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APRIL 2007
Volume VIII • Issue 4
EDITORIAL: The Nandigram Tragedy
NEWS DIARY: March News Briefs
HEALTH: South Asian Heart Center
HUMOR: A New Innings?
HEALTH: Sickle Cell Disease
TRAVEL: Jewels of Baja
CULTURE: CCF Dance Contest
FESTIVAL: Holi in Sunnyvale
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
AUTO REVIEW: '07 Mercedes E350
FILM REVIEW: The Namesake
RECIPE: Bread Dahi Vada


Prem Dutt: Email
Call Prem: (916) 743-8316
Seema Gupta: Email
Call Prem: (408) 745-9663

The Nandigram Tragedy

Nandigram in West Bengal will likely remain a black mark on the reputation of India’s longest-running state government led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

Last month, police opened fire and killed at least 14 villagers in Nandigram, located in East Medinipur district, following protests against the state government’s decision to evict villagers and acquire land to build a Special Economic Zone.

Let’s be very clear. We concede that the Left Front in West Bengal has some genuine achievements to its credit. It has implemented arguably the most significant land reform in any part of India and improved the quality of life of millions in rural areas, which in turn has garnered it an electoral support base that has allowed it an unheard-of 30-year-long control of the state legislature.

That said, the government’s actions in Nandigram have come as a rude shock, not least to its conscientious sympathizers.

How could a party that once prided itself on being the friend of the little guy become so divorced from reality, so out of touch of the aspirations and concerns of ordinary folk, that it could allow such a ghastly incident to occur?

Grand plans of industrial development with a chilling apathy towards the predicament faced by powerless, impoverished villagers who are thrown out to make way — this is how big bad capitalists are supposed to behave. How ironic that it is the CPI-M that finds itself in the dock!

It is clear that continuous power has taken a terrible toll on the moral bearings of the party. Our India editorial consultant Sandeep Pandey takes a critical look at Nandigram and its aftermath. While we don’t agree with everything Sandeep has to say (and it is Siliconeer policy to allow its contributors considerable leeway in expressing their opinions), we have to say that Sandeep makes some very telling points.

Few achievements give the South Asian community more pleasure than the success of their children. It must be said they seldom disappoint. There is a hardly any major U.S. competition — Rhodes Scholarships, National Spelling Bee, Intel Prize — where there the winners don’t include a few bright South Asian kids. Sure enough, there are at least nine South Asian college students among the 65 students who have been named 2007 Truman Scholars.
Unfortunately, space limitations precluded a detailed article, so this month we carry just a brief tribute to these nine bright young men and women.

California’s love affair with the environment is well known, but what does it actually mean? If you forget the clichés, you realize that there’s more to caring about the environment than protecting the redwoods or keeping offshore oil drilling out of the state.

The fact is that in addition to being blessed with breathtaking natural beauty, the state is also an economic powerhouse, and the way the economic dice are loaded, environmental priorities often come in conflict with large business interests, and sadly, underprivileged ethnic minorities often get caught in the middle.

This is what makes the International Center for Journalists Clean Air Workshop so valuable, because it brought the people best suited to communicate these issues —journalists who serve ethnic minorities, in touch with activists, policymakers and top-notch mainstream journalists to familiarize them with critical issues of air pollution. Supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, journalists from diverse backgrounds came together in Riverside, Calif. Ashfaque Swapan gives readers an insider’s view.

From this year, Siliconeer has begun to offer an additional special section in some of its issues. Previously we carried a special segment on the ICC World Cup, and this month we carry a special segment on real estate.

As its readership and Web site visitors continue to grow, Siliconeer continues to try to explore ways of adding value to the magazine. We thought that if Siliconeer decides to focus specifically on topic of wide reader interest from time to time, that would be a useful addition. However, we never quite knew what our readers would think unless we actually brought out an issue with a special section.

Well, the verdict is in now, and we are pleased to say that we have received enormous feedback, almost wholly positive, regarding our World Cup special segment. Thanks to our numerous readers who took the time to email us their appreciation, especially regarding the tear-out schedule of World Cup matches (also available on our Web site) that readers found particularly handy.

Nothing gives us more pleasure than our readers’ satisfaction, and now that our decision has been vindicated, we are happy to remind readers to be on the lookout for our forthcoming special segments in August and October. In August, we will be probably the first South Asian publication to jointly celebrate the Independence day of India and Pakistan. In October, we shall carry a special Diwali issue.

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

Nandigram Killings: Fascism of the Left?

The recent police killings in Nandigram, West Bengal, have revealed a chilling arrogance of the CPI-M, the leading party in the state government, writes Sandeep Pandey.

I was in Kolkata Feb. 14 to attend a meeting of the Anti-Nuclear Forum organized against the proposed nuclear power plant at Haripur in East Medinipur District of West Bengal. Not as much in the news as Singur and Nandigram, Haripur had also thrown up a challenge to the Left Front government of West Bengal and officials from the Atomic Energy Commission were not allowed to visit the area for inspection by the local people. Shyamali Mitra, an artist, who spoke at the meeting in Kolkata. talked about the state having become fascist in West Bengal .

It was a jolt to me. I could not visualize a left party or government as fascist. So far, I had associated the idea of fascism only with right wing politics. But people in Kolkata were talking about a government with fascist tendencies. We were told that goings on of every meeting of citizens was reported to the government. Punitive action was taken by the Communist Party of India-Marxist cadres against anybody seen as acting against the interest of the party. Trinamool Congress activists were facing oppression at the hands of CPI-M cadres. I returned from Kolkata with a feeling that my state — Uttar Pradesh, or probably even Bihar too, even with their highly publicized state of lawlessness, provide more democratic space for dissent than West Bengal.

It is not long back when U.P. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s police lathi charged the farmers whose land was being taken away for a SEZ in Dadri where Reliance was supposed to set up a power plant. When Mulayam Singh faced bitter criticism for his anti-farmer stance, he decided to put things in cold storage. But the overconfident West Bengal government persisted with their project in Nandigram.

We saw a face of left fascism that we had never expected to see. Even though only 14 people were killed and about 30 went missing, which is much smaller compared to the figures in Gujarat after the Narendra Modi backed wholesale violence in 2002, one cannot but help compare the two unfortunate incidents. Whereas in Gujarat the police turned a blind eye while the Hindutva brigade went on a rampage, killing and raping Muslim citizens, in West Bengal the police was directly used to fire upon people and CPI-M cadres were reportedly wearing police uniforms and firing alongside. A CBI investigation had revealed some police helmets along with CPI-M flag and literature at one place. Did we hear of any Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or Bharatiya Janata Party workers wearing a police uniform and killing a Muslim in Gujarat?

The idea of fascism is associated with a group which has a sectarian thinking and doesn’t believe in democracy. It thinks of itself as superior to others. The right wing Hindutva group clearly fits the definition. It is unfortunate that they have used the freedom and flexibility offered by Indian democracy to capture political power through the backdoor. Kalyan Singh, reneging on his promise given to the nation just before the Babri Masjid demolition, has also demonstrated that they have scant regard for the Indian Constitution. Ideally, no party or group believing in sectarian ideology (catering to only one segment of population at the cost of other) should be allowed to operate in a democracy. However, for the time being the Hindutva brigade gets to use emotional, nationalist and religious issues, which are potentially explosive, to further its politics.

CPI-M, also by its actions, has increasingly begun to fit the description of a fascist force. They have come to believe in the infallibility of their ideology, so much so that they do not care about any other view point. They did not feel the need to undertake a democratic consultative process with the people either in Singur or in Nandigram before deciding on the projects which were proposed there. It remains mysterious why, going against the proposed National Rehabilitation Policy which suggests that developmental projects should be initiated at places which will either cause no displacement or minimum possible displacement, projects were conceived in Singur and Nandigram which are agriculturally very fertile lands and would have resulted in very painful and large scale displacements. Although West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has accepted the mistake of his government in Nandigram, we are still waiting for an apology from him, just like we are waiting for an apology from the U.S. government for using nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and from the BJP for what it did in Gujarat in 2002. Only Sonia Gandhi has apologized for Operation Bluestar in 1984, the military attack against Sikh separatists in the Golden Temple in Amritsar that claimed at least 300 lives.

Moreover, in Kerala, we saw how blatantly disregarding the opinion of their Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, the CPI-M party decided to get an approval in cabinet by “consensus” for a ADB loan. CPI-M seems to be losing its tolerance for democracy, betraying an increasingly fascist tendency.

The people of India now face dual danger of fascism— one from the right and another from the left and they’ll have to confront both.

On March 22, Medha Patkar and 61 other activists as part of their national protest, Action-2007, against the anti-people policies of the government went to the Planning Commission and were lathi charged and arrested. The Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has sent a message to people who protested against the arrest of Medha Patkar and colleagues, saying that these activists had arrived unannounced without a prior appointment and had forced their way into the Yojana Bhawan. They were first politely requested to disperse but they continued to create disturbance. The security personnel informed the local police and the police took an action as they thought fit.

If Montek Singh Ahluwalia were to put himself in the position of the people of Singur, Nandigram, Dadri or any of the places where development projects or SEZs are being imposed unannounced on common people, he would see that he would have the same set of grievances against the government as he has expressed against Medha Patkar and the activists. And this is when the Yojana Bhawan is not even his permanent home and the activists were not taking away his land or causing a threat to his job.

The harsh truth today is this: The cold logic of development combined with the fascist attitude of governments is resulting in insensitivity towards the people, in whose name exist the political parties as well as the Planning Commission.

Tomorrow's Leaders: Truman Scholars
At least nine South Asian Americans are among the 65 Truman Scholars for 2007. A Siliconeer report.

South Asian American 2007 Truman Scholars: (Top, l-r) Umair Iqbal, Monica Mukerjee, Kesha Kaleire Ram, Salmah Yasmeen Rizvi, (bottom, l-r) Victoria Sehgal, Indra Narayan Sen, Deep Jayendrakumar Shah and Malkit Kaur Singh. Truman Scholar (Meghan Desale is not pictured above.)

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, has announced that 65 students from 56 U.S. colleges and universities have been selected as 2007 Truman Scholars. They were elected by eighteen independent selection panels on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability, and likelihood of “making a difference.” At least nine of this year’s Truman Scholars are of South Asian descent.

The South Asian American Truman Scholars are: Meghan Desale, Umair Iqbal, Monica Mukerjee, Kesha Kaleire Ram, Salmah Yasmeen Rizvi, Victoria Sehgal, Indra Narayan Sen, Deep Jayendrakumar Shah and Malkit Kaur Singh.

A native Californian, Meghan Desale now studies Spanish and psychology in the B.A./M.D. program at Boston University.

Umair Iqbal was born in Pakistan and immigrated to America when he was nine. He is a junior pre-med student with a major in biological sciences and a minor in political science at the University of Anchorage Alaska.

Monica Mukerjee is studying international relations and psychology with specializations in political economy and gender studies at Michigan State University.

Kesha Ram is pursuing degrees in natural resource planning and political science at the University of Vermont.

Salmah Rizvi, a double-major in anthropology and international relations at the Johns Hopkins University, founded Vision XChange, a nonprofit organization which serves as a mechanism to create entertaining, opportunistic events while spreading awareness of important issues.

Victoria Sehgal is currently a junior at Amherst College. Her main policy interests are the social and economic impacts of education, and she has been thoroughly engaged in activities related to this passion.

Indra Sen is a junior at Georgetown University majoring in culture and politics.

Deep Shah is a Foundation Fellow at the University of Georgia. Majoring in both biology and international affairs, he hopes to pursue a career in health policy.

Malkit Singh, a student at George Mason University, plans to practice medicine in underserved areas, focusing on AIDS and other “problems of living turned into medical illness.”

The 65 scholars were selected from among 585 candidates nominated by 280 colleges and universities. Each selection panel interviewed finalists from a 3 - 4 state region and generally elected one scholar from each state and one at-large scholar from the region. Each panel typically included a university president, a federal judge, a distinguished public servant, and a past Truman Scholarship winner.

Each Scholarship provides $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Recipients must be U.S. citizens, have outstanding leadership potential and communication skills, be in the top quarter of their class, and be committed to careers in government or the not-for-profit sector.


NEWS DIARY: March 2007 Roundup
West Bengal Relents on Nandigram, Moves SEZ | Love in Cyberspace | Son on Trial | Save the Tiger | Radical Females | Violence in Terai | Lanka Offensive | Sponsors Reeling

West Bengal Relents on Nandigram, Moves SEZ
A public protest against the West Bengal government shooting in Nandigram on opponents of a massive petrochemicals hub that would have evicted villagers.

The communist-ruled West Bengal state has agreed to relocate but not abandon plans to build a massive petrochemicals hub following deadly protests by furious villagers.

“Any death is tragic. We don't want clashes, bloodshed and deaths for industrialization,” an official quoted Buddhadev Bhattacharya, the communist chief minister of West Bengal, as telling a public meeting.

The state had set aside land around the village of Nandigram as part of its plans to set up Special Economic Zones — SEZs — modeled on a Chinese program to give foreign companies large tax-free enclaves to spur industrialization.

But 14 villagers opposed to the compulsory purchase of their farmland on behalf of Indonesia's Salim group were shot dead during a clash with police on March 14.

“My party and the government have learnt from the mistakes from Nandigram,” he said of the violence at the village, which is situated around 75 miles south of the state capital Kolkata.

“I am officially saying that the government won't go to Nandigram as the people of the area are opposed to it,” Bhattacharya said.

“We can't afford to lose the chemical hub,” he said. “It will be set up in a suitable place.”

The controversial SEZ scheme, launched in 2005, has met with massive protests from those living on land earmarked for such zones.

It has also sparked debate over whether farmland should be used for industry in India, where some two-thirds of the billion-plus population live off agriculture.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Love in Cyberspace
Mohammed Ali Tipu met his American wife 21 years his senior over the Internet.

Mohammed Ali Tipu, from Pakistan's conservative tribal northwest, met his American wife 21 years his senior over the Internet. Now it is only cyberspace that is keeping their love alive.

The pair are sustaining their marriage via emails after Tipu's bride Ann Slayton had to leave his remote home town and return to North Carolina to be with her ailing mother.

“Each day separated from Ali, my husband, is hell,” Slayton, 49, told AFP in an email. “I miss Ali each and every day with such sadness, words cannot express my sadness. I miss him very much.”

