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Volume VIII • Issue 2

EDITORIAL: The Art of Rajasthan
NEWS DIARY: January Roundup
Burger King to Enter India

LIVING: Is Grandpa Cold?
REMEMBRANCE: Republic Day Celebrations
HEALTH: Earned, Not Won
CULTURE: Kathak Angik
TRAVEL: Beyond Shasta
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Saturn Aura XR
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Review: Guru
RECIPE: Veggie Ranch Melt Burger

Please Join us as we
welcome veteran
South Asian advertising guru Prem Dutt to the Siliconeer family.
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Call Prem: (510) 797-8315

The Art of Rajasthan

Rajasthan is sheer magic. Anybody who has visited that storied land of the Rajas has unforgettable memories of desert landscapes, camel caravans and its unforgettable fortress cities.

Whenever Indians visit the state, they are struck by the arresting beauty of the artistry that is part of the everyday life of Rajasthan, be it the miniature paintings of its upper-crust denizens, or the colorful designs of the men’s turbans and the cloth rings that women use to rest their water vessels on their heads.

Trouble is, it’s about 10,000 miles away from California, so even if the thought of Rajasthan makes you wistful, you can’t visit it at a moment’s whim.

The next best thing would be if Rajasthan came to you — and that’s pretty much what the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley, Calif., has managed to accomplish in its exquisite exhibit that opens this month. This exhibit, which runs for almost a year and is open and free to the public at this University of California museum, gives visitors a vivid sense of the artistic temperament that permeates that desert state.

From a 30-foot painted scroll depicting the epic of Pabuji, a semi-divine folk hero, to examples of domestic crafts, wedding textiles, festival material, puppets and theatrical costumes, ritual masks, musical instruments, paintings for traveling storytellers, temple sculptures and paintings, and paintings made for tourists, the exhibit is a wonderful introduction to the state for the uninitiated and a delight for the Rajasthan aficionado.

Many of the pieces are uncommon in American museum collections because of their large size.

Hearst Museum research anthropologist Ira Jacknis provides an introduction to this marvelous exhibit in our cover story this month. This is an absolutely must-see exhibit for South Asians. Put the word out, and don’t come alone, bring an American friend with you!

Sandeep Pandey, our India editorial consultant, is nothing if not contrarian. Trained as a mechanical engineer with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, today he runs an ashram in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. The Magsaysay award-winning activist did teach briefly at IIT Kanpur, but left in disgust after the IIT authorities were unhappy with his efforts to help construction workers organize and bid for IIT contracts.

In this issue, he reflects on the gap between India’s strides in knowledge and the widespread hunger and poverty of its masses.

In India the socio-economic disparities are ghastly, and not only is it unclear that these disparities are diminishing notwithstanding the nation’s blistering economic growth rates, the elite seems to be too absorbed in narcissistic navel-gazing to care much one way or the other.

While we cannot say we agree with everything he says, we have to say he does make a few sobering points. His appeal for a more humane, egalitarian and communitarian society may seem utopian, but few would argue when he writes: “Until wisdom is wedded to education, unless science, technology and IT and its users follow a value system which is the basis for a just human order, the fruits of modern development will not be shared equitably by all.”

Filmmaker Suma Josson has chronicled the dark side of Indian economic reforms in her heartbreaking documentary films I Want My Father Back and Before the Last Tree Falls. While the Indian — and the Western media as well — wax eloquent over how India is set to tower in the global economy in the future, Josson’s films depict with scary clarity the terrible human toll in India’s rural hinterland caused by policies driven by free market ayatollahs who rule the roost in Washington and multilateral organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

The current buzz word is BRIC (for Brazil, Russia, India, China) coined by investment banker Goldman Sachs which has projected that India will overtake the United States by 2050 to become the world’s second largest economy after China. No one is talking about India’s farmers, who are on a suicide spree unprecedented in its history.

Fully two thirds of the Indian population depends on agriculture, so this is the real India. Josson shows how their traditional methods of farming, developed over millennia, are being systematically destroyed by policies that serve global corporate interests.

Subsidies have been withdrawn, farmers no longer grow their own seeds but have to buy it in the market where pesticide merchants tout it, and traditional multi-crop farming has been replaced by single cash crops.

The result is capital-intensive, soil-destroying farming with pesticides and fertilizers. Farmers are up to their neck in debt, but sell their produce at abysmal price as it competes in the global “free” market where prices are artificially low, thanks to massive farm subsidies farmers in the affluent West.

This month’s issue carries an article on Suma Josson’s work.

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

Land of the Rajas: Berkeley Exhibit

A year-long exhibit opens this month at the Hearst Museum at the University of California at Berkeley showcasing Rajasthan’s colorful and distinctive art styles.
Ira Jacknis presents an introduction.

(Above): The small drawer of this storyteller’s shrine is painted with cows, contains the  following message: “This container is for the cow shelter, to buy grass for cows …  suggested donation 201 rupees.”  (Right): Rajasthani painting of a woman with snakes, in a forested and rocky place. [All photos courtesy HEARST MUSEUM / UC BERKELEY]

Rajasthan, a state in northwestern India, is famed for its colorful and distinctive art styles. For centuries, its princely rulers have encouraged a wide range of arts. The arts of Rajasthan (literally “land of kings”) are distinguished by a complex interplay between court and village traditions, especially evident in those used in ritual performances.

These traditions are explored in a current exhibition at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, “From the Land of the Rajas: Creativity in Rajasthan,” on view now through Dec. 21. As the curator, I was inspired to put on the show about eight years ago. For a class that she was teaching, Prof. Joanna Williams, the university’s expert in South and Southeast Asian art history, had requested a large, rolled-up painting that I had not seen before. I was overwhelmed with this giant and detailed painting of Krishna and Radha, and vowed to one day find a way to share it with the public. This exhibition now offers us the opportunity to present this and other wonderful objects, many of which have never been displayed before.

“From the Land of the Rajas” explores the social and cultural context of visual artistry in the desert state. The exhibition focuses on festival and religious arts, especially those concerned with pictorial narrative. Among the roughly 150 objects in the exhibit are domestic crafts, marriage and festival arts, puppets and theatrical costumes, ritual masks, musical instruments, paintings for traveling storytellers, temple sculpture and painting, and tourist painting. Two featured works are an over-thirty-foot-long painted scroll depicting the epic of Pabuji, a semi-divine folk hero, and a large temple painting devoted to the worship of Krishna.

(Right): Detail of a painted temple wall-hanging called a pichhavai depicts Krishna dancing with milkmaids (gopis) (detail). 

Almost all the pieces on display come from the rich Hearst collection from Rajasthan, about 230 items. Most were acquired in 1969–70 by Dr. Renaldo J. Maduro (1942–88), then a U.C. Berkeley anthropology graduate student, as part of his dissertation research on creativity among Rajasthani painters. In anticipation of the exhibit, in the summer of 2005 the museum commissioned a small collection of related objects; and a few pieces are on loan from private collectors.

As an anthropology museum, we aim to explore the social and cultural contexts of artistry in Rajasthan. Who makes these objects, and who do they make them for? What are they intended for, and where they are used? In fact, few of the arts on display are “folk art,” in the sense that they are made by untrained individuals. Instead, almost are the products of professional artisans, trained in family traditions. To illustrate this perspective, we have arranged the objects according to a combination of form and function, reflecting how different kinds of objects are used and seen in different Rajasthani settings, such as the field, home, fair, theater, tribal ceremony, temple, and market.

At the same time, we attend to more aesthetic issues of form and meaning. Are designs representational or abstract? What associations do colors have? What features are selected to represent gods? Are narrative scenes laid out in a series or all at once? “From the Land of the Rajas” contains a rich assortment of traditional Rajasthani styles of painting and decoration, full of gods, kings, and heroes.

(Above): Colorful Rajasthani carrying rings for balancing water pots on top of one’s head. 

To set the scene, we start with the most famous of Rajasthani arts: the tradition of miniature court painting. Moving then to the homes and field of rural Rajasthan, we present several objects illustrating the important role played by camels in Rajasthan, especially among the worshippers of the hero Pabuji. One case of domestic crafts presents a representative sampling of the state’s renowned craft media, primarily pottery and metalwork. Rajasthan is famous for its brilliantly-colored and richly decorated clothing. After some examples of the distinctive types of decoration, primarily kinds of tie-dying and block-printing, comes a representative sample of women’s and men’s clothing, household textiles, and a set of brilliantly embroidered shoes.

(Right): Detail from a scroll painting (par or phad) that tells the story of epic hero Pabuji.  This  particular scroll is very large, running 36’ in length.

The central section in the exhibit’s first half deals with marriage — one of the most important aspects of Rajasthani life, and, consequently, a dominant theme of its art. Through the wedding ceremony, ordinary people explicitly model themselves on gods and kings. Among the decorative objects used in weddings are door decorations, wall hangings, henna hand paintings, a painted container for vermillion powder, and, of course, a full set of married women’s jewelry. A nearby case on festival arts features a pair of ceramic figures for the Gangaur festival (a spring fertility festival), a rakhi arm ornament for Raksha-Bandan, and a baby’s bonnet for the spring Holi festival.

A section on folk drama contains decorative objects used in common plays. Famous Rajasthani kings are the main subjects of both the puppet plays (illustrated by a lively set of marionettes) and the khyal drama (seen in a set of colorful costume turbans). These court-derived traditions are contrasted with the bold masks for the Gavari dance drama, which is a Bhil tribal version of a Hindu fertility myth.

The methods of visual storytelling are vividly explored in two portable religious shrines used by itinerant bards: a storyteller’s box of painted folding screens, narrating the exploits of Krishna and Rama; and the 32-foot scroll illustrating the story of the folk hero Pabuji.

Since the early 16th century, rural Rajputs and Rebari shepherds and camel herders have worshipped the hero Pabuji. He seems to have been a real person, a minor ruler of the Rathor Rajputs, living in Marwar (around Jodhpur) during the early 14th century. Now regarded as a god, he is prayed to during the sickness of humans and livestock and for other misfortunes. Although there are temples dedicated to him, for at least the past two centuries his worship has centered around the ritual performance of a lengthy epic poem recounting his exploits. By tradition, these stories have been recited by bhopas (folk priests) who travel from village to village with a painted scroll illustrating his story. Although the complete story takes about 36 hours to recite, they usually spend one night recounting a portion of his story before moving on. Because of the decline in the viability of herding in Rajasthan, as well as the greater exposure to modern media such as movies and television, this ancient tradition is currently endangered.

(Right): Painting for a domestic shrine:  Krishna as Sri Nathji. This piece was made by artist Pannalal Motilal and his sons.

Our scroll, about twice the size of a usual par, was painted around 1969 by Durgesh Kumar and Rajesh Kumar Joshi of Shahpura. It is in a bold and dramatic style characteristic of Rajasthani popular art. Unlike a movie or comic book—or the nearby story-teller’s shrine—the story on the scroll is not illustrated in sequence from one side to the other. Instead, it is more like a map, representing distinct places mentioned in the story. As the bard recites the epic he dances from one part to another, pointing with his bow to the relevant section. Nearby is a case of musical instruments that accompany these performances: the ravanhatha spike fiddle and dholak hand drum.

The core of the exhibit is devoted to Hindu worship, with sections on shrine and temple decoration, amulets, and votive ceramic plaques. These illustrate a range of divine imagery: Krishna, Ganesha, Amba Mata, Hanuman, and Nandi. Because of his prominence in Hindu devotion, we have a separate section on Krishna, seen as a mischievous child, a youth dancing with milkmaids, a flute-player, and in the venerated form of Shri Nathji.

Perhaps the single most impressive object in the show is the large and detailed painting—measuring about 9 feet high and 8 feet wide—that first inspired me. It depicts the Rasa Lila, the divine dance of Krishna and the milkmaids (gopis). Associated with the cult of Krishna in Nathadwara, a pilgrimage site in southern Rajasthan, these pichhavai paintings are placed behind the statue of Krishna in the temple. Although much larger in scale, these pichhavais follow the tradition of the more finely-detailed miniature paintings. Our example, one of two in the collection, was painted around 1969 by the noted artist Kanhaiyalal (ca. 1900–98). This image is complemented by two smaller but fine paintings of Krishna as Sri Nathji, made for purchase by pilgrims. To balance the focus on Hinduism in the rest of the exhibit, we also include a marble figurine used in Jain devotion.

The final section reveals how these courtly and ritual arts have been reflected in versions made as fine art for the commercial market. Since the abolition of princely titles and privileges in 1971, tourists have replaced kings as the prime patrons of Rajasthani artists. While modest in size, the exquisite miniatures, from the courtly tradition, continue to illustrate popular subjects of gods and kings.

The objects are contextualized with a rich array of media: many vivid photographs of Rajasthani life, recordings of Krishna songs, and a video documentary about the narration of the Pabuji scroll and its current fate in modern India. Following its normal practice, the Hearst Museum will also prepare an on-line version of the exhibit (http://hearstmuseum.berkeley.edu/exhibitions/rajasthan).

Design for henna hand-painting from the Udaipur District of Rajasthan

With this exhibition, the Hearst Museum is proud to share with the general public some extremely impressive, rare, and beautiful paintings, setting them against the colorful and diverse scene of Rajasthani life. Because of their large size and ritual use, the featured paintings are rare in American collections, and so offer an exceptional glimpse into the ritual arts of an Indian region famed for its tradition of court painting. We expect the subject to appeal to the large local Indian American community in the Bay Area. Over the coming year, the Hearst Museum well be presenting a full suite of public programs, including lectures, demonstrations, films, and performances.

“From the Land of the Rajas” is a tribute to the spectacular artistry of traditional Rajasthan. It well illustrates the observation of collector Renaldo Maduro: “Anyone who has ever been to Rajasthan … will remember the great splashes of color and design all over the walls of houses. As if to compensate for the drabness and monotony of the surrounding desert landscape, the Rajasthanis also wear brilliantly colored turbans and clothes that, in one painter’s words, “pull at the eyes.”

More information is available at:
Email: pahma@berkeley.edu;
Phone: (510) 642-3682

Cover photo: Jodhpuri-style shoes (Hearst Museum, UC Berkeley, photo).

