

It is not the purpose of a review to give away the storyline. The acting in this play was not by seasoned professionals but it was still collectively impressive. Saqib has penned a powerful mix here in Kala Pul. Those of us older viewers (who refuse to give up on the Karachi of our youth) will be disturbed by this play. But then again maybe that is the intent of the author. Kala Pul is a symbol of separation here, but it could also become a bridge of hope and understanding as well, if the people in Karachi want to resurrect “the Queen of the East” and bring the city back from the brink.

(This performance of Kala Pul was dedicated to the stateless Bihari Refugees stranded in Bangladesh for over three decades. It was sponsored by Friends of South Asia.)


The Odd Couple: Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh
A recent countrywide survey may have placed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh notches above Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi as the best suited person to lead the country, but Manmohan knows better who is boss, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (r), National Advisory Council chair Sonia Gandhi and the union Power Minister P.M. Sayeed at the launch of the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana in New Delhi in April 4. (PIB photo)

They are referred as the odd couple of Indian politics. Even as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance completed two years in office this week, the focus has been on the two individuals at the helm: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi. It is a unique instance in Indian political history that a person considered more powerful than the head of government holds the top party post.

A recent countrywide survey places Manmohan notches above Sonia as the best suited to lead the country, given his rise from a village to study at Oxford, work at the World Bank, head the federal bank of India, finance minister and now. But Manmohan knows better who is boss. Sonia owes her position to the powerful lineage of the Gandhi family and insights into Indian politics, living in the shadow of her late mother-in-law Indira Gandhi and husband Rajiv Gandhi, both former prime ministers of the country.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being seen off by cabinet colleagues before his departure for a trip to Germany and Uzbekistan in New Delhi. UPA chair Sonia Gandhi is also seen. (PIB photo)

When Sonia selected Manmohan in May 2004 to lead the country after the unexpected victory of the Congress party over the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Cassandra’s did not give the relationship too much of a chance. Yet it has endured and most say that it is stronger than ever before. It has survived the intrigue and jealousies within the Congress party with stalwarts such as Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Human Resources Minister Arjun Singh who fancied being in Manmohan’s position, once it became clear that Sonia was not interested to be in the direct line of fire, given her foreign origins (she is Italian born), which would provide quick fodder for the opposition.

Pranab has since aligned himself with Manmohan to emerge as the second most powerful minister while Arjun is said to still harbor misgivings and fancies his chances of becoming the president of the country, an honorary post, but the highest public functionary under the constitution.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Advisory Council chair Sonia Gandhi waving at a crowd before flagging off the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus in Srinagar. (PIB photo)

Indeed, the key difference lies in the personalities of Manmohan and Sonia. Sonia is conscious of her aggressive role as a mass leader rooted in the political realities of the country, where the majority is still poor and people can be influenced by caste and religious affiliations. She knows as much as the late Indira did that image counts for a lot in the country. Rural India had an unbreakable emotional bond with Indira, despite her failure to actually deliver succor to the poor from their material miseries.

On the other hand, Manmohan, a trained economist, has never won a direct election (and has no aspiration to do so after losing his only attempt) and is a gentle, diplomatic visionary who looks at India through the definitions of growth, market forces, competition, foreign investment, exchange reserves and economic prosperity. It is a process the benefits of which take time to percolate to the individual voter.

The BJP was rudely jolted in 2004 when it lost the elections on the head of an “India Shining” campaign, thought out by stalwarts such as L K Advani and the late Pramod Mahajan. Such an India exists for many, but the key point it that it does not for many more, and it is that majority that gets to decide who will be the political party in power.

Indeed, observers point that Sonia has allowed Manmohan complete freedom and trusts his judgment more than anybody else to pursue his dreams on subjects that may not impact the immediate political future of the Congress party, but will be good for the nation in the longer run. Thus Manmohan more or less has a free hand and her backing in economic reforms (though he has to constantly grapple with the Left), Indo-U.S. relations and the nuclear energy pact and Indo-Pak relations, aspects that the BJP under Atal Behari Vajpayee was also good at.

These issues go down well with the 300 million affluent and middle classes who do not want the government to become an impediment as they go about their business of making more money in a globalized environment, outsourcing opportunities and a surfeit of multinational and service sector jobs.

Sonia knows that it is the rest of the 700 million who are not yet part of this growth scenario whose aspirations have to be addressed as well, or her party faces the fate of the BJP. Sonia’s efforts have been in trying to ensure that her party’s efforts/image does not become too distant from this bigger picture. The one ramification has been the massive rural employment program that she has explained is an effort by the government to transfer resources from the rich to the needy. To meet the expenditures, the government has been looking to increase the tax base and bring under the tax net more segments within the fast growing service sector. This is seen as necessary concomitant to growth with social justice in a democracy. The government has also mooted a huge social security plan for the unemployed, farmers and peasants that will entitle them to pension, health benefits and other doles.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh handing over a copy of a report of the first year in office of the UPA government entitled “A Caring Government — One Year of the UPA Government” to National Advisory Council chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi. (PIB ohoto)

Also noteworthy, Sonia has also been very careful to cultivate and buttress her image of standing for high morals in public life, as demonstrated by her resignation and reelection to Parliament following the office-of-profit controversy recently.

The trickier aspect of this socio-economic re-engineering has been reservations for backward castes who form 50 percent of the country’s population and are key to government formation in the north Indian states generally referred to as the cow belt. The Congress has been eyeing the big state of Uttar Pradesh for a while now, as its political fortunes and seats in Parliament are linked to its performance here. Sonia’s son Rahul has made it a test case for his political initiation.

The government has, for the time being, put the issue of quotas in private sector firms in the backburner due to fierce resistance by industry, but decided to move ahead with reservations in centrally funded higher educational institutions, including prestigious medical, engineering and management colleges. Due to massive nationwide protests by higher caste students (mostly from the middle class) who see merit/their chances being sacrificed for narrow political gains, the government has decided to sugarcoat the quota pill by a commitment to proportionately increase the number of general category seats.

Political observers believed that the quota gamble was a turf war between Manmohan and Arjun, who spoke about the proposals out-of-turn. But, it has emerged that Arjun always had the blessings of Sonia. Some observers see a silver lining as quotas should result in the revamping of the education infrastructure, but many are unhappy, as they want government affirmative action on ramping up primary education, the basis of competition at an equal footing.

Using reservation as a political instrument (with an added balm of the upper caste students) could go either way for the Congress. The party could end up losing the middle votes and not win the backward castes who have strong affiliations with regional and caste-based parties. The strong constituency of middle class voters who have always backed Manmohan’s sagacity could be eroded. It could allow the BJP to spring back. Aggressive Hindutva is a ploy often used by the BJP. It worked in the 90s and boomeranged in 2004, so the party is in the throes of a dilemma. However, the BJP has its plate full with a slew of scandals and deaths, and is in no position to take on the Congress.

Sonia’s political compulsions and instinct tell her quotas are necessary to keep the majority with her (OBCs, after all, are a numerical majority). Manmohan (who was reportedly not happy with quotas initially) has quietly fallen in line, keeping their relationship on an even keel. The big question is will Sonia’s gambit pay off politically, socially, economically? Only time will tell.

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


Ghosts of Groveland: Gold Rush Country
There is much to keep you in Groveland, California, writes Al Auger. The simple atmosphere of a true Gold Country town is strong down Main Street. Anchored by the Iron Door Saloon and the Hotel Charlotte, there is a pervading sense of having gone back in time.

Built in 1852, the Iron Door is the longest operating saloon in California and is redolent of the Gold Rush era. Little has been changed, the windows and door are still the original massive iron slabs.

It was one of those truly extraordinary fall days in the foothills of Highway 120, the “Gold Rush Gateway.” On our way to Yosemite National Park, we stopped off in the rustic burg of Groveland, located on Highway 120 just 24-miles from the entrance to Yosemite, to see old friend Peter Barsotti, from our rock ’n’ roll days with Bill Graham Presents.

Peter and his late wife, Bettika, left behind them the frenetic life of rock ‘n roll producers for the Bill Graham Presents juggernaut. They settled in restoring the Iron Door Saloon, a Groveland and Gold Rush icon, to its magnificent past.

Built in 1852, the Iron Door is the longest operating saloon in California and is redolent of the Gold Rush era. Little has been changed, the windows and door are still the original massive iron slabs. Inside, the atmosphere is dark and musty. The history-laden edifice has been refurbished inside and offers full dining as well as lodgings. The weekends have been enlivened with musical entertainment from blues to rock ‘n roll and opera.

Deciding to stay the night in Groveland, we picked out the charming Hotel Charlotte across from the Iron Door. Built in 1918 by Charlotte DeFerreri, the hotel housed the workers building the Hetch Hetchy Water Project that would supply water to San Francisco.

No Mother Lode country hotel worthy of the name is complete without a resident ghost with his or her own love story. Serendipity was riding with us, being just a few days before Halloween. Our specter was a cipher, according to the manager of the delightful bed and breakfast hotel. “Well,” she advised with a suspicious twinkle in her eye, “no self-respecting old hotel could exist without its’ ghost stories. The hotel has been named for ours.”

The story of the ghostly Charlotte, she told us, “has been lost with time, but many locals have told me a number of versions they say their family has passed down from generation to generation.” Whether or not Charlotte still haunted her hotel, she dominated our conversation long into the night. My getaway companion decided — if there really was a ghost here — it was the broken-hearted Charlotte constantly searching for her lover who disappeared one night during a liaison at the hotel. “Charlotte and her lover has spent a night of splendiferous dining and lovemaking that tragic night,” my friend began. “Some time in the wee hours of the night, Charlotte was awakened by a terrible pressure on her heart. Sitting up, her fear-laden heart was beating a tattoo in her chest.

“The pillow beside her was empty, her lover was gone leaving only an indent and warmth of his body on the covers. His clothes and all his valuables were still there, but he was nowhere to be found. Charlotte’s pain and confusion so took hold of her, in a feverish moment of melancholy she slashed her wrists with the straight razor he left behind.”