Tipu, 28, a newspaper page designer, said he was among the first Internet users in Kohat, a dusty gateway town to Pakistan's lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

His town lies on the route that security forces say is criss-crossed by Al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants as they move between remote safe hideouts in the region.

It was at the beginning of 2003, when Pakistani forces were battling Al-Qaeda militants in the Waziristan tribal belt, that Tipu and Slayton “met” in an Internet chatroom and struck up a friendship.

“I was inspired to use the Internet after watching an Indian movie where the hero finds a lover the same way,” said Tipu, sitting cross-legged in his small home with open drains running outside the boundary walls.

First, though, he needed to have a telephone line installed at his house.

“I started visiting chatrooms, my special interest was Islam. One day I saw the profile of Ann and I felt attracted to her smiling face,” he said.

The Christian American grocery shop owner joined the chatroom because she was interested in other religions. She was “very charming” and keen to learn about Islam, said Tipu, who prays five times a day but says he is not a fundamentalist.

“It was not love at first sight. It developed slowly over two years and then we both were immersed in it,” Tipu said.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Son on Trial
The high-profile son of Bangladesh's outgoing prime minister, Tareque Zia (c) in court.

The high-profile son of Bangladesh's outgoing prime minister appeared in court to hear extortion charges and that his trial will be moved to a fast-track tribunal.

The lawyer of Tareque Rahman, the eldest son of Khaleda Zia and slain president Ziaur Rahman, said the charges were “politically motivated” and criticized the decision to wrap up a trial within 45 days from April 5, when the hearings will begin.

“The case has been transferred to the speedy trial court and the trial of Tareque will begin on April 5,” prosecution official Shahidul Haque Bhuiyan told AFP.

Rahman, widely seen as being groomed to take the leadership of Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is among some 45 influential figures who have been detained on suspicion of corruption since emergency rule was imposed in January.

He and his personal secretary are accused of extorting 10 million taka ($144 million) from a businessman.

The detentions are part of a major anti-graft crackdown by the country's new military-backed interim government.

“The charges are all baseless and politically motivated,” Rahman's lawyer Naushad Jamir said.

“He cannot be tried in a speedy trial court... (and) we will make an appeal so that the case should be tried, if at all, at a regular court,” he added.

The caretaker government took over on January 12, after President Iajuddin Ahmed stepped down as head of the earlier interim government.

He also cancelled disputed elections, which the opposition said had been rigged by the BNP, and imposed emergency rule.

The new government has pledged to clean up Bangladesh's notoriously corrupt politics before holding credible elections.

Save the Tiger
Visitors to the Corbett Tiger Reserve can track the Royal Bengal Tiger, the magnificent yellow-and-black striped cat found only in Asia, from the back of an elephant.

Corbett National Park is no Serengeti or Kruger. Unlike those African parks, you won't see hordes of animals under shady trees or watering holes. But tracking and spotting a tiger in the Indian jungle with an experienced guide is every bit as thrilling as homing in on a pair of cheetahs in the African grasslands.

Corbett National Park, located in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, epitomizes India's success in saving the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger, the magnificent yellow-and-black striped cat found only in Asia.

A victim of hunting, poaching and human encroachment, the tigers were threatened with extinction when the global Project Tiger was launched in Corbett National Park on April 1, 1973. At the time, the tiger population in the park was 44. Across India, only about 1,800 existed, down from 40,000 at the turn of the 20th century.

Under the stewardship of Rajiv Bhartari, the director of Corbett Tiger Reserve, the tiger population in Corbett has increased to about 175. Overall, there are about 3,600 tigers in India but other national parks have not fared as well as Corbett and some reserves have no tigers left.

“Right now, what you see is a glorious Corbett. We have never seen anything like it. (Tiger) sightings are becoming more common,” said Bhartari in an interview at the Dhikala forest lodge.

It is the largest and most frequented of the 12 lodges, operated by the state forest department, inside the 200-square-mile Corbett National Park.

The park is named after Jim Corbett, a British colonial army colonel who was born in 1875 in Nainital, not far from the sanctuary, and lived virtually all his life in India until 19847. An ardent hunter, he gave up killing for sport after witnessing a carnage of water fowl by three army officers, and dedicated his life to preserving wildlife.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Radical Females
Alleged brothel owner Aunty Shamim.

Female students at an Islamic school in the Pakistani capital freed an alleged brothel owner after the woman donned a burqa and promised to shun "immoral acts."

The students at the madrassa in Islamabad had kidnapped the woman, identified only as Auntie Shamim, along with her daughter and a daughter-in-law, sparking a standoff with the government.

Clad in an identical black burqa to the ones worn by the students, the woman was brought before the media at the Jamia Hafsa school and read out a confession.

"I seek forgiveness for the sins that I have committed and declare I will live like a true Muslim and preacher of religion," Shamim said in the signed statement.

"I do confess getting involved in certain acts, which are considered moral crimes, with my house being misused for the purpose," she said.

She denied that she had been forced to sign the statement but said that there were "several men, who tied and tortured me before I arrived here. But the attitude of the female students was exemplary."

The kidnap sparked tensions in Islamabad when police arrested two female teachers from the school. Baton-wielding students then abducted two passing policemen.

The police officers and the teachers were freed later.

But the three women kidnapped from the "vice den" were held overnight and were only freed after a marathon meeting of mullahs, said the vice principal of the seminary, Abdul Rashid Ghazi.

The case has raised questions about the Pakistani government's willingness to tackle the hardline school in the centre of the capital, following a series of incidents.

Many of the school's female students are still occupying a nearby government-run children's library after launching a protest in January against plans to demolish a mosque in the capital.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Violence in Terai
Nepal Communist Party chief Prachanda covers the bodies of his comrades with the Party's flag during a condolence gathering in Kathmandu.

An ethnic leader from the Terai plains was shot dead in Nepal and another supporter critically injured in what protesters alleged were are revenge' attacks.

Mata Prasad Verma, a leader of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, the ethnic group from Nepal's Terai plains that is spearheading a protest movement demanding an autonomous Madhes state for plains people in southern Nepal, was gunned down at his residence in Bethauni village in Banke district.

An armed gang also attacked Lalka Shah, the owner of a small hotel in Inaruwa town in Sunsari district, critically injuring him.

Shah, who is reported to have received at least 10 dagger wounds, is fighting for his life in hospital.

The plains have been beset with violence, arson and disruption since last December, resulting in the death of over 60 people and deepening the rift between Nepal's hill community, the Pahadis, and the plains people, the Madhesis.

The first spate of arson, vandalism and looting in Nepalgunj town on Christmas Day targeted Madhesis while the district administration remained mute spectator with reports of security personnel taking part in the attacks.

However, the government is yet to take any punitive action against the guilty.

The biggest administrative failure occurred last week when clashes between the Forum and the Maoists resulted in the death of at least 29 people in Gaur town. But the seven-party government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala is yet to initiate an investigation into the carnage.

As the government delays its probe, the Maoists are alleging that the Forum was supported by criminal elements, followers of King Gyanendra, vigilantes armed by the royal regime and Hindu extremists from India, who supported the royal regime.

Forum leaders counter-allege that the violence was unleashed by the state working in tandem with the Maoists to suppress the Madhes movement.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Lanka Offensive

Sri Lanka's military said it had captured a key Tamil Tiger rebel stronghold in the island's embattled east, two days after the guerrillas stunned the capital with their first ever air raid.

Security forces took control of Kokkadichcholai in the district of Batticaloa and seized a large haul of arms, ammunition and land mines from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam base, the army said in a statement.

“Marking one more milestone in the army's forward march to secure the besieged eastern areas from LTTE clutches, valiant troops this morning completely brought Kokkadichcholai under their control,” the statement said.

It gave no details of casualties, but the statement suggested that the Tigers may have abandoned the area without putting up any resistance.

The army said it found a large amount of “warlike items that had been hurriedly left behind by fleeing Tiger terrorists in the face of advancing troops.”

The guerrillas had left behind a distillery which had been used to manufacture alcohol for sale in the coastal district, the army said. “It has been a local money-spinner for the terrorist organization,” the army said.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist campaign since 1972. The two sides agreed to a truce in February 2002, but subsequent peace talks have broken down.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Sponsors Reeling

The stunning exits of Pakistan and India from cricket's World Cup has left one of the game's biggest sponsors reviewing its future in the sport and sent the advertising world into a tailspin.

Giants such as Pepsi have had to rethink marketing campaigns centered around the teams, Indian advertisers are demanding cut-price television spots and in Pakistan the ad industry reckons losses will run into millions of dollars.

“We are sunk,” said Delhi-based advertising executive Rajmohan Singh.

“No one wants to advertise any more. Is there a World Cup going on? Where? My figures don't show that.”

South Korea's LG Electronics said it was unsure if it would remain a global partner of the International Cricket Council when sponsorship contracts are renegotiated later this year.

LG, which jumped on the cricket bandwagon seven years ago to boost sales in the lucrative Indian market, said its priorities had changed.

“Our requirements were different when we signed up with cricket seven years ago,” said LG's Indian spokesman Girish Rao.

“Today, we have lot of visibility being the number two brand in the Indian market. But a final decision will be taken by our parent company.”

India, the 1983 World Cup winners and 2003 finalists, failed to advance to the 2007 version's Super Eight round after losing two of their three games in the preliminary stage.

Pakistan, winners in 1992, went out at the hands of minnows Ireland in one of the sport's biggest shocks.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Clearing the Air: Educating Journalists
The International Center for Journalists in association with The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation brought together a number of print and broadcast journalists serving ethnic minorities for a workshop on clean air, with top journalists, activists and experts offering their perspective, writes Ashfaque Swapan.

(Top): Jerry Martin, director of communications, California Air Resource Board. (Bottom): Reporter Zaidee Stavely of Radio Bilingüe in Fresno interviewed a resident in one residential neighborhood in Mira Loma which is surrounded by diesel freight trucks, warehouses and distribution centers. The majority of the residents are Latino. [All photos by Adelaide Chen]

On a beautiful day, Clean Air Fellows came out of a bus to assemble on a yard of a house with a “For Sale,” sign at Mira Loma Village, a small community not far from Riverside, Calif., They were met by a number of community activists at this little neighborhood of few hundred homes that sat cheek-by-jowl to the Mira Loma warehouse district, where huge trucks trundled past continuously, belching puffs of dark smoke.

Community activist Rachel Lopez told the fellows about the challenge faced by the Hispanic community that lived there. With trucks polluting the air, children and the elderly had respiratory problems, and there was a school that sat right next to a road that was a busy conduit for these trucks. Some are selling their homes.

A poignant, human face for the hazards of dirty air.

Talk about California’s passion for preserving the environment and images of redwoods and Yosemite might come to mind. The actual challenges, when it comes to air pollution, present themselves in less salubrious settings. The ports of Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego, the agricultural swathes in the state’s Central Valley, and the Golden State’s choking freeways — these are where air pollution hits the hardest, and at the receiving end are often communities with a disproportionate share of minority, low-income individuals.

Hosted by the International Center of Journalists, a packed two-day Clean Air Workshop brought together a handful of print and broadcast journalists to listen to activists, advocates, government officials and experts (industry representatives, though invited, decided to give the workshop a pass). The workshop was sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

For those without a science background, the going got pretty tough as Curtis Moore, who mixes formidable passion with an encyclopedic knowledge of the science on environmental issues, gave a scientific overview of air pollution.

(Above, left): Curtis Moore (front left), editor and publisher of Health & Clean Air Newsletter, facilitated a breakout session with journalists from print media (l to r): Youngkee Ju from Korea Daily, Tom Walsh from Inland Valley News, Ashfaque Swapan from Siliconeer, Dionesio Grava from Balita and Charles Ding from Sing Tao Daily; (Right, top): Wilmington resident-turned activist Jesse Marquez is now executive director of the Coalition for a Safe Environment; (Right, bottom): Dionesio Grava of Los Angeles-based Filipino newspaper Balita interviewed Claudia Mendez of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice about a study conducted by the University of Southern California which counted 800 diesel trucks driving past the residential neighborhood of Mira Loma Village each day.

Jesse Marquez, an activist who organized communities against air pollution caused by the Port of Los Angeles, brought the zeal of a motivational speaker as he talked about beginning from scratch as he organized the community and took on the port authority.

Liza Bolanos, an activist with the Fresno, Calif.-based Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, spoke about the air pollution challenges faced, again by primarily low-income, minority communities.

While a variety of speakers provided informative insights and possibly more than a few story ideas, the real trick, of course, was to actually write that killer story. To help the fellows do that were two distinguished journalists, Dave Danelski of the Riverside Press Enterprise, and Gary Polakovic of the Los Angeles Times.

For fellows, what’s equally valuable, however, was that gradually, amid the packed schedule, they began to warm up to each other, and many a journalist got a brief but fascinating glimpse into the issues of his/ her ethnic neighbor.

Perhaps one of the challenges in a multi-ethnic society is to transcend the ethnic ghetto to build enough rapport to find common ground; all too often ethnic minorities end up in their insular cocoons, and ethnic journalists follow suit.

A Korean American community may live next door to an African American or Hispanic community without being aware of the issues and concerns of its neighboring community. The affluent, suburb-based Indian American community may not care of any of the previous communities. Ethnic publications, alas, tend to reflect that attitude.

The two-day workshop, in addition to a rigorous coaching in air pollution issues, added value by giving many ethnic journalists a chance to rub shoulders. One would like to believe this will translate into a deeper and more enduring sense of kinship that will be essential if diverse communities are to unite and work towards cleaning up the air.


Progressive Conclave: SAALT Meet
Over 150 South Asian community activists gathered in Washington, D.C. for a two-day national gathering of organizations, advocates and activists hosted by the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow and the South Asian Law Students Association at American University. A Siliconeer report.

(Top): Anand Parekh, representative of the Department of Health and Human Services, takes questions from community-based groups. (Bottom): Congressman Mike Honda, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, addresses attendees during a congressional briefing.

Over 150 individuals working with underserved South Asian community members gathered in Washington D.C. March 16-18 for a national conference of South Asian community-based organizations, advocates and community members, according to a SAALT press release. The event was cosponsored by South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow and the South Asian Law Students Association at American University, Washington College of Law.

Representatives of nearly 40 organizations as well as individual advocates from Atlanta, New York/New Jersey, Michigan, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco attended the conference. The summit marked the first time that many of the community-based groups met with national policymakers or with others involved in similar work throughout the country.