Wisdom & Knowledge
: The Limits of Science
IUntil wisdom is wedded to education, unless science users adopt as their goal a just human order, the fruits of modern development will not be shared equitably by all, writes Sandeep Pandey.

One would assume that education, science and technology and information technology, all seemingly very progressive things, will have a role in combating hunger and violence. However, experience shows that these tools have been exploited by the elite and powerful to create worse conditions of hunger and violence. Advances in development based on the above-mentioned tools have only served to increase the gap between the rich and the poor. The problems of hunger and violence have certainly not been mitigated by modern development propelled by the achievements in science and technology. They continue to stare at us, demanding more urgent attention than ever before.

The process of education is considered to be desirable. There is an underlying assumption that education will produce a better society and will help us in solving the problems of the society. Education is meant to produce enlightened citizens.

However, the competition-inducing education system makes us less sensitive towards our fellow human beings. The educated class is seen to become self-serving, concerning itself less with social problems. The education system has materially benefited only a miniscule minority of the population, considering that only nine percent of the Indian population enters the college level of education. Most of the students either drop out or are ejected out of the system. Even the people who complete their education are not able to fulfill their aspirations in the jobs that they end up with. Hence a condition of material and mental poverty prevails even after receiving education.

The major scientific intervention in agriculture, the green revolution, did seem to present the illusion of solving the problem of India’s perennial shortage of food. However, we continue to have starvation deaths and farmer suicide incidents, probably in numbers larger than before. In Uttar Pradesh alone, more than 40 hunger deaths have taken place over the last three years and farmers have committed suicide at a rate exceeding one per day over the last five years. Even the epicenter of green revolution, Punjab, is witnessing farmer suicides. Obviously, something went amiss. The scientific intervention created more problems than it solved. The agricultural fields and groundwater are now poisoned with pesticides and hazardous chemicals. The political system could not deliver the benefits of enhanced production to the poor. Massive siphoning off of food grains which come as part of the Public Distribution System or earlier what was called the Food for Work program made the situation worse. More education has not been able to tackle the rickety racket of irregularities and corruption. If anything, matters have deteriorated.

The educated class seems to have accepted the system of commissions and cuts as a way of life and is quite happy to go along with it rather than resisting it. In fact, the training imparted in the education system prepares one mentally to be subservient. This class certainly lacks the courage to change things.

In a broader, global context, it seems clear that because the majority of peoples are not satisfied, uncertainty rules and peace can not be ensured. The power of science and technology has been used to develop the most dangerous weapons. With primitive weapons we could kill people one at a time. Now there were weapons of mass destruction with the amazing prowess of inflicting damage on a horrifyingly larger scale. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the exhibition and demonstration of that strength. Destruction was justified in the name of science and technology, which goes on to show that wisdom has become completely divorced from the idea of education. In fact, we take pride in glorifying the destructive capacity of science and technology. There should be little surprise that violence has increased manifold as the fruits of modern development became available to human society.

Now Information Technology is creating a digital divide so that the more privileged have now more avenues of exploiting opportunities. The poor are more at the mercy of the market as they are becoming more knowledge dis-empowered.

There are rare examples where tools of modern development have helped the poor. The “Lokvani” innovation by the district magistrate of Sitapur, U.P., in 2004 brought some transparency in the administration and made the officials accountable to the people. For a brief period it appeared as if IT offered great potential in realizing the dream of people-friendly governance. However, the system was found to be dependent on the drive of the district magistrate. It did not do as well in most other districts.

Until wisdom is wedded to education, unless science, technology and IT and its users follow a value system which is the basis for a just human order, the fruits of modern development will not be shared equitably by all. We have to free human beings from the clutches of markets and governments. Only a self-imposed value system and a desire to create a society which is free of all artificial divisions created by human beings can bring happiness and prosperity. The value of competition, held so highly by the market and governments, will have to be replaced by the value of cooperation. The objectives of education, science and technology and IT will have to be changed. All kinds of destructive activity, justified in the name of knowledge, against human beings, their physical and mental health and environment, will have to be stopped. Sharing will have to be developed as a value and practice. Claims of ownership over natural resources will have to be given up. We have to learn to accept that material resources are meant to take care of everybody’s needs and not for self-aggrandizement. We have to be mentally conditioned to believe the truth that human needs are limited and can be fulfilled by finite resources. The model of more consumption equated to more growth will have to be abandoned.

We would have to believe in a concept of security based on mutually satisfying human relationships. This is the only condition which guarantees permanent peace. The fact that arms add to more insecurity should be as clear as transparent water. An atmosphere of trust in society is the only state which will rule out violence.

The solutions to the problems of hunger and violence, therefore, lie in the domain of wisdom rather than the tools of modern development

NEWS DIARY: January 2007 Roundup
Ardh Kumbh Mela: 20 Million Take Holy Dip | Tata Buys Anglo-Dutch Steelmaker Corus | Yunus Lauds Gandhi | Attacks on Shi’ites | India to Overtake U.S. | Protest in Nepal | Court Cancels Book Fair

Ardh Kumbh Mela: 20 Million Take Holy Dip
Pilgrims take holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati on Vasant Panchami Day, in Allahabad.

At least 20 million people bathed in the river Ganga in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, on the main day of the Ardh Kumbh mela, festival organizers said.

Thousands of Hindu holy men began the plunge at dawn. Crowds bathed until late into the night.

The mela is considered to be the largest gathering of humanity on the planet. The festival began Jan. 3 January and concludes Feb. 16 February. Organizers expect about 60 million people to attend over the six weeks.

Pilgrims believe that bathing at the confluence of three of Hinduism’s holiest rivers washes away their sins. The mass bathing takes place at Sangam, where the Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers meet.

The new moon night, or Mauni Amavasya, was celebrated Jan. 19. It is the most auspicious day in the six-week-long festival.

Chief organizer R.N. Tripathi said more than 20 million people had taken a holy dip.

The Mauni Amavasya is a day when sun, moon, Venus and Mercury are in the zodiac of Capricorn, a rare but perfect alignment of planets, devotees believe.

All roads leading to the site teemed with pilgrims and more kept arriving.

No traffic was allowed on the roads leading up to the river and thousands of policemen and paramilitary troops were deployed to ensure the orderly movement of people.

Under the alert eyes of security officials, hundreds of vendors sold marigold flowers and sweets, sacred thread and cans to take away the Ganga water.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Tata Buys Anglo-Dutch Steelmaker Corus
A Corus blast furnace in Port Talbot, Wales.

Indian industrial house Tata has won the battle to take over the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus. Tata Steel’s bid for the steelmaker — which was created from the merger of British Steel and Hoogovens — beat its Brazilian rival CSN’s bid.

Britain’s Takeover Panel said Tata had won after offering 608p per share, valuing Corus at $11.3 billion.

Corus employs 47,300 people worldwide, including 24,000 in the U.K. at plants at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Rotherham.

Mumbai-based Tata said its takeover would not lead to job losses in the first phase.

The takeover will create the world’s fifth-largest steel group.

The two-way battle for the firm began in October when Tata tabled a £4.1 billion bid for the group and, in December, the Corus board recommended a revised £4.7 billion offer from Tata.

But, just hours later the board confirmed it had approved a £4.9 billion, offer from Rio de Janeiro-based CSN.

Tata eventually outbid its Brazilian rivals.

Last year Corus was the ninth largest steel producer in the world with 18.2 million metric tons of output. It banked pre-tax profits of £580 million on turnover of £10.14 billion.

Last year Tata Steel, part of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, was ranked 56th in the list of steelmakers around the world with output of 5.3 million metric tons.

The Tata Group — which owns Tetley tea and Daewoo cars — has operations in more than 50 countries.
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Yunus Lauds Gandhi
Mohammad Yunus

In a keynote speech at a two-day conference observing the Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha movement, Bangladesh’s Nobel laureate economist Mohammad Yunus urged the world community to emulate Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of tolerance, non-violence, compassion for all humanity and peaceful co-existence for achieving peace and prosperity and an improved life through banishing poverty into museum.

All India Congress Committee president Sonia Gandhi presided over the inaugural ceremony of the conference.

“Within the framework that encompasses Gandhiji’s philosophy of tolerance, non-violence, compassion for all humanity and peaceful co-existence, we can work together to create a world where we can achieve peace not through war, but dialogue and cooperation,” Yunus told the audience.

Later, he said that corporate houses should take up social business initiatives that aim at serving the poor through a non-loss, non-dividend business.

This model should not be misunderstood as philanthropy, he said.

While mooting the idea of a `social stock market’ to list companies that are engaged in businesses in the social sector, he said such a market would allow people to pick and invest in firms involved in the social development field.

Yunus said India could replicate the micro-finance model of Bangladesh. “It can work for India, as it involved people who are the same everywhere. If you are serious it would happen.’’

According to him, what is critical is a legal framework and regulatory body that will ensure smooth running of the sector, as micro-finance in India is still at a nascent stage. Pointing out that there are 16 million beneficiaries of micro-finance in Bangladesh, which is one-tenth the size of India in terms of population, he said India, therefore, should have at least 160 million beneficiaries.

While focusing on the need to spread the reach of micro-finance and social business in every walk of life, the Nobel laureate said it should form part of the curricula of business schools with the option of specialization in the discipline.
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Attacks on Shi’ites
Shi’ite mourners protest against violence in Karachi.

Rocket and mortar fire killed at least two people in Pakistan Jan. 30 as a Shi’ite religious procession dispersed in a town known for sectarian violence, police and hospital officials said.

Thirteen policemen and a civilian were wounded in the attack in Hangu, in North West Frontier Province, where a year ago 40 people were killed by a suicide bomber during an Ashura procession, the climax of the Islamic holy month of Muharram for followers of the Shi’ite sect.

Senior administrator Fakkahar-e-Alam said the Shi’ites came under fire as this year’s Ashura procession dispersed.

The two people killed were Afghan refugees, said senior police official Mohammad Sharif.

The roof of a building collapsed in a village near Lahore injuring 48 people who had been watching a procession in the street below, police said. Among the injured were 28 women, a police official said.

There has been a spate of sectarian attacks in the days leading up to this year’s Ashura.

On Jan. 29, a suicide bomber killed himself and two others in another northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan, the third suicide attack in days.

Also on the same day, two rockets struck close to a Shi’ite religious center in the northwestern town of Bannu wounding 13 people.

A suicide bomber killed himself Jan. 26 and a guard outside the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, and the following day, a suicide bomber killed 15 people, including a city police in the northwestern city of Peshawar, shortly before Shi’ite mourners were to begin a procession.

Thousands of people have been killed in sectarian attacks by Sunni and Shi’ite militants in Pakistan since the 1980s. Shi’ites make up about 15 percent of the mostly Sunni Muslim country’s population
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India to Overtake U.S.
A high-rise building in Mumbai lit up during construction. Goldman Sachs says India will overtake the United States by 2050.

With the current growth rate of over 8 percent, which is sustainable, India will challenge the global economic order in the next 15 years and by 2050 it will be second largest economy after China overtaking the United States, according to a Goldman Sachs’ Economic Research Report on Global Economics released recently.

The report by the world’s leading investment banker says India can sustain the growth rate of about 8.4 percent till 2020 and on an average basis should be 6.9 percent until 2050.

“The underlying causes for the increase in efficiency of private firms have been acceleration in international trade, financial sector growth, and investments in and adoption of information and communication technology,” it says.

India’s current growth rate of around 8 percent can be increased 10 percent, if the efficiency level in term of productivity to capital employed is being increased and also the saving rate increased marginally to sustain the investment.

India needs to boost its investment rate by another 16 percent of the GDP to achieve and sustain a growth rate of 10 percent,” the report says.

In addition, it says that the labor movement from agriculture to industry will fuel the growth by one percent. “The movement of surplus labor away from low-productivity agriculture to high productivity industry and services contributes about 1 percentage point to annual GDP growth. India is well positioned to reap the benefits of favorable demographics, including an urbanisation bonus over the long term.”

However, it warns that India will need continued progress in reducing the fiscal deficit and in enhancing education at all levels. “We also see threats to the growth process from protectionism, supply-side constraints to doing business, and environmental degradation,” it says.
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Protest in Nepal
Demonstrators from Nepal’s Mahadhesi ethnic group burn tires during protests at Jaleswor, 232 miles south of Kathmandu.

The Nepal government and former rebel Maoists have agreed to demands by protesters in the southeast of the country for greater political representation in an effort to halt ethnic unrest in which nine people have died, officials said.

Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula told reporters new electoral constituencies would be added for key elections due to be held before June, and the demand for increased federalization of the Terai region would be addressed.

“In principle we have agreed to establish a federal state of government but the new constitution to be formed by the constituent assembly will decide on the structure,” Sitaula told reporters after three hours of talks between leaders of the seven parties in government and the Maoists.

“The new constituencies will be formed based upon population and geography. This is the demand of the Nepali people,” the home minister said.

“We think we have addressed the key issues of the Mahadhesi people and we are hopeful that the protests will cease,” Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara told AFP.

The agreement comes after nearly two weeks of rioting in Nepal’s impoverished southern Terai region by members of the Mahadhesi community, who have long complained of being discriminated against and underrepresented in government.

The Terai area, known as Nepal’s “bread basket,” is a low-lying region bordering India and is dominated by the Mahadhesi community.

Mahadhesi leaders say their group accounts for at least a third of impoverished Nepal’s 27 million people yet is under-represented in Kathmandu’s corridors of power — even after the recent sidelining of the king.
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Court Cancels Book Fair
The Kolkata High Court has refused to allow the annual book fair in Kolkata to go ahead at a central park on environmental grounds.

The Calcutta Book Fair is one of Asia’s largest fairs of its kind. Since it began in 1976, the event has been held at the Maidan, a huge green open space in the heart of the city, drawing crowds of book lovers daily.

The court ruling follows months of campaigning by environmentalists who said it would cause irreparable damage.

In a report submitted to the court, the state pollution control board said the city’s pollution level goes up substantially during the 12-day event.

The court also declared permissions acquired by the organizers — the Publishers and Booksellers Guild — from various different government agencies to be invalid.