Beautiful Yosemite Park is only 24 miles away from Groveland.

My companion looked at me with moist blue eyes and said, “She died alone, still longing for her lover. And now Charlotte walks the lonely hallways at night sighing his name.” At the moment, I couldn’t top that one.

Sometime around midnight I was awakened (truly) by small, “clicky” footsteps on the ceiling. “Someone could walk a bit softer at this hour,” I thought. Then it dawned on me, there was no third floor in the hotel, only the attic. And the truth — as I created it — made itself known: it was actually Charlotte’s little 4-year-old namesake daughter, who died of pneumonia in her mother’s arms. And ever since, the little girl has been haunting the attic playing with her dolls and toys that were moldering away in the dust and darkness, waiting for her mother to wrap her strong arms around her in a big hug and feel the comforting warmth of her soft bosom. “Not bad,” my friend agreed the next morning.

In the morning, we enjoyed the complimentary full buffet breakfast that offers lodgers a choice of hotcakes or waffles, choice of cold cereal or oatmeal, fresh fruit, yogurt and toast, English muffins, rolls, bagels or pastries. The dining room is open for lunch and dinner, as well.

Since 2003, new owners Lynn and Victor, have restored the ten rooms with fresh paint and wallpaper while some have had new carpets, bathroom tile and wainscoting installed. Others have new furniture including beds and dressers and all are equipped with air conditioning. The dramatic false front, shaded porch and signage has been restored to its original grandeur. Yet, points out Victor, the historical and romantic past of the hotel has been maintained throughout. It’s obvious they have treated the hotel with love and respect.

The Hetch Hetchy reservoir supplies water to San Francisco. Workers building the project were housed in Groveland’s Charlotte Hotel.

Other amenities and modernization include computer and high speed Internet access and wi-fi for those with laptops and compatible wireless modems. A well-stocked game room entertain both kids and adults.

Even though the seduction of Yosemite Valley is but 24 miles further up Highway 120, there is much to keep you in Groveland. The simple atmosphere of a true Gold Country town is strong down Main Street. Anchored by the Iron Door Saloon and the Hotel Charlotte, there is a pervading sense of having gone back in time.

There is much to be found if you’re looking for more than atmosphere. Close by is the bucolic Pine Mountain Lake Marina with a golf course, stable and airport. A little further away is Lake Don Pedro, one of California’s largest lakes. Here is the perfect stop for fishing, waterskiing, houseboating or just lazing in the sun.

Up the street from the Hotel Charlotte is a wonderful museum that illustrates the colorful past of Groveland. And for a touch of that color is the old jailhouse. There’s a ghost everywhere to be found in Groveland.

- Al Auger is a freelance writer. He lives in Redding, Calif.


Cricketmania!: World Cup Live
El Segundo, Calif.-based DIRECTV will broadcast two International Cricket Council events — the ICC Champions Trophy in October and the ICC Cricket World Cup in March 2007. A Siliconeer report.
India’s celebrated batsman Sachin Tendulkar has been through a bad patch recently. India fans fervently hope he recovers in time for the World Cup in the West Indies.

El Segundo, Calif.-based DIRECTV has reached an agreement with Global Cricket Corporation to broadcast two International Cricket Council events — the ICC Champions Trophy, to be held in India in October 2006, and the ICC Cricket World Cup, to be played in the West Indies in March 2007.

“These are the most prestigious cricket events in the world, and we are proud to offer them to DIRECTV customers for the first time ever,” said DIRECTV vice president Aaron McNally. “With these ICC events, and with exclusive rights to six of the ten test-playing ICC members as part of our CricketTicket package, we are cementing our position as the leading distributor of televised cricket content in the United States.”

“Our agreement with DIRECTV is great news for cricket in the United States of America and for the ICC,” said ICC president Ehsan Mani. “DIRECTV’s coverage means people who might not ordinarily be exposed to cricket will get the chance to watch it. And we hope the opportunity to see the world’s best players in the world’s best tournament, the ICC Cricket World Cup, will lead to a significant increase in the number of people interested in the game in the United States, a country which has tremendous potential for growth in cricketing terms.”

Ian Frykberg, managing director of GCC, said, “Global Cricket Corporation looks forward to working with DIRECTV at the ICC Champions Trophy 2006 later this year and at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 next year.”

Television rights to the two ICC events have been acquired by DIRECTV on a non-exclusive basis. DIRECTV’s acquisition of international cricket rights has been part of an effort to expand its programming services for the diverse ethnic population within the United States.

DIRECTV customers will need to use a WorldDirect services satellite dish that is capable of receiving both international and English-language programming. In some markets, customers who subscribe to a local channels package will require a second smaller dish.

DIRECTV, Inc. is the nation’s leading digital television service provider with 15.4 million customers.

The King of Ghazals: Jagjit Singh, Live in Concert
Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh seems to keep getting better with age. During a recent concert tour to California, he charmed thousands of his fans in two concerts in Sacramento and the Oakland Arena in May. He delighted admirers with perennial favorites, delivered in his inimitable mellifluous voice, as avid fans yelled out requests for their favorite songs. Here’s a photo essay by Jaspal Bhela.

Clockwise from top: Jagjit Singh in concert with his troupe at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, May 6; Jagjit Singh; Jagjit Singh receiving a proclamation from outgoing Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, Jr.; Show promoters Manu Mehta (l) and Deepak Mehta (2nd from r) with outgoing Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, Jr. (2nd from l).


Next Stop, Las Vegas: Teen Patti Winners
Online card-playing site TeenPatti.com’s first month-long free roll tournaments concluded May 31 with two winners crowned and awarded seats to play in the 2006 World Series of Poker. A Siliconeer report.
TeenPatti.com’s first month-long Free Roll Tournaments concluded May 31 when two winners were crowned and awarded seats to play in the 2006 World Series of Poker. Free Roll Tournaments are sponsored by Taj Systems, Inc., the software development company credited with designing the popular TeenPatti software.

TeenPatti.com’s first winner plays under the name Ziggy Holmes. Ziggy will be representing TeenPatti.com in Event #37 at the 2006 WSOP held at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas July 2. Ziggy’s win was the result of his consistently high finishes in a series of daily tournaments where the top 10 players were awarded points..

Taashman walked away with the biggest prize of the night, a $10,000 seat to play in the Main Event of the 2006 WSOP, when he defeated 98 other finalists in a final free roll tournament hosted by TeenPatti.com which ended at almost 1:00 a.m. Taashman will be featured on the TeenPatti.com site as he joins and plays for the TeenPatti Team in Vegas this summer.

Last year’s WSOP Main Event included a prize pool over $50 million with the first place finisher, Joseph Hachem of Australia, taking home $7.5 million. This year’s tournament is expected to draw a greater number of players making an even larger prize pool.

TeenPatti.com invites poker players across the world to join the excitement and play in a new series of free roll tournaments beginning June 1. June will produce two more big winners going to the WSOP this summer.

Properly translated, Teen Patti means three-card, and is an eastern version of poker played by generations of Indians all over the world. TeenPatti.com was launched this year to cater to the growing online gaming community who enjoy both western poker and eastern teen patti.

More information is available at www.teenpatti.com.


Bollywood Rocks
Bollywood aficionados were treated to a glamorous, star-studded concert with flamboyant performances as Rock Stars came to town at the Oakland Arena. Hunky heartthrob John Abraham entered the stage in a motorbike, as Esha Deol, Kareena Kapoor and Mallika Sherawat sizzled. Add to that Zayed Khan and Shahid Kapoor, and to top it all, the mother of all stud muffins, Salman Khan, making teenage girls and their moms swoon with ecstasy.

Though Salman faces a possible jail term in India, he got special permission to come to the U.S. to perform in a number of cities. Photo essay by Som Sharma.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
‘Gaunda Punjab’ | AAPIO Hosts Annual Dinner, Approves Officers | Bhagwati Jagran | Youth GOPIO Hosts Dance Dhamaka in Long Island, N.Y. | Gujarati Meet | 60 Years of CARE | Artist Meet in N.Y. | Protesting Kashmir Killings | Outstanding Asians | Essay Contest | Scholarship Awards

'Gaunda Punjab'
Punjabis of northern Nevada gathered in Sparks May 21, evening to celebrate the annual “Gaunda Punjab” (singing Punjab) festival, according to a press release.

This festival started with a shabad (hymn), and was full of Punjabi folk songs and dances, including bhangra and giddha. About 250 people participated in the four-hour-long festival held at the Sparks Parks and Recreation Center. The event was free and open to the public, and a traditional Punjabi meal was served, which included delicacies like shahi paneer, dal makhni, as well as a few chicken preparations.

According to Sukhdev Singh Hundal of Punjabi Cultural and Sports Club, the organizers of this annual event, the purpose behind this event is to provide a gathering place for Punjabi families in an informal atmosphere, to keep the children in touch with their Punjabi heritage, to promote Punjabi culture, and to have fun.

Bishan Singh, whose India Kabab and Curry catered the event, and whose entire family was in attendance, said that this event was very effective in infusing the Punjabi culture among children who were born to Punjabi families in the United States.

Local businessman, Babbu Dhillon, who was dancing to folk bhangra dhol (Punjabi drum) beats, said that this event brought Punjabi families together in a Punjabi atmosphere where children as well as adults had fun.

The club also organizes sports tournaments among Punjabi children and adults in the area every summer. There are about 200 Punjabi families in northern Nevada. Sikhs are in the majority, but the community also include Hindus, Muslims, and Jains.

AAPIO Hosts Annual Dinner, Approves Officers
Incoming AAPIO president Aditya Jain, MD, with California Medical Association president-elect Anmol Mahal, MD.

The Northern California chapter of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin held its annual dinner meeting in Sunol, Calif. May 20, according to a press release.

The proposed slate of officers for the year 2005-06 were unanimously approved. The are: Aditya Jain, MD, president; Karim Hussain, MD, vice president; Annu Navani, MD secretary; Aruna Chakravorty, MD, treasurer; and Kavitha Jayachandran, MD, member-at-large.

