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Volume VIII • Issue 1

EDITORIAL: Space: The Final Frontier
NEWS DIARY: December 2006
BUSINESS: Bharti Airtel Launches 3G
SUBCONTINENT: India’s Growing Economy
REVIEW: The Year 2006
TELEVISION: Mosque in the Prairie
COMMENT: Macaca Matters
HEALTH: Curing Kids’ Colds
TRAVEL: Historic Truckee
EVENT: South Asia Pageant
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Honda Ridgeline RTL
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu |
Hindi FilmReview: Bhagam Bhag
RECIPE: Tomato Poori & Aloo Ki Sabzi
HOROSCOPE: 2007 Yearly Forecast

Please Join us as we
welcome veteran
South Asian advertising guru Prem Dutt to the Siliconeer family.
Email Prem

Call Prem: (510) 797-8315

Space: The Final Frontier

Each show of 1960s cult favorite television series Star Trek used to begin with a ponderous intonation: “Space, the final frontier.” The remark captured something essential about the human spirit. From the ancient hunter-gatherers to the sea explorers in previous centuries, the urge to seek out new, undiscovered places, to push the frontiers of knowledge just a little bit more, represent almost a primordial human instinct.

In the modern age, where the entire world has been charted and accounted for, space casts the same spell that the unknown seas and lands did in the 18th century.

Despite being a developing country, India’s prowess in space technology has been impressive. However, human space travel has been beyond its capability.

Fortunately, Indians individuals have had the rare opportunity to travel into space.

Indian cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma spent eight days in 1984 aboard the USSR’s space station Salyut 7, becoming the first Indian to travel into space. The second person of Indian descent, Indian American Kalpana Chawla, died tragically in the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

Sunita Williams becomes the third person of Indian descent to travel into space. Her experience in space includes not just travel, but walking in space and spending an extended period in a space station.

Her trip has generated great interest and pride among the global Indian diaspora. This is also a good moment to celebrate the exciting human drama of space travel, which brings the entire world together irrespective of nationality and borders. We celebrate Sunita Williams and space travel in our cover story.

Something very peculiar is happening in the West Bengal township of Singur. Indian corporate giant Tatas are all set to move and to set up an automobile plant with the enthusiastic encouragement of the ruling Left Front government.

After decades of rule, the Left Front has realized that to move a substantial part of people out of poverty, what you really need is manufacturing jobs. Progress in information technology is well and good, but this progress is beyond the reach of the bulk of the population in Third World societies as IT jobs are essentially skills and knowledge-intensive.

Realizing this, the pragmatic Left Front has assiduously courted industrialists both within and outside India. In addition to the Indonesian corporate investor Salim Group, the West Bengal government has managed to bring in the Tatas to set up an auto plant, hoping for a windfall of jobs and resulting from economic growth resulting out of what economists call the multiplier effect.

However, in a densely populated, desperately impoverished state like West Bengal, realizing the plan cannot be painless. Farmland is being acquired (with owners paid due compensation, insists the West Bengal government), but what of the landless laborers and others whose living depends on the existing agricultural infrastructure?

In Singur, many are protesting the loss of land, and the protest has attracted some strange bedfellows. The Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, normally ardent backers of reform and market economics, have ended up going against their own professed policies to take on the left front. We carry detailed story in our issue.

At Siliconeer, we make an effort to expand our readers’ horizon beyond the South Asian ethnic comfort zone. In an increasingly diverse, multicultural America, we think it makes sense to try to understand and develop a familiarity with smaller communities like us with whom we share a lot in common to begin with.

Thanks to the wonderful resources of the New America Media, it’s not very difficult to do this.
This month we carry a moving account by NAM writer Angelika Gomes. After going on a trip to Guatemala, she learned about the country through the eyes of her often estranged father who immigrated from the war torn Central American country. Gomes writes with disarming simplicity and candor as she blends a description of her trip with an account of her turbulent life—we learn about her hot-headed father, her love-hate relationship with him, her relatives in Guatemala, and the fascinating, vastly different lifestyle in Guatemala.

Much of this is very different from the South Asian experience, but there is also much that is common. The loneliness and cultural dichotomy of living between two cultures, the warmth of relatives in the old country — those are a few of the things that most immigrants share.

What’s more, at a time of rising anti-immigrant hysteria, it is imperative that immigrant groups transcend their ethnic differences and come together to fight for their rights. The best first step of bringing communities together is to get to know each other a little better. Siliconeer is happy to do its part with its occasional “Ethnic Neighbors” section.

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

Historic Voyage: Sunita Williams in Space

Sunita Williams has created history as she became only the second woman of Indian descent to go into space. A Siliconeer report.

(Inset): Astronaut Sunita L. Williams (left) and Joan E. Higginbotham, both STS-116 mission specialists, float arm-in-arm near Space Shuttle Discovery’s hatch, which leads into the International Space Station. Rendezvous and docking operations between the shuttle and station occurred Dec. 11 at 4:12 p.m. Central Time and the crew entered the orbital outpost at 5:54 p.m. (Pic: NASA)
(Background): Backdropped by a blue and white Earth, the International Space Station moves away from Space Shuttle Discovery. Earlier the STS-116 and Expedition 14 crews concluded eight days of cooperative work onboard the shuttle and station. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 4:10 p.m. (CST) on Dec. 19, 2006. During their stay on the orbital outpost, the combined crew installed the newest piece of the station’s backbone and completely rewired the power grid over the course of four spacewalks. (Pic: NASA)

Cover photo: Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, Expedition 14 flight engineer, puts the final touches on a training version of her Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit, prior to being submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center. (Pic: NASA)

As we speak, NASA flight engineer Sunita Williams is 215 miles above the planet, helping unpack at the International Space Station.

Carrying a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a statue of Ganesh and a packet of samosas as she traveled into space, Williams created history after she became the second woman of Indian descent to go into space as the space shuttle Discovery lit up the sky in Cape Canaveral late Dec. 9, blazing off for the first nighttime space shuttle launch in four years.

The 41-year old astronaut of Indian and Yugoslavian descent, a new crewmember for the International Space Station, is spending six months conducting experiments onboard the orbiting outpost, fulfilling a childhood dream.

During their 12-day mission, Discovery’s crew rewired the space station, delivered an $11 million addition to the space lab, and brought home one of the space station’s three crew members, German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency. Sunita Williams replaced him, beginning a six-month-long stay.

Commanded by Mark Polansky, the mission was highlighted by the success of three planned spacewalks and an unplanned foray to fix a sticky solar array.

The first spacewalk was performed by Bob Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang. During the next spacewalk, Curbeam and Fuglesang set out to connect half of the cables needed to funnel electricity from the new P4 solar array. The wiring job went off without a hitch and far quicker than engineers had anticipated.

The story was much the same when Sunita Williams joined Curbeam for the third spacewalk. The pair again made quick work of the rewiring, completing that task and installing a space station debris shield with plenty of time to spare.

Before heading back to Discovery’s airlock, mission controllers dispatched Curbeam and Williams to take a closer look at the jammed P6 solar array.

Following a week of showing how good teamwork makes the best plans better, the STS-116 crew departed for the International Space Station. Discovery conducted a construction mission on the International Space Stations, in orbit 400 km above the earth.

After flying on the space shuttle’s STS-116 mission to the International Space Station, Williams has joined the station’s Expedition 14 crew. When a new crew arrives aboard a Russian Soyuz in March, she’ll become part of the Expedition 15 crew. Williams is scheduled to return to Earth with the STS-118 shuttle crew in the summer.

Williams said that one of her biggest jobs as a member of the space station crew will be to further human understanding of how to live and work in space. That knowledge will prepare NASA to take the next steps of exploration.

“So the space station’s just a stepping stone to get us to understand space, and how to live and work in space, and then potentially get back to the moon,” she said.

In an interview with NASA before leaving for space, Williams said she remembered, as a five-year-old child how she watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon with awe. She recalls thinking then that was what she wanted to do, even if it seemed like an unrealistic dream.

“I never really thought that that would happen in my life,” she said. “It seemed too far out there, something that I could never achieve.” That changed, though, during a visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Williams had earned her bachelor’s degree in physical science at the U.S. Naval Academy. She was attending test pilot school to become a Navy helicopter test pilot. During a field trip, her class went to Johnson Space Center, where they met John Young, who walked on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission. She said that most of her classmates were training to become jet test pilots, which is a common steppingstone to becoming a pilot astronaut.

Sunita's food menu for the space trip. Bon Appetit! (NASA pic | www.nasa.gov)

“It was me and a couple of other helicopter pilots sitting in the back while all the jet pilots in my TPS [Test Pilot School] class were all sitting in the front, listening to John Young talk about the shuttle and about flying to the moon,” she recalls. “I remember him talking about learning how to fly a helicopter to land the lunar lander. Something just clicked in my head, and I said, ‘Wow, you know, maybe there’s a use for helicopter pilots if we’re going to go back to the moon.’ So I sort of said to myself, ‘The only one who’s telling me I’m not going to be an astronaut is me.’”

She earned her master’s degree in engineering management at Florida Institute of Technology, and applied to become an astronaut. Her application was rejected. But, rather than give up, she applied again in 1998, and was accepted.

The Strange Case of Singur: Left, Right Change Roles
In a battle over setting up an auto plant in West Bengal, it is the state left front who are championing investment and reform, while the Congress and BJP, who have always castigated the leftists for being against reforms, are trying their best to throw a spanner in the works, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

(Above): West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee(l) and Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta. (Top, right): Trinamool Congress party chief Mamata Banerjee.

A bizarre version of narrow politics and blinkered vision is being played out at Singur, in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, where agricultural land is being acquired by the leftist government in power to allow the Tata Group, India’s second largest corporate entity, to set up a car factory in a sprawling area covering almost 1,000 acres.

Ironically, it is the left parties, generally at the forefront to resist economic change at the federal level, who are in the firing line this time. Over the past few days, television channels have been broadcasting pictures of supposedly disaffected farmers (who could well be hired goons by vested political parties) fighting pitched battles with the police and vandalizing Tata show rooms in Kolkata, the state capital.

In an exercise of political opportunism, the generally pro-economic reform parties Bharatiya Janata Party and the ruling Congress (at the federal level) are siding with the stormy local leader Mamata Banerjee in order to take a few easy pot shots at the politically well entrenched left parties in West Bengal.

The left are crucial coalition partners of the Congress-led government at the federal level and oppose the government on economic reform, more than the opposition BJP.

Mamata, known for her rabble-rousing abilities in Parliament and outside is leading the so-called “revolt” using time-tested arguments — farmers versus capitalist czars who are out to exploit the downtrodden and have the government of West Bengal in their pockets.

The left, for a change, has been putting up a stout defense with statements that sound very much the kind that Indian prime minister, finance minister or the commerce minister use to defend economic policies that range from setting up of Special Economic Zones (more than 200 have been cleared) for industry which again requires agricultural land to be acquired, opening retail to foreign investment or privatization of airports or public sector units.

“We need land for industry. No country, whether capitalist or socialist, can progress only on agriculture. From agriculture to industry, village to city, this is the path of development and civilization,” Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the reformist chief minister of West Bengal has said, sounding like a federal Congress minister.

Senior left party leader Sitaram Yechury, one of the most ardent in opposing the Congress government’s reform process, has been singing praises of the West Bengal government.

“We are giving the people affected compensation and skills... There has been no forcible eviction. People are standing in queues and taking the checks (being paid by the government to the land owners). People are happy,” he said. “The Congress double-speak has become obvious. The Congress has been saying the left is blocking the reform process. Where reform is taking place, they are opposing it,” Yechury has said.

Incidentally, Yechury has labeled the Congress government in Haryana or the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan as “land grabbers” due to the SEZs that are being formed.

India’s largest private sector entity Reliance Industries and the Haryana government have signed an agreement for setting up India’s largest multi-product SEZ involving an investment of nearly $9 billion (Rs. 400 billion).

However, there is some truth in the latest statements of both Buddhadeb and Yechury.

Indian agriculture is in the throes of stagnation. More than 600 million depend on it, while the sector’s contribution is less than 25 percent of the gross domestic product. This smacks of low productivity and disguised unemployment.

Though finance minister P. Chidambaram has hailed India’s growth at 9.2 percent in the second quarter, the highest rate in 15 years, he isn’t so keen to talk about the fact that agriculture’s annual growth in July-September slumped to just 1.7 percent from 3.4 percent in the previous quarter. The Indian economy has grown more than 8 percent in six out of the last seven quarters, gaining 8.9 percent in the three months to June 30.

The main drivers in the current round of growth of the Indian economy have been hotels, communications; manufacturing and construction.

Thus, the only way to raise the lot of people dependent on agriculture is to shift them to industry and services, as Buddhadeb has said.

What Yechury has said is also quite right, but perhaps applies elsewhere as well. State governments and private industry have been doling out payments to farmers at rates that are much higher than market value.

Reports in mainstream media, as well as some interactions with beneficiary farmers by this correspondent in Haryana, show that landowners, who at times enjoy considerable political clout, are by and large happy at the returns their land have fetched.

In Singur, the West Bengal government is paying more than 10 times the market value of land.

Indeed, the big private enterprises who are buying land from farmers do not want a political problem in their hands. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who exercises considerable power over the government, has already expressed reservation against diversion of farmland for industrial and non-agricultural use, without the farmers being compensated adequately.

SEZs have a projected investment of $80 billion and employment potential of 2 million, which the private players do not want to lose out on.

With a fair bank balance farmers are looking to buy land elsewhere where it cheap or set up ancillary services catering to the industries being set up in their area. There is also the option of new employment opportunities. These farmers now are part of a new category of the rural rich with an estimated buying potential of $00 billion of consumer goods.

In Gurgaon, an outsourcing hub, villagers paid hefty amounts by private developers drive big cars and cater to businesses linked to outsourcing firms. Many have found employment in the slew of service-related jobs such as hospitality, insurance, security agencies and banking.

However, the ones feeling the most insecure and done in by this process are the landless laborers, sharecroppers and peasants, who form the largest numbers and see their livelihoods being snatched away in the interim.

They form the bulk of the 400-million odd poor and illiterate rural population who eke out a living on less than a dollar a day and do not have any social security of any kind to fall back upon. Land is their only solace.

They are usually the ones who take on debts in order to till small farms on behalf of landowners and commit suicide due to crop failure. Performance of agriculture is determined by the fickle monsoons, given the absence of adequate irrigation infrastructure.

Though some of the landless should absorbed by the new industry in the area, the transition as well as the many who may be left in a lurch, is the main cause of anxiety.