Recently, in an interim order, the court had said that the organizers had lied blatantly to get clearances.
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Witness to Tragedy
: India’s Farming Crisis
While Bollywood revels in its make-believe world of glitz and glamour, filmmaker Suma Josson has painstakingly documented the heartbreaking story of the crisis that has destroyed the lives of farmers in Maharashtra. A Siliconeer report.

(Left): A scene from “I Want My Father Back,” a documentary by Suma Josson on the plight of farmers in Vidarbha, Maharashtra.

You watch "I Want My Father Back," Suma Josson’s poignant documentary film on the misery of small-scale farmers in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, and it breaks your heart.

Academics may argue about economic statistics, ideologues can engage in polemical debates, but Suma Josson has actually been there, and documented the suffering first hand.

I Want My Father Back was screened recently in the Bay Area at the University of California at Berkeley, Fremont and Santa Clara in association with the India Relief and Education Fund (http://iref.homestead.com), a 12-year-old Bay Area organization, which works towards increasing awareness about social justice issues in India.

Whether it’s an inconsolable father sadly going over the modest belongings of his daughter who committed suicide, or a son crying his heart out as he reminisces about his father’s suicide while his grandfather’s creased face is immobile in stoic silence, you realize that the policies that can do this to ordinary, decent people is nothing short of criminal.

Step back and think about it for a moment, and your disquiet is even greater. There are many questions but no answers. Why is the Indian media AWOL on this issue? Where is the public outrage?

The statistics are staggering. From 1998 to 2006, over 100,000 farmers have committed suicides. In Vidarbha, 3,000 farmers have taken their lives in the 1999-2006 period. Since June 2005, 2-3 farmers have been committing suicides every day.

Yet you wouldn’t know that from the Indian media. Reports of farmer suicides and protests do appear in fits and spurts, but most of the media appears focused on the glitzy malls, the phoren fast-food chains, the luxury cars, the call centers and the hip lifestyles o the rich and famous.

So what’s going on here?

The farming crisis did not happen in a day, the film argues. It is the result of decades of wrong policies.

It all began with the Green Revolution in the 1960s, says environmental activist Vandana Shiva. “The Green Revolution is neither green nor a revolution,” she says in the film. “It was a means to open new markets for fertilizers.”

Fertilizers, pesticides and now genetically modified seeds have transformed Indian farming. In the traditional farming method, farmers used to plant multiple crops, food along with cash crops.

(Below): A scene from “I Want My Father Back.”

Now it’s different: it’s about capital intensive farming and monocrop, and buying seeds from pesticide sellers. The upshot of all this is that small-scale farmers are obliged to borrow heavily from moneylenders to grow cash crops.

(Right): Filmmaker Suma Josson

If you think that’s bad, you don’t even know the half of it. The real fun begins when the farmer takes his crops to the market to sell it. Thanks to the arm-twisting of the U.S. dominated multilateral organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization — and if truth be told, the appalling spinelessness of the Indian political masters — Indian farmers are locked in a bizarre, unequal battle.

While subsidies for inputs and government procurement programs for the Indian farmer are jettisoned, he is pitted against the farmers of the affluent West who are formidably fortified by generous government support. Some free market, this.

Take cotton. The 25,000 cotton farmers in the U.S. get a subsidy $230 per acre. It should come as no surprise that in this kind of “free” market, from being a traditional exporter of cotton, India has become the world’s third largest importer of cotton.

What happens to the cotton farmer is shown in harrowing detail in the film. Up to their neck in debt, facing plummeting prices for their crops, they are committing suicide in droves.

According to UNICEF, one third of the world’s hungry children live in India. “Our leaders who talk about Shining India, Superpower India, they should be drowned in a palmful of water along with this figures,” fumes Shiva. “(We are a nation of) 70 percent farmers, (with) plenty of sun and water. The soil is good. In such a nation farmers are committing suicide. Children are dying of hunger. This is totally unacceptable.”

Kishor Bhoer, a farmer in Vidarbha, is more blunt: “It’s either suicide or the Naxalites.”


Food Fight: Burger King to Enter India
Burger King is the latest multinational fast food chain to join in the feeding frenzy for the $1 billion Indian fast food market, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

After KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, now comes the news that U.S. fast food chain Burger King is mulling an entry into the Indian consumer market. Over the last couple of weeks there has been considerable talk that the Miami-based fast food giant is charting out its India foray.

Some reports have said that the company is looking for a local franchisee, as is its strategy across the world, and is in talks with several Indian players including the Future Group, that has experience in the sector through its retail garment chain Pantaloon and Chamosa food counters and the Cafe Bollywood eateries chain across the country

Ravi Jaipuria, who is a franchisee for Pizza Hut, KFC and Costa Coffee, is also reportedly in talks with Burger King.

Indian newspapers have quoted a Burger King spokesperson as saying: “We are at an initial stage of exploring the marketplace.’’

The company is likely to feel right at home as the biggest challenge in India will be the one it faces in the U.S. domestic market: the Oakbrook, Ill.-based fast food behemoth McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has already said that it has plans to invest $100 million to top the $200 million already invested in India, resulting in the number of its restaurants mushrooming to 100, with over 25 outlets in Delhi alone. McDonald’s, already in India for ten years, has plans to develop 100 outlets and 30-40 McExpress kiosks in the next two years. It also plans to expand to second-tier cities such as Surat and Vadodara in Gujarat and many more towns in eastern India.

Analysts say that Burger King could still enjoy a strategic advantage despite its late entry, with McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC having already exposed the Indian market to U.S. fast food, culture and the presence of a fairly large pool of trained personnel.

As on June 30, 2006, Burger King owned or franchised a total of 11,129 restaurants in 65 countries and U.S. territories, of which 1,240 restaurants were company-owned and 9,889 were owned by franchisees.

It operates in three regions: United States and Canada; Europe, West Asia and Africa; and Asia-Pacific and Latin America. It plans to start its Japanese operations in mid-2007.

However, it is not only the Big Mac challenge that Burger King will have to face . Other chains have been making their moves as well.

The fight is over the 100 million Indians who spend close to $1 billion annually at fast-food restaurants. The fast-food market in India is growing at a robust 40 percent with pizzas taking a major slice. Smaller towns and cities are going to be the new target markets as income spreads from metropolitan cities to smaller towns. Half of 11 million households with an annual income of over $23,000 live here.

According to a survey by AC Nielsen an urban adult Indian is among the top 10 in the world in terms of frequency of fast food consumption. These figures, of course, do not compare to the estimated $30 billion market for pizza alone in the United States.

Consulting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers has estimated that the Indian Fast Moving Consumer Goods market will be valued at $33 billion in 2015, up from $13 billion in 2006.

Most international food chains are painstakingly putting together spicy recipes to suit Indian palates and take on local competition such as the $250-million consumer food giant Haldiram’s. They have their work cut out: The Indian spicy snack samosa remains by far the number one selling item.

Yum Restaurants International, owner of Pizza Hut and KFC, with global sales over $13 billion, has announced that it will invest close to $25 million to scale up its presence, raising the number of KFC restaurants to 25 from the current 15 and Pizza Hut outlets to 150 from 126.

Domino’s, a world leader in pizza delivery, has an annual expansion expenditure of $1.5 million in India with 30 more outlets this year to add to 105 existing ones. It was the first global fast food chain to open outlets away from the large Indian cities.

U.S.-based Papa John’s, the third largest pizza company, opened its first outlet in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, in April last year and has 100 more lined up in north India. Papa John’s U.S. sales was $1.8 billion last year. The company has named Om Pizza and Eats India as the Indian franchisee.

KFC started off in 1995, opened 70 restaurants over the next eight years, and by 2014, plans 1,000 restaurants. The $5 billion U.S. fast food giant Subway, which has more than 25,000 locations in 84 countries, is the world’s largest submarine sandwich franchise. It has an aggressive strategy after opening its first outlet in 2001 in New Delhi. Subway is planning to invest over $40 million and has a goal of 200 stores by 2009, a substantial increase over its current 65 outlets.

India’s Panban International, a firm that imports hotel equipment, has joined hands with the successful Quick Service Restaurant chain in the U.K. and the Dixy Fried Chicken Euro Ltd with plans to roll out 100 outlets in five years.

South Korean fast-food franchise operator Genesis has set an ambitious goal of overtaking McDonalds by the year 2020. Trak Services, territory owners of the $125 million Mark Pi chain of Chinese restaurants, plans to expand to 100 outlets with focus on tier-II cities. It’s target is to reach an annual turnover of $12 million.

Philippines-based fast-food firm Jollibee Foods Corp has announced plans to expand to India and China. Indian family restaurant chain Nirula’s has sold its operations to Malaysia-based Navis Capital Partners last July.

According to Sanjay Narang, president of Mars Restaurants which owns popular fine dining restaurants including Jazz by the Bay and Tendulkar’s in Mumbai: “This is only the tip of the iceberg. Other countries particularly in Europe, North and South America and South East Asia have been able to exploit the hospitality potential in their countries to a far greater extent.”

Foreign food majors are also looking at the fast-growing processed food market. Korea Yakult Co, a $1-billion food company, is reportedly planning to invest more than $35 million to manufacture and market instant noodles, pasta, health beverages, green tea, soups and juices.

PepsiCo India is planning an investment of approximately $150 million to add to the 19 company-owned factories and 21 franchisees. From 1993 to 2003, the Coca Cola Company has invested more than $1 billion in India, making it one of the country’s top international investors. Gem India Advisors, a U.K.-based private equity fund, has picked up a 26 percent stake in Bakers Circle, a leading manufacturer of frozen bakery and confectionery.

The past few years have also witnessed the mushrooming of other feel-good locations such as upscale café bars. The $150-million organized coffee retail business is also jumped in the race to attract the elite Indian consumer. Today, there are an estimated 500 café outlets in the organized sector, but retail consultants KSA Technopak have said that the potential is over 2,000. Other analysts are even more bullish, They put the potential far higher — to 3,000-5,000. U.S.-based coffee retail giant Starbucks Corporation has announced that it is set to enter India in 2007.

The $150 million Ravi Jaipuria group has brought the Costa coffee brand to India through a franchisee tie-up with the £1.8 billion Whitbread PLC of the U.K. Gloria Jeans Coffee’s, one of the largest coffee chains in the world, also has its India plans chalked out.

The growth in fast food follows an overall boom in the retail segment even as Indians look to splurge their disposable income. Organized retail in India will grow into a Rs. 2 trillion business by 2010 in terms of value and generate 10 million to 15 million jobs over the next 5 years, the India Retail Report 2007, released recently, has said.

The report says that organized retail in India has the potential to generate 2.5 million direct jobs and 10 million more jobs in supporting activities

However, there is a downside to all this. To get a sense of what happens when fast food really catches on with consumers, you only have to look at the U.S.

Sugary carbonated beverages and high-calorie, over-processed convenience food has resulted in a health problem of epidemic proportions, which children particularly at risk. As obesity and diabetes stalk the nation, public health advocates are warning to take action before matters get worse.

In India, as the fast food culture takes off, health experts are warning about the health hazards of such high-calorie food, which will result in higher prevalence of obesity, especially afflicting children. According to a World Health Organization report, at least 17 percent of the male and 15 percent of the female population in India is obese.

India is one of the top ten obese nations with a population of more than 35 million diabetics. During the past 20 years, obesity among adults has risen significantly in the U.S.
Clearly, there is plenty of (fast) food for thought.


Tehzeeb-E-Aligarh: Sir Syed Day

Alumni of the Aligarh Muslim University paid tribute to Muslim reformer university Sir Syed Ahmad and hosted an international mushaira, writes Ras H. Siddiqui.

(Above): Poets at a Mushaira to mark Sir Syed Day at Newark, Calif. (All photos by Ras H. Siddiqui).

The Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California held its Annual Sir Syed Day Banquet and Mushaira (poetry recital) in Newark, Calif., Dec. 16. While keeping this tradition alive, the people who have had the privilege of having graduated from this prestigious university located in Northern India paid a tribute to a great Muslim reformist and educator of the 19th century, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, along with a tehzeeb (culture) which has become associated with the center of learning that he founded. And once again, the San Francisco Bay Area Indian-Pakistani Aligarians, as they are called, along with those from the Central Valley region gathered in an environment of fine food, poetic Urdu and emphasis on a philosophical discussion on the role of Urdu and Muslims in the world today also came for reflection.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan Bahadur (1817 –1898) pioneered modern education for the Muslim community in India by founding the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which later developed into the Aligarh Muslim University.

He founded the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College in 1875 and patterned the college after Oxford and Cambridge universities that he had visited on a trip to England. His objective was to build a college in tune with the British education system but without compromising its Islamic values.

His work gave rise to a new generation of Muslim intellectuals and politicians who composed the Aligarh movement to secure the political future of Muslims in India.

Aligarh Muslim University is located in the city of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh. It was among the first institutions of higher learning set up during British colonial rule. Many prominent Muslim leaders and Urdu writers and scholars of the subcontinent have graduated from the university.

Today, the university is a residential academic institution of international repute offering more than 250 courses. Currently the university has nearly thirty thousand students and over two thousand faculty members with over eighty departments of study. It continues to function as an important education institution in India, and draws students from all corners of the world, specially Africa, West Asia and South East Asia.

At the Aligarh alumni event in Northern California, Shahla Khan, emcee for the program, stressed the need to keep the Aligarh tradition alive and spoke about what has to be done to achieve AMU Alumni goals. She also invited local AMU president Amtul Suhail to speak.

In a touching speech, Suhail talked about her father, an Aligarh graduate who had passed away earlier this year She said that her father gave her a message before their parting that was not just for her but the entire Aligarh community: To continue to uphold and promote the lofty, enlightened values of the institution from generation to generation. She also stressed the need to promote the AMU Alumni scholarship program to help disadvantaged kids to get an education (Readers can visit www.amualumni.org for more details).