Welcoming the new executive committee, incoming president Jain said, “I look forward to a successful 2006-7, taking off from the success of the prior year, with more service to the community and more opportunities for us to come together.”

Outgoing president Samuel Oommen, MD, said “AAPIO-Northern California has had a successful year. We conducted many health fairs where we treated the public, organized health forums to educate the community, and raised more money than expected for the AAPIO charitable fund that is supporting disaster relief, health care in our community, and scholarships for local students.”

Hussain presented the treasurer’s report and introduced and thanked new life members. Encouraging others to become life members, he explained the benefits of AAPIO.

Mihir Meghani, MD, the outgoing secretary, thanked the executive committee for allowing him to serve on the executive committee.

Anmol Mahal, MD, president-elect of the California Medical Association, spoke about the AAPIO-ICC Community Health Clinic plans. AAPIO members were urged to volunteer their professional services and to financially support the clinic which would serve primarily the Indian American community and the local population.

More information on AAPIO is available at their Web site at www.aapio.org.

Bhagwati Jagran
Punjabi devotional singer Narinder Chanchal regaled a large number of devotees at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple June 3 and the Shree Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Sacramento, Calif. June 2 with hours of devotional performance that went into the wee hours.

In Sunnyvale, the Vishal Bhagwati Jagran with Narinder Chanchal and party was organized by temple authorities. In Sacramento, the Live Jaagran Darbaar with Narinder Chanchal was organized by the Sacramento Bharatiya Sabha.

Narinder Chanchal was born in a religious Punjabi family in Namak Mandi, Amritsar (Punjab - India). His mother was a devotee of Durga and eventually inspired Narinder with bhajans and aartis.

Chanchal is a poet and writer. He learnt music from Prem Trikha, a musician from Amritsar. His mother was the source of inspiration for singing bhents in the honor of the goddess.
He sang kafias of Bulle Shah before he took to the stage. Then he came in contact with the filmmaker Raj Kapoor, who was impressed with his voice. Raj Kapoor invited him to sing in his film 1970s hit Bobby.

It was an instant hit, but Chanchal has preferred devotional singing to Bollywood, and today his draws thousands to his devotional jagrans in India and abroad.

Youth GOPIO Hosts Dance Dhamaka in Long Island, N.Y.
The Youth GOPIO Committee at its launch (l-r): Sachin Taneja, Diya Wadhwa, Ankit Shah, Sahil Khurana, Rishi Chopra and Abijay Goenka. Committee members Anita Garg and Ravjot Bhasin are not shown in the photo.

Youth GOPIO, the youth arm of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, hosted “Dance Dhamaka 06” May 19 in Long Island, N.Y., and the event was attended by over 80 high school teenagers in the New York area, according to a press release from organizers.

Brooklyn Xpress and Desi Elite Sounds Inc., provided entertainment and Bollywood DJ’s. The event raised $869 at the party along with $1,596 in donations given by the following: Brooklyn Xpress, Nina Chopra, Nitu Wadhwa, Dr. Sanjeev Chopra, Alka Khurana, and a donation to match the net profit of Dhamaka-06 by Sunny Sethi.

The following committee members helped to make the event a success: Sahil Khurana, Rishi Chopra, Diya Wadhwa, Ankit Shah, Anita Garg, Abijay Goenka, Ravjot Bhasin, Sahin Taneja.

In addition to networking with high school students, Youth GOPIO’s goal is to donate funds for charitable causes like education and to help out the poor in villages in India. A global network of Indian teens is envisaged through Youth GOPIO.

“Launched in New York in 2005, the Youth GOPIO is building and informing others outside of New York,” the press release added. “All teens are invited to start chapters in different cities of the world.”

Youths interested in establishing a chapter can contact Sahil Khurana at (516) 724-1316 or write an email to youthgopio@gmail.com.

Gujarati Meet
India’s Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel will be chief guests at the first ever International Gujarati Convention, to be held in New York July 7-9, according to a press release from organizers.

“We’ve received confirmation from the Ministry of OIA and Civil Aviation that Vayalar Ravi and Praful Patel will be attending,” said Prakash Shah, chairperson of the convention. “They will be our chief guests for the 3-day event, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome them.” Other attendees include former minister Kanshiram Rana, former Gujarat chief ministers Keshubhai Patel, Suresh Mehta and Shankarsinh Vaghela, and Gujarat Health Minister Ashok Bhat.

About 2,000 Gujarati delegates from across the United States are expected to attend.

The event, organized by the newly formed Gujarati Association of North America and supported by the Federation of Indian Associations (Tri-state), Vishwa Gujarati Samaj, Gujarati Samaj of New Jersey, and other Gujarati Associations from around the U.S, will be the first of its kind, gathering people of Gujarati origin together in one U.S. location.

The convention has the primary goal of assimilating and uniting the Gujarati Community as it structures itself to facilitate the networking of Gujaratis in business, professional, cultural, social, literary, religious, and educational fields. The convention, with representatives from India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Middle East, will be hosted at the Royal Albert Palace in New Jersey.

“This convention will also put the focus on Gujarat and Gujaratis worldwide, helping to create a global bridge of understanding and cooperation between Gujaratis and other ethnic communities,” the release added. “It will further be a platform to involve the next generation in a major capacity by hosting seminars and events specifically geared towards tackling their issues.”

60 Years of CARE

Indian ambassador to the U.S. Ronen Sen recently hosted a diplomatic reception to mark the 60th anniversary celebration of CARE. CARE is the acronym for the American charitable organization Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere.

“Sixty years ago on May 11, 1946, the first CARE packages were delivered to the battered port of Le Havre, France, by a new organization, CARE,” announces the organization’s Web site. “Today one of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations, CARE works with women and families to fight poverty in 70 countries.”

The first CARE packages were U.S. Army surplus “10-in-1” food parcels intended to provide one meal for 10 soldiers. CARE obtained the surplus of packages at the end of World War II and began a service that let Americans send them for $10 to friends, families and strangers in Europe, where millions were in danger of starvation.

To a world battered by six years of war, these plain brown boxes became a symbol of hope and a sign that somewhere someone cared.

Today, CARE works to ensure education, health care, water, food, housing, income and peace in poor communities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

By 1967, the CARE packages were largely phased out in favor of on-the-ground projects aimed at reducing poverty and empowering poor people. Although CARE still responds to emergencies in impoverished countries, CARE’s mission has expanded to include working side by side with poor communities to help them break the cycle of poverty.

CARE CEO Dr. Helene D. Gayle explains: “Though the CARE package has long been replaced by a wide variety of projects, the broader mission of CARE remains true to the spirit that inspired Americans in 1946 to look beyond their own families and borders and embrace a commitment to help those in need.”

Artist Meet in N.Y.
Hindustani vocalist Rekha Surya at a “Meet the Artist” event at the Embassy of India May 15. (Kiran Jagga photo)

Light classical vocalist Rekha Surya participated at a “Meet the Artist” event May 15 hosted at the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C., according to a press release.

Surya trained under noted vocalists Begum Akhtar and Girija Devi. Originally from Lucknow, she now lives in New Delhi.

In India, she has performed in Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Dewas, Ujjain, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Indore, Vadodara, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Gwalior, Bhuj, Gandhidham, Burhanpur and Ludhiana.

In the West, she has performed in Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Madison, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Oslo and London. She recorded for the archives of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1994. She represented India at the Asian Music Festival in Sri Lanka in 1999.

Her performances have drawn appreciation in India and abroad.

“In today’s world of mediocre and diluted ghazal-singing, what a pleasure it was to hear Begum Akthar’s youngest student Rekha Surya sing ghazal in an authentic thumri-style,” wrote the Deccan Chronicle. “She has evolved her own mature style of ghazal-rendering. Her musical phrases are well-structured.....it was also heartening to hear the beautiful old forms of hori, kajri, jhoola and dadra being kept alive in her generation.”
— Deccan Chronicle

“Rekha Surya is a talent to behold.....Rarely does one find such confluence of restraint and abandon, discipline and playfulness, nerve-tingling sensuality and a near-sacred dedication to the Indian art of vocal exposition,” wrote the Baltimore Sun

Protesting Kashmir Killings
The Friends of India Society International and the Indo-American Kashmir Forum May 10 hosted a meeting at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple to condemn the massacre of 35 Kashmiri Hindus in Kashmir on April 29 and April 30 in two separate incidents, according to a press release. About 150 people attended the meeting.

Jeevan Zutshi (r), the founding member of Indo-American Kashmir Forum, urged the Indian government and the U.S. government to hold Pakistan responsible and accountable for the human rights atrocities being committed in Kashmir.

Several speakers including Niraj Baxi (l), immediate past president of National Federation of Indian America Associations, agreed that any talk of peace under the current climate of uninhibited violence by terrorist groups in Kashmir is mere rhetoric.

“These incidents are not isolated, but yet more attempts towards the ethnic cleansing of Hindus left in the Kashmir valley,” said FISI activist Gaurang Desai. “350,000 Kashmiri Hindus were forced to leave their homes in Kashmir since 1990, despite which, the relentless extermination of the remaining Hindus there continues mercilessly. Many of these displaced Hindus continue to live in deplorable conditions under poverty-level environs, despite previously living a high quality of life in their original and rightful homes.”

Outstanding Asians
The “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award” dinner ceremony will take place June 16 at the New York Hilton and Towers, organizers said in a press release. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the keynote speaker at the dinner. Leaders from a broad range of businesses and industries will attend the award dinner expected to be attended by 800 guests.

The dinner is hosted every year by the Asian American Business Development Center.
“Since its establishment in 1994, AABDC has been striving to lived up to its mission of assisting Asian American businesses to strengthen their capacities to compete in the mainstream marketplace, to expand business opportunities and to promote greater recognition of Asian American businesses’ contributions to the general economy,” the organization announces in its Web site. “Toward that end, AABDC has achieved distinction as an innovative and effective trade development organization, technical assistance provider and small business advocate by actively develops alliances and partnerships with public and private sector agencies, and creating programs for the sustainable business development of the Asian American business community.”