“It was really great to meet on the Hill and realize that there is a space for us to share our needs and demands,” said Padma Rangaswamy, from the South Asian Policy and Research Institute in Chicago, who attended a congressional briefing at Capitol Hill.

At the congressional briefing, Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, emphasized the importance of South Asian involvement and visibility in influencing decision-makers at the national level, and leaders from the South Asian Network (Los Angeles), the Sikh Coalition (New York City), and Apna Ghar (Chicago) spoke about emerging issues in their local communities.

“South Asians are largely invisible when it comes to policy issues that affect marginalized members of our community,” said Deepa Iyer, executive director of SAALT. “We need to have a place at the table with decision-makers and our allies in the progressive movement. The gathering of groups and advocates at the summit is a step towards that goal.” The summit also included roundtables with community members and government agency representatives from the Office of Minority Health, the Office of Violence Against Women, the Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and others.

Rinku Sen, publisher of ColorLines magazine and director of the Applied Research Center, addressed conference attendees at a reception, encouraging them to build partnerships with other progressive and ethnic groups. Workshops at the summit were designed to arm attendees with tools relevant to their work and to engage them in conversations about taking that work to a national level. Topics included building broader coalitions, engaging in legislative advocacy, and using participatory research in organizing work, as well as substantive discussions around civil rights, the criminalization of immigrants, and access to basic social services and benefits.

“Our group talks to people locally about what’s going on, but it was helpful to hear the work that is going on at the national level from a civil rights standpoint,” said Anirvan Chatterjee of the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, who attended a workshop on civil rights issues and also connected with similar volunteer-led progressive collectives in other parts of the country at the summit.

More information about SAALT is available at www.saalt.org


Saving Hearts: SAHC at Work

In its first few months, the mountain view, Calif.-based South Asia Heart Center has not only screened over 500 participants, it has also launched a physician advisory board, a wellness program, a restaurant partnership program, and educational initiatives to heighten awareness of heart disease. A Siliconeer report.

(Right): Ajit Gokhale, chair of wellness programs at the South Asian Heart Center, participates in a workout session. [EL CAMINO HOSPITAL photo]

The South Asian Heart Center, the first nonprofit center in the world devoted to the prevention of coronary artery disease in people of South Asian descent, has passed several major milestones in its first official months of operation, according to a press release from the center.

“Not only did we screen over 500 participants,” said Ashish Mathur, the center’s executive director, “but we launched a physician advisory board, a wellness program, a restaurant partnership program, and educational initiatives to help us heighten awareness and give our participants the resources they need to reduce their risk.”

The center’s requests for screenings have been doubling nearly every month, as its visibility has risen, with 500 participants now on the waiting list. “The statistics are both alarming and gratifying,” Mathur said. “Some 75 percent of those screened fall into the ‘high risk’ category — which is a larger percentage than we anticipated. We believe this illustrates the program’s potential to save lives through screening and the application of preventative measures ranging from lifestyle modification to appropriate medical intervention.” The South Asian Heart Center does not provide medical care, but refers participants back to their private physicians.

A key South Asian Heart Center achievement in recent months has been the formation of a seven-member Physician Advisory Board that includes such luminaries as Dr. P.K. Shah (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center), Dr. Thomas Fogarty (formerly Stanford University), Dr. Enas Enas (director, CADI Research Foundation), Dr. Anmal Mahal (president, California Medical Association), Dr. Kanu Chatterjee (UCSF Medical Center), Dr. Naras Bhat (UC Berkeley), and Dr. Robert Superko (director of the Cholesterol, Genetics, and Heart Disease Institute.) Board members met for the first time in November.

In keeping with the program’s collaborative nature, a number of community partnerships have been recently launched. These include a Wellness initiative and a restaurant partnership, both designed to assist participants in lifestyle and diet modification efforts.

For the Wellness Program, the center produced a referral directory of local fitness centers, yoga centers, and meditation programs that have been reviewed and approved by the Center’s Wellness committee. It also created a partnership with YMCA Mountain View and Cupertino to introduce participants to a 12-week exercise program using a personal trainer.

In February, the “HEART-ier Choices” restaurant partnership was launched, aimed to help take the guesswork out of menu selection when dining out. The program refers participants to restaurants that agree to feature “drinks-to-desserts” menu selections that meet the center’s guidelines for a sensible balance of carbs and fats. Nutritional analysis is provided by San Jose State University’s Nutrition and Food Science Department.

Nurse Practitioner Leslie Abrams examines participant Kasturi Veeraraghavan at the South Asian Heart Center. [EL CAMINO HOSPITAL photo]

The first restaurant program partner is the award-winning Junnoon Restaurant in Palo Alto. Junnoon’s special prix fixe menu is designed to demonstrate that diners don’t have to put up with boring or bland food in order to stay within dietary guidelines. All the prix fixe menu items can be found among its regular selections, but the program helps diners locate these choices with minimal effort.

Sabena Puri, owner of Junnoon, said she was “eager to do what I could to help the South Asian Heart Center in its mission to stem the epidemic.” Both her grandfathers and her father-in-law died of heart disease at relatively early ages.

Junoon, which has been named one of the 20 Top New Restaurants by Esquire magazine and one of the San Jose Mercury News’ “Top Ten” restaurants, calls itself a “showcase for the food of modern India.” Favorable comments about the restaurant’s HEART-ier Choices program already have appeared in the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News.

Education has continued to be an important goal. The South Asian Heart Center recently launched a monthly lecture series covering such topics as nutrition, Type A behavior modification, transcendental meditation, exercise and fitness, and yoga. Programs are free, and open to the public.

The Center and its volunteers also have received recognition from other organizations. In February, the American Hospital Association Volunteer Excellence Program recognized the South Asian Heart Center as Runner Up in the Community Service Program Category. In March, Dr. Prasanna Menon received the Science and Medicine Award of the Indian American Women Empowered Wing of the Federation of Indo-Americans. Dr. Menon has been a tireless advocate whose efforts helped launch the Center.

In summing up their program, Mathur said, “There is always much more to be achieved. We cannot rest on our laurels. But we feel that as an all volunteer-staffed and supported organization, we can take pride in our accomplishments to date. Now, we want to reach a wider base of South Asians and their doctors. We won’t rest until we have brought this epidemic of heart disease under control.”

Conceived in 2004 through the efforts of a team of more than 80 health professionals and South Asian community leaders, the South Asian Heart Center’s staff members work today with more than 40 volunteers to help carry out their mission of stemming the epidemic of South Asian heart disease and identifying its underlying causes.

The center is made possible through the generosity of the community, and through the generous in-kind contributions of El Camino Hospital.

The mission of the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital is to reduce the high incidence of coronary artery disease among South Asians, and save lives, through a comprehensive, culturally-appropriate program incorporating education, advanced screening, lifestyle changes, and case management.

Readers can find more information about the center at its Web site at www.southasianheartcenter.org or call (650) 940-SAHC (7242).

A New Innings?
Options for the Boys in Blue
India’s ignominious exit from the ICC World Cup has angered and disappointed cricket fans — and not Indians alone. While some Indians have taken to the streets, others have chosen to vent their frustration through a sort of gallows humor. Here is a sampling of a graphic spoof that is making rounds over the Internet that speculates on new options for India’s failed cricketers.


Sickle Cell Disease: Tips for Parents
If your child has sickle cell disease, here are a few measures to keep him or her healthy and happy, writes Deborah Gould, MD.

Did you know the sickle cell anemia trait may be an evolutionary asset? Some scientists now say the trait may have developed thousands of years ago in Africa as a way for the body to combat malaria.

Sickle cell disease causes your body to produce misshaped red blood cells — instead of being round like donuts, the sickle form of hemoglobin causes the red blood cell to become shaped like crescent moons or “sickles.” These sickled cells can block the flow of blood, keeping oxygen from circulating and potentially cause significant pain, lead to infections and damage organs and bones.

In the United States, about one in 650 African Americans, one in 1,000 Latinos and smaller numbers of other ethnic groups (especially people whose ancestors are from India, the Middle East and the Mediterranean) carry the sickle cell trait. A baby inherits sickle cell disease if he receives the gene from both parents.

In California all infants are screened at birth with a simple blood test. By identifying these children in the first few weeks of life, pediatricians can provide medication and information that will help the family avoid some of the serious problems associated with the disease.

For parents whose children have sickle cell disease, they know what a challenge it can be to manage its effects. It can cause long periods of pain, time spent in hospital and debilitating illness. But most children with the disease can grow up without major complications — and there are ways parents can arm themselves with everyday tools to keep your child healthy and happy.

Keep your child well hydrated. When a child isn’t drinking enough fluids, hemoglobin becomes more concentrated and the likelihood that it will assume the abnormal “sickle” shape increases. It’s especially critical for older children whose kidneys can’t retain water as well. So the first lesson for these children is that they need to “Drink, Drink, Drink.” This is especially true in the warm summer months and when participating in sporting activities.

Keep your child warm. When children with sickle cell disease become too cold, the reduction in their circulation may cause their blood cells to “sickle.” This is true not only in the cooler winter months but also when swimming or wading in lakes or pools. So the second rule is stay warm and dry.

Talk with your doctor about what antibiotics your child should take. Children with sickle cell anemia have a reduced ability to fight certain infections, so it’s important that they take antibiotics every day to avoid certain serious infections. If your child develops a fever, get to the doctor as soon as possible.

The great majority of children with sickle cell disease will grow to adulthood with very few serious complications. For those children who are at higher risk of serious side effects, including stroke or pneumonia, medications and regular blood transfusions may be needed to decrease the amount of sickle blood.

With the increased vigilance of doctors who take care of children with this disease — and scientists who specialize in its research — its treatment and care will only improve. In the meantime, make a plan with your doctor and take daily measures to keep your children healthy.

Celebrating Diversity: IACF Unity Dinner
Chinese, Filipino, Hispanic and Vietnamese community groups joined local city officials to celebrate the sixth annual Unity Dinner hosted by the Indo-American Community Federation in Fremont Calif. A Siliconeer report.

California Lieut. Gov. John Garamendi delivering the keynote speech at the sixth annual Unity Dinner.

This year GOPIO-San Francisco Bay Area joined hands with Indo-American Community Federation to host the annual Unity Dinner at the Hilton Newark/Fremont March 23, according to a press release from organizers.

The keynote speaker was Calif. Lieut. Gov. John Garamendi.

The dinner was originally set for January to coincide with the birthday celebration of civil rights leader Martin Luther King. However, since Fremont was celebrating its 50th anniversary, the event was re-scheduled for March 24. It will return to a January date in 2007, organizer said.

This sold-out sixth annual event was presented by Indo-American Community Federation and was sponsored by a host of Indian American and mainstream organizations including Chinese, Hispanic, Filipino and Vietnamese organizations. The event was conceived by Jeevan Zutshi, the founder chairman of Indo-American Community Federation as well as the president of GOPIO-San Francisco Bay Area chapter, after 9/11 to celebrate and promote unity amongst diverse groups in California.

“After 9/11, I saw a need for an event like this which can bring diverse public officials together with diverse community leadership,” said Zutshi. “It gives the community an opportunity to understand different cultures, come closer and also meet their elected representatives in a social setting.”

(Right): CMA president Anmol Mahal, MD

“We need to look at things that are happening in our backyard,” Zutshi added. He stressed the need for Indians to be more involved in issues like homelessness, hospitals and schools that need community cooperation. “Holding Unity Dinners is a way of reminding us that we need to be involved in this community,” he said.

“The Unity Dinner was a demonstration of unity of the human spirit in coming together and sharing histories and experiences,” Garamendi said. Honda, a third generation Japanese American, spoke about the ultimate need for understanding one another.

Other organization sponsors included the National Federation of Indian American organizations, FIA, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, Citizens for Better Community, Fremont Chamber of Commerce, Fremont Education Foundation, Ohlone College Foundation, Citizens for Better Community, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Alameda County, and the Hispanic Community Affairs Council.

A slew of public officials attended, including state Sen. Ellen Corbett, state assembly members Alberto Torrico and Mary Hayashi; Alameda county supervisors, mayors of Fremont, Union City, Newark, Milpitas and Hayward, council members and elected and appointed board members from local governments.

(Right): A Chinese martial arts performer

“The purpose of the event is to bring public officials together with the diverse community leadership,” said IACF founder Jeevan Zutshi, who stressed the need for all citizens to get involved in bringing the community together.

Several honorees were recognized up by the awards and recognition committee.
Dr. Anmol Mahal, president of the California Medical Association, was chosen for the leadership in medicine award.

Ohlone Community College trustee and Chinese American community leader Garrett Yee was honored as the Citizen of the Year. Yee is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who recently returned from Iraq.

Other speakers included Ohlone College president Doug Treadway. Newark Unified School District trustee Nina Moore who talked about creating a hate-free community.

The event was enlivened by performances of Chinese folk dancers, Chinese martial arts, Mexican folk ballet, classical Indian dancers and Bhangra – with the Chinese participants in particular presenting a riveting performance.

The first Unity Dinner was held in January 2002 and has since attracted several public officials each year.


Special Section | REAL ESTATE: U.S. | India
Housing Bubble? | Foreclosure | India’s Real Estate Boom

ECONOMY: Housing Bubble?
Ominous Signs
Buying your own home is an integral part of the American dream. Yet recent news of foreclosures, housing glut and the scandalous unraveling of subprime lenders is enough to give anybody pause. A Siliconeer report.
Is it your ultimate dream to buy your own house where you can raise a family? Surely you are not alone. But given the flurry of bad news about the housing market, you may begin to wonder, even if you have the wherewithal, whether you are at the wrong place at the wrong time, particularly if you live in California.

You are wondering: Should you consider giving up that most cherished of dreams, i.e. buying a house?

Naysayers will tell you that this is the worst possible time to buy a house, especially in California. Of course, you will hear the opposite view from anybody related to the real estate business, but naysayers will dismiss their views as tainted by a conflict of interest. Of course realtors will always tell you to buy, because buying and selling real estate is their raison d’etre. It’s brutally simple: If you don’t buy, they go out of business.

Actually it’s a bit more complicated than that. Having said that, it has to be said that critics of the real estate industry have a point when they say the housing market is ominously beginning to look like a bubble, and this bubble was created by what’s the mother’s milk of capitalism — pure old-fashioned greed. Unfortunately, while greed oils the complex machinery of capitalism, it needs checks and balances, otherwise it can cause an economic catastrophe.