Hamida Banu Chopra, an aficionado and connoisseur of Urdu in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as a tireless promoter of the language via the India Community Center, presented a delightful speech on the language. Her presentation was enhanced by the presence of two young people who had learned or improved their Urdu language skills, thanks to her encouragement. Young Hiten Verma and Kiran Rizvi made their Urdu speeches come alive. Hamida herself took us through on a carefully crafted journey of two (language) sisters Hindi and Urdu” who shared a tehzeeb or culture together. She said that Urdu went as a bride to Pakistan but the common genetic origins of the two cannot be separated. Each has to be appreciated and promoted.

In addition to delivering an inspiring keynote address, Abidullah Ghazi wore many other hats during the evening. He was emcee of the mushaira and poetry presenter, all roles he performed extremely well, throwing in a dash of rare wit and wisdom.

Event sponsors Abdus Salam Qureshi and wife, Kamil and Talat Hasan, Karim M. Hussain, Waheed and Munazza Qureshi and Zain Jeewanjee and wife for thanked for their support.

No AMU Alumni program is complete without the singing of the Aligarh tarana which was enhanced this year by a DVD audio-visual tour of the campus with many in attendance singing along.

The second part of the evening was the International Mushaira. The Urdu language is known for bringing people together in appreciation of its rich poetry and it certainly brings people of Indian and Pakistani origin together, as it did once again at this gathering. Urdu poets from South Asia, the United States and Canada presented their poetry at this event.

Khushbir Singh, Popular Meeruthi and Manzar Bhopali represented India, Rehana Roohi and Jazib Qureishi were from Pakistan, Parvin Shere came from Canada and from right here in the United States, Abidullah Ghazi (Chicago) and a talented California contingent consisted of Mahnaz Naqvi, George F. Gohar, Abdul Qayyum (mushaira president), and Aifra Ahmed.

The evening was about more than speeches and Urdu poetry. As Aligarian Shaheer Khan said, the Aligarh Alumni Associations are fostering a climate of openness and acceptance of different points of view that are greatly needed in the troubled times in which we live today.

“We hope to be able to continue our efforts towards this goal through the help and support of fellow Alumni, AMU well-wishers and our patrons. Our aim is to spread Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s message of free enquiry, large-hearted tolerance and pure morality through these events and to highlight Aligarh Muslim University’s role in creating a modern India,” he said

Is Grandpa Cold?
Cutting Heating Costs

Keeping grandpa warm during a cold spell can be easier with the following tips on saving on energy bills, writes Mark Schurmann.

Last winter I took my ninety-year old grandfather out of a nursing home and brought him to live with the family in San Francisco.

“I never, ever thought I’d live to be ninety,” or “It’s a terrible thing to get this old,” he says apologetically as I help him move about the house. But over the last year he’s become a valued part of our home, helping when he can and bringing a warm, vibrant personality into the house.

What has been difficult, however, is our heating bill. Due to slow blood circulation, my grandfather gets cold easily, and to maintain his comfort and health we’ve had to keep the heat cranked up. Last winter, as energy costs soared nationwide, my family’s PG&E bill was eight hundred dollars for the month of February alone, more than double the usual cost.

According to the California Energy Commission, about thirty percent of residential energy costs come from heating and cooling a home. Energy efficiency takes on an added importance when families must provide for the special needs of loved ones while minimizing the cost.

This winter, my family is equipped with new energy saving tips to help us keep the heat up and costs down:
  1. Set the thermostat as low as comfortably possible. The less difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall heating bill will be. Small energy efficient space heaters can increase the heat more cheaply than heating the entire house.

  2. Reduce hot water use by installing low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators. A new, water efficient showerhead can reduce your water consumption by one-third to one-half. A top-quality showerhead costs between $10 and $20 and will quickly pay for itself in energy saved. Spending ten minutes or less in the shower can reduce your hot water usage by up to 33 percent.

  3. Seal your home’s “envelope” (walls, floor, ceiling and roof) and save up to 10 percent on your annual energy bill. Test for drafts by holding a long, lit match next to windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches and other locations where there’s a possible air path to the outside. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you’ve located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing or weather stripping.

  4. Clean furnace filters monthly. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy use. Keep the furnace clean, lubricated and properly adjusted to save up to five percent of heating costs.

  5. Close drapes, blinds and shades to help retain heat at night. Open the drapes during the day and take advantage of sunlight. Up to 16 percent of your heat can escape through unprotected windows.

  6. Zone your furniture. Make sure furniture is positioned away from windows or doors where it may be colder. Make sure all heating vents, ducts and baseboards are unblocked.

  7. Use your thermostat wisely. Invest in a programmable thermostat and set it to turn down when people are out of the house or at night. It takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain warm temperatures all day long. Proper use of a thermostat can drastically cut your heating costs.

  8. Use energy efficient light bulbs. Lighting your home can represent 20 percent of home electricity bills. Using efficient bulbs and turning off lights when not in use are some of the easiest ways to save on energy.

  9. The same goes for using your appliances. Do only full loads of laundry and use cold water. Turn off appliances when not in use.

  10. Layer up with lightweight clothes. It’s the simplest way to conserve heat. Silk or thermal underwear and a hat all help retain body heat (the body loses 20 percent of its heat through the top of the head). Use a hot water bottle when you go to bed. Eat well and drink warm, sweet beverages and hot broth. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks as they lower body temperature.

  11. Consider investing in an energy-efficient heating system and windows. Though a new energy-efficient furnace is expensive, it quickly recoups its cost. Energy Star qualified furnaces are 15 percent more efficient than old furnaces. You can also install insulated windows to reduce heating and cooling costs by up to fifteen percent.

Flex Your Power is California’s statewide energy efficiency marketing and outreach campaign. For more money-saving tips and rebates, visit www. FlexYourPower.org.

Republic Day: Celebrating Indian Democracy
Indians both inside the country as well as abroad celebrated January 26, the day that marks India’s adoption of its constitution and its official emergence as a free and democratic country. Siliconeer presents a photo essay.

(Clockwise from top): Delhi policemen rehearsing Jan. 23 for the Republic Day parade; Janam Gupta, seven months, grasps the Indian tricolor; (Bottom row, Left): Amit Kumar performing at a Republic Day celebration at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple, Jan. 26; (Bottom row, far left): Group leader Vinita Kumar (standing, fourth from left) and members of Aavartan dance group pose for a photo after performing at Republic Day festivities at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple. The event was organized by FIA of Northern California; and India’s San Francisco Consul General B.S. Prakash addresses an audience which has gathered to mark Republic Day at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Jan 26. [Consul General photo by Longman Studio]

Earned, Not Won: Tips on Good Health

The 10.4 million Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in the United States are now expected to live longer — late 70s for men and late 80s for women. What accounts for this longevity is prevention. Tobacco and obesity are among the top risk factors for cancer deaths in the United States (together they each account for 60 percent of all cancer-related deaths). But these and other “risk factors” are controllable. So the key to health, wealth, and longevity is in our own hands, writes Dr. Tat S. Lam, M.D.

It may seem strange for a doctor to discuss heart disease and cancer prevention with a healthy 18-year-old patient during a routine physical. But it’s no different from parents talking with their children about their careers and financial future. For both, preparation makes a great difference. The 10.4 million Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in the United States are now expected to live longer — late 70s for men and late 80s for women. What accounts for this longevity is prevention.

Tobacco and obesity are among the top risk factors for cancer deaths in the United States (together they each account for 60 percent of all cancer-related deaths). What strikes me about these and other “risk factors” is that they’re controllable. Studies show that the best way to improve and maintain health are totally up to us: quit smoking, moderate alcohol intake, maintain a healthy weight, keep blood pressure and cholesterol low, eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and exercise.

Asian and Pacific Islanders have been thin for centuries, but that is changing, putting us at risk for heart disease, cancer and other health problems. Obesity is especially difficult for children. For adults over 18, our fat cells swell in size if we gain weight, and shrink when we lose weight. But for infants and children, when they gain weight they gain new fat cells, and a kid will have a much more difficult time losing weight than if she/he had gained it during adulthood. As a parent, I’ve learned that what I do — more than what I say — teaches my children healthy habits.

Asian Americans are prospering — this year we have a collective buying power of $454.9 billion, according to the U.S. census. So I was surprised to learn that up to 20 percent of Asian Americans don’t have health insurance. Though the high cost of health care is in the headlines, there are many ways for the uninsured to receive health care, so ask around in your community. If you do have insurance, set up an appointment! As a doctor, I’m puzzled when people with health insurance don’t utilize it because it’s the key to your future.

As the Year of the Boar approaches, I wish you good health and prosperity! But these audacious goals must be earned — not won. The key to health, wealth, and longevity is in our own hands. Talk with your doctor about how to make healthy choices in this New Year. It’s up to us to choose to live well, live long, and thrive.


Special Section | WORLD CUP CRICKET
Cricketmania! | Full Match Schedule | PDF

World Cup 2007
Cricket lovers all over the world are eagerly awaiting the World Cup in West Indies where the world’s top 16 cricketing nations compete for cricket’s top prize. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): FA computer-generated aerial view of Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in St John’s, Antigua & Barbuda, a venue for the ICC World Cup in March 2007. (Inset & Below): The ICC Cricket World Cup trophy.

Cricket lovers around the world are eagerly awaiting the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, which will kick off March 11 with an opening ceremony in Trelawny, Jamaica.

Ten Test match playing countries and Kenya qualified for this World Cup automatically, and five further teams qualified via the 2005 ICC Trophy. The field of sixteen teams is the largest ever for the Cricket World Cup. (A complete schedule tear sheet appears on page 687).

The 16 nations are divided into four groups of four teams. A total of 51 matches will be played, which is three matches less than the 2003 world cup, despite the two extra teams taking part. The top two teams from each group will then compete in a Super Eight format, similar to the previous Super Six format, from which the semi-finalists will be decided.

The top two teams from each group will go into the Super Eight stage and the top four from the Super Eights will go into the semi-finals.

Eight venues across the West Indies have been selected to host the World Cup final tournament.

Organizers had their work cut out, as a host of hurdles had to be dealt with.

“From the reports of the ICC inspection team, it would appear that the venues in the different countries will be ready and will meet the agreed specifications. Mobilization by local organizers is also in full gear in a number of host countries,” Dennis Morrison writes in the Jamaica Observer.

The organizing hiccups have been manifold. The March-April schedule coincides with the peak of the winter tourist season, which threw up questions of whether there would be room for those extra cricket tourists.

With a cluster of island nations hosting the event, visa hassles threatened to be a real nightmare. However, the organizing nations came up with one omnibus visa program which was supposed to take care of it.
It didn’t.

Citizens from the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland and South Africa are exempt from the visa requirement but supporters from major cricketing countries like India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are not.

Fans from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan must send their passports to the Trinidad and Tobago embassy in New Delhi to obtain special visas for all nine countries hosting the games.

Meanwhile Australian and New Zealand fans are crying foul. “The shambolic organization surrounding the issuing of visas for many of those traveling from Australia and New Zealand to the World Cup shows no sign of improving,” the cricket Web site Cricinfo reports. “Almost a fortnight after the scale of the problem first came to light, it seems that little has been done to alleviate the situation.”

Mike Agostini, who until recently was Trinidad and Tobago’s honorary consul in Australia, reported to Cricinfo that the Caricom Visa issuing offices in Sydney were ‘are still not operative, or, if so, just barely.’”

“I am as amazed as I am appalled at what is happening here and looks likely to become much worse, with the deadline for these visas being January 15, 2007 and the issuing office not fully operative and the time stated for issuing of visas and return of passports being still ‘up to three weeks,’” Agostini said.

Meanwhile ticket sales have been sluggish. Nor has the Caribbean tourism industry been using the World Cup as a promotional tool, given the fact that it is a peak travel season anyway.

“From their standpoint, the month of May would have been the ideal period, as this falls in the slower spring season when demand for rooms is far less,” wrote Jamaican columnist Morrison. “To give up high-yielding room rates in the peak winter season in return for a one-off event such as Cricket World Cup was an unattractive proposition.”

Still, he hopes the region realizes the potential long-term benefits in hosting such a massive global event successfully.

“The eyes of millions of people in the world are going to be on the Caribbean countries during the event, giving us exposure that will be many times greater than the total tourism advertising budget of all our countries,” he wrote. “Were we to succeed in staging a memorable World Cup, it would put the Caribbean among the top event promoters worldwide with great possibilities for attracting future world-class events. After all, we are by far the smallest population who have ever been responsible for hosting what is the world’s third largest sporting event.”

[Download PDF]


Kathak Angik: An Evening of Dances
Kolkata-based kathak exponent Bandana Sen, a noted danseuse with over five decades of experience in performing, recently headlined an evening of kathak performance with a troupe of performers that included many of her expatriate students. A Siliconeer report.

(Top): Kathak exponent Bandana Sen performing to a ghazal.
(Bottom): Young students of Kathak pay respect to Bandana Sen during “Guru Bandana.” [All photos by Swagato BasuMallick]

Visiting Kathak exponent Bandana Sen presented an evening of Kathak performance along with her U.S. based expatriate students Jan. 14 at Cal State East Bay.

Entitled “Kathak Angik” the evening’s presentation was broadly divided into three separate segments: “Ghazal: Aansu Bhi Piye Jaate Hain,” a series of performances to ghazals, an impressive performance of pure Kathak entitled “Kathak Angik,” and “Bhor Bhai Rajani” (based on classical Raga sangeet), a well-choreographed and well-performed dance drama. The program was rounded off with “Guru Bandana,” or a homage to Sen.

Of the various performances, the dance drama “Bhor Bhai Rajani” was the most impressive, thanks to high-quality choreography and well-crafted performances. The theme, script, choreography, set and light design — all were done by Sen.

A veteran performer for over five decades, Sen has received many prizes. These include a gold medal from the first president of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. She has also been honored by the erstwhile king of Nepal. She has also been recognized by the West Bengal government with the title “Guru.”

A disciple of legendary Kathak exponent Sambhu Maharaj of Lucknow Gharana, Sen performed in both the first ghazal segment as well in the dance drama. Her presentation emphasized “abhinaya” (acting) and “bhava” (expression) rather than the more acrobatic and athletic features of Kathak manifested in fast pirouettes and footwork

Bandana Sen received her early training in the Jaipur Gharana from Jaikumari Debi. Sen’s interpretation is noted for its accessible, impressive quality as will as the poetic grace of her exposition of “bhava” (expression). Her distinct “bols” on different talas and Urdu “shayari” are additional attractions.