Essay Contest
The Connecticut chapter of the Global Association of Indian American Organizations has announced an essay contest for all high school and undergraduate students in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The topic is: “How Does Democracy Arise, Survive and Thrive?” There are two prizes for each of two age categories: Up to 18 years old; and 18 to 22 years old. The winner in each category will receive $1,000 and the runners-up will receive $500 each.

This contest is sponsored by GOPIO-CT Chapter. GOPIO is a worldwide organization dedicated to community service and working with people locally to coordinate activities of common interest nationally and on a global scale.

“The essay subject is both topical and timeless. We believe it’ll drive the younger generation to actively think about it and participate in the contest,” said Sangeeta Ahuja, president of GOPIO-CT.

The essay competition will be coordinated by a committee headed by Abhijit Nagaraj, a 2006 high school graduate. Others in the committee are college students/graduates Ankur Ahuja, Nitesh Banta, Neil Metha and Meena Sharma,

The deadline for the contest is July 10. Winners will be recognized at an awards dinner in August in Stamford, Conn.

More information is available at the GOPIO Web site: www.gopio.net

Scholarship Awards
The Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, the primary and largest national organization solely devoted to providing scholarships for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, has announced the recipients of its 2006 scholarship program and awarded $400,000 in scholarships to 200 students.

All of the scholarship recipients will be freshmen this fall and will enter an accredited college or vocational school. The recipients represent 46 of the 50 U.S. states and several of the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States, including Guam, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Scholars were selected from more than 6,000 applicants, and include students from a diverse range of Asian and Pacific Islander American communities such as Asian Indian, Bangladeshi, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Guamanian/Chamorro, Hmong, Indo Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malaysian, Maori, Marshallese, Micronesian, Native Hawaiian, Nepalese, Okinawan, Pakistani, Palauan, Polynesian, Samoan, Tahitian, Taiwanese, Thai, Tongan, Vietnamese, and Yapese. More than 70 percent of the recipients were women, and more than 40 percent of the awardees were from ethnic groups that – according to the U.S. Census Bureau – have lower college graduation rates than the overall population.

More information about APIASF is available at its Web site: www.apiasf.org.

Cutting-edge Projects | India is Key | Eyeing U.S. Graduates | Wipro Buys Enabler | iPods in India | W. Bengal IT Exports Rise | Poised for Growth | Insurance Solutions | IP Telephony Leads Growth | Accenture in Pune

Cutting-edge Projects
Computer giant IBM is ramping up operations in India with cutting-edge projects while using more low-cost, high-value local labor, reports Businessweek.

The company’s Indian workforce has gone from 9,000 to 43,000 in just two and a half years. But while low-cost labor is one of the main factors behind IBM’s speedy ramp-up, that doesn’t mean its Indian employees perform low value work. “We’re putting the highest level of skills in India,” says Larry Longseth, vice-president of server systems operations at the company’s strategic outsourcing unit.

In fact, Bangalore — India’s Silicon Valley—has become the epicenter for some of IBM’s most important projects. A global delivery center completed there last year is IBM’s most advanced outsourcing facility in the world — employing 2,000 people, equipped with the latest data center management systems, and using the most advanced business processes. Bangalore is also the site of a 14-scientist lab set up by IBM Research to pioneer technologies for automating tech services.

The staff is expected to double by the end of the year. And, most recently, the company established a software development center that creates industry-specific software modules to be used by IBM consultants to build sophisticated information systems for their clients. “The focus on Bangalore is tremendous at all levels. It’s the center of the world right now for IBM,” says Guruduth Banavar, head of the company’s Bangalore research lab.

Indians are just starting to make a mark on the strategic outsourcing business — which includes managing data centers. IBM hopes that by rapidly automating data center tasks and establishing superior service processes, it will be able to establish an insurmountable lead in this area. “We’re trying to lead the charge down that path. We think we’re the dog to chase,” says Michael Daniels, senior vice-president for IBM Global Technology Services, a $31 billion business in 2005.

India is Key
According to computer chip giant Intel CEO Paul Otellini, the Indian market will play a pivotal role in the company’s World Ahead Program, an ongoing effort to tap into the world’s developing nations.

As evidence, Otellini cites the fact that Intel plans to invest some $1 billion in research, venture capital, education and community development activities in India during the next five years. “India will play a key role in designing and developing computing technologies used worldwide,” Otellini says.

According to Otellini, only twp percent of Indians currently own a PC or have access to the Internet. To address this need, Intel plans to development a line of low-cost computers and establish a range of pay-as-you-go PC purchasing options for the region. Intel will also work with banks to promote ease of financing and help the country further develop its technology infrastructure.

“Intel’s World Ahead Program aims to speed our progress in making technology available to the next billion people, and a big part of this effort is focused within India, for India,” says Otellini. “By working with India’s business and government leaders, and developing technology locally, we want to create a sustainable environment that offers the right tools to meet the needs of local communities.”

Eyeing U.S. Graduates
Infosys Technologies is recruiting 300 new U.S. college graduates this year as part of its first large-scale effort to create a diverse workforce inside of the India-based IT company.

Infosys is headquartered in Bangalore and the company already employs over 52,000 people. Infosys has offices in Asia, North America, the Middle East and Europe. In its workforce diversification plan, the company also plans to recruit 25 U.K. college students next year.

“This represents a very important landmark in the evolution of Infosys. We firmly believe that the future success of Infosys lies in its ability to create an environment that is open to people from different nationalities and ethnicities,” N.R. Narayana Murthy, the chairman of Infosys Technologies Ltd., said in a statement. “Through the breadth of understanding and cross-cultural adaptability that can only be found in a diverse workforce, Infosys will play an even more strategic role for its clients.”

According to a statement by Infosys, over 100 U.S. college graduates will be trained at the company’s global education center in Mysore, India, this August.

Infosys said it will train these new employees in engineering for four months in a customized education program. Then, the American students will be relocated to other Infosys development centers in India for two more months before traveling back to the United States to work at the company’s U.S. offices.

Wipro Buys Enabler
India’s third-largest software services exporter, Wipro Ltd., has agreed to acquire Europe-based retail solutions provider Enabler for $52.41 million in an all-cash deal.

At the same time, Portuguese phone and Internet company Sonaecom said it had sold its Retailbox unit to Wipro for a capital gain of $29.4 million. Retailbox is the controlling shareholder of Enabler.

The buyout will help Bangalore-based Wipro strengthen its services to global retailers, said Sudip Banerjee, president for enterprise solutions at Wipro Technologies.

“The acquisition will be profit accretive with immediate effect,” he said.

Enabler has 310 staff and its turnover exceeds $38 million. Founded in 1997, the company has a presence in Italy, Germany and France amongst other European countries, according to its Web site.

Earlier, Wipro chairman Azim Premji said in Tokyo that the firm was scouring Europe and the United States for acquisitions.

Wipro has been swallowing up smaller players to help it remain ahead of average industry growth rates. Enabler is Wipro’s fifth purchase since December.

The New York Stock Exchange-listed Wipro has about $1 billion in cash on its balance sheet.

iPods in India
Indian enabling and integration company HCL Infosystems and Apple have formed a partnership to develop a market and support strategy for Apple iPods in India. As part of the partnership, HCL will provide complete sales and service support for the iPods in the country.

The company is setting up a distribution, logistics and service network to ensure availability of Apple iPods at key retail channels, including music shops, consumer electronics stores and format stores. To be launched in a phased manner, the first would cover metros and key mini-metros including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Pune. HCL will also introduce iPod accessories across its network.

HCL Infosystems offers technology solutions across multiple platforms.

W. Bengal IT Exports Rise
IT and IT enabled services exports from West Bengal have risen by 28 percent during 2005-06 at Rs. 28 billion, a senior government official said.

The state government has not fixed any target for the current year since there has been a sea change in the perception about the state and several companies were showing interest in West Bengal, principal secretary with the IT department G.D. Gautama told PTI.

The state government had earlier announced that the target for 2010 was to garner 10 percent of India’s total software exports.

He said that software giant Infosys has evinced interest in setting up a development centre in Kolkata, for which it had sought 100 acres of land. Infosys was planning to invest Rs 500 crore in the proposed project. He said that Infosys would revert to the state government within one month’s time.

Meanwhile, a total of 13 companies were putting up 13.3 million square feet of built-up space in IT parks at Salt Lake and Rajarhat. This area would be available in the next 30 months, he said.

Poised for Growth
The Tamil Nadu city of Coimbatore has the potential to become one of the largest medical transcription centers outside the U.S. due to the advantages of a large number of student population and health care knowledge available in the city, according to Suresh Nair, CEO and managing director, Spheris India Ltd, Bangalore. Nair is also president of the Indian Medical Transcription Industry Association.

The industry, which now largely depends on business from the health care institutions in the U.S., could also expect to secure greater business from the hospitals in India in the coming years as the health insurance business that drives the growth of the transcription industry is set to gain greater acceptance among the people here, he said.

He said the medical transcription industry in India currently employs around 20,000 people and compared with other activities such as call centre jobs, the attrition rate in the sector was less. The size of the business generated by the industry annually in India was estimated at $250 million which was a fraction of the global medical transcription industry’s business volume of $12 billion. In India, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi were prominent centers for the industry but now the business is seen shifting to smaller cities such as Pune, Kochi and Coimbatore. The industry is witnessing a 50 percent annual growth in the country.

He said that though the U.S. health care sector generated the largest volume of business for the industry in India, other countries such as Australia, the U.K., West Asia and Singapore offered good potential. He said more than 50 percent of the medical transcription work was done in house by hospitals in the U.S.

Insurance Solutions
i-flex Solutions, which has so far focused on offering core banking products, solutions and services for the banking industry, is now looking to increase its competencies in the insurance sphere.