In the absence of adequate education and health facilities, they do not see how they can ever escape the vicious trap of being without land, money or jobs. The fact of the matter is that 400 million is not a small number and their angst will need to be addressed.

However, these critical issues can only be answered by politicians with a commitment to India’s most powerless constituents, not by opportunist politicians who raise populist slogans to score quick cheap points.

The left front’s point that only industrial and manufacturing jobs will ease the bitter poverty in the villages is well taken. However, they also have to make sure the transition is done with as little economic pain as possible.

NEWS DIARY: December 2006 Roundup
Quelle Horreur! Mittal Makes French Elite Squirm | Losing an Ear And a Nose for Love | NOIDA Killings | Poll Boycott | Missing Rhinos | Auto Exports

Quelle Horreur! Mittal Makes French Elite Squirm
Lakshmi Mittal
When steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal made a bid for French steel giant Arcelor, former Arcelor chief Guy Dollé had haughtily retorted that a merger was unthinkable because Arcelor distilled perfume while the Mittals made cheap eau de Cologne.

Well, now that the eau de cologne wallah rules of the perfume maker, the snooty French elite are none too pleased, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph gleefully reports.

Some are complaining that he breached the spirit of the memorandum of understanding with Arcelor, in which he agreed to take a back seat in the actual operations of the company, when he fired within the chief executive within four month of his takeover.

Mittal has been imposing an “Asian style” on his European steel workers after “snatching Arcelor from beneath the noses of the Paris establishment” a Telegraph columnist wrote.

Oddly enough, French workers are reportedly far from hostile to a man viewed as a better long-term bet than the last lot. “I am amazed to say it, but Mittal has given us hope,” said Edouard Martin, a union chief at the CFDT labor federation in Florange.

In the Valle de la Fensch, where mills supply Peugeot, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and Toyota — the most demanding, say the workers — with flat steel, the 4,000 employees were already on death watch before the Mittal takeover. The mills were to be run down over the next three years. But the first thing Mittal did was to take a fresh look, informed Martin.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Losing an Ear And a Nose for Love
Mohammad Iqbal

Outraged in-laws slashed the nose and ears of a college student who married a woman without the consent of her higher caste family, and then fractured his legs with blows from an ax.

Mohammed Iqbal told The Associated Press about 30 male relatives of his wife stormed into his mother’s village home during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, demanding vengeance for the “dishonor” the marriage had brought to their family.

Iqbal, 22, speaking from his hospital bed, said the attackers chanted, “You have mixed our honor with dirt,” as they assaulted him with a dagger and ax at night. They also slit his brother’s ears and shot his mother in the thigh, he said.

Police officer Manzoor Ahmed in the city of Multan, where the three victims are recuperating, said seven men suspected of involvement in the attack in the village of Inayatpur Mahota have been arrested. Police were hunting for 22 other suspects.

Iqbal’s wife, Shahnaz Bibi, 19, was not at home at the time of the attack. She has been living in another town following a similar assault against Iqbal two months ago at the end of the holy month of Ramadan in which he suffered broken fingers.

Iqbal, whose nose and ears are now severely scarred with surgical stitching, said he and Bibi did nothing wrong when they wed last year.

“We married in court with our consent. We like each other. Islam gives us permission to marry out of our own choice,” he said.

He said they fell in love after they met in a mango orchard. Iqbal used to buy fruit from Bibi’s father to sell for profit. Bibi’s family, considered to be a higher caste clan of land owners, was against the union.

In deeply conservative rural areas in Pakistan, many men consider it an insult if their female relatives marry without their consent. Offenders are rarely punished because of poor policing, corruption and legal loopholes.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, citing government figures, said in a report last year that about 1,000 women die annually in honor killings.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

NOIDA Killings
Weeping parents of a missing child.

India ordered a high-level probe into the discovery of skulls and bones of at least 17 people, many of them children, at a house outside New Delhi which police say is a gruesome case of serial killing.

The remains were dug up recently from the backyard of a house in Noida, an industrial town on the outskirts of the Indian capital. The incident has shocked the country and continues to make national headlines.

The victims had been reported missing by their relatives, some for as long as two years.

Police have arrested the businessman who owns the house and his domestic servant in connection with the case. There has been no word from the pair, and it was not immediately known if they had legal representation.

The high-level panel, comprising officials of the federal home and women and child development ministries, has been asked to report within a fortnight, a government statement said.

The panel will also look into alleged lapses by the police in investigating complaints about the missing children. Five policemen have been suspended for negligence, an official said.

Earlier, anger spilled over into the streets of the area of Noida where the house is located. Grieving parents and relatives stoned the building and clashed with police, accusing them of failing to find their children.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Poll Boycott
Sheikh Hasina
Bangladesh’s main opposition parties have declared they will boycott national elections set for Jan. 22, alleging the polls would be unfair.

“We are not going to participate in the national elections,” said Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed, speaking on behalf of an alliance of 14 opposition parties and reneging on an earlier pledge to take part in the polls.

The outgoing Bangladesh Nationalist Party government accused the opposition of seeking to scuttle the polls but said it would take part in the elections and it was confident that they would be held on time.

Sheikh Hasina said President Iajuddin Ahmed was “illegally” holding the post of interim government chief “and he wants to hold the elections without a correct voter list”.

“We cannot accept this unfair election,” she said.

Since the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government stepped down at the end of October, the opposition has demanded a string of reforms it said were necessary for the parliamentary elections to be fair.

The opposition alliance accused the BNP of trying to rig the elections by appointing party loyalists to key positions in the temporary administration and election commission.

The Awami League said Dec. 24 that it would take part in the elections after repeated strikes, protests and blockades that caused massive disruption across the country and left at least 35 people dead.

The party had earlier objected to the voter list, saying it contained 14 million fake names.

“The election commission had promised to correct the voter roll but instead they scrapped the names of our supporters and put in the names of a huge number of fake voters as part of the election engineering process,” said Sheikh Hasina.

Reacting to the announcement, the BNP accused the Awami League of attempting to sabotage the elections.

“We are surprised by their indecision. They are making trouble in the election process, but we will participate and we are sure the election will be held on time,” said former BNP minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Missing Rhinos
A great one-horned rhino in Nepal.

Dozens of endangered great one-horned rhinoceros have mysteriously gone missing from a nature reserve in southwest Nepal over the past few years, a wildlife official said.

Authorities introduced 72 rhinos, also known as the Indian rhinoceros, in the Babai Valley, 200 miles southwest of Kathmandu, as part of a conservation drive that started in 1984.

“We have records showing 23 rhinos had died due to poaching or other causes. The rest are missing,” Laxmi Prasad Manandhar, a senior official at the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation, said.

But he ruled out the possibility of all the 49 missing rhinos falling prey to poachers.

“If poachers had killed them they should have left behind the bodies” after taking away the horn, he said, adding that just one rhino skeleton had been found during an extensive search in June.

“Where did they go? I have no answer. It is a mystery,” Manandhar said.

The rhinos were moved to Babai Valley from Chitwan National Park on Nepal’s southern plains under a conservation scheme supported by global conservation group WWF.

In December, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to step up security at Chitwan — the Himalayan nation’s biggest rhino reserve — after local media reported at least 10 animals had been killed since July.

Officials say at least 12 rhinos had died in the past six months in Chitwan where their population dropped to 372 in 2005 from 544 in 2000.

Their numbers fell mainly due to poaching for horns which are believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and are in great demand in China.

The one-horned species of the rhinoceros has been one of the greatest conservation success stories in South Asia. With strict protection, especially in India, their total numbers have touched around 2,500 from 100 about a century ago.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Auto Exports
Japanese auto maker Nissan plans to invest $180 million in an auto plant in India.

China’s car market may be double that of India, but when it comes to exports, it clearly lags behind.

China’s auto exports doubled to 340,000 units in 2006 but were less than half of India’s total vehicle export tally of 970,620 units (including two- and three-wheelers). Sedan exports tripled to 90,000 units in China but fell far short of India’s 191,723-unit passenger vehicle export tally.

According to statistics, India’s passenger vehicle exports, dominated by cars, quadrupled from 46,028 units in 2001 to 164,965 units in 2004, hitting 171,608 units in 2005.

China’s total vehicle exports, on the other hand, jumped 120 percent from 78,000 units in 2004 to 173,000 units in 2005. In terms of value, China’s vehicle exports have hit $1.58 billion while India’s tally is expected to be $2.8 billion, up from $2.25 billion clocked in 2005. Just passenger vehicle exports from India (mostly cars and some jeeps) were worth an estimated $1.4 million in 2006.

Analysts say the reason behind the skew lies in China’s predominant position in parts exports as opposed to vehicle exports. China exports ten times more in value terms of components than India does as global companies use the Chinese scale to source for developed markets. However, China’s domestic appetite for vehicles is so big, that the local vehicle production is pretty much consumed locally.

|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

My Chapina Roots: Trip to Guatemala
After going on a trip to Guatemala, she learned about the country through the eyes of her often estranged father who immigrated from the war torn Central American country, writes New America Media’s Angelika Gomes.

(Top, right):
The Mayan ruins of Templo del Gran Jaguar, Tikal; El Lago e Atitlan, Panajachel (below, left); and Basilica of Esquipulas (right).
Angelika Gomez is an editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

Early this summer I got a call from my dad asking me if I wanted to go Guatemala with him and his family, all expenses paid, for a whole month. I hadn’t spent a whole month with my dad since I was seven years old. I knew it would an intense experience, but I decided to go anyway.

It’s been a long trek to get where I am with my dad. My parents divorced in 1989, when I was 7 years old. A couple years after my parents split, my dad took off to Guatemala. Even though he had four kids in San Francisco, he felt like he had nothing to live for here. My father was born in Guatemala and moved to San Francisco at the age of 13, to join the rest of his brothers and sisters.

Soon after joining his family in the Mission District, he ran away because of an unstable household. He jumped from juvenile hall to foster homes to group homes and eventually earned his diploma. My dad was a legend in the late ’70s and early ’80s in San Francisco. He was a hustler, dealing drugs and making lots of money. My father managed to avoid trouble with the law, especially with the drug dealing. Eventually, my mother got sick of the lifestyle and wanted something better and safer for her children, so that was the big reason on top of many little reasons why they divorced. The divorce took a toll on my dad, I guess. He eventually gave that lifestyle up and became a jewelry salesman. He settled down and had a string of girlfriends, none of them too serious. But that was wasn’t enough to satisfy him, so he took off.

When my father left, it was one of the roughest times in my life. I didn’t really know where he was at any given time. We would get random phone calls whenever he wanted to call. He would come back into the States once a year, spend 100 bucks on each of us and then take off again. Around my eighth grade year, he took off to Guatemala and we didn’t hear from him for two years. Finally, in 2002, he moved here with his new family: my step-mom and my two little sisters. It took a while to patch up our relationship but in the end, I wanted my dad in my life. So, I was pretty excited to take this trip with him but also a little worried about how it would be to spend so much time with him.

Before I left for Guatemala I was going through it, big time. I had drama with friends and family. I fell in love and got my heart broken, and on top of everything else, I was drinking a lot and felt lost. I was ready to snap at any moment so this trip came at the perfect time. I needed to get away.

I was nervous flying into Guatemala City. I was all by myself because my Dad was flying in the next morning. I was going to be picked up by my dad’s brother-in-law, who I’ve met before, but I was worried because my Spanish isn’t that good. I can understand everything, but have a hard time speaking it. Third, we were landing in a storm. There was crazy turbulence and right when the flight was getting ready to hit the runway, there was a jolt and all of a sudden we were heading back into the night sky. When we finally landed safely 30 minutes later, everyone on the plane was so relieved we started clapping. By dad’s brother-in-law ended up being really cool and everything was fine. The next morning we went and picked up my dad and his family. I so excited to see my dad. I felt like a seven-year-old kid again, waiting for him to pick me and my sister up so we could spend the weekend with him. I was excited to see Guatemala through his eyes and to really bond with him.

I didn’t realize how deep my dad was in Guatemala until I saw him there. In Guatemala, it is completely different. He picked up where he left off when my parents split up. He’s not selling drugs but he makes money and can get away with whatever he wants to do out there, whether it’s legit or illegal. The area where my family is from, Rio Hondo, is a rural area where there didn’t seem to be any laws. As soon as he could, my dad put his holster around his waist and stuck his gun and his clips in the holster. My dad knows all the important people in Rio Hondo. Whether they are drug lords, drug lord bodyguards, or just regular businessmen with money, it doesn’t matter, they all carry guns. People carry guns there because of personal safety. You never know what’s going to happen and there aren’t really police officers around, so everything and anything goes.

I wasn’t scared at all or nervous around the guns, especially during the day. Time is slow out there and all the people seem happy doing everyday things like shopping and eating. As soon as nightfall hit, it was a different story. I hated being in the car at night. That’s when most of the robberies and murders happen. You’ll be driving along and, next thing you know, someone is creeping up in the car next to you, shooting. My dad has been in quite a few shoot-outs but luckily, nothing’s ever happened to him. He says that’s because he used to drive a truck with American license plates, people would think he was a rich American and try and rob him. He did say he shot one of the guys that tried to rob him once and he’s pretty sure he killed him.

The first week in Guatemala I met all of my extended family and drank Johnny Walker and Gallo’s, the national beer, with everyone that came to visit. I discovered that when I got a little tipsy, I could speak fluent Spanish! I also went to my first pallenque, or rooster fight. I’ve never felt so much machoness in one place, than I did at these pallenques. It was like seeing 50 of my dads, stocky guys with guns on their hips throwing money around, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars. Usually, at every pallenque, all the major drug lords show up. They stand out because they’re usually dressed 10 times better than everyone else and have gold chains hanging around there necks or gold on their teeth with no bands linking them, kind of like grills here. The drug lords in Guatemala are the unofficial government. What they say goes. They are intimidating men, sometimes scary, but they bring money into the small pueblos of Guatemala.

The most memorable pallenque I went to was at the town of La Pepesca. La Pepesca used to just be a skinny dirt road leading into nothing but brush, a few scattered run-down houses and one store. One of the drug lords wanted to build the best pallenque in Rio Hondo, so he bought the whole town and rebuilt it. He tore down all the houses and rebuilt the road into a nice paved one that could hold two-way traffic. He built two big mansions, one for himself and one for another drug lord. You could tell which one was his by the massive indoor swimming pool that faced the road. He built a few smaller houses for the people of the town and even put in a few amusement park rides, so the local kids could enjoy themselves. When you enter La Pepesca, you drive up a dirt road and at the peak of the hill is the pallenque.