In her career of 53 years, she has performed in nearly 5,000 programs throughout India and abroad, including all prestigious music conferences of India. She has performed in U.S. several times.


Beyond Shasta, North State Magic
Al Auger presents a brochure on the not-so-well-known points of interest that can be found year-round off I-5 in the environment of Redding and the North State country.

(Above): A view of Whiskeytown Lake, which veteran travelers say is more beautiful than the larger Shasta Lake.

The Mt. Shasta Board and Ski Park draws skiers and ’boarders from the Bay Area and Oregon as well as climbers attack the challenging mountain year round and the dramatic thrust of Mt. Shasta into the cloud-puffed, Lindsay-blue sky is the target of thousands of point-and-shoot cameras, professional photographers, artists and poets. Vacationers and college students on break are drawn to the giant Lake Shasta by the tens of thousands every year. This guide to the many treats that spread from the city of Redding will not mention Mt. Shasta or Lake Shasta again.

(Right): Entrance to the Shasta State Historic Park, a history buff’s delight.

On that note, let us create a brochure on the not-so-well-known points of interest that can be found year-round off I-5 in the environment of Redding and the North State country. Just a hint to make a trek North even more enjoyable: While summer is the area’s peak season with its abundant hunting and fishing, for many the North Valley in the uncrowded early spring and especially in the fall is at its most beautiful, brilliant with the neon of colors from red to yellow.

No better place to start than the Whiskeytown National Park on Highway 299 just 7 — miles of Redding. According to many locals, while Whiskeytown Lake may not even be close to the size of Shasta Lake, it is arguably the most beautiful and accessible lake in the region for outdoor travelers.

The centerpiece of Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreational Area, Whiskeytown Lake boasts 36 miles of shoreline and a total of 3,200 acres of parkland. It is a sportsman’s paradise with every type of water and land use possible, from swimming, hiking and camping to horseback trails, sailing to kayaking and a fishing menu that includes trout, Kokanee salmon, bass and catfish. There are gushing waterfalls to visit, biking trails, both hardy mountain challenges and easy cruising and numerous camp sites spread throughout the park.
The hide-away burg of French Gulch is a jewel on the West Side of Redding. A funky little spot, French Gulch lies a mile from Whiskeytown Lake on a short winding road off State Highway 299. The historic French Gulch Hotel, built in 1885, is one of those hardy survivors that have been through many entrepreneurial hands in its various Phoenix-like rebirths over the years. Current owners Andrew Bouchard and partner Carol Jandrall seem to have the right dream and knowledge to make it work.

We discovered this diamond in the rough simply because its name intrigued us. Mid-afternoon on a lovely fall day and French Gulch’s “Main Street” is a Norman Rockwell painting. Trees line each side spreading their umbrella of leaves over the narrow road. Old homes, some well kept, others a bit scruffy. Just past the hotel is an inexplicable array of old rusting cars awaiting their final destiny. Some resting alongside the roadway, others packed tightly in barns.

The hotel, now a warm, inviting Bed and Breakfast, has eight fully remodeled rooms for rent, most with a shared bathroom. Every room has been decorated with a bow to the hotel’s rich historic past. The hotel was built in the late 1880s, according to the French Gulch Press, at the height of the booming mining days of French Gulch. There were two hotels, first the Empire Hotel, built in 1853, and the original French Gulch hotel followed in 1885. It was built by Richard Feeney and named the Feeney Hotel.

Andrew Bouchard and partner Carol Jandrall have gently restored the hotel to its historical prominence. The handsome, scrolled, hardwood bar was built in England and transported around the horn and eventually ended up in the Empire Hotel. When the Empire was sold in foreclosure and destroyed, the bar was moved to the Feeney Hotel — now the French Gulch Hotel. The eight rooms, some with 12-foot ceilings, are all decorated in the period of the 1800s. While the other rooms share a bath, the Bridal Suite, decorated in pink satin sheets and fine lace, has a private bathroom and entry. Dinner is served Thursday through Friday with a special Brunch on Sundays.

There are a number of treats besides the filling meals to be found at the French Gulch Hotel. One is the history of the former Gold Rush stage stop as put together by Bouchard and Jandrall in their self-published “French Gulch Press” tabloid. Legend has it that the nefarious Black Bart is said to have held up a number of stage coaches around the French Gulch area. The most famous is the holding up of the French Gulch Stage and leaving one of his infamous poems behind.

French Gulch’s beginning was as one of the premier hard rock gold mining towns in the area during the mid-and-late 1880s. And, while the Mother Lode country of the Sierra Nevada garners the bulk of the media attention and tourists, the burgeoning area trapped by the Trinity Mountains on the West and the Cascade Range on the East was to have its heyday as well. Most of the wealth and commerce of the time centered on what is known today as Shasta City. It is now a state historic park.

As native Californians, we both were intimately familiar with the wonders of the Mother Lode country from an early age. But I was amazed at the high-flying gold mining history of the North State. My friend and guide held a small, secretive smile on her face as we topped a small rise and I felt as if I had entered a parallel Mother Lode world.

Entering Old Shasta City from the West on State Highway 299, we were immediately struck by the dramatic scene before us. It was almost as if we had entered a time warp. On our left, a row of brick walls and iron doors vividly displayed the business center of the gold rush era. Each roofless space was clearly marked as to the business that once occupied the building, now just a series of freestanding walls. The brick walls rose in a ghostly row, roofless and empty, heavy iron doors defined the front in some; others were open to the weather. It’s a photographer’s delight with the geometrical play of shadow and light shining through the heavy growth on the walls and the empty windows.

Across from these spectral edifices life was more then evident. Here is one of the most entertaining museums we had ever visited. Neither one of us being all that enamored of museums, the Shasta State Historic Park museum was an extraordinary find. More popularly known as the Courthouse Museum, it tracks the time line of the venerable town and the environs as a literal gold mine.

The Courthouse Museum was recently reopened after a $450,000 renovation and it is a sheer delight to wander the rooms that must hold so many tales. Visitors begin in the entry hall where the walls and cases hold local Wintu tribe artifacts such as tools, baskets, pictures and the history of tribe.

The kids get a kick out of weighing fool’s gold (iron pyrite) on scales like ones used during the gold rush. The next rooms attest to the prosperity that was Shasta City’s during the time. The art gallery colorfully and lovingly illustrates the region of the late 1800s. Shelves are loaded with historical books, mementos, furniture and clothing.

From this point the stroll took on a whole new direction, a living and palpable persona. Beautifully restored to its prime condition is the main courthouse room. We could feel the drama that must have been repeated in this room time after time in the wild gold rush days. Every inch has been preserved or reconstructed as it was 150 years ago.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” my guide said. And, as if to put an exclamation point on what we felt in the courtroom, she led me out a side door to the rear of the building where a twin gallows stood. This crude but efficient device, held side-by-side trapdoors that added a macabre sense of intimacy.

Down a narrow, dark stairway my companion took me into the piece de resistance. With two rows of spartan cells, a large, bare and cold room houses a large table and benches with leg irons and chain bolted to the floor. Here the prisoners, housed in cells that were on each side of the room, ate their spare meals. Ominously leaning against the near wall was the sled that carried the gallows victim’s casket to the burial grounds.

One of the most charming stops is the general store across from the museum. Because the original owner didn’t believe in sales and was of a parsimonious nature, he would pull slow selling stock and store it away. When the state began reconstructing the park they found this treasure of goods, stacked wall to wall and floor to ceiling. So now, visitors are able to see many of the original items that were sold in the Queen City’s heyday.

Next to the general store is a reconstruction of the bakery that made the breads, cakes, and such for the hungry miners and the families that resided in Shasta City. And, if you’re lucky, you may find one of the park rangers baking some of their famous pretzels in the open-face, brick oven.

After your tour of the Courthouse Museum, general store, bake shop and ghostly buildings, take a picnic lunch to the quiet, lush park next to the museum. Here, you will find picnic tables under the trees and surrounded by old-timey mining and farming equipment. All left over from Shasta town’s vivid heyday.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
New Book on Knowing the Self | Guru Gobind Singh’s Birth Anniversary Marked | Disabled Center | Dance Fest | Village Web Site | Community Dinner | Religious Dialogue | Indic Chair | Faculty Honored | Gov. Arnold's Health Plan for Children Gets Mixed Reviews

New Book on Knowing the Self

Stamford, Conn.-based self development consultant Neerja Bhatia went through a personal emotional and spiritual crisis in the 1990s. Drawing upon her own intense experience of how she attained both spiritual and emotional balance, she has written a book, “Bliss is in Knowing the Self.”

“It is my desire to share the insights I have gained through my very own inner separation from the Self,” Bhatia says. “In early 1996, I was at the peak of being driven by the comforts of life and had shut myself from the Self.” Hired as a director of sales and marketing for a firm, she thought she was on a journey to a great profession, financial independence, a better lifestyle and wonderful friends. But deep inside, she felt there was something missing.

“My profession nurtured my desire for social status, but did not fulfill my yearning to be an integral part of the whole. I felt as though I was not making a difference in the world,” she says.  “The questions that kept me up at night were: What is my life purpose? What is my role in this vast Universe? Who am I?  What am I doing with my life?”

In 1999 Bhatia quit her job to begin a new chapter. “It was not easy; however, it led me to my purpose and over time I became closer to the Self,” she says. “The experience with the Self provided me with amazing insights and abilities.”

Bhatia says the book can be used as a daily inspiration through poetry and metaphors. The direction and examples bring insights and inner clarity. Each chapter provides questions to reflect and to map life experiences that were significant in shaping the reader.

Interested readers can get more information at www.knowingtheself.com or by email at: nbhatia@knowingtheself.com

Guru Gobind Singh’s Birth Anniversary Marked

Guru Gobind Singh Foundation youth at the celebrations to mark the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh.

The Rockville, Md.-based Guru Gobind Singh Foundation celebrated the 340th birth- anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, with over 500 people in attendance, according to a press release.

Over 60 kids sang shabads from the bani of Guru Gobind Singh. They were trained by Bhai Gurdarshan Singh, the granthi of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation. Ragi Sohan Singh and Ragi Dalbir Singh performed kirtan.

Dr. Harnam Singh Shaan, a Sikh scholar from India, was specially invited to speak on the occasion. Shaan, the former head of Punjab studies and Sikh studies departments of Guru Nanak Chair of Punjab University,  has written several books on Sikh history and literature.

Shaan said Guru Gobind Singh had three major accomplishments. He gave the Sikhs a very distinct identity, and he infused a buoyant  spirit in a dying, downtrodden community and  transformed  it into  a powerful military force.  His third major achievement  was conferring on Guruship on Guru Granth.

Dr. Rajwant  Singh, executive director of GGSF, said, “His teachings are very scientific and most suitable for all times. The world at large and Sikhs in particular will always be inspired by his legacy.”

The GGSF, based in the greater Washington, D.C. area,  is an active organization which focuses on youth education and also stresses on creating awareness about Sikhism among Americans.

Disabled Center

Dr Dhiraj Shah, Dilip Shah and Kirit Daftary of JAINA handing over a check of $89,000 for the Guntur center to Mahendra Mehta, trustee of Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust at the IMC Hall in Mumbai on Jan. 8.

The world community services of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America kicked off the funding of disabled center at a hospital in Andhra Pradesh with a donation of a $89,000 check to a Mumbai-based charitable trust, according to a press release.

JAINA  is funding the construction of a center for the disabled at the NRI Hospital in Guntur which was badly affected by the 2004 tsunami. The project is being implemented by Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust, a Mumbai-based NGO which has rehabilitated over 50,000 handicapped through its mobility camps and mobile orthopedic vans in the last two years.

At an event at the Indian Merchant’s Chamber in Mumbai Jan. 8, Dr Dhiraj Shah, Dilip Shah and Kirit Daftary of JAINA handed over an $89,000 check for the Guntur center to Mahendra Mehta, a trustee of the Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust in the presence of Dr. U. Nimmagada of the NRI Hospital in Guntur.

At the well-attended function, guests were apprised of the humanitarian projects of JAINA all over the world as well as the creditable performance of Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust for the rehabilitation of the disabled.

The Guntur center will have facilities for fitting of prosthetics, calipers and other aids for the disabled.

Dance Fest

Three Indian American dancers —Anandha Ray, Vidya Chander and Rasika Kumar are among the nine professional Bay Area choreographers who have been chosen to participate in the 2007 ChoreoProject Awards hosted by sjDANCEco, a dance group founded by Gary Masters, associate professor of dance at San Jose State University and a dancer and choreographer with the Limón Dance Company.

Showcasing their distinctive creativity and the diversity of Bay Area Dance will be Anandha Ray, artistic director of "Moving Arts" in Walnut Creek; Raissa Simpson, artistic director of "Push/San Francisco," Monica Mark, artistic director of "U Dance Electra" and independent choreographers Vidya Chander, Dominic Duong, Mary Forrest, Rasika Kumar, Jodi Porter and Sharon Took Zozaya.

Two awards and honoraria will be presented; the sjDANCEco Award and the People’s Choice Award.  The performances take place Feb. 9 and 10 at San José State University’s Dance Theatre.

"The ChoreoProject Awards were developed specifically to acknowledge the talent and breadth of dance in our region," said Masters, artistic director and founder of sjDANCEco. "These performances give choreographers a venue to present their work without cost and to edify our audiences through the incomparable beauty and power of this moving art."

More information is available at www.sjdanceco.org.

Village Web Site

Inauguration of the pharala.com Web site in Fremont, Calif.

A Web site that builds a bridge with a Punjab village and its widely spread out expatriate one-time villagers was officially launched Jan. 11 in Fremont, Calif., according to a press release.

The result of a three-year-long initiative undertaken by Bay Area-based dentist Dr. Dalvir Singh Pannu, the Web site, www.pharala.com, was officially declared open by Sucha Singh Atwal and Kewel Krishan Singh Atwal, two people originally from the village of Pharala, located in Punjab’s Nawashahar district. They declared the Web site open with a mouse click in the presence of a large gathering of U.S.-based Faralvies.