Last year the company took a 73 percent stake in a Canadian property and casualty insurance solutions firm, Castek Software Inc., which has an insurance suite called (Insure)3.

After the acquisition, i-flex made a first major customer breakthrough when it won a multi-million dollar three-year deal to replace U.S.-based Tokio Marine Management’s old processes with its property insurance systems in the U.S. and across its various branches.
In India, the company has undertaken a banking and insurance deal for Canara Bank.
V Shankar, the company’s executive vice president, says that i-flex is now looking to buy a stake in companies that have product and solution expertise in areas like life insurance and reinsurance.

Explaining the business potential of the insurance industry, Shankar said, “The insurance industry is around 10 years behind in IT adoption. They have legacy mainframe systems and have complex requirements since they have many sub-verticals unlike the banking industry.”
Rather than going for a complete overhaul of the existing legacy systems, insurance companies prefer to go in for replacement in parts, said Shankar.

IP Telephony Leads Growth
India has emerged as one of the top three markets in internet protocol communications for Cisco, apart from China and Russia as a lot of ITeS and BPO industries move towards IP based next generation crore networks. “Cisco has been focusing on bringing a lot more technology solutions for customers to address various areas like security, disaster recovery, mobility and infrastructure,” said a senior vice president with Cisco Systems. According to the company sources, Cisco which has recently hived off India into a separate region, a status previously reserved for China. “We are soon going to have more executive briefing centers, rapid fulfillment depots, stock depots and customer engagement centers in India,” says Cisco official B. Ashok.

The company is also ramping up its India operations in a big way. It is investing $50 million in setting up a new campus in Bangalore, which will be ready by June 2007. This is in addition to the company’s global development centre in the city, which is one of the largest outside U.S. The company is also going to increase its headcount in India from the present 1,400 to 3,000 in the next three years, according to company sources. Presently, Cisco Systems India has an exclusive customer proof of concept lab based out of Bangalore, which is one of the seven such labs that provide live demonstrations of its various products to the customers.

Accenture in Pune
It is a monsoon bonanza for the city IT fraternity as the $15.5-billion global behemoth Accenture joined its global competitors EDS and IBM and Indian counterparts like TCS, Infosys and Wipro to set up shop in Pune. Having already established its presence in five other cities— Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai — Accenture sets shop in Pune with a 1,600-seat facility, to be fully operational by September.

“We went through 11 cities before deciding on Pune. It is definitely on the top-end of our priority list,’’ company official Rekha Menon said.

The company will initially recruit people with two or more years of experience before embarking on a campus hiring drive. ‘‘We will be recruiting aggressively across all centers and to begin with it will mainly be lateral hires. Over the coming months, we will be visiting the campuses,’’ Accenture’s head of India delivery centre Sandeep Arora said.

Currently, Accenture has close to 22,000 people (official figures state 17,500 people as on February) in India — including business process outsourcing (BPO) and consulting business — and has been “adding on an average 800 people per month.”

“Pune offers rich talent pool for technology services, it is a great city and Oxford of the East. Besides, we have been sourcing entry level people from Pune for other centers,” Arora said.

Small Package, Big Surprise: 2006 Audi A3 2.0T
The Audi A3 is a nimble, incredibly responsive car that is an absolute kick to drive, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

It has been said before, and it is worth saying again. Sometimes big surprises will arrive in small packages.

The Audi A3 is a small package — it is actually classified as a premium compact — but there is nothing small about the way it handles or its incredible acceleration.

I was actually surprised to see that the Audi had been classified as a compact. While it may not be SUV-sized, it is large enough to accommodate a family of five comfortably enough.

The A3 is available in a 2.0T model and a recently introduced 3.2 S-line with V6 engine. We test drove the 2.0T model, and within just a few minutes it quickly became apparent that the 200-horsepower FSI engine was exceptionally powerful. Freeway on-ramps are an absolute breeze — literally — as we quickly went from zero-to-something-breathtaking in mere milliseconds. All the power is because the 2.0T FSI engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled in-line four-cylinder with direct gasoline injection. It is the first engine to combine direct gasoline injection with turbocharging, according to Audi’s press materials, and when you directly inject gasoline into the cylinder, “it creates a cooler air/fuel mixture compared to manifold port-injection, which in turn allows for more efficient combustion. The final results are more power, and better fuel consumption, compared to a traditional port injection system.”

After experiencing this technology first-hand, I can only imagine what it would be like to drive the A3’s sibling that is equipped with the 250-horsepower 3.2 S-line V6 engine.

The A3 also captured the attention of Car and Driver magazine, which placed the vehicle on its “10 Best Award” list and gave it top honors in the “Best Sport Compact” category.

While those accolades will appeal to sports car enthusiasts, the A3 received another award that will appeal to parents: A “Double Best Pick” award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for its excellent performance during the IIHS’ frontal offset and side crash tests.

The 2006 A3 2.0T starts at $24,740 and has a nice list of standard equipment, including automatic climate control, keyless remote entry, one-touch power windows, cruise control, Electronic Stabilization Program, 17-inch alloy wheels, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, and a powerful sound system with 10 speakers and an in-dash CD player. The car is also equipped to receive satellite radio, if you opt for that.

The A3 has a long, impressive list of standard safety features. In addition to the Electronic Stabilization Program, they include an advanced airbag system for driver and front passenger, active front head restraints that move toward the passenger during an impact to possibly help reduce the risk of whiplash injury, chimes to remind front seat passengers to fasten their seat belts, auto door locking, anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist, FrontTrak front wheel system, seat mounted side airbags for the driver and front passenger, and an inflatable side curtain air bag.

Behind the wheel you will find the seats are firm and visibility in all directions is good. Legroom for front passengers is good, as well as for outboard rear passengers. The rear middle position shares leg and foot space with a front center console, unfortunately.

The rear cargo area is accessed by a lift gate that also includes an integrated cargo cover, for enhanced security. There is a good amount of room in the rear cargo area, certainly more than enough to haul home enough groceries for the tribe, plus all their sporting gear and school backpacks. The rear seats fold in a 60/40 configuration to add to cargo carrying options, should you need it.

About the only complaint I could lodge about the A3 are that its driver and front passenger doors require an extra bit of force to open all the way. If you’re not prepared for them as they stop opening halfway, you can bump your head or elbows trying to get out of the car.

Overall, however, we found the Audi A3 to be a nimble, incredibly responsive car that was an absolute kick to drive. Despite its peppy performance, its gas mileage isn’t all that bad, either.

The A3 might be a great choice for those who crave the “autobahn” experience while also ferrying the children about town in a super-safe car.

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


Threat, Counterthreat | Did Aamir Have the Last Laugh? | Too Hot to Handle | Malayalam Actor Oduvil Unnikrishnan Dies | 100 Seconds of Fame | Revealing Mistake . . . Or Was It? | Madhuri Calendar | Keeping it Real | Je t’aime: Saying ‘I Love You’ in French | No Show | A Terrible Rumor | Happy Actor | Pak Star Gets Mad at Planned Biopic | Manisha Replaces Karisma | Mother, Daughter | Long Way to Go

Threat, Counterthreat
Pretty girl being threatened by thugs to pay up, or else. Feels like a Bollywood B movie, but it’s all for real, if Priyanka Chopra is to be believed. Chopra says she is getting threats from former manager Prakash Jaju.

In fact, her father Ashok complained to the police that Jaju had allegedly threatened and harassed her.

Both Priyanka and her father have been receiving blank calls on landline phone and threatening phone text messages from Jaju allegedly asking them to pay Rs. 10 million, the disputed amount which he claimed is due from them, police said on the basis of the complaint.

Jaju had entered into a contract with the actress to promote her in Hindi films some years back and according to the agreement he was to get a certain percentage from her earnings, sources said.

But wait, there’s a twist in the tale. Now Jaju has turned the tables, claiming that he has received threats from underworld don Chota Shakeel, no less, over his tiff with the actress.

“I received a call from a person claiming to be Chota Shakeel this morning threatening me that I should withdraw the case against Priyanka and that I should stop talking about her to the media. I have now asked for police protection,” Jaju told PTI.

Jaju said he had plans to return to Mumbai, but had now put off his plans and would only return after he got police protection. However, police sources in Indore said so far no police protection had been given to Jaju.

“Just half an hour before I got the international call, I received a call from her father (Ashok Chopra) saying I would see a chamatkar (miracle) in half and hour. They don’t want to pay the money and that is why they are using all these tactics,” he added.

Gosh, it seems every bit as muddled as a cheesy Bollywood masala movie, doesn’t it?
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Did Aamir Have the Last Laugh?
Maybe all that hullabaloo wasn’t so bad, huh? Bollywood pundits are scratching their heads over the recent ruckus over Aamir Khan. Unless you have been in Mars, you have surely heard about Aamir’s support for those displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam.

Boy, did that raise the hackles of Gujaratis! His posters were torn, distributors refused to screen his new film Fanaa in the state, and Bharatiya Janata Party heavies merrily joined the circus.

But guess who had the last laugh? The film, despite being panned by critics, is generating huge revenues. The wily Aamir knows all too well the old adage that in show biz, any publicity is good publicity.

Amidst all this our old friend Shotgun gets into the act. Yesteryear’s villain Shatrughna Sinha has taken Aamir to task, but alas for him, there is nobody to applaud. Bollywood, led by Anil Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Shabana Azmi and many others, including trade and film associations, are solidly behind Aamir,

Meanwhile the film has taken a whopping opening and the producer is laughing all the way to the bank with record collections. Some multiplexes stood their ground and refused to screen the film because of the last-minute increased share demanded by Yash Raj Films, but many others capitulated. Now even the Gujarat exhibitors seem to be softening their stand — for much the same reason. If the film is not released here, they will lose a cool Rs. 80 million at a minimum. A multiplex owner from Gujarat now says that Aamir’s clarification had removed his anger. What he doesn’t say is the clarification had come before the film’s release, but his anger disappeared only after the blockbuster opening.
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Too Hot to Handle
Just because you got it doesn’t mean you can flaunt it. Not in a family type environment, at any rate. That’s what the cops told sexy starlet Rakhi Sawant, against whom irate members of an organization in Kolhapur, Maharashtra had made a complaint.