There is no better example of this than what the real estate and mortgaging industry calls the subprime market. Simply put, the subprime market is where the people with bad credit buy houses.

Trouble is, they tend to default in large numbers, because creditwise, their numbers never added up.

Half of the 20 biggest U.S. subprime lenders, including No. 2 New Century Financial Corp., which is trying to avoid bankruptcy, are located in California, according to the newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance. The industry is under scrutiny by regulators after delinquencies on subprime mortgages rose to 13.3 percent last quarter, the highest since September 2002.

About 13 percent of the U.S.’s subprime loans are in California, according to the Washington-based Mortgage Bankers Association. Mortgage industry analyst Bob Visini of First American Loan Performance told Bloomberg news service that this 13 percent accounts for 22 percent of the subprime mortgage debt in the U.S. because California is the nation’s most expensive real estate market.

Predatory lending practices and improper disclosure of terms may violate state consumer-protection and fair-lending laws, an analyst said.

Subprime loans have very real consequences. About 2.4 million holders of subprime mortgage loans made between 1998 and 2006 will lose their properties to foreclosure, according to a report from the Center for Responsible Lending, a non-profit policy and advocacy organization for home owners.

Worse, that will result in a net home ownership loss of one million households.

CRL’s analysis rebutted the mortgage industry’s claims that the increase in subprime loans has opened up home ownership for millions of low income buyers. Instead, CRL contends, relatively little subprime lending is used for first-time home buying.

Testifying before the House Finance Committee, CRL president Michael Calhoun said the primary reason for the jump in foreclosures is “the abandonment of underwriting standards.”

The report criticized both lax underwriting — noting in particular a disregard for the ability of borrower’s ability to repay loans — as well as dangerous loan vehicles, such as “exploding ARMs,” which have low rates for the first two or three years before resetting at much higher rates.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown is investigating the collapsing subprime mortgage industry in the state.

Rising defaults and foreclosures have ravaged the industry, and some economists fear the sector’s woes could extend to the housing market and the broader economy.

Why is it a bad time to buy? Critics say even in the best of times, it’s cheaper to rent than own, but particularly now, given the overheated housing market of the last few years, buying a house is a particularly bad idea for a number of reasons.

Firstly, prices are disconnected from fundamentals, and house prices are far beyond any historically known relationship to rents or salaries. Rents are less than half of mortgage payments. Salaries cannot cover mortgages except in the very short term, by using adjustable interest-only loans.

What has happened is this: A lot of buyers borrowed more than they can ever repay. Now there are mass foreclosures. Banks happily loaned whatever amount borrowers wanted as long as the banks could then sell the loan, pushing the risk onto Fannie Mae (ultimately taxpayers) or onto buyers of mortgage backed securities. Now that it has become clear that a trillion dollars in mortgage loans will not be repaid, Fannie Mae is under pressure not to buy risky loans and investors do not want MBS’s. This means that the money available for mortgages is falling, and house prices will keep falling, probably for 5 years or more.

A return to traditional lending standards will mean a return to traditional prices, which are far below current prices.

The Center for Responsible Lending contends that few subprime loans went to first time buyers. Mortgage Bank Association figures revealed only 11 percent of subprime loans went to first-time buyers last year.

If the housing bubble is about to burst, then why not rent? The answer is simple: Owning a house isn’t entirely about finance. There is so much emotional capital involved in owning the place where you live, an implicit sense of security, that no matter what the financial calculus shows, home ownership remains an almost primal urge.

Besides, a lot of the calculations of the critics do not apply to long-term homebuyers. I mean, if you are buying a house to live in it, then relatively short-term fluctuations in prices are moot.

Nevertheless, with some analysts darkly warning what has happened is just the beginning of a burst bubble that will make the dot.com bubble look like a Sunday school picnic, it’s worth giving very careful thought before you take the leap.


Foreclosures: What To Do?
If your lender sends you a letter that your property is about to go into foreclosure, do not ignore it, warns Madan (Raja) Ahluwalia.

Foreclosure is the legal proceeding in which a bank or other secured creditor sells or repossesses a parcel of real property due to the owner’s failure to comply with an agreement between the lender and borrower called a mortgage or deed of trust. Commonly, the violation of the mortgage is a default in payment of a promissory note, secured by a lien on the property.

In that case, foreclosure may occur. This is the legal means that your lender can use to repossess (take over) your home. When this happens, you must move out of your house. If your property is worth less than the total amount you owe on your mortgage loan, a deficiency judgment could be pursued.

If you are in such an unfortunate situation, Do not ignore the letters from your lender. Call or write to your lender’s Loss Mitigation Department without delay.

Stay in your home for now. You may not qualify for assistance if you abandon your property.

Contact a HUD-approved housing counseling agency at (800) 569-4287 for the free-of-charge housing counseling agency nearest you. They can help.

Here are your options:

Special Forbearance. Your lender may be able to arrange a repayment plan based on your financial situation and may even provide for a temporary reduction or suspension of your payments.

Mortgage Modification. You may be able to refinance the debt and/or extend the term of your mortgage loan. This may help you catch up by reducing the monthly payments to a more affordable level.

Partial Claim. Your lender may be able to work with you to obtain a one-time payment from the FHA-Insurance fund to bring your mortgage current. You may qualify if:
  • Your loan is at least 4 months delinquent but no more than 12 months delinquent;
  • You are able to begin making full mortgage payments.

When your lender files a Partial Claim, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will pay your lender the amount necessary to bring your mortgage current. You must execute a promissory note, and a lien will be placed on your property until the promissory note is paid in full. The promissory note is interest-free and is due when you pay off the first mortgage or when you sell the property.

Pre-foreclosure sale. This will allow you to avoid foreclosure by selling your property for an amount less than the amount necessary to pay off your mortgage loan.

Deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. As a last resort, you may be able to voluntarily “give back” your property to the lender. This won’t save your house, but it is not as damaging to your credit rating as a foreclosure.

Beware of scams! Solutions that sound too simple or too good to be true usually are. If you’re selling your home without professional guidance, beware of buyers who try to rush you through the process. Unfortunately, there are people who may try to take advantage of your financial difficulty. Don’t sign any papers you don’t fully understand and make sure you get all “promises” in writing. Beware of any contract of sale of loan assumption where you are not formally released from liability for your mortgage debt. Check with a lawyer or your mortgage company before entering into any deal involving your home.

You should act promptly. If you do nothing, YOU WILL LOSE YOUR HOME and your good credit rating.


The $320B Boom: Real Estate in India

With Rs 320 billion set to flow into the sector, India’s real estate sector is set to take off, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Massive real estate development is changing the skyline of Kolkata.

A recent study has said that domestic and overseas investors and private equity funds are looking to pump in a huge Rs 320 billion in India’s real estate sector.

“The transparency in real estate has contributed to the increase in interest by domestic and financial institutions, resulting in greater availability of financing for real estate developers,” an ICICI Property Services-Technopak paper said.

This has provided the right conditions for listed funds such as Hiranandani Group’s Hirco, Unitech Corporate Parks, Indiabulls’ Dev Property Development. Many others such as Trinity capital, Yatra capital and West Pioneer Properties among others have raised around Rs 110 billion from overseas markets, mainly London, the report said.

Rs 210 billion have been raised by domestic and global private equity funds such as Urban Infrastructure Opportunities, Solitaire I, IL&FS Realty, India Advantage Fund, HDFC Real Estate, Kotak India Real Estate I, Kshitij Venture Capita. Many international funds like JP Morgan India Realty, Peninsula Realty and Horizontal International are also interested in realty projects.

Hospitality is one red hot area in which an estimated $2 billion is likely to pumped over the next three years, the bulk through private equity funds. Many funds are allocating as much as 50 percent of their planned real estate investments into the sector, as hospitality remains highly under serviced with a huge demand supply imbalance.

This year’s budget has provided a further fillip due to the tax holiday announced by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram keeping in mind the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. This means investors are tax-exempt for five years for constructing hotel cum convention centers with a seating capacity of more than 3,000, in the national capital region that includes high business suburbs of Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Noida.

Overall, while the government has eased the pooling of overseas money to be invested in India’s most sought after sector, the biggest push has been due to 100 percent foreign direct investment under the automatic route that can be used to develop townships, housing, built-up infrastructure and construction development projects, subject to conditions.

The ICICI-Technopak study charted the future of mall development. It predicted that due to the sustained yield of about 18 percent in retail real estate sector, the next stage of sophisticated funding mechanisms might see real estate investment trusts, real estate mutual funds, venture capital funds and Initial Public Offerings.

India’s biggest real estate firm, DLF Ltd., has applied with regulators for the second time to launch a float that could raise about $2 billion for a 10.2 percent stake.

Other developers including Omaxe Ltd., Puravankara Projects Ltd., Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd., IVR Prime Urban Developers Ltd. and Kolte Patil Developers Ltd. have also filed red-herring prospectuses with the regulator. However, poor performance of recent issues due to high interest rates and fluctuating stock markets have made retail investors wary.

The paper concluded that REMFs would institutionalize investments and provide a major source of capital for the industry. At the same time, a mix of retail investors and institutional investors would be good alternate solutions.

Another major source of funding should flow is from the Middle-East and South-East Asia as Emaar Properties (Dubai), IJM Corporation (Malaysia), Lee Kim Tah Holding (Singapore) and Salim Group (Indonesia) are looking to invest over Rs 50 billion in major metros of the country.

While Bangalore, Delhi and Chennai figure prominently on everybody’s plans, new and cheaper locations are being charted in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, the study said.

According to Peter Penhall, chief executive officer of Gowealthy.com, one of the Middle East’s renowned real estate and online property brokerage Web sites, India will see an international shift in the real estate sector due to the ongoing information technology boom.

“India is the place to be now. And the ongoing IT boom is going to fuel the real estate market further in India and bring back a lot of expatriate Indians as well back into their homes in India,” Penhall, who was in New Delhi, said.

India and SEZ. No discussion on India’s real estate development will be complete without looking at special economic zones (SEZs). Despite the government of West Bengal backing out from the proposed SEZ at Nandigram, it is not the end of the road for India’s SEZ plans. There are many state governments in the country who are pushing for the setting up of SEZ’s with land acquisition not an issue as the farmers are happy about the compensation packages.

Significantly the left party West Bengal government has also not said that it is backtracking on the setting up on SEZ’s and has said that the proposed industrial hub at Nandigram will now be shifted elsewhere in the state.

Although the killing of 14 people by the police at Nandigram has severely vitiated the exercise of land acquisition, given the intense competition among state governments to attract industrial investment, the West Bengal government knows that industry has plenty of other options to play with, in other states.

Among the votaries of SEZ’s include the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Haryana. They have written to New Delhi conveying concerns of the investors who have lined up big investments in their States.

The chief ministers have asked to be allowed to go ahead with notifying SEZs that have got final approval. In many cases, the chief ministers, have said that land, which had been with the state industrial development corporations for many years, has been given to the SEZ developers. In others landowners have been adequately compensated.

As many as 172 proposals that have got final approval are waiting for notification. Among the 166 SEZ proposals that have got in-principle approval, 100 have already tied up land.

The federal government has also made it apparent that it is not going to reverse the policy, though it will make it more palatable to the farmers, as has been expressed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Post-Nandigram it is imperative that the government devise a comprehensive set of umbrella rules to ensure a course of action in case of disagreements. The package has to make sure that farmers and share-croppers are made part of the development process. At present New Delhi has put the entire SEZ exercise on hold until a proper rehabilitation package is drawn up.

India’s Home Minister Shivraj Patil has promised that the government will “refine” its policy to set up SEZ’s. “The SEZ policy will be refined in consultation with the state government, the farmers who own the land and industrialists,” Patil, clearly indicating that the SEZ’s will be implemented.

Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath has said that the federal government is fully committed to the SEZ’s with complete backing of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“They (Nandigram and political concerns) have not put me off and the government is absolutely committed,” he said. Nath was confident that Empowered Group of Ministers headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee would go ahead with clearing the SEZ cases where there was no land dispute. “Of course there is a fear now where land acquisition is concerned... But where there is no land in dispute why should we be worried,” he said.

Nath said he was worried that if clearance for such SEZs was not forthcoming several might opt out of India and take their investment elsewhere. “Of course I am worried. There is investment competitiveness from Thailand, from Philippines, from Indonesia. Investment has to be attracted. It can’t be demanded. (If there are delays) they will feel unstable. At the end of the day they are here because they look at India as a credible country.”

Jewels of Baja: 1,000 Mile Panorama
From Tijuana on the California border in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south, the 1,056-mile-long coast offers breathtaking panoramas and stark contrasts, writes our travel editor Al Auger.

(Above): A view of San Jose del Cabo.

Traveling down the spine of Baja California there is no escaping the cold, heat, wealth, poverty, serenity and wilderness. These disparate phenomena exist shoulder to shoulder. From Tijuana on the California border to Cabo San Lucas, 1,056 miles at the southernmost tip, travelers are immersed in some of the most fascinating environmental and breathtaking panoramas in the world.

This will be a trip down that spine of Baja via Highway 1; camping out at shimmering jewels of bays, untamed beaches, soporific inlets and sleeping al fresco in the rough-cut diamond of hardscrabble deserts. An untamed, still not yet overly-exploited land where an iguana can become a pet, your dinner’s main course is shrimp or fish minutes from the water and you are entertained by herds of playful whales or dive bombing pelicans. Always in the background are the friendly people of Baja Norte and Baja Sur.

Our chariot was a bright red classic MGA Mark II complete with roll-bar. The logistics of stuffing a tent, two sleeping bags and a stove along with clothes and supplies for two months in the wilds of Baja stretched the imagination. Every corner, every niche was utilized as a storage area. But the choice was worth it just for the fun factor. Everywhere we went there were laughing and boisterous kids jumping and waving and shouting “la cucaracha, la cucaracha,” at every village we entered.

While the West Coast can be ambivalent with one day warm and sunny, and the next gray and gloomy, it is an exciting area with miles of sandy beaches guarded by rocky promontories, huge dunes, alive with wind, surf and crashing waves.

(Right): Cactus in a stretch of desert in Baja Sur.

After a day and night at Ensenada unsuccessfully avoiding the army of surfers, party-break college adolescents and the like, we headed for Maneadoro. A right turn here heads you west to Punta Banda and La Bufadora. The narrow paved road winds 14 miles ending at rocky cliffs and wide beaches along the Pacific Ocean. The focal point is La Bufadora, a natural sea spout where exploding waves at high tide cause the eroded recesses of the rocks to roar like a buffalo.