I met so much family in Guatemala that I never knew I had: aunts, uncles and cousins, so many cousins. We stayed at my family’s hotel, in a little town in Rio Hondo called Santa Cruz. It was the best hotel ever, with an Olympic-size swimming pool with water slides and diving boards. They had tons of bungalows and the food was just amazing. I also I got to know my cousins and got to know what being a family really is like. And that’s a lot different than my family in San Francisco. My family in San Francisco has been fractured since my parents split and it’s only gotten worse. No one really talks to one another and if they do it only leads to bickering, which leads to the silent treatment, which lasts for months and sometimes years. I was accepted in Guatemala as if I was born there.

My dad wouldn’t let me speak English outside of the hotel because he said people would look down on me or maybe want to hurt me, because they would be able to tell I was an American. So, basically I was a semi-mute. I never knew what being a Chapina was like and now I do. We went all over Guatemala: to the black sand beaches and the old capitol Antigua, to El Petén where Tikal is (the Mayan ruins) and to Zacapa, a small town in Rio Hondo where my dad and step-mom grew up. It felt good knowing where I came from after 24 years of living in America.

Even though my dad and I did not get along 40 percent of the time, I feel like I understand him more now. It was challenging getting along with my dad. He’s very stubborn and controlling, and at times misogynistic. No one in my family wants to say anything because he has quite the temper. But like my dad, I have quite the temper too, so we fought a lot. It also didn’t help that my 11-year-old stepsister was going through a bratty stage. I mean, she can be a sweet girl but she was so disrespectful to me. I think she felt that I was stepping on her toes in her home country, so she decided to be a brat the whole time. I had never spent much time with my little sisters so it took me a little time to get used to it.

I feel that I have a special bond with my father because I took this trip with him. Really, my dad is the same crazy person in Guatemala as he is in the States. He’s honest, rude, funny and sensitive. He always tells me that he’s going to retire there and I couldn’t imagine him retiring anywhere else. Guatemala is like a big field he can run around in wildly. He is one with Guatemala.


Honoring Our Heroes: 2007 GOPIO Awards
Established to recognize and honor those NRIs and PIOs who have provided significant community and public service to the Indian Diaspora around the globe and/or to India, the GOPIO Pravasi Community Service Awards will be handed out to four NRIs at the GOPIO meet in New Delhi Jan. 6. A Siliconeer report.

The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin has scheduled its Convention 2007 in New Delhi Jan. 5-6 in conjunction with Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2007, according to a GOPIO press release. The theme of the conference is “Overseas Indians — Identity Preservation & Adoption of New Values in Pluralistic Societies.” The conference will be formally inaugurated Jan. 5th at the FICCI Conference Room, followed by a reception.

The conference will conclude with the awards banquet Jan. 6, 2007 at the Ashoka Hotel. The GOPIO Pravasi Community Service Awards were established to recognize and honor those NRIs and PIOs who have provided significant community and public service to the Indian Diaspora around the globe and/or to India. “We at GOPIO believe that the NRIs/PIOs have contributed significantly to the countries of their adoption as well as to India, and have added a special glitter to the resurgence of India,” said Inder Singh, president of GOPIO.

“GOPIO believes that the destiny of the Indian diaspora, in many ways, is intertwined inextricably with India,” the GOPIO release added. “The NRIs/PIOs, individually and collectively, certainly have made numerous, significant achievements in their adopted lands but they are bound to India by the umbilical cord of history, culture, heritage, and tradition. GOPIO’s conferences and conventions continue to bring the Indian Diaspora directly and indirectly closer to mother India.”

GOPIO chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham said, “By honoring those who have worked selflessly for Indian diaspora causes and India, we are providing exposure of such role models to the next generation. This will motivate more NRIs and PIOs to volunteer their time for community causes.”

The awards will be presented by Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi. Other guests for the evening are Meghalaya Gov. M. Jacob, Dr. Karan Singh MP and former Prime Minister Inder K. Gujral.

The awardees for this year are: Charan Gill, Canada; George Abraham, Singapore; Nevin P. Megchiani, Bahrain, Middle East; and Wahid Saleh, The Netherlands.

Charan Gill, Canada
Charan Gill founded the British Columbia Organization to Fight Racism, co-founded the Canadian Farm Workers Union, and is the president of the Progressive Indo-Canadian Community Services Society. He developed plans for a senior housing project and raised funds towards the purchase price. He was a member of the Task Force on Race Relations, and organized a conference on race relations. Gill has won numerous community service awards such as the Order of British Columbia, Vandusen Community Service Award from the United Way, Human Rights Award from MOSAIC, and the Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.

George Abraham, Singapore
George Abraham has served in various capacities with the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Singapore Federation of Chambers of Commerce and the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry. He is chairman of the GA Group which organizes country-focused seminars, conferences and publications; and the Global Indian Business Network Ltd, which assists cross-border trade and investment within Singapore, India and the region. Abraham serves on various government, civic and community organizations, and launched the Global Indian Business Summit in 2006.

Nevin P. Megchiani
Bahrain, Middle East

Nevin Megchiani has been serving and supporting various educational facilities for the benefit of the NRI community in the Gulf, serving in various capacities in several NRI community organizations He has served as vice chairman of the Indian School Bahrain, the first and the largest community school today with more than 6,000 students. He also worked towards helping the NRI community children to get admissions in the top class universities in India over the quota system by adding or increasing the NRI quota seating. Meghchiani is the director of the branch of Birla Institute of Technology of Ranchi which he succeeded in bringing to Bahrain where it established its first international centre abroad for NRI community children to pursue their degree programs while living with their parents.

His efforts have been a Godsend for harried expatriate Indian families who worry that they are trading affluent living for an uncertain education of their children. Now, Indian parents can rest assured that as they make money, their kids are also getting educated in competitive schools.

Wahid Saleh
The Netherlands

Born in Assam, Wahid Saleh Wahid studied engineering in Kerala, Germany, and The Netherlands. He has served as a board member of the Netherlands-India Association, and guided the creation of the Dutch Indian Youth Association. He has also served in numerous civic, community and cultural organizations in various executive positions. In April 2002 Wahid was awarded the coveted Dutch honor, Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau (Knighthood of the Order of Orange-Nassau). Saleh also authored the book, “Indiawijzer — India in Nederland,” a reference guide on Indian culture in The Netherlands. For his services to the PIO/NRI community, Saleh was presented with THE Foundation for Critical Choices for India Silver Jubilee Award. He established the Anwar Qadir Mohammed Salehuddin and Najmun Nisa Memorial Trust for Higher Education in Assam, and donated the required funds for this trust.

Prior to the conference inauguration, a scheduled GOPIO session will present reports on NRI/PIO issues from different countries. This will be followed by a media conclave with two sessions on “India & PIO Media Exchange and Deliberation” and “PIOs in Media: Their Perception of India & Indian Media, and, their role in the global perception of India and bridging Indians and PIOs.” Put together by U.S.-based GOPIO Media Council chairman Munish Gupta and RJR Ban Corp. CEO Sanjay Reddy, speakers include former Prasar Bharati CEO K.S. Sarma, Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta and S. Mitra Kalita of Washington Post.

After 3G, Launch in U.S.: Telecom Giant Bharti Airtel

Bharti Telecom created history by becoming the first Indian service provider to launch 3G services. Now it’s coming to the U.S. as it eyes the 2.5 million-strong Indian American community. A Siliconeer report.

Indian telecom giant Bharti created history in December when it became the first Indian telecom service provider to launch 3G services. Telecom Seychelles, a subsidiary of Bharti Global, launched 3G operations in Seychelles, a cluster of islands off the African coast. Bharti had been providing telecom services in Seychelles since 1998 under the Airtel brand. The company made significant investments for rolling out state-of-the-art 3G services. Telecom Seychelles is the first telecom operator to launch 3G services in the island nation.

“This is a proud moment for Bharti and the Indian telecom industry,” said Bharti Group managing director Sunil Bharti Mittal. “This launch demonstrates that the Indian telecom industry is ready to introduce world-class 3G services. Our 3G operations in Seychelles will provide us with valuable experience, which will be extremely beneficial for rollout of our 3G services in India.”

Americans, locked in a nationwide wireless phone service that is woefully behind in the latest technology, are largely clueless about 3G, the cutting age wireless communications technology.

3G is short for third-generation technology. This cutting edge technology in terms of mobile phone standards allows services that provide the ability to transfer simultaneously both voice data (a telephone call) and non-voice data (such as downloading information, exchanging email, and instant messaging).

Worldwide roll-out of 3G networks has been delayed for a variety of reasons. Japan and South Korea were relatively quick to adopt 3G, because their governments prioritize technological infrastructure development.

(Above): Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman and group managing director, Bharti Enterprises delivering the welcome address at the GSMA meet in New Delhi in June last year.

The first country which introduced 3G on a large commercial scale was Japan. In 2005, about 40 percent of subscribers used 3G networks only, with 2G being on the way out in Japan.

Earlier in September, Airtel introduced “seamless roaming services” on 3G networks across the world including Japan and Korea. The move benefited more than 25.65 million Airtel mobile customers while roaming to any of the 3G networks worldwide. This is particularly a boon for customers visiting Japan and Korea who so far had to change their handsets upon landing in these two countries in order to stay connected. Now with a 3G handset they can use international GSM roaming services.

Last month, Bharti Airtel also announced its foray into the United States with the launch of Airtel ‘CallHome’ service. Tailor-made for Indian Americans, this service marks an important milestone in Bharti Airtel’s overseas chapter.

Commenting on the launch, Bharti managing director Sunil Mittal said, “Today, telephony has dissolved borders and shortened distances across the globe. Bharti Airtel has been at the forefront of the telecom revolution, enabling millions of Indians to connect with each other. We made innovation and affordability a buzzword in the telecom space. It makes me personally very happy that now we will be able to connect over 2.5 million of our fellow Indians in the United States of America to their loved ones back home.”

Indian Americans can now call India at rates as low as 7.9 cents a minute. “This is a significant 40 percent lower than the competitive services in the market,” a Bharti press release said. “To avail of this service, all they need to do is go to the Airtel site www.Airtelcallhome.com , create their personal account and download the calling service online. Airtel ‘CallHome’ is available initially as a pre-paid option.

“Airtel ‘CallHome’ service is particularly attractive as it comes with the advantage of anytime access, during the day or night, as per the convenience of the customer. A big advantage of this service is also the simplicity it offers owing to the uniform rate of calling whether it is to any Airtel mobile or Landline or any other mobile phone or landline.”

Bharti Airtel is one of India’s leading private sector providers of telecommunications services with 30.27 million customers, including 28.61 million mobile customers. Bharti Airtel has been rated among 10 best performing companies in the world in the BusinessWeek IT 100 list.

The company is structured into three strategic business units— Mobile services, Broadband & Telephone services and Enterprise services. The mobile business provides mobile and fixed wireless services using GSM technology across 23 telecom circles. The B&T business provides broadband & telephone services in 94 cities. The Enterprise services provide end-to-end telecom solutions to corporate customers and national and international long distance services to carriers. All these services are provided under the Airtel brand.

Growing Success: Indian Economy

It’s all systems go as the Indian economy clocks its highest growth in 15 years, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has hailed India’s growth at 9.2 percent in the second quarter, the highest rate in 15 years. In April-June, the gross domestic product grew 8.9 percent.

In another boost to economic reforms, New Delhi has said that poverty ratio too has declined to 22 percent from 36 percent in 1993-94 as per initial estimates. This can provide a significant boost to economic reforms by raising the living standards of the masses.

The latest poverty estimates are based on the results of the large sample surveys conducted by National Sample Survey Organization in 2004-05 on household consumer expenditure based on mixed recall period, wherein consumer expenditure data of five non-food items, clothing, footwear, durable goods, education and institutional medical expenses and other items are collected over a fixed period.

Based on this result, the government has said that poverty has reduced by about 0.79 percent per year during the period 1999-2005, when economic reforms have gathered plenty of momentum.

This further substantiates statistics by the National Council for Applied Economic Research, the official collector of data of rural India, that India’s urban growth and prosperity is beginning to spread to the countryside.

While in China, widening inequalities is a cause for worry to the government, in India the gap has narrowed. In 1990, for every $100 earned by a person residing in a rural area, a person in an urban area earned $82 more. Today, the gap has been squeezed to $56.

Per capita income in India has doubled in the last nine years and the number of households earning an annual income of at least $10,000 is rising more than 20 percent a year, according to McKinsey & Co

The main drivers in the current round of growth of the $775 billion Indian economy have been hotels and communications at 13.9 percent, manufacturing at 11.9 percent and construction at 12.3 percent over last year.

“Overall I think we have done well. The economy has performed the best in several years, revenues are buoyant and we are on track to meet the targets,” said Chidambaram, at an interaction with the media, to mark the release of economy related data by the Central Statistical Organization.

“I hope that the current year turns out to be one of the best years of economic growth. There are no limits to my expectations. Just savor the moment,” he added.

GDP growth is 9.1 percent for the first half of the current fiscal, the highest since the CSO started compiling quarterly GDP data 1996-97 onwards. The stock markets cheered the good news, with the benchmark Sensex closing 79 points higher at 13696, with observers saying that it will likely cross the 14,000 mark soon.

If the growth during the current fiscal exceeds 8 percent, as seems quite likely now, it would be the fourth consecutive year of over 8 percent plus growth. With 1.6 percent population growing, per capita income growth is now a high 6.4 percent annually and could double in a decade.

The Indian economy has grown more than 8 percent in six out of the last seven quarters, gaining 8.9 percent in the three months to June 30.

China, though, has set a more scorching pace. China’s $2.2 trillion economy, Asia’s second biggest, grew 10.4 percent in the quarter ended Sept. 30, the quickest among the world’s 20 biggest economies and almost four times the 2.6 percent rise in the 12 European nations that share the euro.

Data on India shows that agriculture, which generated almost a quarter of economic activity, was the only sector that has lagged. Agriculture’s annual growth in July-September slumped to just 1.7 percent from 3.4 percent in the previous quarter.

“The second quarter is always a lean quarter, as only a part of the kharif crop has come in, and the rabi crops come in in the third and the fourth quarters,” Chidambaram said.

The drag from farm output has been more than offset by manufacturing, which grew at its strongest annual pace since India began publishing quarterly growth rates in 1997.

The sector, accounting for 15 percent of GDP, expanded 11.9 percent over a year earlier. Services grew 10.9 percent, accelerating from annual growth of 10.6 percent in the previous period.

Prior to economic reforms, overall growth closely depended on the performance of agriculture, which in turn is determined by the fickle monsoons, given the absence of adequate irrigation infrastructure.