A case had been registered against Sawant at Shahupuri police station for “indecent behavior and gestures” during her May 18 performance for a beer brand of which she is the brand ambassador.

A day before her show for Police Kalyan Nidhi at Vishrambaugh, an organization named Purush Hakk Suraksha Samiti reportedly approached the court seeking to restrain her from performing on the ground that she indulged in “obscene and vulgar acts that were against public morality.”

Rakhi, though, is completely unapologetic. “If I am hot, is it my fault?” she asks. “People should exercise control over themselves. If one gets intoxicated after consumer beer, can we find fault with the beer? If one cannot handle himself after drink, one shouldn’t drink.”

But then, Rakhi loves to strut her stuff. She posed nude in Dipak Tijori’s Khamosh, and gave new meaning to the phrase Hot Money, which happens to be the name of her brother Rakesh’s film, when she wore a dress made of one-rupee coins. Well, maybe the feisty gal should spend more time in blasé Mumbai then priggish Kolhapur.
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Malayalam Actor Oduvil Unnikrishnan Dies
Malayalam actor Oduvil Unnikrishnan, who carved a niche for himself in Kerala cinema by etching several memorable character roles, died due to renal failure at a private hospital in Kozhikode May 27. He was 62.

His enthralling performances in Nizhal Kuthu, Devasuram, Kathapurushan and a host of other movies brought him close to the hearts of filmgoers who always watched his performances with great admiration.

After winning his maiden state award for his scintillating performance in Nizhal Kuthu, Oduvil went on to bag many other film awards.

He had also performed in recent blockblusters like Achuvinte Amma, Meesa Madhavan and Rasathanthram.

A versatile actor, Unnikrishnan had immortalized many a character on the silver screen, be it serious or humorous. He was more at ease with handling humor just like the person he was in real life.

“Malayalam cinema had not been able to fully utilize his talent,” renowned filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan said hearing the news of his death. Unnikrishnan had brilliantly portrayed the character of a hangman in Adoor’s Nizhal Kuthu.

Directors like Sathyan Anthikkad, Sibi Malayil, Hariharan and Ranjith utilized Unnikrishnan’s skills to the maximum by giving him prominent roles in their films.

Even while he was ailing and was undergoing weekly dialysis, Anthikkad made him act in his latest films Achuvinte Amma and Rasathantram, which he made memorable.

I just wanted him to assure himself that he was not ill,” Anthikkad said later.
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100 Seconds of Fame
After making waves in Japan, Tamil superstar Rajnikant’s fights in Muthu are set to entertain audiences in France, if only for 100 seconds. Oh la la!

French filmmaker Alain Chabat’s latest offering Prete Moi Ta Main (Lend Me Your Hand) features one of the fight sequences from the south Indian actor’s 1995 blockbuster.

The French movie was screened at the Cannes Film Market last month and will be released in November, Etienne Dubaille, an official in Chabat’s Paris-based Chezwam production house, told PTI via email.

Chabat, best known for his 2002 hit Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, had been on the lookout for a clip to be shown on television in his comedy when his eye fell on the martial arts sequence in the Tamil film, he said.

In Prete Moi Ta Main, the lead actress watches the 100-second sequence on a TV set and as part of the dialogue says that she’s watching “Muthu, a must-see Indian movie.”

Rajnikant’s face and his trademark action style are clearly visible in the clip, Dubaille said, adding that permission was obtained to use the footage from Chennai-based Kavithalaya production house.

In 1998, Muthu hogged the limelight in Japan where it was released as Dancing Maharaja. The film did well at the box office and gained Rajnikant a cult following in Japan. News of his debut in France is likely to please the Tamil star, currently shooting in Spain for Sivaji.

According to Dubaille, Prete Moi Ta Main may be released in India if local distributors show interest.
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Revealing Mistake . . . Or Was It?
All of Bollywood is tut-tutting at sex kitten Negar Khan’s latest wardrobe malfunction, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes there was anything spontaneous about it.

She was recently at the Cannes Film Festival (Huh! What on earth was she doing there? Who does she think she is? Ingrid Bergman?) and as she blew a kiss at the audience, guess what popped out of her gown? Well, here’s a clue: It wasn’t her hand (wink, wink)!

Negar says it was just a wardrobe malfunction, but nobody is buying it including her (ex?) husband Sahil Khan.

Our heart goes out to poor Sahil. I mean, how can it keep happening again and again? Last year in Norway, Negar’s top simply fell off during a walk down the ramp, and now this.
In any case, Sahil said that he is no judge to comment on her, but then he also believes that in the end it’s only a person’s talent that counts.

Really? Now if that’s true, then poor Negar has a lot to worry about.
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Madhuri Calendar
You gotta admit it, it takes all sorts. A die-hard fan of former Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit has brought out a calendar with the year beginning from the star’s date of birth.

Pappu Sardar, the owner of a small eatery at Sakchi near Jamshedpur in Bihar, said, “It was my dream to bring out a calendar which begins from May 15, which is Madhuri’s birthday.

“I had been trying for the past five years and even visited many printers in several parts of the country to get a calendar beginning from May 15, but no one agreed to print such a calendar.”

Sardar finally convinced a printer in a northern state to print the calendar beginning with a holiday on account of Madhuri’s birthday.

“My dream has been fulfilled after five years,” a cheerful Sardar, who released the calendar May 15, told PTI.

Sardar added, “I have chosen Madhuri’s birthday, May 15, to be marked as ‘Bollywood Day’ and appealed to the government to declare it a holiday to appreciate the outstanding contribution of Bollywood to the growth of the country’s economy.

“I am not asking anyone to follow this calendar, but my financial year will definitely begin from May 15 and end on May 14 next year,” he claimed.

Sardar had been celebrating Madhuri’s birthday in a grand manner since 1996.
Like we said, it takes all sorts.
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Keeping it Real
Bollywood, when you think about it, can be a strange place, where reel life can come too close to reality for comfort. We all remember Silsila where Big B and Rekha’s on-screen romance created a special buzz given the juicy rumors making the rounds of Big B’s extramarital affair with the sultry Southern star.

Vikram Bhatt’s Ankahee also has a disconcerting dose of reality in it. The film isn’t doing to well in the box office, but word has it that it’s based substantially on the filmmaker’s affair with Sushmita Sen that led to an estrangement with his wife and daughter.

Apparently, the film’s manic-depressive Miss World (Esha Deol) with its insecurity and tantrums is not all that fictional, according to Mahesh Bhatt. He recalls an outdoor shoot abroad for Sushmita’s debut film Dastak (which is when the affair began) when she had a problem with Vikram and stomped off in the dark to an unknown place, leaving the unit frantic. Sushmita’s rapid change of boyfriends also reflects her insecurity.

In addition, Ameesha Patel, who plays the wronged wife, says that she modeled her own performance on her grandmother Sushila Patel-Gokhale, a peppy 86, who lives alone in Pune just the way the film’s wife does in the film. “Vikram put those moments in the film after interacting with my grandmother, who has been living independently after being divorced from her grandfather, eminent counsel Rajni Patel.

“I was shocked when Bakul wanted to marry my grandfather. To date, I do not acknowledge Bakul as a part of our family,” Ameesha told Mumbai Mirror. “I admire the way my grand-mom stood by her principles, did not compromise, and gave up a life of luxury. Besides, hers was not an easy decision to take 30 years ago.”

Wow. With stuff like that happening in real life, is it any wonder that filmmakers have been borrowing heavily to perk up their scripts?
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Je t’aime: Saying ‘I Love You’ in French
Bollywood hunk Milind Soman’s days as a bachelor may finally be over, a little bird tells us. So who is the lucky gal? Not some Mumbai starlet. She is from the most romantic of cities — Paris.

Milind met Mylene Jampanoi while working on the Indo-German-French film Valley of Flowers that is currently in post-production. Mylene is the leading lady in the film.

Says Milind, “Mylene is a half-French, half-Chinese actress. The film was shot in Ladakh and Japan. My co-star in this film, besides Mylene, is Naseeruddin Shah.”

While he says he is hopeful that his relationship with the French actress will end at the altar, the romance is now a “remote control” one, he sighs. Mylene is in another part of the globe, and poor Milind is going through the pangs of separation that the old Sanskrit poet Kalidasa wrote about in Meghdoot. Be that as it may, he says he has at last discovered his soul mate in Mylene.

Milind currently has two films ready for release. They are Parvati Rajagopalan’s Phir Zindagi in which he has been teamed with Gul Panag and Papa Let’s Go in which he stars opposite Rajeshwari.

Phir Zindagi, which is also produced by Milind, also stars Anuj Sawhney, last seen in Nayee Padosan and Fun2sh, and Waheeda Rehman.

Says Milind, “Earlier I had produced Rules — Pyar Ka Super Hit Formula in which we introduced Meera Vasudevan. I decided to produce Phir Zindagi because I was impressed with its very innovative love story which deals with a young girl who wants to kill herself. But in the process, she is able to succeed in rediscovering life and herself.”
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No Show
When Bollywood starlet Neha Dhupia she ain’t gonna show her stuff on screen, she is dead serious. As in turning down offers. Several of them, actually.

Bollywood being Bollywood, this has people talking.

Neha says it’s simply sound judgement. “I am looking at working with those makers only whom I can count upon for being aesthetic in their depiction of roles. I have realized that even the slightest of exposure, if not portrayed aesthetically, can send the wrong signals,” she set. “I don’t think anyone should have a problem with that.”

Her about-to-be-released films and her forthcoming films are a result of this policy decision. “It is a transition that I have achieved over a period of time starting with Kyaa Kool Hai Hum followed by Siskiyaan, Garam Masala and now Chup Chup Ke , releasing soon,” she added.