Just before the entry to La Bufadora is a perfect camping area. Well populated with small indigenous restaurants, gift shops and food stands, it was a great entry into the Mexican environment. Scuba and skin diving are popular here and the participants serious advocates of their sport. Their sheer joy was invigorating.

Our first planned stop on the agenda was a campsite on the sulking gray coast west from Colonett. The barely distinguished 8-mile gravel and sand road can be traveled by any kind of transportation, but very carefully. It took nearly an hour to cover the 8 miles to the brooding coast. Of course, this torturous journey was made extra hazardous and slow due to the narrow distance between the sports car’s bottom and the rocky surface. What we found were entrancing beaches on the coast west of Colonett at San Antonio del Mar.

There is nothing soft or lazy about the huge dunes that back up the miles of beige beach; the weather can be dour and intimidating with blowing winds and slate-grey skies. But there is a sense of extraordinary life everywhere and a moody charm surrounds the wind and surf-eroded caves of the rocky cliffs that stretch along the wild beaches. The pounding surf never lets go, broad shouldered waves literally explode on the fine-grained sandy beach.

One day we met Pablo, half-Mexican and half-Chinese and a true comedian. During his tasty Mexican-Chinese combination dinners we enjoyed as his new “gringo” friend, he kept us in tears of laughter with his story of the cow that kept escaping to eat his flowers and tales of his city-bred wife who lived in Tijuana so she could keep up with the el Norte America soaps.

Renaldo was another local character and friend of Pablo whom we met at Pablo’s dinner table. A jack of all trades who makes his living doing odd jobs for the local residents of Colonett, Renaldo was also a legendary lobster “catcher,” supplying the local restaurants and kitchens. Renaldo disdained lobster pots and traps of any kind, preferring to sit on top of the huge rocks at the base of the cliffs and literally catch the lobsters by hand as they were carried in by the gigantic waves crashing against the rocks.

I mentioned to Renaldo that he must be a strong swimmer, knowing he had fallen many times into the burly surf. “No, senor,” was his surprising reply. “I can’t swim a lick. I just relax and let the waves carry me back to shore with the lobsters.” What could I say to that? After two weeks with Pablo, Renaldo and the sand dunes, we said adios and continued our way south.
At El Rosario, we followed H-1 inland through the Arroyo de Rosario, skirting the foothills of the Sierra la Asamblea as it enters the fascinating desert of central Baja. Giant boulders intermingle with abstract growths of cirios, cholla, garambullo, yucca and cardon cacti. The air was dry, the weather temperate, so we set up a simple open-air campsite off the road under the giant saguaro cactus.

We had been warned to expect a brooding, severe and lifeless-like moonscape, What we found was a stark environment alive with stunning bright, color-drenched wildflowers along with the ubiquitous cacti; ground-hugging plants and life of all kinds scurrying to keep even with the balance of existence in this unforgiving country. The road which continues south to Guerrero Negro also heads east to Bahia de los Angeles, through barren hills and sandy plains. Some 42 miles from the junction lies the bay of Bahia de los Angeles.

This is serious fishing country with sport fishing for roosterfish, yellowtail, sea bass and, at times, marlin in the deeper waters. This treasure of trophy fish lures fishermen from the states in abundant numbers. There are numerous lodging and eating facilities from moderate to cheap with facilities to clean, filet and store your catch plus, in many of the resorts a landing strip for small aircraft.

At Guerrero, 221 miles south of El Rosario, Highway 1 returns to the West Coast and one of nature’s most dramatic annual fetes. During January, the gray whales arrive at Scammon’s Lagoon east of Guerrero Negro after a 6,000-mile journey from the Bering Sea. Through early March, the females bear their young in the shallow lagoon, and spend the waning winter months nurturing their young and building strength for the return north.

Watching these huge waterborne mammals cavorting like puppies will keep you enthralled for hours on end. The lagoon has been designated Gray Whale Natural Park and is accessed from Guerrero Negro. There are many good locations to witness this playground of playful water behemoths. Closer observation is possible by guided tours via small boats.

Leaving Guererro Negro, we crossed the 28th parallel, the dividing line between Estado de Baja Norte and Estado de Baja Sur (south). and entered the bleak but strangely beautiful brittle wilderness of the southern half of the peninsula. Approximately at the half-way point between Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas is the oasis village of San Ignacio. We decided to put aside roughing it for a couple of days to embrace warm showers and bed at the local motel and sit-down meals at the motel’s small restaurant. Their specialty was a savory steamed lobster.

After two days of sybaritic pleasures we headed due east. As we approached Santa Rosalia from a high ridge, the endless rows of date palms embracing the cluster of adobe homes give the oasis a look of a Moroccan village on the edge of the Sahara. The air is heavy with the aroma of sweet fruit.

We discovered another succulent treat, thanks to the owner of the campsite, when we were introduced to a street vendor’s succulent and sweet fresh tamales stuffed with goat meat and raisins. A modest motel offered the luxury of a hot shower, real beds and a lobster dinner in its small restaurant.

At Santa Rosalia, Highway 1 heads due south on the edge of the Gulf of California following a brilliant vista of beaches that looked like a strand of pearls and blue diamonds. Azure bays and inlets, sparkling in the bright sun, are so numerous you lose count after the first couple hours on the road. A short way south of Santa Rosalia are two of Baja’s best known sports fishing destinations, Mulege and Loreto.

Playa Santispac, about 5 miles south of Mulege, is a lovely, protected campsite on the Bahia Concepcion. It is the first of a handful of golden beaches and campsites that dot Bahia Concepcion. The bay at Playa Santispac is the blue that blinds you in the white light of the overhead sun. The 80 degree water is populated by fish and shellfish of extraordinary colors and description. A school of translucent baby barracudas swim by; rooster fish raise an arc of water high in the air as it skims the surfaces. Early each morning, fisherman wake us as they toss their nets in the nearby lagoon.

Every other day a shrimp boat from Guaymas on the mainland anchors to do a count. A local fisherman takes us out to the boat where we negotiate for a kilo of fresh caught shrimp. At low tide we scour the beach for tiny butterclams, which turns into a feast steamed in garlic, butter and cilantro.

A mile south of Loreto is another seemingly fantasy-land of blue bay, white beach and sheltered cabanas. The clear, azure water is alive with scuba divers, spear fishing or simply enjoying their marine holiday. Not being a proficient diver, I brought out my trusty “Mexican Fishing Pole” (See box). It took less than a half-hour to haul in eleven different exotic and unknown (but tasty) species of fish. This from a klutz who couldn’t catch a fish back home if it were handed to him. Brown pelicans fill the skies, swooping and dive-bombing the waters below, slicing the surface only to reappear seconds later with a beakful of fish.

Our lazy four-week sojourn of Baja ended at the sophisticated colonial city of La Paz, where we boarded the auto ferry to Mazatlan and began the second-half of rambling through Mexico and home.

But that’s another story for another time. From here Highway 1 dives back into the center of Baja on its way to Cabo San Lucas. Baja California is laced with literally hundreds of diamond-bright water spots to stop and watch the world drift by. Many are hidden away off the main roads but still accessible but more and more RV parks are sprouting at more populated destinations.

If you’re looking for a bit more sybaritic camping experience, travel further south to the very tip of Baja Sur and the Different World Baja Camp on the virtually uninhabited island of Espiritu Santo on the East Cape (See box). Here you will be delighted with sophisticated camping including gourmet meals and vintage wines. The camp will be open May through October.

If you want to travel to Baja Camp in a more leisurely way, you can leave your car at La Paz or Tecolote Beach and be transferred to Espiritu Santo by private boat. The boat fees are included in the camping rates. Baja Camp is operated by Different World, who own a wide ranging number of luxury hotels throughout Mexico. For more information on their varied units go to www.differentworld.com.

Dance Magic: CCF Contest
Over 560 performers took part in the 15th Annual Raas-Garba, Folk and Film Dance Competition hosted by the Charitable Care Foundation, March 24 at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif.A photo essay by Som Sharma.

(Clockwise from top left): Aerodance presenting a film dance; NNJ Dancers presenting a film dance; Noopur Dances presenting a Raas/folk dance; and Sangini presenting a film dance.

Clockwise from top: Sangeet presenting a Garba; NNJ Dancers presenting a film dance; Sahiyar presenting a Garba; and Hard Kaur Bhangra presenting a folk dance.


Rang Barse!
Holi at Sunnyvale
Thousands celebrated the traditional festival of Holi at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple. A photo essay by Som Sharma.

For over a decade desi residents of Bay Area have thronged to celebrate Holi just the way they do it back home. Sunnyvale Hindu Temple, lived up to its reputation again this twelfth year as it celebrated Holi with a mix of colors, music, dance, hot food and a loads of fun. About five thousand people young and old, some with their American friends enjoyed one of the largest Holi celebrations in Bay area.

According to Raj Bhanot of Sunnyvale Hindu Temple, the temple is in the process of a major renovation and reconstruction plan.
A bhoomi pujan to mark the renovation project has been planned for Nov. 9 this year.
Interested readers can get more information on the temple's activities and plans by visiting their Web site at: www.sunnyvaletemple.org.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Music on the Milky Way: A New CD | Apna Ghar Holds Event with Mira Nair | Ugadi, Ram Navami | Obituary | Bollywood Awards | HIV Conference | Study on Schools

Music on the Milky Way: A New CD

Sitarist Habib Khan flanked by his students Sneha and Sanmay Jain. (Siliconeer photo)

Veteran sitarist Habib Khan recently released “Music on the Milky Way,” a CD of sitar recital by two of his students, Sneha and Sanmay Jain. In this CD these two Indian American youngsters have played original compositions of Habib Khan. The CD has the feel of a combination of jazz and blues while keeping the tangibility of the raags. Khan has played with the beats or rhythms that makes for very interesting listening.

“The mood of the songs vary and keeps the listener engrossed to the end,” said a press release. The CD attests to Khan’s commitment to support his students as if they were his own children. Khan has taken on the task of spreading and nurturing Hindustani classical music. A CD release party was hosted at the Mantra restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif. As the young teenagers signed Khan said: “There is no greater gift than the gift of music for my students.”

Apna Ghar Holds Event with Mira Nair

The board and staff of Chicago-based Apna Ghar.

At a sold-out event in a theater downtown, more than 400 people gathered to support Apna Ghar (Our Home) and spend an evening with filmmaker Mira Nair for the screening of her latest film, The Namesake, according to a press release from the South Asian women’s organization.

The audience included young professionals and community leaders. Amrit Mittal of New York Life Insurance presented a check of $5,000 to Apna Ghar’s executive director Dr. Aparna Sen-Yeldandi. The grant will support the organization’s economic empowerment program, which seeks to help women in their struggle for economic independence as they try to break the cycle of violence in their lives.

The screening of the film was followed by a lively conversation with Nair during the half hour Q&A. Apna Ghar’s board member and event committee chairperson Ketki Parikh expressed her gratitude towards the community, Fox Searchlight, the theater and Nair for standing with Apna Ghar and supporting all those who want lives free from violence for themselves and their children. The conversation continued informally as the venue shifted to the reception area within the theater, where appetizers and drinks were served amidst an animated crowd.

Ugadi, Ram Navami

Devotees with head priest N. Swami (r) at the Ugadi celebrations at the Balaji temple at Sunnyvale, Calif.

Chandraman Ugadi (Hindu New Year) was celebrated at Balaji temple in Sunnyvale, Calif., recently, according to a temple press release During this function, Ganesha and Balaji Abhishekam were performed by head priest N. Swami. Many devotees attended the function. This was followed by an eight-day recital of “Shri Tulasi Das Goswami Ramayana” in Hindi by head priest N. Swami and devotees Pushpa Dhar, Nivedita Kumar, Mahendra Sethi, Ashish, Ashok, Leela Chovati and others.

Speaking on the occasion, Swami said: “Reading Ramayana and following Lord Rama’s way of life brings discipline and unity to the family, and destroys sin and removes ignorance.”

The story of Lord Rama was first written by Valmiki in the 4th century B.C.E. Ramayana is an ancient story about Rama and his life. It contains 24,000 verses in seven Kandas (Balakanda, Ayodhyakanda, Aranyakanda, Kishkindha Kanda, Sundara Kanda, Yuddha Kanda or Lanka Kanda, and Uttara Kanda). Rama, who Hindus believe to be the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, was born on the ninth day in the month of Chaitra (March - April) in Ayodhya. According to legend, Rama was born at noon. Ramanavami represents the birth anniversary of Rama (or Chaitra Masa Suklapaksha Navami). In some parts of India, it is a nine-day festival, coinciding with the Vasanta Navaratri. This day also marks the end of the nine-day festival called Vasanthothsavam (festival of spring) that starts with Ugadi.

“The Ramanavami festival offers to us all an opportunity to learn and follow the ways of Lord Rama,” the press release added. “It is believed that listening to the story of Lord Rama cleanses the soul. Praying to Lord Rama and chanting his name is believed to ease the pains of life and lead one to moksha, or liberation.”


Hemant Mandpe of San Jose, Calif., passed away on February 15, according to family members. He is survived by his wife, Shaila, and two daughters, Archana (Denver) and Aditi (San Francisco). “His family misses him and will always remember him as a kind, quiet, unselfish, intelligent man who kept his word and excelled in his chosen professions as engineer/manager with General Electric and as a mortgage loan consultant,” according to a message from his family. “May his soul rest in peace.”

Bollywood Awards

The Bollywood Group and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. announced the 9th Annual Bollywood Movie Awards March 29, according to a press release. The annual awards ceremony, officially sponsored by Wal-Mart, will be held at the Nassau Coliseum in New York City May 26. The event will honor the outstanding achievements of Indian filmmakers and artists over the last year.

“Bollywood brings an important cultural experience and rich history to the city of New York while contributing to the influence of American cinema,” said Esther Silver-Parker, vice president, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “As a global retailer, it’s important that we demonstrate our commitment to diversity. Supporting the Bollywood Awards is a great opportunity for us to further promote the initiatives of the Asian American and Pacific-Islander community.”

“We are pleased to work with Wal-Mart, a company which shares our group’s vision of promoting culture and diversity. By teaming with the Bollywood Awards, Wal-Mart is also endorsing Bollywood’s undeniable role in influencing and shaping culture around the world,” said Kamal Dandona, chairman and CEO of the Bollywood Group.