The Indian economy is breaking away from such shackles, with services and manufacturing driving growth, which is good for employment and productivity.

General Motors Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc. and other companies have invested in about 3,000 new factories and expansion projects worth about $21 billion in India since May 2004 to cater to growing demand, said Chidambaram.

The auto industry is looking at crossing the annual 10 million mark, while cell phones sales are over 6.5 million a month. Steel and cement have benefited due to increased spending on roads, ports and other infrastructure by a quarter to 992 billion rupees ($22 billion) in the year that started April 1.

Chidambaram also said it is premature to say the economy was overheating.

However, the finance minister said that he was worried about inflation, which for the week ended November 11 stood at 5.29 percent, and the Reserve Bank of India expects it to be 5-5.5 percent for the full fiscal.

“One of the worrying factors is the slightly high inflation, which is largely driven by supply side constraints. But with better supply side management and sugar and wheat stocks building up, I am confident that inflation can be tamed,” the minister said. “My own view is that we should have inflation below 5 percent and move towards 4 percent. Somewhere around 4 percent is a tolerable limit,” he added.

India’s trade deficit in the 10 months to Oct. 31 reached $41 billion, 20 percent more than in the same period last year, indicating a demand-supply gap.

The finance minister said that inflation would be counteracted by buoyant tax collections that will check the government’s need to borrow. Happy at the record 30 percent growth in revenue collection so far this year, Chidambaram said he was confident of meeting the revenue and fiscal deficit targets. “I believe we are on target to budget estimates,” he said adding, fiscal deficit in October end stood at Rs 871 billion as compared to Rs 920.6 billion in the same period last year.

Revenue deficit at the same time was Rs 672.9 billion in the first seven months this year, as against Rs 702.8 billion in the corresponding period last year, he said.

Chidambaram ruled out high growth putting pressure on interest rates, as liquidity is comfortable in the economy.

“There is ample liquidity in the system. Only yesterday, the Reserve Bank of India absorbed Rs 24 billion through reverse repo,” he said.

According to some observers, as economic activity generally picks up in the second half of the year and with the major kharif crop arrivals during the third quarter, it might be quite reasonable to expect even higher figures during the October-December 2006 period. If such growth continues in the last quarter, India’s GDP could breach 10 percent.


Year 2006: Looking Back
A Bangladeshi won a Nobel Prize, an Indian American went into space, and another Indian American joined an elite group of just 12 women who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Siliconeer presents a pictorial essay of major events and people in the year 2006.


Mosque in the Prairie: A Muslim Sitcom

For our collective good, it is time to set conflict aside and learn to laugh together, writes Ras H. Siddiqui, as he welcomes the Canadian Muslim sitcom "Little Mosque on the Prairie."

(Left): The Little Mosque cast with writer Zarqa Nawaz (c).

Every once in a while a unique project crops up that needs to be noticed for both its current relevance and ambition. A Muslim-Canadian sitcom aptly titled Little Mosque on the Prairie is one such effort. It is a bold new television series that has recently gone into production after being commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This “Little House” is the brainchild of Liverpool-born and Toronto-raised Zarqa Nawaz. The series, if not too restrained, is well positioned to search for and expose the hidden humor produced when the Muslim experience encounters Canadian rural society in the prairie town of Mercy.

One may argue that there is nothing funny about the Muslim-local relationship within the North American landscape after the attack on the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. But the fact of the matter is that Muslims have been living in the prairies, towns, cities and yes, ghettos, of this continent for over a century now (and longer since the time of slavery). Let us also not forget that the architects of that horrific 9/11 episode do not represent the millions of the followers of the Islamic faith resident either in Canada or the United States. They may have claimed to speak for many but they incorrectly invoke any relationship to the divine.

But getting back to the subject, Muslim comedy in North America is not a widespread or seminal effort. We have had the privilege of seeing the “Allah Made Me Funny” comedy act in action over the years, either when it was fully represented by the Azhar Usman, Preacher Moss and Azeem Muhammad trio, or by viewing some of their separate performances. From that and other experiences, many of us have come to appreciate the need for a little laughter both from within our religion and between Islam and other faiths. “Little Mosque on the Prairie” will in its own way search for humor in both of these realms. But viewers are aware that the task will not be easy. Interfaith laughter still remains a formidable goal.

Zarqa Nawaz has described this television series as first and foremost a sitcom. She adds that this is not a political or religious satire, but is meant to open doors to the lives of people (from the Muslim community) who are trying to assimilate in a small town whose inhabitants have preconceived notions about people who follow the Islamic faith.

The cast includes Arlene Duncan (Fatima), Zaib Shaikh (Amaar), Carlo Rota (Yasir), Manoj Sood (Baber), Sheila McCarthy (Sarah), Derek McGrath (Reverend Magee), Debra McGrath (Mayor Popowicz), Sitara Hewitt (Rayyan) and Neil Crone (Fred). Incorporating strong comedy talent from across faiths, this sitcom aims to relate to people on many levels and will tickle their multi-cultural funny bones and, one hopes, produce some serious laughter.

There is no gainsaying the fact that this “Little Mosque” title in some way came into being after some clever inspiration from the television series The Little House on the Prairie starring Michael Landon, based on books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which became one of the most successful shows about North American frontier life for a global audience. It certainly was very popular during the late 70s or the early 80s and had developed quite a following in the Muslim world. Now we can only wait to see how Little Mosque on the Prairie is received.

The need for such an attempt is beyond question, because communication across faiths has become a global necessity. People and cultures are now interacting more closely today then ever before in history. For our collective good, it is time to set conflict aside and learn to laugh together. Who knows, maybe humor is the new frontier that will have to be conquered to open closed lines of communication?

Little Mosque on the Prairie premieres Jan. 9 on CBC television. It is a WestWind Pictures production.


The Faux Cowboy and the Indian: Macaca Matters
S.R. Sidarth, who taped Sen. George Allen’s racially charged quip that sunk his campaign, was standing in for all of us who still don’t fit the look of what “an American” should look like, writes New America Media editor Sandip Roy.

(Left): Former Sen. George Allen, R-Va. Although raised in California, he liked to affect a cowboy persona. However, after his “macaca” remark, the affable, down-to-earth personality that he projected cracked under intense media scrutiny.
(Right): University of Virginia student S.R. Sidarth. While covering Republican Sen. George Allen’s reelection campaign for his opponent Democratic candidate Jim Webb, he caught Allen on tape calling Sidarth a “macaca.” Vehement subsequent denials failed to convince voters that his comment was not a racial slur.

It’s getting to that time of the year when various Indian American newspapers and magazines nominate their Indian American newsmakers of the year. Will it be Sunita Williams, only the second woman of Indian origin who just went to space? Or Congressman Bobby Jindal who romped home to re-election in Louisiana, one of the few Republicans to resist the November rout? I am sure quite a few will select Brooklyn-resident Kiran Desai whose novel “The Inheritance of Loss” just won the Man Booker Prize, making her the youngest woman to ever win it.

They are all stellar achievements but my vote would be for S.R. Sidarth, the young man who was called a macaca by Sen. George Allen, which marked the beginning of the end of his senatorial campaign. With a little help from YouTube. Time magazine has already acknowledged that when it nominated You, as in YouTube watching, FaceBook-having, MySpace-living you, as its Person of the Year.

Online magazine Salon responded by nominating 20-year-old S.R. Sidarth as the person of the year for building a “legacy out of happenstance” and becoming “a symbol of politics in the 21st century.” By the way, the would-be Sen. Allen, was CNN’s political turkey of the year.

Hopefully Indian-American magazines who typically look out for the “first Indian American congressman” or the “spelling bee champions” or the “ hotshot lawyer who makes a splash arguing in the Supreme Court” will take note as well. They will probably skip another person of Indian descent who made big news in America this year. The Sri Lanka-born Sanjay Kumar, former CEO of Computer Associates was sentenced to 12 years in prison for a $2.2 billion accounting fraud. He might be just the most high-profile Indian American white-collar crook. The sentence though is a little shorter than what the head honchos of Enron and Tyco and WorldCom received. But still I think it shows that our community is steadily moving up the corporate ladder!

Those who nominate Sidarth because he might have helped turned the tide on that election, and ultimately tip control of the Senate, would be justified in doing so. According to reports on the South Asian Journalists Association forum, Asians turned out in big numbers for that election and they overwhelmingly voted for Allen’s opponent.

I’d say Sidarth’s achievement was just holding on to his camcorder as he recorded George Allen calling him a macaca. It wasn’t easy. Listening to that clip, what makes me queasy — more than Allen’s comments — is the loud laughter of all those listening to him. I’d nominate Sidarth for not running away when confronted with that wave of mocking laughter. I know I would have.

It was a startling naked moment in America that Indian Americans often well-assimilated into the mainstream don’t often experience. Or at least they choose not to document it. It’s much easier to beat the drum about achievements like spelling bee championships and Booker Prizes. But for thousands of Indians who live all over America, they still stick out like a sore thumb as Sidarth did in that rally. And not just Indians, of course. In a way Sidarth was standing in for all of us who still don’t fit the look of what “an American” should look like. We can be part of the tapestry, the patchwork quilt, the melting pot, but rarely just American.

Nothing captured that sense of being an outsider looking as profoundly as Sidarth at that overwhelmingly white rally.

He stuck out but stood there, hand a little shaky on the camcorder, but still holding his ground. And in one moment he crystallized in his predicament what millions of Americans who despite having been born in Queens or Fremont face when confronted with that question “But where are you from? No, originally.”

Would it have made a difference if Sidarth had been an Indian immigrant as opposed to an American? Quite possibly. Most commentators stressed the point he was American.

Sidarth is only 20. I have no idea if anyone will remember him when he is 40. One day he might well want to shake off the moniker of “macaca guy.”

But for now he’s embraced his crown of thorns. I read that in an entrance essay for a class at the University of Virginia where he is a senior he wrote only three words. “I am macaca.”
He got in.

Curing Kids’ Colds: Health Tips
Children on average get between six and ten “colds” each year. Dr Deborah Gould offers tips to parents on how best to deal with it.

One of the things January brings for kids — besides the New Year — is the season of coughs, colds, flu and ear infections. Our kids suffer through wintertime symptoms like runny noses, fever, body aches, coughs, headaches and ear pain. Children on average get between six and ten “colds” each year, which can last any where from one week to three. That’s over 200 days out of a year.

Schools and day care often have guidelines that don’t allow the child to attend if they have a contagious condition, fever, or require treatments during the day. So we bring our kids to the doctor’s office to quickly cure their illnesses with antibiotics to get them back to their classrooms.

But antibiotics most likely aren’t the solution.

Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria. However, antibiotics have no effect on viruses, the cause of colds and flu. Health researchers estimate that half of all antibiotics prescribed in the United States are used to treat conditions that don’t require them. Using antibiotics when you don’t need them could cause your body to lose good bacteria and develop a resistance to antibiotics, which may cause a problem when you need antibiotics in the future.

Many parents who come into my office believe yellow or green mucous indicates a bacterial infection and request antibiotics. But viral illnesses can cause yellow or green mucous, too. Treat colds and coughs with fluids, fever control, humidification of the air, decongestants, and cough suppressants. If your child continues to have fever higher than 101 degrees for more than 72 hours, contact your physician.

Ear pain, often occurring at night or during naptime, is a sign of an ear infection. In the past, that automatically meant getting a prescription for antibiotics. Studies show that most ear infections get better on their own without treatment. Since doctors have learned more about how unwarranted use of antibiotics causes resistant bacteria — and that most ear infections are caused by viruses, we’ve adopted a “wait and see” approach to treatment of ear infections. If you bring your child in for ear pain, your doctor may offer you a “wait and see” prescription for you to have, but not fill, unless your child develops a fever above 101 and continues to have ear pain after a few days. Waiting will allow the body to heal itself, and (unless the infection is severe and requires antibiotics) allows us to use antibiotics only when necessary.

In preparation for wintertime, set up alternative arrangements so that when your child is sick you don’t miss work. Check your medicine cabinet for expired medications from last year. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently and keep surfaces clean, such as telephone receivers, computer keyboards and video game controllers to reduce the spread of the illness in your home.

Redolent in History: Truckee, California
If you stop — for just a moment — and look around in Truckee, you will see the largely untouched remains of one of California’s most dramatically visual, historical and important towns, writes Al Auger.

(Above): Truckee River.

(Right, top): Downtown Truckee. A stroll past well-weathered false-front buildings boasting fine restaurants, blue collar coffee shops and funky saloons still evokes the Truckee of old.
(Right, bottom): (L to R): A gold rush handbill dated March 23, 1849; Charlie Chaplin (l) and a co-actor in his Gold Rush. The film was made in Truckee, Calif.; and Douglas Fairbanks was another Hollywood celebrity who was in Truckee for a film shoot.

The fame, legends and myths of California’s Mother Lode country have been spread far and wide since the ill-fated Donner Party by such famed wordsmiths as Mark Twain and Bret Harte. Hangtown, Fiddletown, Delirium Tremens, Sonora, Jackson, Sutter’s Creek, Copperopolis, Murphy’s, the names immediately bring on visions of a hard-edged environment of saloons, brothels and lawlessness servicing coarse, violent, gold-obsessed men looking for that one big strike.

Today, these towns are little more than fodder for our imagination as the truths of the gold rush life withdraws behind the veil of fantasies nurtured by TV, the movies and books. Overlooked in most of the history books and certainly in the popular media is the tranquil mountain hamlet of Truckee.

The Truckee of the 20th century, though, is thought of not much more than an unpretentious depository for skiers after a tough day on the slopes or a way point to the fast running rivers of trout and high country playground for big game or casino game playing in Reno and Northshore. Truckee also has a vast array of historical sites to explore filled with Indian lore, its short, but glorious days as a movie set, Donner State Park (See sidebar). But, if you stop — for just a moment — and look around, you will see the largely untouched remains of one of California’s most dramatically visual, historical and important towns. Prospectors needed supplies and food; mines and the towns they gave birth to needed lumber. So the entrepreneurs turned Truckee into one of the most important of pioneer towns: A lumber and train center that centralized the needs of the burgeoning gold empires.

Over the years, some 10,000 Chinese workers were brought from their native land to build the railroad. As you cruise Interstate 80 on your way to Truckee, look to your right and consider the protective train tunnels sitting precariously on the slippery slopes of the surrounding mountains. Hundreds of these intrepid workers died in avalanches, falling off the mountainside and to disease to anchor this seemingly impossible task across the jagged and intimidating mountains.