Village scenes, along with originating history, streets, houses, schools, hospital, main crossroads and photos of  important events and important places appeared on the computer screen, which was projected on a larger screen for the audience.

“This is a wonderful gift, especially for the new generation who can see the home, street and the originating place of their forefathers while sitting in any remote corner of the world just with a mouse click,” the release added.

Pannu said that the aim of the project is to highlight the achievements of all the Faralvies of the world and bring them closer to each other and to the village as well. He added that people living in Pharala can ask for guidance or post their needs on the Web site, and the NRIs  could responds to the queries.

He said he expected the Pharala village panchayat to post the news regularly so that NRIs can remain in touch. He hoped this type of Web site would be a prototype for other villages.

Community Dinner

(Right): New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (l) with (l-r) Sikh Dharma International leaders Bhai Sahiba Dr. Bibiji Inderjit Kaur, Siri Sikhdhar Sahiba, Guru Amrit Kaur Khalsa and Hari Jiwan Singh Khalsa. [Photo by Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Attorney General Gary King and other public officials joined the New Mexico Sikh community at a special luncheon held in Santa Fe in honor of the opening of the New Mexico legislative session, according to a press release from the Espanola, N.M.-based Sikh Dharma International.

The opening session of the legislature took place  Jan. 16, where Richardson outlined an aggressive legislative agenda to the New Mexico House and Senate.

After the governor’s remarks, over 250 public officials and community leaders in the state came to a special luncheon hosted by the Sikh community. The luncheon was established by Yogi Bhajan and the Sikh community of New Mexico in 1995. Over the years, the luncheon has become a tradition on opening day.

The governor spent time speaking with Sikh and other community leaders during the event. He gave a short address to the people attending the luncheon.

“This is a special day for all of us,” Richardson said. “Yogi Bhajan is not here with us, but his spirit is very strong. There are a lot of political leaders here today. He helped us all. So let’s enjoy ourselves today and remember him.”

Other public officials who attended the event included Edward Chavez, newly appointed chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court; James B. Lewis, state treasurer; Jan Goodwin, secretary of taxation and revenue department; Michael Cerletti, secretary of tourism; and Rhonda G. Faught, secretary of transportation.

In addition, leaders from the Sikh community were in attendance — including Bhai Sahiba Dr. Bibiji Inderjit Kaur, the wife of the late Yogi Bhajan; Sardarni Guru Amrit Kaur Khalsa, the Siri Sikhdhar Sahiba of Sikh Dharma International; Mukta Kaur Khalsa, secretary of foreign affairs; and Daya Singh Khalsa, senior vice president for Akal Security.

Religious Dialogue

Hindu, Christian (both Catholic and Protestant), and Muslim religious leaders of northwestern Nevada gathered at Reno recently for a dialogue and to arrive at a common agenda to heal the wounds of religious mistrust.

Speaking on the occasion, Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations of the Hindu Temple of Northern Nevada, stated that religious conflicts arise when one claims oneself as “God’s exclusive agent,” starts comparing the “ideal” version of one’s own tradition with the “flawed” reality of other religions, misuses sacred texts through selective reading and interpretation, and declares complete monopoly on the truth.

Organized by the Roman Catholic diocese of Reno, others who spoke on the occasion included Rev. James Jeffery, rector emeritus of Trinity Episcopal Church; Fr. Charles T. Durante, chairman of Life, Peace, and Justice Commission of Reno diocese; and Abdul Barghouthi, imam of the Northern Nevada Muslim Center.

The inter-religious gathering arrived at a common resolution, which included seeking unity that celebrates diversity; attempting to overcome prejudices, caricatures and stereotypes with the help of dialogue; promoting trust, mutual loyalty, a culture of tolerance and life of truthfulness; despite our philosophical differences, working for the common objective of human development, love, respect for others, sharing other peoples’ suffering, ecological responsibility, and social development.

Indic Chair

Dr. Shukavak Dasa addresses the audience during a fundraising event to endow a $2.5 million chair for Indic studies at the School of Religion, Claremont Graduate University.

Donors gathered recently at the Riverside, Calif., residence of Dr. Savitri and Dr. Kamalakar Rambhatla to raise funds to endow a $2.5 million Chair of Indic Studies at the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, according to a press release from the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir here.

The morning program began with a Shanti Havan. Mandir priest Dr. Shukavak N. Dasa conducted the puja. Dasa asked some of the attendees who  were students from the Claremont Colleges and who had never experienced a puja, to sit closer to observe the proceedings. He carefully explained every step of the puja and allowed the students to participate.

Dr. Savitri introduced the speakers. The first speaker was Dr. Deepak Shimkhada, president of the Foundation for Indic Philosophy and Culture. “It is our dharma to educate our children,” said Shimkhada, who is also assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies at Claremont McKenna College. He made an appeal for generous donations to endow the chair.

Claremont McKenna College students Luke Schulte, Casey Crosbie-Nell and Christine Keelin spoke about their experience and the excellent classes offered in the past at the college. Shimkhada received special praise. “He takes a personal interest in his students, inviting them to his home and to cultural events,” said Keelin.  The event ended with donations of several checks and pledges.

Faculty Honored

(Right): Prof. A.R. Venkatachalam

University of New Hampshire business school Prof. A.R. Venkatachalam has been recognized with a 2006 faculty excellence award, according to a UNH announcement.

Venkatachalam, among nine faculty members who were honored,  won an Excellence in Research award.

Venkatachalam earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. His  M.B.A. and Ph.D. are in business management. In the university he is famous for his penchant for problem solving, which goes way back. In 1995, emeritus professor Bill Wetzel invited him to a meeting of U.S. Small Business Administration officials. The subject was how to create a national network that would help small businesses get access to venture capital.

Venkatachalam thought of the Internet, which was then an e-mail tool for academics. He came up with the idea of a system, ACE-Net — Angel Capital Electronic Network — built with UNH’s Research Computing Center, which is in use today in 45 states.

Two years later, the U.S. Small Business Administration, having spent $10 million in an unsuccessful attempt to build a procurement network, turned to Venkatachalam. For less than $150,000, he designed and built the network. In June 1997, at a White House ceremony, Vice President Al Gore congratulated Venkatachalam for his work.

Gov. Arnold's Health Plan for Children Gets Mixed Reviews

While immigrant groups welcomed California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent announcement of a health plan calling for universal coverage of children, the groups also expressed concerns about the governor’s budget proposal, released Jan. 10, according to a press release issued from the California Immigrant Policy Center here. The release said the budget proposal “targets some of California’s most vulnerable children for a reduction in grants under the state’s CalWORKs program.”

Center director Reshma Shamasunder called the governor’s call for universal coverage of children and budget proposal contradictory. “It’s ironic that the administration would announce two such contradictory measures in the same week,” Shamasunder said. “The tone of his state of the state address reflected his commitment to finding solutions to our state’s problems. Cutting support for children already on the edge is going to create more problems for many working families, not help solve them.”

BUSINESS: News in Brief
Bhindi Sparkles at Hollywood Extravaganza | TechCU Hosts ‘Shred Day’ | Young Entrepreneur | American Airlines: Admirals Club

Bhindi Sparkles at Hollywood Extravaganza

Angelina Jolie with Brad Pitt at the 2007 Golden Globe awards. Jolie is wearing jewelry by Los Angeles-based Bhindi Jewellers.

Hot Hollywood celebrity couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt added a dash of glamour to Artesia, Calif.-based Bhindi Jewellers as Angelina sported jewelry made by that reputed Indian American jewelry house as she went with Brad to the 2007 Golden Globe Awards.

Bhindi draws inspiration from India’s millennia-old tradition of gem and jewelry-making.

“From as early as 5000 years ago India has been the land of fabulous jewels, a manifestation of the genius of its people,” says the Bhindi Web site. “With the influences of other cultures and people through the ages has come a blending of elements, style, designs and a treasure of motifs like none other in the world.  Bhindi's has a magnificent array of diamond necklaces, rings, earrings, bangles and precious gemstone.”

The Bhindi family established their roots in the art of jewelry many generations ago in Gujarat. In the early seventies the family decided to expand their business ventures into North America and opened their first showroom in Los Angeles. In 1991 the jewelry house was honored by the state of California which proclaimed Nov. 25 “Bhindi Day.”

TechCU Hosts ‘Shred Day’

Technology Credit Union, hosted a free "Shred Day" event for its members and
employees Dec. 5 as part of its ongoing efforts to educate its members on how to protect themselves against identity theft, according to a Tech CU press release. Tech CU provided access to a secure shredder truck at its San Jose Financial Center, allowing individuals to shred unwanted confidential documents, including financial statements, canceled checks, credit cards and tax information.

As a result of the strong response to the event, Tech CU will make this a semi-annual event, with the shredder truck rotated among the credit union's nine Financial Centers for added member convenience, the release added.

"The overall response to our Shred Day was very positive and confirmed the need for programs like this," said Ken Burns, president and CEO of Tech CU. "We know that identity theft is a major concern for people today, and having a way to dispose of confidential documents safely provides needed peace of mind."

Tech CU attributes the popularity of the pilot program to increased awareness and concern about identity theft and online fraud. In November 2005, Tech CU became one of the first financial institutions in the region to successfully implement two-factor, two-way authentication and convert 100 percent of their online banking users to the new system. This added security layer provides members with a more secure online login to prevent phishing, spoofing and other online fraud.

Young Entrepreneur

Sumaya Kazi

The popular destination for young professionals worldwide, TheCulturalConnect.com, was recently named a finalist in the Best New Company of the Year category in the third annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business, according to a press release. Co-founder and executive director Sumaya Kazi, 24, a Bay Area resident, was also listed as a finalist in the Best Young Entrepreneur category.

The Stevie Awards for Women in Business honor women executives, entrepreneurs, and the companies they run — worldwide.  The Stevie Awards have been hailed as "the business world's own Oscars"  by The New York Post.

Kazi co-founded The CulturalConnect with partners Raymond Rouf, 26, and Kaiser Shahid, 26, and currently functions as the company's executive director. Kazi is responsible for managing day-to-day activities, editorial content, strategy, marketing and a staff of 30. Kazi also works full-time as a marketing manager for  Sun Microsystems. In little more than a year, The CulturalConnect has quickly grown into an enterprise of four interlocking e-magazines and Web sites, geared toward minority young professionals.

The weekly e-magazines — The AsiaConnect, The MidEastConnect, The LatinConnect and The DesiConnect — have attracted an audience of more than 42,000 loyal readers in 100 countries. Readers look to the magazines' profiles of successful, under-35 young professionals with shared cultural backgrounds as well as to the visionary non-profit organizations and the young adults behind them as a source of inspiration and motivation.

The CulturalConnect's growth has been entirely viral and has been driven by its staff, who are all under the age of 30 and operate virtually. Everyone on the staff is either a full-time employee or student in addition to working on The CulturalConnect.

American Airlines: Admirals Club

The Admirals Club lounge at Narita Airport in Tokyo.

American Airlines has relocated to Narita International Airport’s Terminal 2 and began operations Jan. 17, according to a press release.

A new 13,300-square-foot Admirals Club lounge with seating for 265 has also opened in Terminal 2. The club is also located near One World airline member gates, adding convenience for customers traveling between the United States and Japan or other destinations in Asia. The new location means customers will now have more time to use the Admirals Club lounge before and between flights.

The new Narita Admirals Club features state-of-the-art technology including personal computers, printing solutions, Wi-Fi access and more. Lenovo, the world’s third-largest personal computing company, has outfitted the lounge with 16 Lenovo ThinkCentre Desktop computers, which are installed in two multifunctional business centers and a cyber café.  The club is also the first to offer a new global printing solution, powered by Printer On, making it possible for users to submit print requests via e-mail or Web page uploads from any location and pick up printed materials from the lounge.

Free Wi-Fi access is available throughout the lounge, and visitors without wireless cards in their laptops can gain Internet access via one of more than 100 Ethernet cable ports. Additional amenities at the club include a conference room equipped with a flat-panel television, two large flat-panel TVs in the lounge area and spa-like shower facilities.

L&T to Build $5 Billion Tech Park | NIIT Tech Sees Revenue Growth, Steady Margins | INFOSYS: No Slowdown | IBM: Value to Business | TCS: Market Cap Kings | HUTCHISON ESSAR: Bid Battle | MICROSOFT: To More Cities

L&T to Build $5 Billion Tech Park

Gujarat took its first major step on the technology superhighway with a proposed technology park in Baroda. Larsen & Toubro chairman A.M. Naik performed the ground breaking and foundation stone laying ceremony for this new facility being set up by Larsen & Toubro.

In his address, Naik urged employees to leverage the technology park to create value for the country and build a strong economic India.

The new facility, one of its kind in the state, will be called L&T Technology Park. It will be set up in an area of 112 acres between the Ajwa and Waghodia crossings on Ahmedabad-Mumbai Highway. L&T will invest Rs.5 billion in infrastructure and building, spread over five years.

Eleven buildings will be constructed in the first phase which will house offices of L&T’s e-Engineering Solutions, EPC Businesses, L&T-Sargent & Lundy, and L&T Chiyoda. Other facilities planned are the project management institute, the convention centre, an employees hostel, a residential colony, food courts and entertainment facilities.

L&T expects to employ around 6,000 employees when it is fully functional, mostly engineers, and also create indirect employment for local people.

NIIT Tech Sees Revenue Growth, Steady Margins

NIIT Technologies expects revenue growth momentum to continue in coming quarters on strong outsourcing orders, according to its chief executive Arvind Thakur.

The mid-sized software services provider, whose clients include British Airways and Dutch financial powerhouse ING Group, posted revenue growth of 40-49 percent in the first three quarters ended December.

“You have seen what our growth has been in the last three quarters. You can expect the same going forward,” Thakur told news service Reuters.

The company sees steady margins in the current March quarter, he said. Margins had risen to 21 percent in the December quarter from 19 percent in July-September, even after a 4 percent rise in the value of the rupee against the U.S. dollar.

NIIT Technologies was spun off in mid-2004 from New Delhi-based computer education firm NIIT, India's largest computer education trainer which is often hailed as the McDonald's of software education in the country.