HIV Conference

Deputy commissioner of police of Amritsar, Baljit Singh, addresses participants at a conference dealing with drug addiction and HIV/AIDS in Punjab.

Nearly 60 people representing Indian government and non-government organizations dealing with the issues of drug addiction and HIV/AIDS in Punjab gathered at a conference Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 held at Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar, Punjab, according to a press release from Sikh Dharma International.

The purpose of the conference was to create dialogue among the organizations serving to help to deal with HIV/AIDS and to explore ways to coordinate efforts.

The event was organized by the Societal Promotion for Youth and Masses in conjunction with the National Institute Social Defense, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India; and National AIDS Control Organization, Ministry of Health, Government of India.

MSJ&E is currently funding country-wide drug demand reduction programs through approximately 500 different NGOs. NACO is funding HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

The conference was hosted by the Punjab State AIDS Control Society under NACO and the Department of Social Welfare, under MSJ&E. Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar provided facilities for the event, with coordination from Mukta Kaur Khalsa representing 3HO Foundation’s SuperHealth.

3HO Foundation’s SuperHealth is a system of yogic science applied for de-addiction. In collaboration with the Punjab government, SuperHealth conducted a 90- day pilot project for drug abusers in Amritsar completing in 2005.

Miri Piri Academy, where the conference took place, is an international school imparting religious and academic education to Sikh children from around the world. 3HO Foundation and Miri Piri Academy were founded by Yogi Bhajan.

The chief guest at the conference was deputy commissioner of police of Amritsar, Baljit Singh, who addressed the conference, sharing his first-hand perspective on the importance of the work that they are doing.

Study on Schools

Assuring a quality education for all of California’s school-age children may take a significant infusion of funds, according to the second slate of non-partisan research studies requested by state policy-makers. At the same time, additional dollars must be accompanied by comprehensive reforms in the education governance and finance systems. Researchers found that even after adjusting for costs, California lags behind most other states, including Texas and New York, in per pupil education spending. The studies also found that because many of their students come to school less prepared, high-poverty schools will require extra funds to raise academic standards and meet state goals.

“The research confirms what many educators have long believed: High-poverty schools are struggling to meet state standards and will require additional support to get them on par with other schools,” said senate president pro tempore Don Perata, a research requestor. “It’s true our schools could use more resources, but these studies also show there are significant improvements we must make in how we currently use the money, not just the amount spent.”

The three independent cost analyses released recently complemented another suite of related studies revealing how the state must make comprehensive reforms in how California schools are governed and financed. The nearly $3 million research project was requested by a bipartisan group of state leaders and underwritten by four of the nation’s leading philanthropic foundations.

California’s schools may require substantially more resources to meet student achievement goals,” said Susanna Loeb, an associate professor at Stanford University and the leader of the research project. “But the research findings of all 22 studies are clear: that to have an impact, increased funding must go hand-in-hand with reforms.”

The studies show that California’s K-12 spending is below the national average, even factoring in recent budget increases. The Golden State’s low spending relative to other states is primarily a reflection of its low staff-to-student ratios and not of differences in the salaries that individual teachers receive.

BUSINESS: News in Brief
Tech CU Hosts Community Spirit Day
EVA Air’s Mumbai Web Site Offers Free Tickets Contest
Plug-in Hybrids
DIRECTV in Public

Tech CU Hosts Community Spirit Day

Children’s artist Mr. David with kids at Technology Credit Union’s first Community Spirit Day hosted March 6.

Technology Credit Union hosted its first annual Community Spirit Day March 6 to increase awareness for local non-profits and community outreach organizations, according to a press release. The credit union also raised more than $4,000 in donations for Resource Area for Teachers, Girls for a Change and City Team Ministries.

More than 150 people attended the event, featuring a concert by Bay Area favorite children’s artist, Mr. David.

Sixteen charitable organizations and nonprofits from the Bay Area were represented, including: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Discovery Museum, City Team Ministries, Cupertino Community Services, Family Giving Tree, Girls for Change, Habitat for Humanity, Junior League, Resource Area for Teachers, Second Harvest Food Bank, YWCA, Future Families, African Library Project, First Five, Hospice of the Valley and Vanished Children’s Alliance.

EVA Air’s Mumbai Web Site Offers Free Tickets Contest

EVA Air launched a special Mumbai Web site March 12, according to a press release. The new Web site at http://mumbai.evaair.com allows visitors to get an at-a-glance schedule of EVA’s Mumbai flights, including connecting service from both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Visitors can also enter to win a round-trip flight from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Mumbai aboard one of EVA’s Boeing 747-400s.

The contest began March 12 and ends on April 30, 2007. First prize is a round-trip business class ticket on EVA from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Mumbai. Second prize is a round-trip evergreen deluxe premium economy class ticket, and third prize is a round-trip economy class ticket. One prize will be awarded in each category and posted at http://www.evaair.com/ . The third-prize winner will be announced March 28, second prize April 16 and first prize on May 1. No purchase is necessary to enter but all participants must be 18 years of age or older by March 12, 2007. All contest details and rules are available on the contest page.

EVA’s three-flight-a-week BR71 service departs Taipei on Wednesday and Friday at 11:00 p.m. and Sunday at 11:30 p.m., arriving in India seven hours later. Flight BR72 returns from Mumbai on Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 6:30 a.m., and arrives back in Taipei at 3:0 0 p.m. the same day. Connecting services take travelers onward to San Francisco, Los Angeles and other gateways in the United States. With just one stop in Taiwan on trips both to and from the U.S., EVA’s new Mumbai service speeds travel between India and North America.

Passengers traveling this route will have access to the amenities of one of one of EVA’s Boeing 747-400s configured with four cabins, including Super First, Super Business, Evergreen Deluxe and Economy Classes. Travelers can book and buy tickets now through their travel agents, EVA reservations offices worldwide and online at http://www.evaair.com/

Plug-in Hybrids

Plug-in Bay Area and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group announced a new partnership today with the aim of encouraging businesses and municipalities throughout Silicon Valley to invest in fuel efficient plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and Tom Hayse, president and CEO of Newark-based ETM-Electromatic, Inc., were on hand to endorse the partnership at a news conference outside Palo Alto City Hall.

“Plug-in hybrids are the key to a cleaner, more fuel efficient future,” said Rainforest Action Network’s Jodie Van Horn, coordinator of Plug-in Bay Area. “This partnership is another important step toward establishing plug-in hybrids as a realistic alternative to the gas-guzzling vehicles being promoted to consumers by America’s oil-addicted auto industry.”

Plug-In Bay Area is part of a national grassroots effort intended to show automakers the burgeoning demand for plug-in vehicles via “soft orders,” which are declarations of intent to purchase plug-ins once they are commercially available. Plug-in hybrids, which are capable of 100+ miles per gallon, add battery power and a plug to a conventional hybrid while retaining a flexible fuel gas tank. This allows for all-electric, zero-emissions driving locally, and the ability to shift to gas for longer distances.

“Our organization is fully charged and running on all cylinders behind this partnership with Plug-in Bay Area and the importance of reducing greenhouse gases,” said Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents 210 of the region’s largest companies. “We encourage our members, their employees and everyone throughout the Bay Area and beyond to support these and other alternative energy options to fossil fuel-burning automobiles.”

Regional Plug-In Bay Area organizers include Rainforest Action Network, Bluewater Network, PG&E, CalCars, San Francisco Electric Vehicle Association, and Plug-In America.

DIRECTV in Public

Elephant Advertising & Events has rolled out an extensive grass roots public places program to bring DIRECTV to commercial establishments most frequented by Indian Americans across the U.S. , according to a press release. This roll out coincides with DIRECTV’s broadcast of the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Elephant Advertising has installed over 45 DIRECTV branded plasma televisions across the country in restaurants, grocery stores, community centers, and banks which caters to the Indian American community. The venues selected for this extensive public places program have some of the highest foot traffic by Indian consumers in America, the release added. The program includes venues across New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles.

“DIRECTV World Direct is a leader in marketing through grass roots channels,” said Elephant Advertising president Nayan Padrai. “A strategy was developed to give Indian Americans a glimpse of Indian news and entertainment programming that they can see exclusively on DIRECTV, along with the Cricket World Cup, the biggest sporting event for Indians around the world.”

“People are really excited about the Cricket World Cup,” said Nirav Shah, manager of Rajbhog, one of the most popular Indian franchise restaurants located in Jackson Heights, New York City, the oldest and probably most famous shopping area for Indians in the U.S. for the last four decades. “They are calling us to know if we are showing the DIRECTV broadcast of Cricket World Cup in the store. They are even enjoying the repeat telecast of matches.”

DIRECTV offers South Asian programming in multiple languages and packages. DIRECTV is the official broadcaster of the ICC Cricket World Cup.

IT Stocks Battered as Rupee Hits 7-year High
Google: Eyeing India
Autodesk: Rs. 10M Design Center
Vodafone in India
Hutchison: Deal under Scrutiny

IT Stocks Battered as Rupee Hits 7-year High

The rupee ended March 28 in Mumbai at a seven-year high of 43.04/06 as banks sold dollars to replenish their funds, thereby avoiding costlier money market borrowings. Dealers said the Reserve Bank of India intervened to stem the rupee’s surge. As the domestic currency touched its highest since June 1999, stock prices fell the steepest in two weeks, led by exporters.

A weak consumer confidence report in the U.S. also weighed on investor sentiment. Infosys Technologies, Wipro, Tata Consultancy, and Satyam Computer, which together account for 20 percent weightage in the Sensex, led the fall, as a stronger rupee made their exports less competitive.

The Sensex fell 239.98, or 1.8 percent, to close at 12,884.34, its biggest loss since March 14. The S&P CNX Nifty slid 1.5 percent to 3,761.10 points. Infosys fell Rs 64.70, or 3.15 percent, to Rs 1,992.30. TCS slipped Rs 60.25, or 4.72 percent, to Rs 1,201. Wipro fell Rs 27.95, or 4.77 percent, to Rs 558.20. The BSE IT index was the biggest loser among segment indices, posting a fall of 177.57 points, or 3.54 percent, at 4,831.85 after touching the session’s low of 4,823.11.

Indian software companies’ ADRs on Nasdaq closed in the negative zone the previous night, dampening trading sentiments in Mumbai. Software makers earn nearly 60 percent of their revenues in dollars.

At the inter-bank foreign exchange market, the Indian currency fluctuated in the range of 43.02 and 43.23 before ending off an intra-day high of 43.01. The rupee had closed at 43.29/30 on Monday. Tuesday was a holiday for the money market. The Indian currency has shot up by over Rs 1.10 in a week.

Google: Eyeing India

The world’s largest search engine Google’s decision to invest in two early-stage venture capital funds in India appears to have whetted its appetite for a more active buy-out strategy in the country. The $10.7 billion giant now says it is open to acquisition of Indian companies that have “interesting technologies” to offer.

“We are hoping that there are some great technologies in India and we are open to direct acquisitions if it makes sense,” Google vice-president Sukhinder Singh Cassidy told the Economic Times.

Cassidy’s comments reflect a more aggressive growth posture by Google in India, a month after the company announced it would invest in two venture capital funds — Seedfund and Erasmic. “The signature of any acquisition that we make will not be the size of the company but a strong engineering talent and great core technology that we can help scale,” she said.

Citing Google’s acquisition of popular video-sharing site YouTube in a whopping $1.65 billion stock-for-stock transaction last year, Cassidy said, “YouTube not only had a strong technology but became a market leader in offering services that enabled people to watch and share original videos through a web experience. We are open to acquisition of services that have a strong market share potential, which can be accelerated.”

Autodesk: Rs. 10M Design Center

Autodesk, the design software and digital solutions company, has announced an investment of Rs. 10 million to set up a design centre of excellence and a “Design Finishing School” at IIT Madras for engineering students from across the country.

As part of the memorandum of understanding, IIT Madras and Autodesk will also undertake joint research projects and will conduct outreach programs for the small to medium enterprise market to improve the design and engineering skills of professionals to make their companies globally more competitive.

Autodesk will provide computing infrastructure, 3D design software including Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk Alias Studio industrial design tools and will assist IIT Madras in developing design courseware and potentially new elective inter-disciplinary courses in the areas of product design.

Students at IIT Madras will also receive access to the global Autodesk Student Engineering and Design Community Web site.

Vodafone in India

U.K.-based mobile services major Vodafone plans to step up its presence in India in about six months, chief executive Arun Sarin told a group of journalists from India. Vodafone last month bought out Hutchison Telecom’s 52 percent stake in Hutchison Essar (in a deal that pegged the enterprise value of the firm around $19 billion.

Vodafone has not set any deadline for renaming the Hutch brand in India to Vodafone. “The Hutch brand is a very good brand in India. When people prefer Hutch over other rival brands, there is a strong reason. We want to understand what is that people like about Hutch and transport that into the Vodafone brand,” Sarin said.

Vodafone bought out Hutchison Telecom’s 52 percent stake in HEL in a deal that pegged the enterprise value of the firm at $19 billion.

The company hasn’t set a deadline for renaming the Hutch brand in India to Vodafone. Vodafone is yet to get the final nod from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.

A key element of Vodafone’s India strategy is the introduction of low-cost mobile phones to make mobile service affordable to more Indian users.

 “We are coming into India with network, low-cost handsets, services — information services, entertainment services. We will mix that all up and in six months’ time, you will get a feel that Vodafone has come to India,” Sarin added.

Hutchison: Deal under Scrutiny

Indian authorities are looking into Hutchison Telecommunications' control of mobile phone venture Hutchison Essar to see if it breaks foreign ownership rules, the Economic Times newspaper said on Monday, quoting a central bank letter.

Foreign ownership of telecoms companies is capped at 74 percent in India.

Hong Kong-based Hutchison Telecommunications International has agreed to sell its majority stake in Hutchison Essar, India's fourth-largest carrier, to Vodafone Group Plc. for $11.1 billion.

HTIL controlled 67 percent of the joint venture, with India's Essar Group holding the rest.

The Economic Times said the Reserve Bank of India, in a March 20 letter to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, said ownership of a 12.26 percent stake within HTIL's stake needed to be investigated.

HTIL's stake included shares held by local partners such as Hutchison Essar chief executive Asim Ghosh and investor Analjit Singh.