Truckee today is a town of old timey railroad flats and cottages still being used by workers of the local businesses and “ski bums” at the surrounding ski resorts. Truckee is well stocked with once infamous houses of sin that now house fine restaurants or upscale lodgings. The lonesome wail of fast moving trains deadheading to rendezvous somewhere else reminds you of Truckee’s dominating role as an important railhead during California’s golden history. Main Street has yet to be inundated with cutesy boutiques and antique stores. There are some, to be sure, but a stroll past well-weathered false-front buildings boasting fine restaurants, blue collar coffee shops and funky saloons still evokes the Truckee of old.

We began our exploration of Truckee at the recently restored Richardson House. Not only is the Richardson House Bed & Breakfast a reason to stop in Truckee on its own, it’s also a standing metaphor for the seemingly bottomless well of history of the mountain town. Built in the late 1800s by lumber baron Warren Richardson — he and his brother George were pioneers in mining, lumber and railroading in northern California since they first came to the state in 1852 — the imposing house sits on a bluff above the town offering a nearly 360-degree vista.

In 1940 the granddaughter Sarah sold the house, and since then it was primarily a boarding house sometimes called the Flop House. In 1981 it was purchased and became a bed and breakfast inn, abused and treated to a series of construction misdeeds.

Jim Beck, of Santa Cruz, Calif., bought the dilapidated property in 1987, pledging to rebuild the Richardson House back to its former turn-of-the-century glory. And this has been done with the expert help of Jeannine Karnofsky, who did the exploration for authentic furnishings and amenities. All eight guest rooms, plus the downstairs living and dining rooms, are redolent with the charm and serenity of the Victorian times when the house was first built. Everything is an original restored to its former glory and in prime condition or a forthrightly hand-built replica. Fine linens, fluffy down comforters and beautifully wrought covered beds are dangerously seductive for washing away all the city baggage you may have brought with you.
Each room has a theme. I was snugly settled me in the Writers’ Room (a definite wry sense of humor here) with its beautifully appointed canopied bed and fluffy comforter. Others include the Tamsen and George Room, Bon Bon’s Boudoir, etc. Some have an amorous clawfoot tub for two, others modern showers.

The first night offered an unexpected gift: a roundtable discussion with four of Truckee’s eminent historians. Sitting in the glow of the setting sun off the deeply burnished woods of the living room, it was reminiscent of sitting in the Djemaa el-fina square in Marrakesh, Morocco, listening to the storytellers literally mesmerize their audience with hundred-year-old tales of glory, religion and myths.

The stories spun that night were as surprising as they were entertaining. Truckee, it seems, is a town loaded with a past. As late as 1950 it harbored backroom gambling and brothels were everywhere. There was even a hint of Mafia rule.

The law, up to that time, was fundamentally one of benign vigilantism. They called themselves the 601 Vigilantes, after a similar group in Colorado. Far different than the expected band of anarchistic, lawless gangs bent on vengeance, they even had the backing of the small police force with which they cooperated when needed. One of the storytellers, a longtime Truckee professional man, recalled many times he was called out of his office or warm bed to chase down a miscreant. The jail, which is now open for tours on appointment, once held the notorious Baby Face Nelson.

Truckee’s best known contemporary claim to fame, I guess, is its movie making history. Silent movie stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks were just two of many who used the picturesque town for background.

If you wonder why these romantic infrastructures are no longer in place, you can — according to the storytellers — blame the 1960 Winter Olympics. When the games were finally accepted as a possibility for Squaw Valley, the state politicians and Truckee fathers realized the colorful town was going to be a central point in the Winter Games for lodging, food, shopping, etc. And they felt the town should be “cleaned up” in order to put on a better face for the Olympic officials who would be checking out the ski area and the viability of the surrounding areas.

Forgive the historical digression. Coming back to reality and the present: After a hard day on the slopes, or biking the mountain trails or in town shopping, the Richardson House is a seductive retreat to re-energize with a grateful soak in the outdoor hot tub and a twilight stroll in the Victorian gardens. Before venturing to town for dinner, enjoy a glass of complimentary sherry while relaxing in the gingerbread gazebo.

The Richardson House offers, in addition to the above virtues, their guests a choice of eight bedrooms, wedding party facilities and group packages (see sidebar) and inviting warmth in the embrace of the beautifully restored dining room or parlor. Here you can relax in a comfy sofa, watch cable TV or a video, entertain yourself with the player piano or cuddle up by a crackling fire with a good book.

The place is managed by Jeannine and Marv Karnofsky, both of whom were instrumental in creating the finished product, choosing the fine furniture, decorating in the style of its original days. The Richardson House has been lovingly crafted in its restoration, all of which is so obvious on first entering the striking doors under the finely wrought porch. The Richardson House is a bed and breakfast that proffers a cachet of elegance at a surprisingly nice price.

Things to do. In 1998, Mountain Sports & Living magazine named Truckee one of the Top Ten Best Mountain Towns in the U.S. Although primarily a destination points for skiers and outdoors enthusiasts, the “Gateway to the Sierra” is far from a sleepy town of little interest. In addition to skiing, fishing and hunting, Truckee is a center for much outdoor activity like mountain biking, canoeing or hiking.

Located on the Emigrant Trail, the route that opened up California and the West and is the backdrop for the famed Donner Party, a group of 87 California-bound American settlers caught up in the “westering fever” of the 1840s. After becoming snowbound in the Sierra Nevada, 41 died and 46 survived.

At Donner State Park, you can visit the site of the Donner Party encampment where the ill-fated pioneers became trapped by an early winter storm. At the entry is the dramatic bronze statue commemorating the struggle of surviving a 22-foot snowfall. The park features displays, photos and multi-media shows on the history of the area. There are also camp sites, picnic areas and hiking trails along the shoreline of Donner Lake.

Within minutes of central Truckee are 16 historical sites featuring self-guided walking tours, such as the Native American “Rocking Stone” where ceremonial rituals were held as far back as 15,000 years ago. The Swedish House, where Charlie Chaplin filmed one of his most memorable films, “The Gold Rush,” is also part of the walking tour. A tour guide is available at the Truckee Visitor Center on Commercial Row.

In the summer, outdoors people flock to the Truckee area for windsurfing, kayaking, boating, rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Fishing areas abound with such sites as the Truckee River, Donner Lake, Boca, Prosser and Stampede reservoirs. Alternative activities include bungee jumping, hot-air balloon, bi-plane and parasail.

Eating Out. Eating in Truckee is a surprising gustatory treat. Most of the buildings on the streets date back to the mid-and-late 1800s and house some of the finest dining experiences in the Sierras. The original gourmet dining establishment in Truckee is O.B.’s, who menu features an eclectic list of choices. Down the street is the Pacific Crest featuring continental delights; Around the corner is the Passage, ensconced in the upscale Truckee Hotel and just up the block is the down-to-earth Mexican restaurant across the street, featuring a filling and tasty array of traditional food from south of the border at very affordable prices. How about choosing a big, hearty breakfast at the Squeeze In (literally). This funky breakfast-only spa offers you the choice of over 50 different omelets, or you can customize your own, plus the traditional other breakfast favorites. These are only a few of the expansive choices available.

Truckee is also a gold mine (no pun intended) of special events throughout the year. The biggest is the North Shore annual Snowfest, a week-long ski-party at all the ski resorts, restaurants, lodgings, bars and in the street celebrating the glories of winter sports. Others include the Truckee Dog Sled Races, Windows on History, Truckee Tahoe Air Show, Cannibal Cruise Car Show, Truckee Championship Rodeo, California Trail Days and Donner Party Hike.


A Dash of Hollywood: South Asia Pageant
Hollywood star Steven Seagal added a dash of Hollywood glamour at the recent South Asia Pageant hosted at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif. Silconeer presents a photo essay.

(Clockwise from top left): Miss South Asia 2007 Renu Razdan; Mr. South Asia 2007 Nikhil Dhawan; Mrs. South Asia Milly Mohiuddin; and Hollywood star Stevan Seagal with pageant organizer Jinder Chohan (r).

COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Bandana Sen to Present Kathak Performance | Jaspinder Narula Concert | IVACC New Year’s Party | Punjabi Pageant | IAFPE Honor | Pak Beauty | Best Achievement | Konkan Christmas | Meeting with Rep. King | Bridal Showcase

Bandana Sen to Present Kathak Performance

Kolkata-based Kathak performer Bandana Sen
Kolkata-based kathak exponent Bandana Sen will present a performance with her U.S.-based students Jan. 14 at the Cal State East Bay auditorium in Hayward, Calif., according to a press release.

The performance, “Kathak Angik,” will include items like “Ghazal—Dard-e-dil,” “Bhor Bhai Rajani” and “Kathak.”

Sen is a disciple of legendary kathak exponent Sambhu Maharaj of Lucknow gharana. She had her early training in Jaipur gharana from Jaikumari Debi.

A recipient of a gold medal from Indian President Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Sen is currently a judge for the National Program of Dance in India’s national television channel Doordarshan, and sits on the advisory committee member of Kolkata Doordarshan. She is also a judge on behalf of the federal government for the National Talent Search Contest, and a member of the board of studies at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata.

Sen’s interpretation is impressive yet accessible, with particularly graceful and poetic exposition of bhava (expression). Her distinct bols on different talas, Urdu shayari and songs are also impressive.

In her career of 53 years, she has presented nearly 5,000 performances throughout India and abroad, including all prestigious music conferences of India. She went to East Germany as the cultural ambassador of India. She has also visited Austria, the erstwhile Soviet Union, Germany, the United States and Canada on several occasions.

Sen’s leading disciple Suchandra Banerjee assists her in running her dance school Nupur Dance Academy in Kolkata. Sen says of Banerjee: “Her devotion to dance and her guruji is so total, it is as if she has completely dedicated herself to fulfilling the aspirations of her guruji.”

Interested readers can call (408) 615-1761 for more information.

Jaspinder Narula Concert

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Bollywood singer Jaspinder Narula performed live at a sold out New Year’s Eve party organized by a local community organization IACSA. Accompanying Jaspinder was Mickey Narula and Bay Area-based singer Alka Bhatnagar. (Pic: Siliconeer)

IVACC New Year’s Party
Some attendees at the Indus Valley Chamber of Commerce yearend event. (Pic: Talat Sattar)
The Indus Valley Chamber of Commerce held its Annual New Year’s party at Laguna Town Hall in Elk Grove, Calif. Over 400 people from the Greater Sacramento area and the San Francisco Bay Area participated in the party which had a Hollywood theme including the décor, stage entertainment and non-stop dance and music.

The party featured a non-stop mélange of Hollywood and Bollywood performances including the stage production show presented by local talents and choreographed by community members.

The first item of the show was a Ribbon Dance performed by representatives of the Chinese community and the team was introduced by Linda Ng, commissioner, Fair Employment and Housing Commission. Sejal Vaidya presented a hit from the new Bollywood film Don, “Yeh Mera Dil.”

Speaking at the event, Lahori Ram, a commissioner of the state Economic Development Commission, stressed on unity among the Asian brotherhood for success and prosperity. “We became millionaires not by being lazy, all that we have to do is work hard and work smart,” Ram said.

Main sponsor Didar Singh Bains said the Yuba-Sutter area is not a hot tourist spot like the wine-producing counties to the west, but it has some of the best agricultural land in the United States, and a beautiful weather is one of the reasons that south Asian pioneers settled here.

The show ended with a song by IVACC president Poonam Malhotra.

IVACC is an organization people of Asian origin. It promotes trade, business, commerce and industry and protects the commercial, professional, educational, financial, recreational and general business interests of its members. — Talat Sattar

Punjabi Pageant
DBR Entertainment is seeking applicants to participate in the first ever Miss & Mr. Punjaban Global 2007 Worldwide Competition to be hosted Feb. 17 in San Francisco.

Conceptualized and directed by Indiva Productions, the contest is open to all Punjabi speaking male and female entrants, over 16 years, single, from around the world — religion is no bar. Contestants must be Punjabi-speaking to participate in the Punjabi segment of expression/ question answer. No prior experience is needed. Successful contestants will be offered free grooming and training.

In addition, 10 bhangra teams will be selected to perform for the Bhangra & Gida Competition.
More information and application forms are available by sending an e-mail to: punjabglobal@gmail.com.

Dr. Sudhir Parikh flanked by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and municipal judge Savita Singh.
The Indian American Forum for Political Education, an organization that promotes
Indo-U.S. relations on Capitol Hill, has honored three Indian Americans including its own immediate past President, Dr. Sudhir Parikh, for contribution to the community, according to a press release.

While Parikh was felicitated for winning the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest Indian civilian award for a non-resident Indian, the IAFPE also honored eminent media person Aziz Haniffa of India Abroad and Sabita Singh, the first Indian American to serve as a municipal district judge in Massachusetts.

“I am really honored to receive this felicitation from the IAFPE, which has over time risen to represent Indian thought and viewpoint to the American government,” said Dr. Parikh in a short speech after receiving the award from Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who was the guest of honor for the evening.

The IAFPE has been actively working to improve the bilateral relations between India and the United States by influencing policy decisions on Capitol Hill and the White House over the past two decades.

Pak Beauty
Sonya Zia
Sonya Zia from Lahore, Pakistan, made history at the World Miss University 2006 pageant by becoming the youngest Pakistani girl to participate in a beauty pageant, according to a press release from Canada-based pageant organizer Pakistan World.

The 18-year-old, studying law and security, represented Pakistan and her university. Having fast tracked high school and receiving her high school diploma at age 16, year 2005, she took part in various fund raising events in the community to support a number of organizations.

“I would like to carry my Pakistani culture and represent my country around the world,” she said. “Being World Miss University Pakistan 2006 is a personal achievement which I cherish.” Sonya previously won the Miss Photogenic 2006 title in the Miss Pakistan World 2006 pageant.

“This year has been a rewarding year for Pakistan in terms of beauty pageants. We started with only one pageant in 2003 and now we have sent our girls to four international pageants in total this year,” said Miss Pakistan World president Sonia Ahmed. “Sonya Zia, being the youngest, has proven once again that a Pakistani girl at the age of 18 can contribute to society and spread harmony and peace being together at pageants like these and being ambassadors of their country. Pakistan is changing at a very fast pace, and these young women are becoming role models for Pakistani girls from Pakistan as well as all over the world.”

Best Achievement
Sheeraz Hasan (r) with Academy Award-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley.
The Triangle Media Group honored Sheeraz Hasan recently at its bi-annual Global Mainstream Media Award ceremony at the University of Leicester in London, England, by presenting him with the Best Business Achievement Award for his entrepreneurial leadership as founder/CEO of www.hollywood.tv, a Hollywood’s entertainment portal.