Just because she isn’t going to show skin doesn’t mean she is going to quit looking attractive and glamorous.

“It is the need of the hour and you can’t afford not to be glamorous in this age. There’s a new word called ‘hot’ that has been coined by the industry and any actress worth her substance has to qualify for this word. I don’t intend to do otherwise.”
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A Terrible Rumor
Last month, out of nowhere, rumors started making the rounds that Aishwarya Rai had a car accident in Germany and died because of a severe head injury. Fans and the media went into a tizzy.

The reality, as we all know by now, is that Ash is doing just fine.

“I don’t know who is spreading these false rumors,” says Hari Singh, the actress’ business manager. “I have got several calls from national as well as international media about this but let me clarify that Aishwarya Rai is fine.” 

“At present, she is shooting for Mani Ratnam’s Guru in Chennai,” he adds.

After her visit to the Cannes film festival, Ash flew back to Mumbai in May to attend her mother’s birthday. Then she left for Chennai where she will be shooting for a month.

It may be recalled that about a decade ago, there were strong rumors that Shah Rukh Khan had been shot dead in Dubai.

“Why is such irresponsible news spread?” Singh wonders. ”It is really shocking and disappointing.”
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Happy Actor
You gotta feel glad for the guy. Akshaye Khanna, who charmed fans as a suave investigative officer oozing a brooding sensuality in 36 China Town, is delighted with the success of the film.

“I am very pleased with the performance and the stylish look in the film,” he said. “The opening has been great and I am also happy with the reviews and the positive response. I am definitely celebrating.”

Akshaye drew the maximum applause and appreciation for his look in 36 China Town, which seems to be an extension what he is like in real life — very British, cultured and understated.

After 36 China Town, he is gearing up for Ratan Jain’s Aap Ki Khatir where he will flaunt a flamboyant look. It seems that he is gradually becoming a style icon with signature colors like red, black and blue.

“Akshaye is one of the most talented stars and has got the most handsome face in the industry. He has got a very stylized and flamboyant look in Aap Ki Khatir,” said Jain.
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Pak Star Gets Mad at Planned Biopic
Pakistani film star Meera is in the news again. This time she is maha gussa because somebody is apparently doing a film on her. In fact, she is ready to take legal action against director Param Gill, who is making Rockin’ Meera, a film based on her life with Nauheed Cyrusi in the lead role.

Rockin’ Meera, huh? Now with a name like that, you can’t blame the Pakistani lass for getting livid.

“Initially we thought the name of the film being the same as the actress was coincidental. But with reports about the film having similarities to her real life, we became skeptical. If there are any sequences in the film which resemble Meera’s life then the makers will have to take permission for the same,” Meera’s publicist and spokesperson Dale Bhagwagar told the IANS news service.

Well, Meera is rockin’ all right. Bhagwagar has filed a complaint on her behalf with the Association of Motion Pictures and Television Program Producers.

He has requested the authorities to look into the matter and arrange for a special show for Meera before permitting public screening.

“Meera is in Pakistan right now and is expected to return to Mumbai in the first week of July. If the news is true, she will take legal recourse,” he added.

Rockin’ Meera stars a host of Indian and U.S. actors, including Sonu Sood, U.S.-based rapper Terrance Quaites, Debra Wilson, Fatso Fasano, Nicole Cherie Saletta, Sayaji Shinde and Sachin Khedekar.

Earlier, the film found itself in trouble when a unit member misbehaved with actress Nandana Sen, who walked out of the film.
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Manisha Replaces Karisma
Nepali beauty Manisha Koirala has replaced Karisma Kapoor for a performance at the Bollywood Awards night to be held in Trinidad.

This would be the first star-studded Bollywood event in the West Indies in seven years since Shah Rukh Khan performed there. Awards in various categories will be presented by a who’s who of the West Indies.

Karisma opted out of the show due to jaundice. She regrets that she will miss the opportunity to perform at the Caribbean islands.

Apart from Manisha, Akshay Kumar, Urmila Matondkar, Dino Morea, Gulshan Grover, Alisha Chinoy, Sukhwinder Singh and Kunal Ganjawala will perform to live music. Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat Aman will be honored for their outstanding contributions to Indian cinema.

The entire event will be presented by Tony Maharaj and has been organized by Chunky Panday’s company, AIM India.
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Mother, Daughter
Bollywood star Esha Deol is all set to share screen space with her mother Hema Malini in an untitled film to be produced by Pritish Nandy Communications Ltd.

“We are bringing Hema and Esha together in a film that will be made by the end of this year,” Pritish Nandy told IANS news agency.

Ankahee is Esha’s recent release. Remember Hema’s unforgettable montage in Tere Mere Sapne of weeping into a half-open refrigerator after she comes to know that the man she loves is married?

In Ankahee, the role of a hyper-agitated actress who has an affair with her married physician is inspired by Vijay Anand’s 1971 semi-classic Tere Mere Sapne where Dev Anand played a married doctor who has an affair with an actress.

Interestingly Tere Mere Sapne was inspired by A.J. Cronin’s novel “The Citadel.”

In Tere Mere... Mumtaz and Hema Malini played the wife and the actress’ role respectively. After 35 years, Esha steps into her mother’s role in Bhatt’s film.

“I am not denying the similarities between our film Ankahee and Tere Mere Sapne. That was a wonderful film and a lot of people have noticed the similarities between Hema’s role and Esha’s role,” said Nandi.
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Long Way to Go
For all the reports and the excitement about the Indian contingent’s huge presence of business savvy traders, exporters and producers at the Cannes film fest, industry observers feel that India has a long way to go before it registers its presence in Cannes. Overseas distributor Nittin Keni, who has been a regular at Cannes during his tenure at the National Film Development Corporation and thereafter, is not part of the revelry this year. He feels that the real Indian presence will be reflected only when a film is screened in one of the main sections, which could be either the competitive section, the director’s cut or the critic’s section. Says Keni, “I have been to Cannes more than 20 times during my tenure in NFDC and though it is true that Indian producers are trying to register a presence on the international circuit, the real Indian presence will be reflected only when a film is entered in one of the mainstream sections of the festival.”

The film market screening, according to him, is more at the behest of the buyers, who have to be persuaded into watching a film. The statistics indicate that there are 2,000 films that are entered into the film market every year, when producers seek international buyers for their films. However he points out that the Confederation of Indian Industries has taken a keen initiative by putting up its stall at the fest for the last three years.

The only film that has really got its due at the festival, according to him, is the Aishwarya Rai starrer Provoked. “The film had the distinct advantage of a special screening and definitely made a presence at the festival, something that only a few notable films can afford,” Keni said.

Keni was among the privileged few who caught a glimpse of the film in Chennai when he met the producers to negotiate the overseas rights of the film. “Music director A.R. Rahman was recording the background score for the film at that time and my first observation was that it was Aishwarya Rai’s best performance to date. I was convinced from that very point of time that the film would make its mark on the international scene, which it certainly seems to have started making,” he says.
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The Masterpiece That Wasn't: FANAA

Yash Raj Films’
Produced by: Aditya Chopra
Dialogues and direction: Kunal Kohli
Music: Jatin-Lalit
Starring: Rishi Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Kajol, Master Ali Haji, Sharat Saxena, Jaspal Bhatti, Vrajesh Hirjee, Shruti Seth, Tabu and Kirron Kher

We present a critique of this film with some trepidation, because these days it’s no fun being a film critic. Take the case of The Da Vinci Code. Critics were pretty unanimous that the film sucked, but movie goers said: “A pox on the critics!” and merrily flocked in droves to watch the film.

Fanaa has had a similar fate in some respects; critics have been often lukewarm, but the film has drawn stupendous openings and producers are chuckling at the expense of film critics who, truth be told, must be feeling more than a little sheepish.
Like The Da Vinci Code, Fanaa benefited from a surfeit of hype, a whole chunk of it quite extraneous.

Aamir got in hot water with Gujaratis who are hypersensitive about any criticism of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam. He has refused to back down despite the irate Gujaratis refusing to screen his film in the state. It’s been at best a Pyrrhic victory for the protesting cinemas in Gujarat, because while Yash Raj Films may have lost an estimated Rs. 20 million, Gujarati cinemas lost a whopping Rs. 80 million.

But we digress. Let’s return to the film. Criticism aside, producer Aditya Chopra deserves a special pat in the back for giving Bollywood a big hit. Honestly, it couldn’t come a moment too soon.

Filmmaking is an expensive business, and hits in Bollywood have recently been few and far between. Fanaa has brought a smile on many faces.

That said, was the film any good? Well, that depends on what your expectations are. By film festival circuit standards, the film had its flaws, but it nevertheless did what Bollywood at its best can do very well indeed: it told an emotional story with skill and even grace, and mercifully avoided some of the bigger pitfalls that many Bollywood filmmakers are wont to make.

In a word, it is a reasonably well made film, even if director Kunal Kohli tries to pass off Poland as Kashmir. (What’s scary is he nearly succeeds!)

Well, let’s get to the story first. Zooni Ali Beg (Kajol) is a Kashmiri girl loved dearly by her parents (Kirron Kher and Rishi Kapoor). She is blind. She seeks to experience the wider world with a few tentative steps. So she sets out of the sheltered confines of her home, and goes out on a trip to the Indian capital with a dance troupe.

Here she runs into the brash and flirtatious Rehaan (Aamir Khan), a tourist guide. Now subtlety has never been Bollywood’s strongest suits, and the way they meet is in typical melodramatic Bollywood fashion. Gleeful repartee and exchange of poetic dialogues ensues. Rehaan woos Zooni, but Zooni isn’t keen at first.

But this is a Bollywood film, after all, so it takes one rainy session and Rehaan and Zooni fall in love.

Now comes all the drama. Zooni, by some miracle, regains her sight. Yeah, that sounds so ’70s, like an old Seeta Aur Geeta trick.

While Zooni and Rehaan are in love, and the two even contemplate marriage, that isn’t possible.