INFOSYS: No Slowdown

Infosys Technologies, India's second-largest software exporter, expects spending on outsourcing to continue to rise in 2007 despite increasingly constrained corporate technology budgets, its chief executive has said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Nandan Nilekani said Infosys expected to maintain its momentum in 2007 and could consider strategic acquisitions as it accelerates growth outside India.

“We have not seen any slowdown on outsourcing. It's not about total spending, it's about how much of that spending is being diverted for offshoring and outsourcing,” he said.

“Even if budgets for technology spending don't go up very much — they may go up a few percentage points — the amount of money that is reallocated from existing ways to new ways of spending (like outsourcing) will go up.”

Nilekani added that Infosys, which develops applications, designs supply chains and offers back-office facilities, saw billing rates “stable with an upward bias.”

Infosys has raised its presence in Europe by more than 60 percent a year for the last three years and is also expanding in China as many of its U.S. and European corporate clients move into the fast-growing Chinese market, Nilekani said.

“While organic growth is a very important part of what we are doing, we believe that as we progress in the strategic direction of building a new generation of IT and consulting firm, strategic acquisitions are a possibility,” Nilekani said.

IBM: Value to Business

IBM Research Labs India director Daniel M. Dias has said that it will continue to deliver value to business and society.

“We will continue to focus on market-driven, application-oriented IT research, enabling business transformation for our partners, delivering value to business and society,” he said. “In tune with IBM’s entire R&D effort, we will continue to focus on not just creation and patenting of new technologies, but also on the innovative application of those technologies. It is going to be a blend of exploratory and applied research. This will help customers transform the way they do things. We will also be recruiting researchers across the globe who are passionate and self-motivated about IT research.”

The focus of IBM India Labs is to leverage innovation in India, he said. “India already excels in services and service delivery,” he added. “With some more effort from government and companies like ours, this could be made the best in the world.

“At IBM labs, we are working to galvanize education and integrate service and education. We want proper skills in technology to be imparted among students from an early stage so that they can understand business tools more effectively. We have started working with call centers to train employees and automate processes, work on better speech recognition techniques so as to achieve an integrated global business environment.”

TCS: Market Cap Kings

Indian IT giants like Infosys, TCS and Wipro may be country cousins of their global peers in terms of turnover, but they still steal the show from the like of IBM and Accenture on their market value.

The domestic giants carry a market valuation of up to 13 times their annual revenue, as against less than two times for their global peers — notwithstanding the fact that the full-year revenue of IBM alone is over 11 times the combined total of four Indian giants, Infosys, TCS, Wipro and Satyam.

India's second-largest software exporter Infosys carries a market capitalization of over Rs. 1.24 trillion, which is 13.5 times its FY06 revenue of Rs. 91.72 billion.

The country's biggest IT firm TCS follows closely with a ratio of about 11 times between market cap of over Rs. 1.28 trillion and revenue of Rs. 113 billion.

While annual turnover has been traditionally regarded as the true size of a company, it is market value or market capitalization of a firm that becomes a bigger benchmark in deals like merger and acquisitions.

Some analysts argue that the higher market cap of Indian companies is primarily driven by the sharp rally in the domestic stock market over the past few years.

But the share price gains have also been driven by huge investments in the Indian IT space and a large number of deals struck in domestic and overseas markets that are boosting the expectations for revenue accretions to be registered by the domestic firms in the years to come.


Egypt's Orascom Telecom said it had not ruled out joining the bid battle for Hutchison Essar, and Russian rival Altimo also indicated its interest in India's No. 4 mobile operator.

Orascom chief financial officer Aldo Mareuse told news service Reuters that if the Egyptian company were to join the bid battle, it would probably look to buy Hutchison Essar's parent company, Hutchison Telecommunications International, in which Orascom already owns a 19 percent stake.

Hong Kong-based ports-to-telecoms conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa owns a controlling stake in HTIL and has been studying bids for HTIL's 67 percent stake in Hutchison Essar, which has been valued by brokers at up to $20 billion.

Britain's Vodafone Group and Indian groups Reliance Communications, Essar and Hinduja are in the race to buy Hutchison Essar to gain a strong foothold in the world's fastest growing mobile market.

“We could (mount a bid) at the Hutch Essar level,” Mareuse said in an interview on the sidelines of a telecoms conference. “But it's probably more interesting to do it at the HTIL level. Frankly speaking, it's the same, because 80 percent of HTIL's value is from Hutchison Essar”.

“We're keeping all options open,” he added. “We could buy it (Hutchison Essar) or sell it (the stake in HTIL). Depends on the price”.

India's Essar group owns a third of Hutchison Essar and claims to have the right of first refusal on HTIL's stake in it.

MICROSOFT: To More Cities

Microsoft Corporation India will open offices in six more cities including Chandigarh and Kochi, increasing its presence to thirteen cities.

The expansion strategy will include establishing a direct sales infrastructure, broadening partner eco system and market education initiatives and programs.

With an enhanced presence, Microsoft will enable small and mid market organizations to easily access its products and services and ensure faster deployment of customized solutions and increased support from both Microsoft and its partners.

The cities where offices are in the process of being opened are Ahmedabad, Indore, Nagpur, Chandigarh, Cochin and Coimbatore.

The expansion plan is in keeping with Microsoft’s vision to empower a broad section of small and mid-market organizations to understand better the role which technology can play in driving growth and competitiveness of the local industry in the local and global arena.

The direct team in each city will be supported by respective regional branches for deeper functional expertise in accordance with Microsoft’s hub and spoke model.

Microsoft India managing director Neelam Dhawan said, “'Small and medium businesses are playing a key role in driving India’s growth.”

Affordable, Impressive: 2007 Saturn Aura XR
While the trademark Saturn icon sits dead center on the front grille of this issue’s test car, everything else about it suggests European import, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

We almost couldn’t believe our eyes. This is a Saturn?

Yes, that trademark Saturn icon sits dead center on the front grille of this issue’s test car, but everything else about it suggests European import.

The all-new, 2007 Saturn Aura is an impressive looking car. But, beauty is more than skin deep with this vehicle, and it hasn’t taken the automotive industry long to notice. The cars have only been available on dealer lots since August 2006, but recently, the Saturn Aura was named the North American Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Aura earned the honors from a panel of 49 automotive journalists for its design, driving character, overall value and host of safety features.

There are two trims available — the XE and the XR — and the XE starts at $20,995. The XR, our test car, starts at $24,995.

Saturn also plans to offer a “Green Line” later this year that will include a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated with an electric motor generator. A hybrid vehicle, packed with safety features, that wins national awards? What else could you want?

It’s hard to know where to start with the Aura. This car’s exterior is sleek and aerodynamic. Peek inside and you’ll find an interior — at least on the XR — that is covered in two-tone leather and wood-trim accents. That alone made me step back. I was reminded of Saturn advertisements of the past, where the car was touted for its durability, especially in parking lots, as grocery carts were hurtled at them and nary a scratch could be found. Well, the door panels may still be as durable, but no one is going to want to be as cavalier about the care of such a nice-looking car.

The Aura, just like its eye-catching sibling, the Sky, represents a new era for Saturn, one that places a greater emphasis on design and refinement. While the Sky is Saturn’s sporty roadster, the Aura is its mid-sized sports sedan. It has a lot of classy design elements, such as distinctive jewel-like headlamps and a chrome-covered grille, 18-inch tires with spoked aluminum wheels and chrome door handles.

There are plenty of standard convenience features aboard the XR, including a driver information center, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, available heated seats (nice on these frosty mornings), power windows with express up and down, steering wheel audio controls and a four-panel sliding panoramic roof.

Longer still is the list of safety features, which includes dual stage front air bags with a passenger sensing system, head curtain side impact air bags for all outboard passengers, front safety belt pre-tensioners that deploy at the same time as the air bags to take up slack, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes, StabiliTrak electronic stability control for precise stops, and Traction Control to prevent wheel slippage on messy roads.

Once under way, you’ll find that the Aura provides a firm and steady presence on the road, because it has been built on a stiff chassis. The car handles very well, visibility is good and the 3.6-liter DOHC V6 engine is very powerful and aggressive. Seats are firm and there is plenty of head and leg room for the driver and front seat passenger. Rear seat passengers have a good amount of hip room in the outboard positions, but foot room in the rear middle seat is compromised somewhat.

Overall, you’ll find the Saturn Aura is an affordable, impressive, mid-sized family sedan. You can take the tribe to all their activities in high style and with the comfort of knowing you’re surrounded in plenty of safety features. .

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


Shilpa and the Celebrity Big Brother Circus | Bachchan Family Visits Temple in Uttar Pradesh | Faux Pas | French Honor | Hot Water | Feluda on BBC | BAFTA Nomination | Films for Pleasure

Shilpa and the Celebrity Big Brother Circus

Shilpa Shetty after winning Celebrity Big Brother.

We don’t want to be a party pooper, but honestly, what is the big deal about Shilpa Shetty winning the Celebrity Big Brother show?

Don’t get us wrong, we do think some of the stuff out there was definitely racist, and we are willing to add our voices to the protests as well. Having said that, one has to ask, what the heck was Shilpa thinking when she joined the show?

I mean, the whole thing is phonier than a two-dollar bill. Celebrity Big Brother? Give me a break. Real celebrities don’t have the time to spend time cooped up together with a bunch of people and get into catfights for the vicarious pleasure of millions of couch potatoes. What you had here were a bunch of has-beens scrambling to resuscitate their rapidly vanishing careers — Shilpa included.

The funny thing about it all — or maybe I should say the unfunny thing — is that nobody comes out looking good about it. Certainly not the so-called celebrities on the show, who cut a pathetic figure as they tried to desperately shore up their sagging characters. Not producer Channel Four. Once known for its cutting-edge cultural stuff, what a sorry sight it is to see this channel descend into silly sensationalist fluff like Celebrity Big Brother. Chasing ratings with a shamelessness that would embarrass even a crass U.S. television station, it even initially refused to acknowledge the ugly racist comments being made on the show.

And what of Shilpa?  She won, but exactly what did she win? This wasn’t an acting contest. In fact, she was no big star in Bollywood, before, then or now. When was the last time she had a hit? And why did she back off her racism charges?
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Bachchan Family Visits Temple in Uttar Pradesh

Amitabh Bachchan (l), Aishwarya Rai (3rd from l), Jaya Bachchan (2nd from r) and Abhishek Bachchan (r) at a mass marriage ceremony near Vindhyavasini temple.

It could be a scene right out of an Indian daytime television soap. The saas, bahu, in fact, the entire khandaan goes to a temple to offer their respect. But it’s for real.

Bollywood’s most-talked-about couple Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai recently sought blessings of the deity at the Vindhyavasini Temple in Uttar Pradesh, making their first public appearance together after their engagement.

The Bachchan khandaan, led by Amitabh Bachchan, who arrived to participate in the 51st birthday celebrations of Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh, offered prayers at the temple of Maa Bhagwati, seeking her blessings in the run-up to the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding.

Abhishek and Aishwarya performed parikarama (circumambulation) of the deity and also performed the Bhagwati Pooja. The two were alone in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and they accepted the kumkum given to them as prasad.

Abhishek applied kumkum on Aishwarya’s forehead and also applied some on his own forehead. The two also offered a gold chhatra (umbrella), nose ring and anklets during the pooja.

Gosh, add a song and dance, and this could be a scene from Hum Apke Hai Kaun?
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Faux Pas

Hema Malini in “Baabul.”

Guess what’s got our Basanti in hot water?  Hema Malini, who stole the heart of millions in the yesteryear blockbuster Sholay playing the loquacious tangewali Basanti, is in trouble for talking too much in real life. At a recent political rally, she told North Indians to “go back” if they don’t like it in Mumbai.

With municipal elections just around the corner, opposition politicians have pounced on the Bharatiya Janata Party Rajya Sabha member, and she has hastily backtracked.

“I never said those statements in the sentiment in which they were interpreted and have already apologized for them” she said.

Hema used the hoary old excuse dear to politicians when they are caught making inappropriate remarks: Her words were allegedly taken out of context and blown out of proportion. Now that sounds familiar.

In any case, the Bollywood film star appears to have learned a lesson after her faux pas.

“I will also have to speak carefully in the future since even the non-political statements I make sometimes are being twisted and used against me,” she said.

You know what, Hema? We have an even better idea: Better not speak publicly at all. Yes, we know you are a Rajya Sabha member. But you would do well to remember the wise words of Dennis Thatcher, husband of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “It is far better to remain quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
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French Honor

Amitabh Bachchan

The honors don’t seem to cease, and we continue to be impressed. Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan was recently honored with France’s highest civilian award, the Legion d’Honneur, at a glittering ceremony in New Delhi.

Ambassador of France to India Dominique Girard presented the award to Bachchan in the presence of his wife Jaya, son Abhishek and daughter-in-law to be Aishwarya Rai.

The Legion d’Honneur (Officer of the Legion of Honor) was conferred on Bachchan for his contribution to India’s and international culture.

Bachchan has acted in over 140 films in a career spanning over 40 years in Bollywood.

A film, March of the Penguins, directed by French director Luc Jacquet, for which Bachchan has given the Hindi voiceover was also screened on the occasion.

What can we say? Lage raho, Bachchan-bhai.
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Hot Water

Mallika Sherawat

She wants to be hot, but often lands up in hot water. Bollywood starlet Mallika Sherawat finds herself in trouble, and not for the first time, may we add. The voluptuous jathni, all too eager to show her “talent” on screen, may have gone one step too far, when she tried to do that in real life.

A local court in Vadodara,  Gujarat, has asked the police to complete investigations into a complaint of an “ugly and dirty” public performance by Mallika on New Year’s eve and file the report in 30 days.

Chief Judicial Magistrate D.V. Vaidya asked the J.P. Road police station to complete the investigation into the case filed by Baroda Bar Association president Narendra Tiwari.

According to Tiwari, the program was “ugly and dirty” under Section of the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act 1956 and Sections 366 and 244 of the Indian Penal Code and was an assault on Indian culture.

Tiwari said he and his family members were shocked to see the live program of Mallika on television Dec. 31 and had to switch off their TV sets because only few parts of the actress’ body were covered.