The Triangle Media Group’s global awards were founded in 2003 by Australian media tycoon and legal scholar David Flint.

“Being recognized with the Best Achievement Award for Business was a tremendous thrill, especially when I was being honored in my home country, England,” Hasan said. “I am honored that I am being recognized as the founder of Hollywood.tv. We’ve built the bridge between Hollywood and Bollywood, the two biggest film industries in the world with Hollywood representing 3.6 billion worldwide fans and Bollywood representing 3.8 billion worldwide fans. In 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 I have received numerous government awards for building that bridge and also for representing Hollywood to billions of people around the world. What better way to end the year than to receive the Best Business Achievement Award from such a highly esteemed organization such as TMG?”

Hasan dropped out of school in 1991 at the age of 16 to take over his family’s struggling restaurant business. Renaming it the Tinseltown Cafe, he turned it into a 24-hour Hollywood-themed eatery. Then, with no experience, skills, or contacts in the entertainment business, he decided to move to Hollywood with limited finances from his family to get him started. His chance encounter with Rowland Perkins, founder of Creative Artists’ Agency, the biggest talent agency in the world, catapulted him into the Hollywood movie scene. Within weeks, he had his own TV show and was covering film premieres and interviewing the biggest celebrities on the red carpet. On July 4 2005, Hasan launched www.hollywood.tv.

Konkan Christmas
Some of the attendees at the MKCA buffet dinner.
Chicago-based Mangalorean Konkan Christians Association celebrated Christmas with all its festivities at Courtland Square Community Hall in Des Plaines, Ill., according to a press release.

Rev. Fr. Henry Sequeira celebrated Holy Mass in an interactive style in Konkani. In his homily Fr. Sequeira said that the joy of Christmas should be shared by every Mangalorean irrespective of differences. He told attendees they had to rejoice together and preserve and promote their prosperous cultural heritage as well as take what is good in other cultures and make it a part of theirs.

The MKCA Choir headed by Dorothy Rego sang hymns in Konkani, English and Kannada — “Jo Jo Jo Endhu Laali Haadiree, Kandaa Yesuvige Lali Haadiree” — a hymn in Kannada was joined by the young children by clapping hands to the beats of the hymn.

A Mangalorean-style dinner consisting of several main and side dishes along with dukra maas and sannam was arranged and presented by Mark Rodrigues and Terry D’Souza.

Meeting with Rep. King
The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin New York chapter Dec. 17 hosted a dinner and talk with Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., at its annual holiday party in Syosset, N.Y., according to a press release.. Addressing a full-house audience of over 100 people, King said that the United States and India face similar problems on global terrorism and must work closely together to defeat this crucial global problem.

“The Government of India is taking tremendous leadership as an example of how different people and communities work together and do it in a peaceful manner, while maintaining the basic principles of democracy,” he said. “Vibrant democracies such as the U.S, and India share common goals and should count on each other for support and cooperation.”

According to King, the basic three steps of cooperation between the U.S. and India are to keep the economy strong and vibrant, defeat terrorism, and maintain strong democracies. “As in the U.S., India is working hard to head off, stop, minimize any attack on itself as we are in this struggle together against global terrorism,” said King.

Chief guest and India’s Deputy Consul General in New York A.R. Ghanashyam provided some historical facts on terrorism and how it evolved in its current form.

Earlier, GOPIO-New York president Lal Motwani told the audience that the New York chapter organized several programs in 2006 including a demonstration in front of the United Nations against the government of Trinidad and Tobago for its complicity in not following rule of law in that country. GOPIO international chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham thanked King for his support for the U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation bill. GOPIO secretary general Ashook Ramsaran said that GOPIO will continue to provide such platforms to the Indian American community to interact with elected officials.

Bridal Showcase
The Asian American Association of Wedding Professionals Dec. 17 hosted their Second Bridal Showcase at the Sheraton Parsippany in Parsippany, N.J., according to a press release. The show this year featured leading vendors from various categories of the wedding industry and had about 2,000 attendees.

New Jersey assemblyman Upendra Chivakula, who was in attendance congratulated the o organizers.

Leading wedding professionals showcased their products and services for the brides of 2007, not only showcasing the latest trends but also integrating the conventional, traditional practices to the present day.

Starting from wedding planning, invitation card and printing, mehendi and make-up, mandaps and decorations, photography and videography, DJ and entertainment, catering and banquets right up to carriages and favors, the AAAWP Bridal show was a one-stop shop for all wedding services.

AAAWP was established by leading professionals of wedding industry of the United States in 2004. The main object of the association is to provide organized support to each other in the industry and achieve great success in the business. The association holds seminars to educate all the members in terms of how to handle the business and their client, how to stay on top in terms of the latest of the industry, to get closer to mainstream.
More information is available at www.aaawp.net.

BUSINESS: News in Brief
N.J. Bank Offers Secured Credit Card |
Etihad Airlines: A Successful 2006 |
TiE: New Board | U.S. Asian Wire: Newswire Launch

N.J. Bank Offers Secured Credit Card
Iselin, N.J.-based Indus American Bank is offering a secured credit card, it said in an announcement.

Credit cards are now essential to make a hotel or plane reservation, or to rent a car. Many stores require a credit card to accept a check. Responsible use of a credit card builds a good credit rating, too, marking the owner as mortgage-worthy.

But students and recent immigrants, who have never had credit or individuals who need to repair a poor credit history may not qualify for a regular credit card. For them, a secured credit card may be the only way to establish, or re-establish, credit.

The bank grants a credit line based upon the level of deposit maintained at the bank. A cardholder may be able to add to the deposit to add more credit, or sometimes the bank will reward the cardholder for good payment and add to his/her credit line without requesting additional deposits.

“The offering of the secured credit card service is consistent with Indus American Bank’s mission of providing quality service targeted toward the South Asian community residing in the New York/New Jersey area,” says Kevin M. Lenihan, president and CEO of Indus American Bank.

Indus American Bank was formed with a vision to provide superior financial products and service to the local community, the release adds. More information on secured credit cards is available by calling the Indus American Bank at (732) 603-8200.

ETIHAD AIRLINES: A Successful 2006
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airlines completed a successful year with a fleet of new aircraft, 16 new routes and the accolade of world’s leading new airline for the third year running, it said in a press release.

“The last 12 months at Etihad has witnessed a major transformation in all areas of the business, and strengthened our place at the very forefront of the aviation industry,” said Etihad CEO James Hogan.

“From the award-winning Pearl Zone business bed to a significant increase in routes and holiday destinations, Etihad really has set the benchmark for others to follow during 2006, and we are confident this trend will continue into 2007 and beyond,” he added.

At the World Travel Awards, Etihad won the title for the World’s Leading New Airline for the third year in a row, as well as the award for the World’s Leading Flat-bed Seat.

In 2006 Etihad launched 16 new international destinations which included New York, Paris, Casablanca, Khartoum and Jakarta. Passengers were also able to travel to Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Manchester, Doha, Jeddah, Muscat, Kuwait, Tehran, Dhaka and Manila.

A record four million passengers are anticipated for 2007, with tickets for 37 new routes now available — including the highly prestigious service to New York which opened in October. The Kuala Lumpur route is also set for launch on January 16, 2007.

Currently, 80 percent of Etihad’s fleet is brand new. The fleet is one of the youngest in the world with the twenty-third aircraft, a three-zone A340-500, arriving in Abu Dhabi in December.

TiE: New Board
The Indus Entrepreneur’s current board of trustees marked the end of its term with a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, it said in a press release.

TiE has continued to grow, and has made enormous progress in strengthening the chapter network, the release added.

The incoming board of trustees met for the first time in Kuala Lumpur and agreed to operate the committees mentioned after their names. The board of trustees include: Raj Jaswa, finance; Shiv Grewal, governance; Naren Bakshi, chapter support; and Hemant Kanakia, global networking.

The chairs are currently forming their committees and are also preparing scoping documents setting out what they would like to achieve, which will probably take a few weeks. TiE’s aim is to involve as wide and as representative a group as possible and to do this it would welcome support from its charter members, the release added.

Members who would like to work with any committee can get in touch with Suren Dutia by email at suren@tie.org.

In addition Vinit Nijhawan, who has chaired the task force on TiE global systems, has agreed to continue and provide leadership to this important objective.

The new board of trustees has invited Narayana Murthy, C.K. Prahalad, Desh Deshpande and Kanwal Rekhi to join the board and provide TiE with leadership and institutional support.

U.S. Asian Wire: Newswire Launch
News wire service U.S. Asian Wire, Inc. was officially launched Nov. 30, it said in a press release. Founded by Leslie Yngojo-Bowes, former media relations manager at Business Wire, U.S. Asian Wire, Inc. is a comprehensive newswire specializing in delivery of news releases and multimedia, reaching the Asian-American and Pacific Islander print, broadcast, and online media outlets.

“The diversity in America inspires our vision, expands our growth, enhances our education and drives our passion. We are extremely impressed with the quality, content and coverage of today’s ever-evolving Asian-American media climate. The overwhelming response and interest from attendees at the Public Relations Society of America’s recent convention confirmed a definite need for our journey and we’re excited to provide services for PR, marketing and media professionals that are essential in today’s global America,” said Yngojo-Bowes, U.S. Asian Wire president and founder.

Reliance Mulls Buying $17 Billion Hutchison Essar | Andhra IT Exports May Reach Rs.190 Billion | CISCO: Grand Ambitions | INFOSYS: Targeting Hospitality | $80M Deal | LENOVO: Innovation Center | ANZ Bank: Aussies Eye India

Reliance Mulls Buying $17 Billion Hutchison Essar
Reliance Communications has declared its interest in mobile operator Hutchison Essar, as other bidders jostled for position in an estimated $17 billion takeover tussle.

Reliance Communications, India’s second-biggest mobile services provider, had been singled out by the Indian media as an early contender for its smaller rival, and chairman Anil Ambani said it had received commitments from global bankers for support for a potential bid.

“Reliance Communications, as part of its overall growth strategy, continues to examine all organic and inorganic opportunities. Hutch Essar is one such situation,” he told a news conference.

“A potential combination of this nature could create compelling value ... and fit nicely with our GSM strategy.”

Ambani said there was no certainty on the timing of a bid and declined to say how much the firm would offer, saying it would remain within a “conservative limit”.

Ambani said a “vast majority of the top 10 private equity funds” had aligned with it for a bid and Reliance Communications would not consider diluting founders’ stakes.

Sources familiar with the matter said U.S.-based private equity giants Blackstone and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts were working on bids for Essar and may team up with Reliance. One source added that KKR may yet choose to bid with another suitor.
KKR declined to comment.

Earlier, media reports said India’s Essar group, which holds 33 percent in the joint venture with main shareholder Hutchison, had approached one potential bidder, Britain’s Vodafone Group Plc, about a carve-up deal.

Andhra IT Exports May Reach Rs.190 Billion
Andhra Pradesh is giving a further leg-up to the IT industry by creating six satellite towns around Hyderabad and pushing the creation of Special Economic Zones. These measures come in the backdrop of IT exports from the state positioned to clock a 51 percent growth in 2006-07 at Rs. 190 billion against Rs. 125.21 billion last year.

“The state’s share in national IT exports has increased from 8.62 percent to 12.39 percent in the last three years. Our immediate aim is to fill the gap between Andhra and other states in IT exports and to hike our share to over 15 percent,” Andhra IT secretary K. Ratnaprabha told the Economic Times.

The IT sector in the state has attracted an investment of over Rs. 61 billion in 2005-06 and employs over 150,000 people. By 2009, nearly 235,000 people will be employed in IT in the state. At present, the software segment accounts for 68 percent of the IT exports from the state while IT-enabled services contributes 32 percent.

The key role that the state is planning is to create infrastructure to fuel the growth targets. The state is keen on developing new IT growth centers near the international airport. To avoid urban clutter and to ensure uniform development in the city, the state is building satellite townships, which are away from the traditional IT centers. “We are developing six townships spread over 400 acre on the Outer Ring Road.

TCS, Novartis, Infosys and Genpact have showed interest to become the anchor clients in four such centers. We have invited bids for the other two,” she said. Estimates show that around 200 companies are knocking at the state’s doorstep for setting up facilities.

CISCO: Grand Ambitions
Networking-equipment making giant Cisco is shifting 20 percent of top brass to India, in a bid to set up a global, developing-technology hub on the subcontinent Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s chief globalization officer, is at the vanguard of the new initiative. This January, Elfrink will relocate from his San Jose, Calif., headquarters to Bangalore, India. In a major display of commitment to the Indian market, Cisco plans to have at least 20 percent of its top executives working in India in the next three to five years, according to Elfrink.

After 11 years of low-key presence, Cisco is now investing $1.1 billion in India in a variety of initiatives. “This is the largest commitment outside of Silicon Valley, as India is important to our global strategy,” said John Chambers, Cisco’s chairman and chief executive officer, during a two-day India visit in December.

Why the huge ambitions? One reason lies in the size of India’s market. While Internet penetration in India stands at a mere 4.5 percent, the online market there is one of the fastest growing in the world and the Indian cellular market is white hot. Cisco has to have a major presence, says Ashok Jhunjhunwala, professor of electrical engineering at Chennai’s Indian Institute of Technology. “India has emerged as the largest telecom market today,” he says.

INFOSYS: Targeting Hospitality
Bangalore-based Infosys BPO is targeting the hospitality industry for its outsources processes offering. The company has formed a strategic alliance with New York-based hospitality consultancy giant HVS International.

The alliance will help Infosys BPO, formerly called Progeon, to target hotels and other customers in the hospitality industry. HVS is a well-known consulting firm in the hospitality segment.

According to sources, the alliance is on a revenue sharing basis. The majority of the revenues will go to Infosys BPO as they are going to provide services to the hospitality clients and will put in the cost for managing them too. HVS is likely to get a small portion of the revenue per client.

HVS International managing director Manish Thadani confirmed the tie-up with Infosys. “We have been in discussions for sometime now, an announcement may or may not be made as the papers have not been signed till now,” he said.

He refused to divulge any further details. An Infosys BPO spokesperson said in an email response: “As a policy, we can’t comment on speculative reports.”

Currently, Infosys BPO provides services to banking, capital markets, communication service providers, hi-tech and discrete manufacturing, insurance, healthcare, automotive, retail, energy and transportation.
According to sources, hospitality contribution to the total revenues is negligible. But with this alliance, the company expects revenues of $5 million to $10 million in the first year.

$80M Deal
BPO firm Genpact has bagged a $70-80 million five-year contract from a U.S.-based healthcare information service provider for work related to medical claims, spend analysis, clinical data and healthcare claims, a company official said.