"Since the funding has been made at the instance of HTIL, it would imply that these persons would be holding shares in concert with HTIL and, if this is taken into account, the foreign holding in Hutchison Essar may breach the FDI cap of 74 percent," the report quoted the central bank letter as saying.

Safe, Smooth Drive: 2007 Mercedes E350 Sedan
The new Mercedes E-Class has been restyled and fitted with new features and state-of-the-art safety enhancements, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

Mercedes introduced its E-Class models back in 1996, right around the time this family started riding around in test cars for this “Mom’s Taxi” column. The E350 was one of the first cars we had an opportunity to test drive those many years ago, and it left a huge impression on my crew. Now, I’ve driven many Mercedes since, but the E350 always holds a special spot for us.

So, here it is again, and for 2007 the E-Class has been restyled and fitted with lots of new features and state-of-the-art safety enhancements.

Headlining those enhancements is the E-350’s new look, especially on the front bumper, grille and headlights; a new steering wheel and shift lever with push-button start; revised layout on the dashboard; additions to the premium audio system; and a power tailgate on the station wagon models. A power release for the trunk on the sedans is also available on the keyless remote entry.

Perhaps the biggest addition is a safety feature Mercedes calls Pre-Safe. The multi-faceted system is designed to reduce forces on occupants in a frontal crash. It is, according to Mercedes, the first system that can sense and take protective measures before a crash. It does this by pre-tensioning the seatbelts if an impending collision is detected. If the front passenger seat is “over-reclined or forward,” the Pre-Safe moves the seat to a more favorable crash position. The seat cushion also re-adjusts if it detects there is the possibility of “submarining” in a crash. Finally, if the car is skidding, the system automatically closes the sunroof and side windows. Now, I’m trying to imagine what all of this may feel like if you — as a front seat passenger — are motoring along in “snooze” mode, enjoying the open sunroof and reclined seat, when the car goes into a skid and your seat is suddenly moved up and forward and the roof closes. Because, believe me, we did not try to simulate this on our own. If you think about it, Pre-Safe does offer us parents some peace of mind, however, as I always did wonder about the safety of a passenger in an overly reclined seat.

This enhanced system is supported by several other safety features, including Electronic Stability Control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, a steel reinforced cabin with front and rear crumple zones, a roll-over sensor, head protection curtains, and side air bags in the front and rear.

When driving at night, you’ll find the optional bi-xenon, high-intensity lights are self-leveling, which means they are always aimed perfectly, regardless of how the vehicle is loaded, or during hard braking or acceleration actions. The lights turn slightly with the steering wheel, to better illuminate the roadway on approaching curves. Fog lamps double as cornering lights, too, illuminating one side of the vehicle up to an angle of about 65 degrees. For those who drive winding roads or experience frequent fog, all this should provide tons of peace of mind.

With all those safety features, you’re bound to hit the road with a sense of calm and security. Once on the road, there is no mistaking the Mercedes driving experience. Pampering is a word that comes to mind. The car is a dream to drive and handles beautifully. You’ll barely feel the road and seem to float over dips and potholes. The Harmon/Kardon Digital Surround Sound system is sublime and the seats are firm and yet accommodating. Satellite radio and cellphone rewiring are available as options.

Front seat passengers are treated to a dual-zone climate system and the seats can be positioned 10 ways with a memory feature for up to three.

About the only gripe I had with the E350 is that the dashboard controls have small buttons and knobs, and it took some time to figure out how to change the radio stations and switch from AM to FM. But, if the car were to be with me for longer than a week, that would not be a problem.

Overall, it’s really hard to beat the driving experience Mercedes offers, and the E350 only capitalizes on the package by offering all those parent-loving safety features.

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


Bachchan Launches IIFA Bond for Global Cool | Shilpa Shetty Meets Queen Elizabeth II | Going Phoren | Fools Rush in | Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow | Shaadi of the Century | Munnabhai in Comics | Water Fails to Make Splash

Bachchan Launches IIFA Bond for Global Cool

Amitabh Bachchan examines his wax figure after a curtain raiser event of the eighth annual International Indian Film Awards at Madame Tussauds in London.

Give the Big B credit for adding a touch of class to whatever he does. Who else would combine ecological awareness with promoting cinema? Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan March 28 launched the IIFA Bond for Global Cool, the world's first major climate change campaign and said that India could take timely remedial action to deal with the issue as it emerges as an global economic power.

"With India's growth rate of eight per cent per annum, it will create a huge affluent middle class, projected to be 300 million and it is good there is an awareness about the climate so that remedial action can be taken," Bachchan said while addressing a select gathering at the wax museum Madame Tussauds in London.

Bachchan also announced that the eighth annual International Indian Film Academy Awards will be held at Yorkshire for four days from June 7.

Others present on the occasion were actress Sienna Miller, Britain's Secretary of State for Environment David Milliband, Tom Riordan, chief executive officer of Yorkshire Forward and Fanny Calder, head of strategy, Global Cool Foundation.

Bachchan said film personalities and celebrities are perhaps listened to and looked at more than others. "They have a voice and a face and it is ideal for them to promote Global Cool," he said and pledged that his wife, Jaya Bachchan, a celebrity in her own right, son Abhishek and his would-be wife Aishwarya Rai would work to achieve Global Cool.
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Shilpa Shetty Meets Queen Elizabeth II

Indian actress Shilpa Shetty (r) meets Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

It’s amazing what a bit of racial abuse will do to your career. Take Shilpa Shetty, whose film career in Bollywood, such as it was, was heading nowhere — fast. Suddenly she joins a British reality show with a bunch of other has-beens of the gora variety, a few racist comments are hurled, and voila! You would think this was the second coming of Joan of Arc.

Whatever the cause of Shilpa’s recent claim to fame, it has nothing to do with acting (unless you wish to be unkind and call her recent sanctimonious postures an act), yet thanks to some sordid abuse in a forgettable show (shame on you, Channel 4), Shilpa gets invited to the House of Commons and gets to say hello to the Queen.

Call us cynical, but we think Shilpa is the undeserving beneficiary of the guilt of decent British folks (probably the vast majority of that nation) who were aghast at what some of their less evolved gora compatriots were capable of.

Meanwhile, Shilpa has said she was pleased that no police charges were brought against the other ‘Big Brother’ housemates. “I just want to say it was a reality show. Too much was made of it,” she said. Thank your lucky stars that it was, honey. Otherwise you wouldn’t be hanging out with the Queen.

Meanwhile, after giving Shilpa the royal treatment, the British tabloids have come to down to their usual level i.e., the gutter. The News of the World is leading the pack, serving warmed up leftovers of yesteryear’s Akshay-Shilpa romance, zeroing, as can be expected, on the allegedly steamy sex.

The Daily Mail chimes in with labeling mom Sunanda Shetty a “domineering mother who almost ruined Shilpa’s life.”

Some blogs have discovered that she is not a major star in India and argue that if she was, she would not have shared a stage with the British B-grade celebrities stuck inside the Big Brother’s house.

Duh! Anybody with an iota of brains knew that all along.
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Going Phoren

Mallika Sherawat at the promotion of her latest Hollywood movie Unveiled in Mumbai.

Well, what do you know? Our Haryanvi kudi is going phoren again. Mallika Sherawat, India’s latest voluptuous export, is going to do a Hollywood film, no less.

For those who are already yawning, she assure us that this time it’s not gonna be a blink-any-you-miss-her role like it was in her Jackie Chan film The Myth.

Bill Bannerman, who has been assisting the Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood, has finally chosen Mallika Sherawat for his upcoming debut film

The film revolves around the life of a Muslim woman who has two husbands and an American lover. Mallika plays the role of a woman from West Asia who flies off to the U.S. to meet her lover.

So far so good. At least her fans will be relieved. The last time she went on a phoren jaunt, both her costume and screen time were really short.

Now she is angling for larger roles, she says. No more itsy bitsy roles, just itsy bitsy dresses, perhaps.

The film's synopsis seems to support this: “Behind the dark burqa, there lies a sexy, manipulative victim, who's dangerous as well as in grave danger.” And the film’s name?


Seems tailor-made for Mallika.
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Fools Rush in

Manoj Night Shyamalan

You would have thought film producing houses would at least know the basic facts of their business. Take wunderkind-turned-enfant terrible Manoj Night Shyamalan. After an admittedly spectacular commercial debut with The Sixth Sense and a fairly good follow up with Unbreakable, and The Signs, he has fallen flat on his face with the huge flop, The Lady in the Water, but Mumbai-based producer UTV doesn’t seem to care.

Shyamalan’s next movie The Happening will have an Indian connection. UTV will finance half of the $57 million project along with 20th Century Fox studio.

Many critics agree that success seems to have gone to the young filmmaker’s head and his work is beginning to reflect that.

Just look at the bottom line. The $40-million Sixth Sense grossed over $600 million worldwide, the $75-million Unbreakable grossed over $240 worldwide, and the $72-million Signs grossed $408 million worldwide on top of domestic receipts.

The subsequent Village, while a huge disappointment, at least made a modest profit, but the latest Lady in the Water has been a disaster, both commercially and critically.

The New York Post wrote that the film was "dead in the water", criticizing Shyamalan as a "crackpot with messianic delusions."

The film has the dubious distinction of winning four Golden Raspberry Award nominations, three of which were for Shyamalan himself. (Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay.) As well as Worst Picture. Shyamalan later "won" two of the awards, Worst Supporting Actor and Worst Director.

So why is UTV taking on this film? As the old saying goes: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

John Abraham (l), seen with Deepa Mehta, writer-director of Water and Seema Biswas.

Looking at the damsels in distress, you would think that the world was coming to an end. Turns out it’s something of considerably less import. Bollywood stud muffin John Abraham has cut his long hair, and all the female fans are calling for their smelling salts.

The hunk who is the first Parsi-Christian hero to make it to the top echelons has upset his die-hard fans by cutting away those locks by going in for a change of look.

Fans who watched him at the Oscar show were aghast to see those famous neck-and-beyond near-tresses cruelly missing!

But worry not, say hairstylists, who opine that it will take a while for us to get used to the new John, they also feel that his new look will once again set a trend, as John has been a trendsetter.

But his fans hope that his hair grows back faster in a hair-yesterday-gone-today-back-tomorrow fashion. Even the male fans emulating his “cool” look are upset.

Meanwhile, after the poor box-office performance of Baabul and Salaam-e-Ishq, John is wondering whether he should stick completely to offbeat films and unconventional roles. Well, maybe John is barking up the wrong tree. Consider the appalling box-office performance of Water in India and the bad reviews he has got for his “non-acting” in the film.

Perhaps better choice of films and a dash of better act will do the trick, hair or no hair.
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Shaadi of the Century

Abhishek Bachchan (l) and Aishwarya Rai at a function at the French Embassy in New Delhi.

It’s official now: The shaadi of the century is happening in April. Former Miss World Aishwarya Rai will marry actor boyfriend Abhishek Bachchan next month in one of the most high-profile Indian weddings of the year.

Now restraint has never been the strongest suit of Bollywood fans, so expect a whole lot of tamasha over this, although the families themselves want a low-key affair.

The ceremony will be held April 20 at the Bachchan residence in Mumbai, where the country's Hindi-language film industry is based, the Times of India reported on its front page.

“The wedding will be a small, private affair with only close family and friends in attendance, and it will be held at the Bachchans' residence," the Press Trust of India quoted an unnamed source as saying.

The two families have opted for a discreet wedding with a guest list numbering around 15 as the groom's grandmother is unwell, the Times of India said.

Rai, a leading Bollywood actress, and Bachchan, son of legendary screen icon Amitabh Bachchan, got engaged on January 14, capping months of media speculation about their relationship.

The couple have been dubbed “Abhiash,” a melding of their two names in the fashion of “Brangelina” for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Rai is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world and Bachchan, who is one of Bollywood's leading men, was voted the sexiest Asian man by a British newspaper last year.

Both had been previously linked to other Bollywood actors.

Rai and Bachchan struck up a friendship while acting in their first Bollywood movie together seven years ago.

Their latest film Dhoom 2 was the highest grossing Bollywood movie last year, collecting 1.65 billion rupees ($37 million) at the box office.
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Munnabhai in Comics

Sanjay Dutt (r) and Arshad Warsi in Lage Raho Munnabhai

Director Raj Kumar Hirani and his co-writer Abhijat Joshi have decided not to restrict their two endearing creations — Munnabhai and Circuit — to the large screen. They'll soon be seen as part of a comic book series.

Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi tickled the funny bone of audiences as Munna and Circuit respectively in the hit movies Munnabhai MBBS and Lage Raho Munna Bhai.

“And why just comic books? We've a large number of offers to turn Munna and Circuit's adventures into animation films, cartoon strips, you name it,” Hirani stated.

In fact, the blueprint for the comic strips has already been made.

“We've drawn some sketches for Munna and Circuit which would hopefully serve as illustrations in a series of adventures, and we like what we see. If things go well we'll soon be putting out Circuit-Munna comic books for public consumption,” said Hirani.

The comic books and the proposed animation films will be marketed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra Productions, which had produced the two films as well.

Arshad is delighted by the idea. "Wow! To actually feature in comic books, like Superman or Spiderman! Imagine what my son Zeke will have to tell his friends in school: 'My father the superhero!'”
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Water Fails to Make Splash

A promotional poster for Deepa Mehta’s Water.

Well the gora log may be impressed, but it’s a different story in India. Deepa Mehta’s Water, a controversial Oscar-nominated film about the lives of widows in colonial India, and which outraged Hindu hardliners during its making, has failed to strike a chord among the audiences.

Some critics said Water, the story of widows and their exploitation in the past, touched a discordant note with modern audiences besotted with stories showcasing India's economic success, not its poor and downtrodden.

“Water is refined cinema, but at the box-office the film caters to a niche audience — only those who appreciate quality cinema,” said trade analyst Taran Adarsh.

“This is not a subject that ever can be a popular entertainer.”

The film received wide critical acclaim in the U.S.Water is an exquisite film about the institutionalized oppression of an entire class of women and the way patriarchal imperatives inform religious belief,” wrote The New York Times.

“Deftly balancing epic sociopolitical scope with intimate human emotions, all polished to a high technical gloss, Deepa Mehta's Water is a profoundly moving drama,” said Variety.