Because for all his happy go lucky joie de vivre, Rehaan has a dark side. He is a mastermind terrorist fighting for the independence of Kashmir. He ends up moving out of Zooni’s life. Meanwhile, because of certain events, Zooni ends up believing Rehaan has died, and holds herself responsible for his death.

Seven years pass. (Sounds familiar, huh? Bollywood, it turns out, can’t keep away from the same old bag of narrative tricks).

Rehaan is now on the run as he races against time to deliver a nuclear trigger to his chief, his grandfather (Ahmad Khan). He is wounded by the Indian Army pretty badly, but he manages to escape and reaches a secluded mountain. And what do you know — turns out the villa is occupied by Zooni, her now-widowed father and – guess what? – a six-year-old kid whom she has named Rehaan. Are you thinking what I am thinking? Get your mind out of the gutter! (You guessed right, by the way.)

Zooni and her father nurse the soldier (Rehaan) back to health. He seems vaguely familiar. Rehaan now realizes what has happened, and tries to avoid emotional contact. But that is easier said than done, and the two, Zooni and Rehaan, seem destined to reach a shattering denouement.

That, in a nutshell, is the story. And it has to be said it has its strong points.

It is the romantic, first half of the film that is the most affecting, and not only Aamir but Kajol shows an amazing ability to tug the viewer’s heartstrings.

Kajol, back from a five-year-long hiatus, is a revelation. Some stars captivate with looks, some with acting skills, for Kajol, it is sheer presence.

Gracious and attractive though she is, she isn’t someone blessed with surpassing beauty. Nor is it simply her considerable acting skills that is her strongest suit. She has that magic ability, seen very rarely in actors, to captivate just with her presence. In her earlier films it was a vivacious, tomboyish effervescent persona that charmed the pants off millions of Bollywood buffs. Here she is more sensitive, restrained and sensuous, and manages to create a magic that stars can only dream of.

Aamir Khan and the much underrated Rishi Kapoor are superb as expected, but pity poor Lara Dutta and Shiny Ahuja: You could easily miss either one of them if you needed to go to the restroom: What on earth were they thinking when they accepted such inconsequential roles?

At the end, the film does not quite live up to its promise. The film ends up being an uneasy — and unwieldy — mix of a romance and a terrorist action film, and the filmmaker fails to mesh the two very disparate angles. The film works best as a romance, particularly in the first half, and Kajol and Aamir together create some magical moments as they portray a blossoming romance.

The many joys and mini-heartbreaks of love is shown with great spontaneity and freshness, and thanks to Bollywood’s two most formidable performers — Kajol and Aamir — the film soars in the first half.

Unfortunately things start to go downhill in the second half, precisely the time when the film needs to pick up momentum.

Aamir, one of the shrewdest operators in Bollywood, realizes this, and he goes into a sort of automatic pilot. He is still pretty darn good — but his performance in this film lacks the sustained, inspired passion that he had brought in, say, Lagaan. The climax of the film is so tepid that it ends up challenging even poor Kajol.

That said, there are things about this film that are worthy of praise. Ravi Chandran’s cinematography, particularly of Polish locales, is nothing short of breathtaking, and Nitish Roy’s art direction is magnificent, too. The songs aren’t half bad either.

Although the film does not scale the lofty heights we would like to, there is a lot to be happy about; and at the end of the day, we prefer to see the glass half full, not half empty. There is no question that Bollywood has the basic skills well in place, and there isn’t a dearth of talent. What it now needs is commitment, vision, and sometimes, just a dash of common sense can make all the difference between a good and a great film.

Either, any day, is infinitely better than the dreadful parade of sorry potboilers that still continue to come out, to our deep embarrassment.


Faltering Script, Disappointing Film: Pudupettai

Director: Selvaraghavan
Cast: Dhanush, Sneha, Sonia Agarwal, Azhagam Perumal, Prithwiraj, Bala Singh
Genre: Action

The story centers on Kokki Kumar who runs away from home fearing for his life after he witnesses his father killing his mother. Begging on the streets, famished and exhausted, Kumar joins the gang of local thug Anbu as one of his henchmen. Diffident at first in the way of violence, Kumar soon takes to it with ease, and from then on his is a fast rise in the hierarchy of crime, till he takes over the mantle from Anbu after killing him.

The scripting and narration till this point is riveting, fast paced, with Selvaraghavan re-establishing his credentials as an engaging story teller. Dhanush puts his heart and soul into his performance, making believable the transition of Kumar from a timid youth to a remorseless killer. 

But it’s from here that the script falters and takes a nose dive, as it loses focus and fails to maintain the pace. The main problem is that there being not much evolution in the character of Kumar. The narration takes a totally different turn, with neither the characters nor the incidents able to engage one’s attention. Scenes like Kumar’s marriage to Selvi, his friends sister, his personal life caught between the two women — a hooker and the wife — his nexus with politicians and the mindless killings thereafter, the attempt to show up Kumar as this invincible dada with no convincing scenes to back him up (it was believable in the first half), all spoil the impact the director had so meticulously created earlier.

So, whatever sympathy was created for Kumar is wiped off with one stroke here. Kumar’s ramblings from his cell as he takes us into his past hardly strikes a chord once you go through with him in the second half.

There are some brilliant scenes in the film and some splendid performances. The one who stands out is Sneha as Krishnaveni, the prostitute whom Kumar takes to.

The director has taken trouble to craft her character in great detail and it’s the scenes associated with her that linger on in the mind. Sneha’s is a brilliant portrayal, one of her best performances and roles to date.

In contrast is Sonia Agarwal as Selvi, whom a besotted Kumar marries. The whole episode could have been done away with, and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the film. 

Azhagan Perumal as the wily politician (director of Dum Dum Dum) and Bala Singh as Anbu, both perform well. Scenes like the one where Anbu threatens and physically abuses Veni, the scene of Kumar’s father’s killing, and Kumar’s first attempt at kill, are some of the more absorbing ones in the film.

With Yuvan Shanker’s background score judiciously used, with a lot of silent shots where it is more effective, and Arvind Krishna’s camera creating the mood, the director has got the ambience and the feel he’d wanted.

Finally, many of the scenes, situations and the ambience on the whole does give a sense of alienation, making one feel as if it was happening in another place, another country. With Selvaraghavan-Dhanush teaming up, Pudupettai was a film awaited with
great anticipation, but turns out to be a disappointment.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Savory Delight: Fern Wrap

Want a break from spices and desi snacks? Here’s a quick recipe for a delicious savory snack from American chef Stephen Hakes.

  • 2 pieces of boneless chicken breast or
  • 2 cups assorted vegetables, diced
  • 1 ½ cup salsa
  • 3 cups biscuit mix
  • 10-12 spinach leaves
  • ¼ red bell pepper
  • ¼ green bell pepper

For Chicken Wrap: Slice thin chicken breast, cook in oil until tender. Separate chain, add salsa and mix.

For Veggie Wrap: Slightly boil diced vegetables and lightly sauté in a pan with oil, spices and salt. Add salsa and mix.

Make biscuit. Mix and roll flat, stuff with chicken salsa mix or vegetable salsa mix, pinwheel. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes and serve with salsa on top and pepper slices on spinach leaves.

Serve with Tabasco or hot sauce.

Preparation Time: 25 min
Cooking Time: 25 min
Serves 6-8 people.

- Stephen Hakes is a chef. He lives with his wife Mandi in Williamsport, Indiana.


HOROSCOPE: June By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Venus provides a chance to make easy money and also enjoy life at the same time. You will spend money on yourself and family. Saturn in fourth takes you closer to victory in legal battles. You may suffer minor loss or damage to your property. Expert guidance will help you make a calculated move in career.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): You will use logic, and reason well with others. Results will be favorable and you will achieve your goal. Rahu gives you strong desire to get involved with some one who has been flirting with your emotions for quite some time. Favorable aspect of Saturn helps you make quick money through a big deal.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Presence of couple of malefics brings you under financial pressure and you will need to make several big payments. Some of you will be taking a trip to a distant place with family this week. You will develop great patience as you deal with a tricky situation. Avoid all financial speculations for some time.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): The deal is well within your reach. Past actions will make you a known figure in the community. Venus brings easy money and valuable gifts. You should not let your guard down, watch out for people trying to involve you in litigation. A promotion assured in the past will get delayed without any explanation.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): Weak planets cause lack of confidence and can hurt your image if you are not careful. Do not take any chance with the law and avoid consumption liquor at parties for some time. You will enjoy the company of a new associate and may even plan an outing. You will go through a lot of financial ups-and-downs, so be prepared for the rollercoaster ride.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You may experience a minor set back in career. Negotiations will continue but expect no immediate results. You may recover some old dues and a litigation could be decided in your favor but without any big financial gains. You may plan a short vacation with family and few close relatives.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Expect minor changes at work which may not be too pleasing for you. You will make a big sacrifice and end up going out of your way to help a needy friend or relative. You will win a big favor from the government. Some of you may make up your mind to move out of area for temporary period.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Combination of Mars and Saturn in ninth creates the window to move forward in career and grab new opportunities. New members will be added to the family soon. People who owed you money will make first payment and promise more soon. You will benefit from someone who has both beauty and brains.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will take steps in the right directions, but the response could be cold. Rahu in fourth along with debilited mars in eighth causes some delay and frustration in affairs involving a child. You will attend a religious event. Party with political people will go well.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Venus in tenth will protect you from all negative vibes. You will go through some trying times at work. Opponents will get strong and you will need to be extremely patience at home otherwise the situation may get out of hand. Spouse will be under a lot of pressure.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will defeat all opponents hands down. You will be selected for an important task amongst a number of applicants. You are going to enjoy the week with family and friends and may go out several times for entertainment. It will be wise to cash in profits on money-making stocks.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will find a sudden halt in your growth. Businessmen will have to face new and strong competition. Family members may go on a trip leaving you behind to take care of things. You will write big checks for purchases made recently and may get some work done in and around your home as well.

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


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