“This U.S. company is a healthcare information service provider which offers data to pharma companies and also supports insurance companies. The scope of the contract includes building a database of information based on healthcare coverage provided by their customers, and also review of medical bills,” Genpact president & CEO Pramod Bhasin said, but declined to divulge the name of the company.

The work will be done in India, from the Gurgaon centers and may later extend to facilities outside, including Kolkata and Hyderabad.

Genpact, which recently announced massive expansion plans in cities like Bhopal, Bhubaneswar and Jaipur, says it plans to utilize skills spanning statistics, analytics, data management and IT, for the new contract.

“Other aspects of the contract include identifying billing patterns and doing cost analysis. Also based on the illness and treatment, we will see the types of insurance packages that are applicable (healthcare insurance or workers compensation),” he said.

LENOVO: Innovation Center
Lenovo has announced the launch of its first innovation center in India. The new innovation center will enable large enterprise and mid-market customers, business partners, solution providers and independent software vendors to collaborate on new personal computing solutions to address client IT challenges.

The center, spread across 4,500 square feet, is located at Andheri in Mumbai. This is Lenovo’ third Innovation Center after Research Triangle Park in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Beijing, China.

Intel, Microsoft, LANDesk, IBM and Cisco will partner with Lenovo at the India Innovation Center to showcase new-enterprise level PC solutions in areas such as hardware platform and application integration, active management technology, network connectivity and power management. The center will deploy globally developed solutions to specific customer requirements in India and also be capable of developing solutions when required by customers here.

Deepak Advani, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Lenovo, said, “With our third innovation center in India, we aim to accelerate innovation for diverse client challenges and developing markets.

“By collaborating with our partners, we will focus on solving customer IT problems with an emphasis on the end user. The India Innovation Center will serve as a collaboration venue for fully integrated solutions along with our alliance partners.”

The Innovation Center will include several components such as technology incubation, partner collaboration, solution development, imaging and training services, besides a solution showcase. Participants in the center will include professionals from Lenovo, Intel, Microsoft, LANDesk, IBM and Cisco as well as other technology companies, independent software vendors, and business partners.

ANZ Bank: Aussies Eye India
Leading Australian banks, including ANZ and St George, are planning to send their back office jobs to India.

A report from Melbourne said that an analysis of the latest statements by the so-called “four plus one” leading Australian banks suggests there was a slow but growing movement to transfer processing work done here to lower-cost countries like India.

While ANZ, St George, National Australia Bank and Westpac have been sensitive to campaigns being waged by the finance sector union against offshoring by committing to keep their call centers in the country, the equivalent of several hundred jobs across the industry are now, or will shortly be, based outside Australia, The Age newspaper reported.

ANZ, St George and Westpac have vigorously defended the move in recent weeks, saying they needed to consider and, if necessary, act on plans to switch back-office work overseas to remain competitive. NAB is expected to follow suit.

Only the Commonwealth Bank has indicated that as “an iconic Australian company” it was committed to maintaining a work force in the country to carry out such work.

However, it has admitted to looking at offshoring in the past, especially given a looming recruitment crisis in the industry, but said it was not on its agenda at present.

ANZ has the most home-grown jobs based overseas, with its biggest presence in the Indian city of Bengalooru, where it has a long-established IT centre employing about 1,400 people.

Quiet, Comfortable Ride: 2007 Honda Ridgeline RTL
Trucks, especially when they have crew cabs, are versatile vehicles. The Honda Ridgeline’s quiet, comfortable ride and its innovative in-bed trunk feature give it an added advantage, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

Trucks were designed to be highly functional, but Honda takes the concept behind a truck to a whole new level with the newest member of the Honda family, the Ridgeline.

Introduced in March 2005 as a 2006 model, the Ridgeline is a mid-sized, half-ton crew cab truck with a host of innovative features to attract the attention of potential buyers. One of the most impressive features, however, can’t even be appreciated until you take that first test drive, and that is just how well the truck handles when you are driving it. If you didn’t know that this was a truck, you’d swear this vehicle rides with all the comfort and quiet of a car.

If that is impressive, so is the truck’s performance during the federal government’s crash tests. The Ridgeline received five stars — the highest possible — for how well it handled both frontal and side impact crash tests.

The Ridgeline is available in four trims: the RT, RTX, RTS and the RTL. All offer 3.5-liter V-6 engines, electronically controlled automatic transmissions and a driver’s side illuminated vanity mirrors, to name a few standard features. The list grows longer the further down the trim level you move. On the RTL, for example, the moon roof and XM Satellite Radio are standard.
Other standard comfort and convenience features on all models include air conditioning, tilting steering wheel, power windows and door locks, power sliding rear window, cruise control, keyless remote entry, automatic heated wipers, six-speaker 100-watt audio system with CD player. In the rear, the truck’s crew cab seating configuration offers seats that fold in a 60/40 split. They can also lift up to reveal under-seat storage.

Truck owners usually are in the market for a vehicle that can tow and haul, and the Ridgeline is equipped to do that. All models have standard transmission and oil coolers, heavy duty brakes, dual radiator fans, and exclusive fresh air intake system, all for improved towing performance even during hot weather conditions. They are also pre-wired for four- and seven-pin trailer hook-ups.

The Ridgeline also boasts a truly innovative truck bed configuration. This unique truck bed can be accessed through a “dual-action” tailgate, which can be opened via the traditional fold-down way, or by swinging out, making loading the truck bed very easy. The truck bed is also equipped with a “trunk” of sorts. Honda calls it an “in-bed trunk,” and it is actually a lock-able storage area that is large enough to store a 72-quart cooler, three sets of golf bags or other bulky items under the truck bed itself. A friend who recently purchased a Ridgeline says they’ve found that feature useful for storing away all their valuables when taking the truck to football game tailgate parties.

As for safety features, the Ridgeline has a long list. Every truck in the four-trim line is equipped with standard anti-lock brakes with Vehicle Stability Assist, traction control, brake assist, and plenty of air bags. There are the advanced dual-stage, dual-threshold drivers and front passenger air bags, and the driver and front passenger side air bags, as well as two-row side curtain air bags with rollover sensor and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Trucks are already versatile vehicles — especially ones with crew cabs. Their truck beds make trips to the garden supply store or up the mountains with loads of outdoor equipment a breeze. But, the Ridgeline’s quiet, comfortable ride, and its innovative in-bed trunk feature, gives it an advantage over others in the mid-sized truck market.

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


The Real Reason ‘Guru’ Release Was Delayed | Star Antics Miff Malaysian Media | Deadly Kiss | Happy Birthday, Rajni | Colorful Shoes | ‘Big Brother’ | Similar Voice

The Real Reason ‘Guru’ Release Was Delayed
Abhishek in “Guru”
Bollywood is getting to be like Washington these days — there is an official version of what happened, then there is the real story of what actually happened.

Take Mani Ratnam’s Guru. The film was supposed to be released in December, it’s not going to hit the big screen till this year. So what gives? The film’s PR folks would have you believe that the film was delayed because of music director A.R. Rahman, but Bollywood thinks otherwise.

All Bollywood is rife with the rumor that apparently it was Abhishek Bachchan who asked for the delay. Why? Get this: It was because his astrologer asked for it.

Apparently, the astrologer who told him that the year 2007 would be good for him and his career.

Numerologist Sanjay B. Jumaani agrees with this delay. “It is better that he postponed the release date of his film after his birthday (that is in February), as he will enter his 32nd year,” says Jumaani. “January is again a Capricorn period and the ruler of it is Saturn, whose number is 8.”

“This is an unlucky figure for Abhishek Bachchan. It may be noted here that 2006 was not very good for the actor compared to 2005 which was a turning point in his career. Both his age and the year 2006 add up to numbers 4 and 8 which is unlucky for the actor.”

There you have it. In Bollywood, astrologers and numerologists rule. Just ask Sonu Niigaam.
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Star Antics Miff Malaysian Media

Hema and Amitabh in “Baabul.” The film premiered in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia’s media is maha gussa after the antics of Bollywood stars. Though Bollywood’s lead stars have been wowing thousands of Malaysian fans over the past three days at an awards function, the media is less impressed.

“The antics of Bollywood stars have become legendary and as predictable as a bad film script,” the English daily New Straits Times said .

Salman Khan, John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Arbaaz Khan, Sohail Khan, Hema Malini, Esha Deol and several others were in Kuala Lumpur as a part of the Global Indian Film Awards function. Ravi Chopra’s Baabul had its world premiere here to mark the occasion.

Almost all events have started more than an hour late. The media, a majority of them from all local newspapers and TV channels, waited for more than two-and-a-half hours for the stars to address a press conference Dec. 7 at the Palace of Golden Horses Hotel.

Event organizers Popcorn Entertainment added to the fun by arranging three events involving the stars on a single day. These included the press conference with the stars, red carpet walk of the stars at the TGV cineplex and later the world premiere of Baabul.

John Abraham and Ravi Chopra came met the restless journalists after keeping them waiting for two hours, but Salman Khan joined them after 20 minutes as organizers kept telling the media that Khan would be down in two minutes and then the press event would start.

“Apparently in Indian time, two minutes meant 20 and at close to 6 pm the all-important Mr. Khan — accompanied by about 10 burly men in black — deemed it a suitable time for him to come down from his suite,” the paper fumed.

Just as the first question was to be asked by a journalist, Ravi Chopra’s mobile rang and he decided to take the call, upsetting all the media personnel in the room.

“Now where else would you find something like this happening? Only in Bollywood,” quipped the paper.
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Deadly Kiss

Hrithik and Aishwarya in “Dhoom 2”
It may seem unbelievable, but the silliness continues, like an unfunny Bollywood comedy. Some rustic joker in an Indian hick town, apparently totally disconnected with the real India, has taken Hrithik Roshan to Aishwarya Rai to court for a kissing scene in Dhoom 2 for get this — promoting vulgarity among the nation’s youth.

Is this guy serious? Where has this guy been all this time? In ancient India?

An Indian court in Indore, in keeping with the limitless forbearance and patience of that vast country’s criminal justice system, is dealing with the case with due diligence.

After the case was filed in the court of Judicial Magistrate First Class R.K. Batham by advocate Shailendra Dwivedi under Section 292 (vulgarity) and 509 (derogatory to women) of the Indian Penal Code Act, its date has been extended..

The court extended the date to Jan. 4 for recording statement of the complainant.

The complainant’s advocate has alleged that women felt offended by the obscene scene and it has promoted vulgarity in the society, especially among the youths.

One wonders what the honorable court will do to promote the lofty standards envisaged by the plaintiff. Ban India’s movies, television and filmi magazines all in one fell swoop?
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Happy Birthday, Rajni
India’s highest paid actor and the super star of Tamil Cinema, Rajnikanth turned 57 Dec. 12.

This being Tamil Nadu, there were the usual scenes of fans going bananas. Fans distributed sweets and burst crackers on the occasion. Hundreds of fans also turned up at cinemas to watch his last release Chandramukhi, a box office hit, running in the state for over 600 days.

While his fans were celebrating, the super star was said to be having a quiet birthday with his newborn grandson at his farmhouse in the suburbs.

A veteran of over 160 movies, Rajnikanth was working as a bus conductor when he made his debut in K. Balachander’s Apoorva Ragangal which catapulted him to fame. After playing villain in about 20 movies early in his career, he turned hero and became the darling of the masses.

His film dialogues “En vazhi thani vazhi” (My way is unique) and “Naan oru thadava sonna nooru thadava sonna madiri” (If I say something once, it’s equivalent to 100 times) in the blockbusters Padayappa and Baasha are still fresh in the minds of film buffs.

Rajnikanth commands a fan following across the world. In fact, one of his films, Muthu, was dubbed into Japanese and went on to become a tremendous hit in Japan. A few Japanese fans even turned up for the special preview of his movie Baba.

According to industry sources, Rajni’s next venture under director Shankar, Shivaji — The Boss, to be released early next year, is expected to fetch the actor close to Rs. 400 million, the second highest in Asia for a star, next only to Jackie Chan.

Rajnikanth’s political ambitions in the 1990s and early 2000 gave sleepless nights to politicians in Tamil Nadu, with many of his films like Baasha, Padayappa and Baba having strong political undercurrents

However, his political ambitions fizzled out during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and the star decided to shun politics, giving Tamil politicians a chance to breathe a little easier.
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Colorful Shoes
Zayed Khan
If I said Bollywood men are adding a colorful note to the festive season, you wouldn’t be thinking of shoes, would you? Well guess what, that’s exactly what men are doing — they have taken to brightly colored shoes this holiday season.

Gone are the days when guys stepped out in the predictable black, tan and brown pair of designer shoes.

Zayed Khan was recently spotted wearing a flaming red — yep, that’s not a typo — pair at a party recently and Arbaaz Khan was flashing a yellow pair at his film screening.

“I bought this pair because they were so different and cool and I think I carry them off pretty well. I don’t have a shoe fetish as such though,” says Arbaaz.

Like they say in the matrimonial ads, is Arbaaz saying: “color no bar?”

Not so fast. The guy hasn’t taken complete leave of his senses, thank God.

“Just because I bought a yellow pair does not mean I am going to be seen around town in a pink pair now! That would really be pushing it,” he laughs.

Fashion designer Surily Goel states that “it’s fun that men are wearing funky colored shoes. As long as they have the personality to carry them off and assemble the outfit right, it looks great.”

Well, call me traditional, but I am less sure.

But bandana-wearing Jackie Shroff has no doubts. He wears a pair of bandhni boots in all hues of the rainbow even to a wedding

“So who’s to say what color shoes or boots a guy’s gotta wear? It’s how you carry the shoes, bhidu. You can wear a basic black pair and look like a wimp anyway. I think color is in, be it in life or footwear,” says the bindaas actor.
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Big Brother’
Shilpa Shetty
Svelte Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty is raking in the moolah, but not from a Hollywood blockbuster. Rumor has it that she is getting paid a cool $680,000 for taking part in the U.K. celebrity TV show Big Brother.

Shilpa will apparently have a dinner date with another housemate, in which she will be encouraged to flirt. Oh, la la!

Shilpa — often the subject of marriage speculation — will dine with the housemate she finds the most attractive.

British newspaper reports say the show — already being screened in the U.K. — is setting pulses racing.

Housemates on the reality show — reportedly including former Miss Great Britain Danielle Lloyd — will be given the opportunity to pair up for dinner with the person they find most attractive.

“They will be fitted with special heart-rate monitors and must seduce, flirt and do whatever it takes to get their partners’ pulse rates soaring,” the British Sun newspaper reported.