Alas, the janta in India were less impressed .
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Pleasant, But Seriously Flawed:
The Namesake -
Reviewed by Partha Banerjee
(Rating **1/2 Mediocre)

(Above): Tabu and Irrfan Khan in “The Namesake”

As a first-generation Bengali immigrant from Kolkata, I am happy that a long-overdue film to tell our story to the mainstream American audience is finally done. I am happy that Jhumpa Lahiri’s best-selling novel and Mira Nair’s making a film out of it explore and expose our many experiences migrating, living and bringing up the children in an environment of isolation, marginalization, and identity crisis. In a country where mass media and Hollywood are preoccupied ignoring or undermining the new-immigrant experience, The Namesake is a welcome breath of fresh air. Undoubtedly, such a story would please the open-minded, kind and liberal Western viewer, and also the educated-affluent, immigrant family, particularly South Asians in New York, Boston, Jersey, Chicago, Houston or Los Angeles, or the many other small and unknown places they live in.

Readers can visit Partha Banerjee's Web site at:
My problem, however, is that both the celebrated novel and the Wall Street Journal-honored film do just that: please a naïve, apolitical audience that fails or refuses to dig deeper into the superficial, nice concepts of diversity, assimilation (or the lack of it), cultural conflicts and personal tragedies in this so-called Melting Pot. The story, however well meant, successfully keeps the first-observer uninformed about the true tale of a new immigrant’s life and struggle. Just like the artificial Bengali pronunciations and sentence constructions by its primary characters — the Ganguli family, the film, with its often-imposed and superfluous sequences, misses a great opportunity to transform the story from an obvious, broad-brush landscape into a subtle, masterful one, grounded in earth. That’s a disappointment, because only an act of true artistry and superior finesse would do justice both to Bengal and the Bengali diaspora, from both sides of the British-erected borders. After all, Nair herself said that the film was “about my deep love for Bengali life and the city of Calcutta. And it’s an homage to Satyajit Ray’s work.”

Perhaps, the new-generation, Westernized Indian authors and filmmakers with strong preference to produce in the English language come from a class so different (and removed?) that the stories they tell lack that grounding that could come only from a down-to-earth, grassroots experience to live and struggle in the place they claim to know. Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Aparna Sen — all have deep understanding of the film medium; all of them have created a major canvas or two that boast about their cinematographic qualities easily surpassing the run-of-the-mill Bollywood kitsch. Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane or Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Deepa Mehta’s Fire or Water, and Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding or Kamasutra all bear testimony to that superior mastery over their tools of the craft. In The Namesake, combine it with smart and enthusiastic performances by Kal Penn, Jacinda Barrett or Zuleikha Robinson (and ignore the against-the-grain-of-the-film, imposed sex scenes), and you could find an exotic masala to churn the unfamiliar recipe of the novel into a rich, visual delight. Even Irfan Habib and Tabu’s purposefully subdued acting went well with the slowly-unfolding thread of the story encompassing three generations of a family spread over two sides of the globe.

But the film simply misses too many points, and fails to answer too many questions, and follows the novel too religiously. A Bengali-American immigrant in U.S., with real experience in the life, culture and language the story talks about, and perhaps one with the required acumen to explore beyond the glossing-over, would thus come home with a sense of frustration to see that a multi-million-dollar effort was not used well; instead, the production company’s energies were spent on pleasing a crowd that has the power to officially adore, and elevate the stature of the film in elite circles, who knows, maybe even for an Oscar nomination as the Best Foreign Film. After all, it’s been the Hollywood trend for the past number of years.

So, what’s missing? For one, in a story of a Bengali family, the principal characters do not speak the language. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli’s Bengali is awkward, to say the least, and the way they speak it, however sporadically, is anything but Kolkata-like; in fact, it’s bizarre. Gogol or his sister’s grasp (read: no grasp) of the language could be forgiven as many Bengali immigrants choose, for reasons unknown to me, not to inculcate it in their children. But in a typical, educated Bengali immigrant household where the apartment wall is adorned with portraits of poet Tagore and nationalist leader Subhas Bose (note: no Gandhi — a true Bengali fact of life, indeed), isn’t it only expected that other essential lifestyle elements would feature in? But they did not. The Ganguli couple never cooks a Bengali meal on the stove, listens to a Bengali song on the stereo, plays a Bengali movie on TV, or teaches their children the language via textbooks or stories, even though these are precious belongings a Bengali immigrant clings on to, almost as survival gears. Is it because Ashima comes from a family where reciting “The Daffodils” is more of a norm than singing Tagore songs from Geetabitan? But the extended family in Kolkata, the surroundings, and the more natural West-Bengali conversations, complete with grandmothers and all, show otherwise. Gogol, on his first Kolkata trip, decides to go out jogging, and before he’s stopped by a family servant from going far (a rather Johnny Walker-type Bollywoodish spoof from the 60’s), the neighborhood suddenly changes from an upper middle-class North Kolkata to a dingy and super-crowded West Kolkata labyrinth. In fact, other than an obligatory, ten-second sequence at the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, a city Mira Nair said she loves (and I believe her), is mostly shot at locations reminiscent of The City of Joy — to overstate its contrasts with the nice and quiet American suburbs. Even a crowded Queensboro Bridge looks serene compared to the Hollywood-forsaken “Armpit in the Third World.” Not that Kolkata is the most picturesque place on earth; however, the selection of shots is rather strange. To be fair, though, Nair does show, rather well, a left-leaning Kolkata through visuals of protest marches, but even there, she focuses her camera way too much on the sickle and hammer.

There are other cinematic flaws. I’d, however, put more emphasis on the immigrant experience illustrated in the novel, which is devotionally transcribed into the movie — it didn’t have to be that way. Gogol’s identity crisis is real, but portrayed imposed. He’s torn inside with his Russian nickname that only his father associates with, and gets angrier when his American classmates make fun of the name. However, it takes his father, who otherwise never spares a moment to talk about his admiration for Nikolai Gogol and his writings, literally a generation to explain to his son what circumstances bonded him with the name. He finally does it, again in a Bollywood kind of way, just before his departure from the family and death soon after. Gogol also never knew the meaning of Ashima (the one with no borders), until his wife Moushumi, who’s more fluent in French, told him about it. Moushumi comes to Gogol’s life during an introspection after his father’s death, as if Gogol has matured now; however she abruptly breaks up within a year. In an otherwise placid and quiet family, Gogol dances wildly in his room to the tune of ear-splitting rock n roll. And after being in U.S. for so many years, Ashima, a librarian by now, still finds it uncomfortable to be kissed on the cheek by his grown-up son’s girlfriend. The educated and apparently modern family’s friend Mira uses a hocus-pocus ritual with a bunch of red chili peppers (was it meant to be funny? If so, I didn’t get it) on Gogol, to chill him out. The family comes back from an India trip (when they left the house safely locked up and unattended for weeks), and discovers their mailbox smeared with slurs, but the neighborhood looks too cul-de-sac’y for such an outburst of vandalism, if not racism. Other than a handyman (and Gogol’s girlfriend Maxine), the family does not have any white American guests that would come and visit the parents or their children — an unheard-of fact in an educated immigrant family from Kolkata — and the Gangulis never encounter African Americans or other persons of color, even in New York City. In fact, the only underclass the film shows is a group of poor folks in a laundromat who take their clothes off in Ashima’s presence, in a manner that one may find deprecating, especially when that’s the only time you decide to include the less affluent, merely as a cinematographic detail, a “B-roll.”

In fact, the best time the film (i.e., the novel) makes a strong point about an immigrant’s de-humanization is when Ashima gets the news of her husband’s death through the voice of a dispassionate telephone operator in a distant hospital, where Ashoke suddenly dies of a heart attack. But knowingly or not, the story-teller decides not to spend any more time on it, and even though it could have been a major, poignant moment in the film, it was not meant to be. Because of the broad-brush, multiple strokes the film used to paint over this moment, it missed its chance to highlight in this relevant tale an extremely mechanized system that’s often so completely detached from humanity that it traumatizes and tears apart even a so-called successful, “mainstream” immigrant family.

Also, the film didn’t even bother to, and one might argue, that it didn’t necessarily have to, tell the stories of the millions of other immigrants whose jeopardy is exacerbated by their desperate economic and immigration status in an apathetic and exploitative system, one that champions diversity and assimilation, but treats its newcomers with discrimination and misery (the post-9/11, nightmarish climate is a living chronicle of that).

Did I like The Namesake? How’d I grade it? Now, that’s the hardest question of all. On one hand, I know deep in my heart that the storyteller and the film production company did not do justice to the intelligent and inquisitive liberal mind — Western or not — who wanted to know more; they sort of glossed over a serious and complex phenomenon that’s become a hot-button issue for politicians, left or right, worldwide. Unintentionally, I believe, such a mass-market production would actually help the people in power to sweep the well-kept secrets about the real immigrant experience in America deeper under the rug. And that’s a shame.

However, at the same time, I must not also forget to show gratitude to Mira Nair and her crew that they, for the first time, managed to put such a story — our story of hope, pain, sacrifice, suffering and joy, however partial and fragmented — up on the big screen, for the consumption and examination of a larger, mainstream, Western audience. In that sense, if pleasing that crowd helps it start examining more about the lives we’re living in alienation, on the many islands — Bengali, Hindi, Spanish, Mandarin, Punjabi or Creole — that would be a gain, however little or late. Until and unless some of us, the more politically educated activist type, get to make our own mass form of expression, we’d
very reluctantly accept an effort such as The Namesake, just because we have little other choice.

And that’s the real predicament.

Uneasy Mix: Muni

Director: Raghava Lawrence
Cast: Raghava Lawrence, Vedika, Rajkiran, Vinu Chakravarty, Kadhal Dandapani, Rahul Dev.

After directing two Telugu films, dancer-choreographer-actor Lawrence debuts in Tamil as a director. Muni is a supernatural thriller centered on a ghost yearning for vendetta, and of the human medium he chooses to achieve his aim, a story that has been portrayed in many earlier films.

Lawrence plays Ganesh, a youth petrified by ghosts. Newly married, he comes with his wife and parents to stay in their new bungalow. The early scenes are in a lighter vein. When Lawrence goes overboard with his scared act, it in no way endears him to the audience. Also, it makes the viewer apprehensive about what is in store for us.

But the actor-director gets his act together in the latter part in the film. The scene hots up after Ganesh encounters the ghost of Muni (Rajkiran). Muni, a fisherman and the spokesperson of his people, had been used by Dandapani, a politician (Dandapani), to get votes. The politician had backtracked on his promises to Muni, and afraid of being exposed, had Muni and his family killed brutally.

Ganesh agrees to be Muni’s medium for a vendetta. Lawrence comes out better in these scenes of possession and vendetta. Rajkiran has less to do, but does them with conviction. Dandapani brings out the vileness of the politician suitably. With the ghost and the youth taking center stage, Vedika as the wife has very little to do.

Lawrence’s Telugu ventures were better crafted and presented. He hasn’t displayed even half that skill here. Again, the attempt to blend comedy with the supernatural doesn’t quite work out here, because the film neither makes you laugh nor takes you to the edge of your seat. Take away its gore and violence, and Muni at most could have turned out to be enjoyable fare for children!

— Malini Mannath


Quick Snack: Bread Dahi Vada

Did you know one of the most popular North Indian snacks can be made with bread?
Seema Gupta shows you how.

Ingredients: (Serves four)
  • 8 slices of white bread
  • 1 cup yogurt mixed with 2 tbsp water, ½ tsp sugar and salt to taste

    For garnishing
  • Green chutney
  • Tamarind chutney
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ tsp red chili powder
  • ½ tsp roasted cumin powder

    For the filling
  • 4 tbsp grated coconut
  • 1 tbsp cashew pieces
  • 2 green chillies, chopped
  • 1 tsp raisin
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ tsp black pepper
    Mix well.

Cut each slice into a round shape. Take 1 slice of bread and dip into yogurt and take it out and put in one hand, put about a tbsp filling on top of the bread and then cover it with another dipped slice of bread. Slightly squeeze it to form a flat patty. Keep it in a dish, spread some yogurt on the top and garnish with green chutney, tamarind sauce, salt, red chili powder and roasted jeera powder.

Refrigerate and serve.

- Seema Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: April By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You will have to alter plans for last minute meetings. Venus in second will improve your finances. Response to a letter will be quick and positive. You will travel to a nearby town to meet an old friend. There is no escape from hard work.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Strong Venus in first will provide a lot of energy. Think twice before making any decisions about the present job. You will plan a short trip with family. Value of stocks will appreciate and it will be wise to wait before investing again soon.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): You will make a good investment in a new project. Venus in twelfth makes you forget the difficulties and helps you enjoy life. Some one close in the past will try to come back in life. You will get help from influential people.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Money will pour in from all ends. You will make money in stocks and a refund is on its way. Some of you will be making a smooth switch in career soon. You may be working on an overseas trip. You will be working harder than ever and it will pay off.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): Positive changes in life are just around the corner. You will be working with interesting people and may plan a small party. You may be signing few important papers in a hurry. You will find new and better suppliers for your business. You will be looking for a place to relocate soon.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You will start feeling lucky. Most of the work will be done with slight effort. You will be invited to a big party. It will take a while to decide on a recently received offer. Bank balance will grow as you will have fewer payments to make. You will spend time studying.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Strong planets bring new opportunities to make money. People in business will spend more on advertising. Watch out for food poisoning, try to eat home-cooked food. You will receive valuable gifts. Anxiety about career will continue for some more time.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): You are going through a great learning experience. Strong Jupiter will make you wise and far sighted. Some positive news at work will cause excitement. You will take a short trip to attend a party. Minor problems will arise but will be solved quickly. Your vehicle will need minor repairs. Bank balance will grow.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will overcome many hurdles and make tremendous progress in career. Financially things will stay very tight for some more time. A strong person will initially oppose but will become a friend quickly. You will attend important meetings. You may suffer little cut or injury in arms or hand.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Expenses and bills will escalate. Improvement in career will continue as expected. You will make plans with kids also. You will have to call repeatedly to get a payment. A courageous and a professional approach will get the job done from a government agency. Try to relax as much as you can.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): Presence of Mars and Rahu in first is detrimental for health. Keep an eye on blood pressure and handle all machines and tools with care. You will enjoy quality time with close relatives and old friends. You will be writing a hefty check to government. Try to compromise with opponents.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Opponents will get stronger. Do not take chances with weather. Money will come but go towards paying bills. You will go on a short trip. Mind will be inclined towards religion as you will seek help from all quarters. Your efforts will be appreciated by your boss but without any rewards.

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


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