This dance is an attack on Hindu sanskruti (culture), said Tiwari, alleging that Mallika and the hotel owner had collected huge amounts from people, who turned up to see the program.

He claimed that Mallika had taken a fee of Rs. 5 million for her performance.

Two NGOs — Hind Rakshak Samiti and Sardar Patel Group — have supported Tiwari’s action. Leaders of these groups burnt posters of the actress.
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Feluda on BBC

Satyajit Ray

Admirers of India’s greatest filmmaker are in for a treat. Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray’s fictional Bengali detective Feluda will be the star of a special radio feature in which versatile actor Rahul Bose will play the super sleuth and Anupam Kher his loyal sidekick.

The BBC World Service will feature a dramatization of Feluda: The Golden Fortress on Feb. 10 with Bose in the lead role, a BBC release said.

Kher plays affable writer Lalmohan Ganguly, immortalized for his gaffes in a series of stories by Ray featuring the detective.

Ray wrote 35 stories about Pradosh C. Mitter, who also went by the moniker Feluda, a sharp and quick-witted detective whose exploits have been filmed for TV and the big screen. The Golden Fortress was filmed by Ray himself as Sonar Kella.

Writer Ray Grewal, who adapted the story for radio, described Feluda as a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Tintin and Indiana Jones. He said, “People often think that plays work better on radio when listeners use their imaginations to see the story.

“Feluda is so well known in India that people have very clear ideas about who he is and what he sounds like. But millions of BBC listeners around the world will not be familiar with him,” he said.

Bose has worked on radio before in a production of Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” for BBC Radio 4 in 2000.
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BAFTA Nomination

Bollywood hit Rang De Basanti starring Aamir Khan has been nominated for an award by the British Academy Film and Television Awards in the Best Non-English Film Category. The film had earlier failed to get an Oscar nomination after being India’s official entry in the Best Foreign Film category.

Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the film, will vie with Mel Gibson’s Apocalyptico and Pedro Almodovar’s Volver, featuring Penelope Cruz for the British award.

The selection of Rang De Basanti for one of the most coveted British awards is a good start for Indian film industry this year after 2006 saw more Bollywood movies entering the top ten box office list compared to British films produced in the U.K.

The BAFTA awards ceremony will be held this month at the Royal Opera House in London.

“The nomination shows the growing acceptance of India’s Bollywood offerings as quality cinema,” said Pervaiz Alam, director of the India-EU Film Initiative, a London-based organization promoting links between Indian and European filmmakers.

Alam said, “The year 2006 has been unprecedented success for India’s films in the U.K. Bollywood films have created a record of success at the box office. A record 74 Indian films were released in the U.K. in 2005, compared with just 61 British productions.”
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Films for Pleasure

He is at a stage where Bollywood’s usual calculations hold no value. Films are now mere vehicles of his fathomless creative energy.

Dev Anand
now seems to be on the verge of merging completely with his alter-ego “Raju,” the protagonist of his acclaimed film Guide, leaving behind all material considerations.

“I am not making films for a house, for good clothing or for two meals a day. At this stage I make films for my pleasure so that I can radiate that pleasure to the world,” India’s octogenarian actor-producer-director legend said.

“My creative impulse and creative intoxication with myself and my own feeling that people like you still want to meet Dev Anand, that is the source of my energy,” he said.

What may seem to many unbridled narcissism is actually the manifestation of this man’s curiosity for anything humane within him.

“I am in love with myself, with the God within me. One day I looked into the mirror with a hat on and said: ‘My God, I look good,’ and it became my style on the screen.”

Ever clinging on to his best movie till date, the 1963 classic Guide, in which he played an adulterous, unscrupulous and yet extremely lovable guide Raju, Devsaab has no qualms admitting that he, right now, is living that movie’s climactic moments.

Borrowing Raju’s parting monologue to express his state of consciousness, in that inimitable style, the affable Devsaab says, “Look at what he says at the end, I am leading that life this moment:

“Life is a thought, like death is a thought. There is no truth, neither is there untruth. There is no pain, there is the world; there is no man, neither god. Its just me, me, me.”

At 83, the indefatigable optimist in Dev Anand is planning two more movies — a Croatian production in English and a murder mystery, Chargesheet.
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Powerful, But Not Perfect: Guru
(Rating *** Good)

Mani Ratnam can be frustrating. His films are good when they could be brilliant.

The man has an uncanny instinct for cinema, but his passion seems to be more towards the moolah rather than artistic excellence.

I suppose the festival circuit’s loss is the janta’s gain, and boy, are they voting with their feet! Guru is a smash hit.

The film tells the story of a Gujarati village kid who not only dares to dream of going into bijness, but has the guts and tenacity to make it happen, rising to be a big tycoon.

Guru has excellent production values, but what could have been a gripping, fascinating drama ends up with a simplistic, shallow story line, and here, one suspects, the canny filmmaker preferred not to encumber the frontbenchers with too complicated a plot.

Gurukant Desai (Abhishek Bachchan) is an ambitious lad who decides to take a job abroad after he fails a school exam. He ends up in Istanbul.

Up comes the first song, even before the titles have appeared. This is a Hindi movie, after all. It’s Mallika Sherawat, presenting some highly suspect Middle Eastern dance, the fruit of a remarkably febrile Bollywood imagination. There she is, coyly covering her face with some diaphanous piece of cloth while pretty much showing everything else, her you-know-what jiggling like jello.

But one must be thankful for small mercies; hers is a guest appearance. Soon she is gone, and we move on with the story.

Guru does well Turkey, but one day, he decides simply to go back home. Working for the goras is not for him.

As he returns to his village, he runs into a tearful Sujata (Aishwarya Rai) in the train. She has just been dumped by her boyfriend.

Meanwhile, Guru needs capital, and he makes a deal with his friend: He will marry his sister and get a dowry, and his friend will become his partner.

Well, what do you know? Sujata is the sister, it turns out. It’s a small world.

Guru leaves for Mumbai, and takes Sujata along at the last moment.

It’s pretty hard going at first. Guru wants to get into trading in textiles, but it’s closed shop. He is told he can get in only after a big shot says he can. He grabs hold of the big shot; but the guy reneges on his promise.

As he fumes, Guru runs into Manik Sengupta (Mithun Chakraborty) an idealistic newspaper editor. Manik likes this headstrong Gujarati kid’s chutzpah. He tells Guru: “If you’re fighting for the truth, your fight is my fight.”

Manik is true to his word. His newspaper takes on the big shot of the market.

Pretty soon Guru’s upward progress is unstoppable. One day he quits trading to open his own factory. He has wild dreams of growth with a novel technique. He is not going to kowtow before banks or the government for a loan: He goes straight to the public. “Give me ten bucks and you will own a factory,” he tells them.

But amid all this, Guru loses his way, and Shyam Saxena (R. Madhavan), a reporter, starts writing articles that show how he flouts the law and cuts corners. Not that Shyam himself is above cutting corners when doing stories. But the bottom line is: he is good at digging unpleasant facts, and is backed by Manik who tells him grimly: “If it’s the truth, print it.” Shareholders protest; Guru, suffering from a stroke, is hauled before a government probe panel.

The probe panel is investigating charges of wrongdoing; but on the last day, Guru, though still ill, is defiant: He tells the panel that he considers the laws a constraint that stops him from serving himself and his shareholders.

Pretty dramatic stuff. But Mani provides the drama without the substance. The issues or the characters are not thoroughly fleshed out. The film has the feel of Chicago, where dramatic events happen one after the other in between songs, but it seems like a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, as the Bard said .

Now don’t get me wrong. Given the standard of the average Bollywood potboiler, this is pretty competent stuff. The photography is superb, the production design has a delightful, stylized, retro look, which is in synch with A.R. Rahman’s fetching music, and the acting of Abhishek is pretty impressive. Madhavan is also good. Vidya Balan is memorable as a disabled person. Aishwarya, I am afraid, has a rather modest remit to fulfill: She just has to look pretty, and cry from time to time. Mithun is also not bad in a character that’s more idealistic than plausible.

Overall, that’s no mean achievement in a film industry where insipid stories, poor production values and mawkish melodrama are all too common. No wonder the janta is flocking to the cinemas.

But I, for one, wish Mani Ratnam, had cared more for art.


Challenging Role: Pori

We live in a time when timidity and a pack mentality seems to be the rule for filmmakers and actors. Even granting that the blame is not entirely theirs — the movie-going public, if truth be told, can be more fickle then a maiden in love — it is also true that a dash of guts, married to a creative instinct, is key to any worthwhile artistic pursuit.

So it is heartening to see Jeeva buck the trend and take on a challenge. After experimenting with varied roles and receiving wide critical acclaim both from the audience and critics for his performance in films like Raam and E…, Jeeva seems to be brimming with confidence. He decides to take on to yet another challenging role in Pori, where he is teamed up with Pooja.

The film, directed by Subramania Siva (who is also the director of the super hit film Thiruda Thirudi), centers on a youth who takes life easy, and focuses all his attention just on love and friendship. However, circumstances cause his life to take a dramatic turn and as he becomes a more socially aware person, he decides to fight the injustice done to him and to those around him.

The hero and heroine may be in love, but their likes and dislikes do not really match. While the hero believes that a lie can be told for a good cause, the heroine, who works as a TV anchor, is firm in her belief that a lie should never be uttered even if it is to save someone’s life. The hero is also an admirer of Periyar, and his father (played by Delhi Ganesh) owns a bookshop named after the firebrand populist Dravidian leader.

Another thing about the film that is noteworthy is an elaborate set built at high cost where the bulk of the film’s shooting was done. The film has scenes shot on a set erected at AVM studio that reportedly cost a whopping Rs. 2.5 million. The set includes not only a street named Bharatiyar Street which has a bookshop, but also includes by-lanes and houses. Most of the action takes place in the street, and according to reports, the shooting schedule was for about three weeks at this set. An item number was filmed here as well, featuring Daisy Shah from Mumbai who danced to a tune composed by Dhina. The set was designed by G K, and wielding the camera was Ekambaram. Editing is by Antony.

Shot around locations in Besant Nagar, Ashok Nagar and K.K. Nagar among other places, the film is produced by Karthik and Sambandam for Nivi Pavi Creations. The supporting cast includes Delhi Ganesh, Karunas, Nagesh, Kadhal Dandapani and “Ghana” Ulaganathan, and director Seeman in a crucial role.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Western Veggie Snack: Veggie Ranch Melt Burger

Being vegetarian doesn’t mean you can’t have a mouth-watering burger. Here’s a delicious veggie burger recipe from Seema Gupta.

  • 4 hamburger rolls
  • 1 large potato, boiled and mashed
  • ¼ cup finely chopped french beans
  • ¼ cup grated carrot
  • ¼ cup mashed paneer
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cucumber
  • ¼ cup finely chopped tomato
  • ¼ cup finely chopped lettuce
  • 1/2 cup ranch dressing
  • 4 lettuce leaves
  • mayonnaise
  • tomato ketchup
  • 1 sliced beet (boiled)
  • 1 cup oil
  • Rice crackers with nuts (Kirkland brand, available at Costco)

For potato patties: Mix mashed potato, French beans, carrot, paneer, salt, red chili powder, garam masala, lemon juice. Shape into rounded patties. Heat oil in a pan. Fry each patty lightly until both sides are golden brown.

For dressing: Mix onion, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce with ranch dressing.

Making the veggie burger: Slice buns horizontally and toast both slices. Spread mayonnaise in bottom part. Put potato patty on it and add mixed dressing. Put lettuce on top. Spread tomato ketchup on second half and put on top. Serve with rice crackers and beet slices.

Serves four.

- Seema Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: February By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Children will make your day. Opportunity will come in a strange way and you will have doubts about it. Strong Sun in eleventh favorable for speculation, trading in stocks and playing lottery. Be alert when handling any machinery or driving car. Good news and great parties are on the cards.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Expenses will come under complete control and you will come across several opportunities to make quick bucks. You will be encouraged to take a big leap in life. Property deal may take the final shape. You will be in great demand at the party. You will make important and intelligent decisions in career this month.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): You may get money from an insurance company. Do not be double minded and take your chance. Business will improve but at a slower speed. You will be paying a lot of attention towards a child. You will make few useful contacts and make immediate use of them. Keep an eye on your possessions and check your pockets.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): You will strike gold. Opportunities will come in a strange way and exceed expectations. You will make money through a stocks transaction. Influential people will extend a helping hand and friendship. Some of you will be getting ready to move to a better place.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): You will be leaving for a long distance trip soon. Success and fame will knock at your doors. You will visit a holy place with family and make a generous donation. You will sign few new business contracts. People may try to take undue advantage of your weakness or generosity. Try to settle quickly.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You may plan a rush trip. Some of you will be seriously looking for a change in career and appear for interviews also. Business trip will go well and you will have the contract in your hands soon. An old family member’s health will continue to cause concerns. You will invite few friends at your place.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): This will be another moral boosting period. You will overcome earlier problems and resolve many issues to your satisfaction. Soon you will be leaving for an interesting trip to an exciting place. You will perform a very noble deed in February. Slight argument will take place with a colleague or subordinate.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): You will be going on an important trip. You will regain confidence and make few intelligent choices in life. You will have your eyes set on a nice piece of property for investment purpose. You will meet an important and famous person. Spouse may not keep well and suffer from slight fever.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): Avoid taking any financial risks. Money loaned even to a close friend will not return. You will attain your goals and reach a milestone in your career. You will spend money on expensive items in to make life more comfortable. People creating hurdles will disappear from your life.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Your ideas will be a seller. Business will pick up suddenly and you will make new clients. Some of you will be in line for immediate promotion with added benefits. You will plan a short trip with close relatives or friends. You may replace an old car. Government agency will give the clearance.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will have to face strong opposition but victory is yours. You will be getting ready to go on an interesting trip. Negotiations will continue for some more time before you hear the final word. Your commitment towards children will increase. You will buy high tech gadgets for personal use.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will spend money on an upcoming trip. Issues related to a child will cause concerns. You will negotiate for a job in a well known company. You will change your plans to acomodate others. It will be better to seek second opinion before you make any big moves. Try your luck at lottery.

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


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