It said that the courtship will be “performed” at a candlelit table for two minutes while fellow housemates look on.

The couple with the highest readings win the task.

Hmm, Shilpa, looks like you have got your work cut out, dear.
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Similar Voice
Next time you mistake ace Indian composer A.R. Rahman’s singing for pop king Michael Jackson — don’t blame yourself. Even Rahman thinks they sound alike!

“My voice and Jackson’s have the same range, which is higher than the normal male voice, hence the impression,” Rahman told reporters at the launch of his first ever English album “Pray for Me, Brother.”

Even the new video has shades of Jackson’s hit “Earth song.”

The album has been shot on mobile cinemascope format by Bharatbala of “Vande Mataram” fame, and will be available exclusively on Nokia ‘N’ series music phones before being released for television.

The song was originally composed as an “anti-poverty anthem” for UN’s Millennium Development Goals. “We thought that the song deserved a great album and Nokia came forward to fund and also release on its phones,” said Rahman, who has both composed the song and lent his voice to it.

Vineet Taneja of Nokia said, “By offering the song, which is the world’s first-ever music video on the vertical cinemascope format, we aim to deliver yet another experience to our users.”

The funds generated from Rahman’s new English album will go to Rahman’s charity The A.R. Rahman Foundation.

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Implausible Buffoonery: Bhagam Bhag
(Rating **1/2 Mediocre)

You could call this film The Case of the Missing Govinda. Here’s a film that’s been touted as the great comeback vehicle for Govinda — and, boy, could he use one — yet after seeing the film (if you are so unfortunate), you are left scratching your head.

Where in the world was Govinda? Of course, I am exaggerating, but just a little bit.

Directed Priyadarshan doesn’t realize that you can’t recycle old wine in a new bottle — the audience, even one as tolerant as the average Bollywood buff — unless you add some original twist to give the formula some freshness.

But with Priyadarsan, it’s the same old, same old. You get the idea: comedy of errors, slapstick humor and holes in the story so big you could drive a truck through it.

To make matters worse, in the second half the film veers off in an unexpected tangent when it becomes a (dull) murder mystery. Add to that the fact that script writer Neeraj Vora throws in so many characters in the pot that the viewer soon feels like a drunk asked to juggle balls.

Here’s the story: Champak (Paresh Rawal) owns a theatre company where both Bunty (Akshay Kumar) and Babla (Govinda) work. Both are compulsive flirts.

The company has a hit musical on its hands and goes on tour to London. However, the play’s heroine (Tanushree Dutta) disappears just before the troupe is about to board the plane.
Theater owner Champak is at his wit’s end. He decides to take a gamble, and goes to London without the heroine, and asks Bunty and Babla to come up with someone to play the heroine. The incentive: The one who succeeds gets to play the hero, the other will play the villain.

Bunty wins as after he saves Minni (Lara Dutta), a woman with suicidal tendencies, from death, he manages to convince her to star in the play.

Before you know it, a whole bunch of characters are introduced and you are too busy trying to keep track of who is doing what to whom to get any chance to laugh. Asrani, Sharad Saxena, Rajpal Yadav, Jackie Shroff and innumerable other characters keep running on the streets of London with sticks.

The climax is predictable and the holes in the story are glaring (How are the three main characters played by Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar and Govinda able to roam London without a care when London police want them for a murder and their pictures are flashed all over the local newspapers? How is a woman with suicidal tendency convinced to do the main role in a musical?)

Akshay hogs the best lines in the film and Govinda and Paresh Rawal are left high and dry. The film is moderately entertaining in the first half (admittedly the entertainment is of the brainless variety), but falls flat on its face in the second half.

Priyadarshan should realize one thing: Comedy is serious business. He better learn fast, or audience members of his film aren’t going to be the only ones with glum faces.

For Love of Tamil
: Ilakkanamm
Director: Chandrajain
Cast: Ram, Uma, Vinu Chakravarthy, Kadhal Sukumar, Rohini

Here’s a film which seems to have been made for the sheer love of the Tamil language and to propagate values of tolerance, forgiveness, honesty, morality and standing up for one’s rights and beliefs. Produced by Mousi Shanmugham (an ex-MLA of the PMK party), the film is directed by debutant Chandrajain who earlier has penned a novel and some screenplays for TV serials.

Thamizh is an idealistic youth, an example to his colleagues at the magazine where he works as a reporter. His steadfastness in sticking to values he holds dear and his guts to express what he felt right makes him a figure who is admired and feared. While he is admired by his colleagues, he is feared by the thug whose illegal business he exposes. The director here makes a contrived attempt to push in a fight scene where Thamizh bashes up a gang of rowdies sent by the thug. Thamizh brings this idealism and progressive thinking to his personal life, where his relationship with his wife one of mutual understanding and respect. It’s a touching moment when the perpetrator of mindless violence that takes its tolI on Thamizh’s personal life himself becomes the recipient of Thamizh’s largesse.

Ram as Thamizh comes with the experience of working four years with the theater group Koothupattrai, and a Malayalam film, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Nizhal Kuthu. The actor has this scrubbed-clean fresh look which stands him in good stead as he plays Thamizh with sincerity and earnestness. Uma is aptly cast as his comely wife Kayalvizhi.

The film opens with PMK supremo Dr Ramadoss, talking about the film and the values it tries to portray, hoping that it would be an ilakkanam to film-makers. The PMK chief would surely have had no bones to pick with this film. With the pure Tamil names for the entire list of characters, and chaste Tamil throughout (even the mobile phone is called kai pesi), it should please lovers of the language.

The debutant director seems to have gone to great lengths in pursuit of this, with the characters and incidents a lesson in human bonding and values and taking pride in one’s language. But as a film, both the scripting and the style of presentation could surely have done with more finesse, in a way that would be more appealing to the audience.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Traditional Meal: Tomato Poori with Aloo Ki Sabzi

This delicious, traditional meal can be made with simple ingredients. Seema Gupta shows you how it is made.

  • For Aloo Ki Sabzi:
  • 4-5 medium size potatoes (diced into 10 inch cubes)
  • 1 tsp saunf (fennel seeds)
  • 2 clove
  • A pinch of asafetida
  • 2-3 green chili, finely chopped
  • inch piece of ginger grated
  • 2tsp finely chopped, cilantro
  • 2 tomatoes finely chopped
  • 1/4 sp turmeric
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp amchur
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 1/2 cup water

  • For Tomato Poori:
  • 1 cup chapatti flour (whole wheat flour)
  • 1/4th cup sooji (semolina)
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ajwain (carom seeds)
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tomatoes (put it in the blender and make into puree)
  • 2 cups oil for deep frying

Sabzi: Heat oil in a pan. Add green chili, ginger, clove, asafetida, saunf and cilantro. Stir for 1/2 min then add red chili powder. Immediately add 1/4 cup of water. Add all spices accept amchur. Stir till water dries, then add potato and remaining water. Cover and cook in low heat. When potato is cooked, add tomato and amchur. Stir in high heat for 5-7 min. ready to eat.

Poori: Mix all the ingredients and make into dough. Add water if needed. Take about half cup of dough and roll into round shape and make into flat, unleavened bread. Deep fry in oil and serve hot.

- Seema Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: 2007 Yearly Forecast By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Saturn will transit fourth house till July 15th and stay in fifth for rest of the year. Jupiter will transit eighth till November 20th and move to ninth for remainder of 2007. Career wise, it will be a good year. Opportunity missed in October 2006 will be offered again with better perks some where around June. You will overcome many obstacles and even legal issues will be decided in your favor making room for big improvement in career. Worries about children will continue and may not get resolved the way you want. It will be better to compromise with situation rather than loosing them. Jupiter in eighth though little weak, but will aspect second house fully, resulting financial prosperity in 2007. You will recover old dues and may get big chunk of money from insurance in some way. In laws will be very helpful and may even help you with money for your ventures. A property stuck for long time will finally sell around June 2007. Career will be the main issue in 2007 and you will successfully achieve your goals. There may be another addition in the family after November 20 th when Jupiter moves into your ninth house.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Raj yoga karaka planet Saturn will transit third till July 15th and will move into fourth for rest of 2007. Jupiter will occupy Kendra or the seventh house till November. As Saturn will continue to aspect house of luck completely, there will be steady improvement in life. This Saturn can cause change of residence and big victory in legal matters. The decision in legal matters will surprise every body around and shock the opponents. You will travel to distant places before July 2007. This year will favor more if you are connected to field of communications, advance technology or are in sales. Jupiter will provide the necessary divine help to escape all disasters minutes before they take place. Spouse will continue to have minor health problems off and on, nothing that can not be controlled with change of diet and little exercises. Saturn’s transit in fourth in July can cause much awaited move to a bigger and better place, surrounded by lots of greenery. Size of family will grow and money will come and disappear fast as usual. You will need to be more diplomatic when dealing with business partners or boss. You will also make big money through stocks and bonds this year.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Saturn will transit second house till July 15th and move to third for rest of 2007. Jupiter will stay in sixth house till November 20 th. Saturn the lord of house of luck transiting the house of natural enemy Moon will drain you out money wise. You will need to control expenses and wastage and be content with basics. This is a real testing time of life as you will go through the last leg of what is known as Saturn’s 7 ½ year cycle. And once you pass the test, the world is yours. You will be actually running several shows simultaneously. You will not only fulfill your own commitments but also projects undertaken by other family members. Life will take of suddenly right after July when Saturn moves into third and completely aspect the house of luck. Change of residence to bigger and better place will become certain and it will be quick. You will go on an important trip overseas towards the end of 2007. There will be victory in ongoing legal issues and you will win several favors from government. There is a strong possibility that you may start another business or buy one for spouse. Chances of making money through speculation and lottery are very strong in July and August. Most of your plans will come through in second half of 2007.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Saturn will transit first house till July 15th and will move to second there after for remainder of 2007. Jupiter will continue to occupy fifth house till November 20th. Saturn’s transit in first will refine you and help become better person. It will make you work extra hard and teach you to have patience. Off and on you will feel exhausted but Jupiter’s aspect on Saturn will give you wisdom and determination to continue the fight. You will not loose the Midas touch and rise in life against heavy odds. Jupiter in fifth will keep health issues created by Saturn under check. Big and positive changes in career coming in March and May of 2007. Your desires to have another member in the family will be fulfilled with the blessings of a spiritual person. You will gain professional knowledge and may even finish a short term training program. Saturn’s transit in second will increase your financial commitments as your projects will need more than anticipated. Hard work will pay off and you will be rolling in money in second half of 2007. You will invest in properties and add another vehicle to your fleet.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): Saturn will transit twelfth house till July 15th and first house there after. Jupiter will stay in fourth house till November 20th. Ketu will occupy first and Rahu will occupy seventh house in 2007. You will need extreme patience with life and business partner or you will loose them quickly. People prone to litigations should be careful as Saturn in house of loss or expenses can drain you out with legal bills. It will be wise not to extend credit in business or risk almost every thing in too good to be true looking business proposals. Select your business partners and employees carefully. You will achieve few milestones in career in February or March this year. Diplomacy can help crush opponents during the same time frame. Off and on you will make several daring moves in career and may launch a huge project this year. You may invest in properties also just to make quick money and your attempts will be successful. Chance of an addition in the family becomes very strong when Jupiter moves into fifth house after November 20th.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): Saturn will transit eleventh house till July 15th and twelfth there after for rest of 2007. Jupiter will be in third till November 20 th. Rahu will be sixth and Ketu will stay in twelfth. You will have to work very hard to make money this year. You will be on the move and try to sell your ideas or products to others. It will be slightly better for people doing job and tough for people in business. Rahu in sixth will help in getting better job in highly competitive market but it will be unstable. You will start to tilt towards in-laws more. You will become humble and perform many good deeds and become more spiritual. You will not waste money and also teach children not to do so. Spouse will be a great help and share your burden and always give good ideas as Jupiter will have 5 th aspect on house of partner. Once Saturn moves into twelfth on July 20th, you may have to answer few legal queries and people who are prone to litigations will see there legal bills shooting up all of a sudden. Though you will be helped by the enemies of your enemy but it will not be enough.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Saturn will transit tenth house till July 15th and eleventh for rest of 2007. Jupiter will stay in second house till November 20 th. Ketu will transit eleventh and Rahu will stay in fifth house. Your assets will multiply. You will buy another house and car. And of course Saturn in tenth will make you work hard and on a long term project. Rewards will be astonishing but they will come right after July of 2007 when Saturn moves into house of gains. You will profit from sale, purchase of properties. Your income will shoot up and there is a big chance of money coming through stocks market also. Jupiter the factor for wealth in general will give you plenty and you will find ways to spend it. Income will go up as well as expenses but all money will be well spent. You will help siblings and do lots of charity work. Blessings from a needy person you will help will bring financial prosperity. People looking for another child will have some frustration in the beginning but desire will be fulfilled ultimately.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Saturn will transit ninth house till July 20th and tenth for rest of the year. Jupiter will transit first house till November 20th and second there after. Saturn as a natural malefic and enemy to the lord of your sign will try to create hurdles and unnecessary delay in almost everything but it can not supercede one of the Guru or the Jupiter. Jupiter’s presence in your sign and its aspect on fifth, seventh and ninth as well as Saturn will cause major prosperity. This transit will bring an end to your anxiety about children and will cause expansion in the family. You will receive help and blessings from a spiritual person. There will be big change in your personality. You will make a daring move in the early quarter of 2007. Gamble will pay off in riches. You will become very generous and content. Once Saturn moves into tenth from July, you will be looking for long term gains and not for quick ones. You will devote time and money for a charity and become interested in politics also. Legal issues will get settled as the justice would be served in your favor.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): Saturn will transit eighth house till July 15th and will stay in ninth for rest of 2007. Jupiter will transit twelfth house till November 20th. Lord of Lagna in twelfth and Saturn in eighth is a sign of struggle and troubles. Lack of confidence and poor judgment can cost you dearly. You will need to be careful with finances and avoid company of undesirable people. There will be positive changes in career around June. You may spend money on construction of a new house or will definitely upgrade your existing home. You may have to buy another car for family member. You will have to make repeated attempts to get the jobs done. Children will do better and spouse will be a great support throughout. Saturn’s transit in ninth will bring financial relief. As income will rise the expenses will be under control and you will learn to save money for rainy days as a result the bank balance will grow from July and onwards. You will become more humble and religious. A clear victory with big rewards is indicated in legal matters after July 2007.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Saturn will transit seventh till July 15th and will stay in eighth for rest of 2007. Jupiter will transit eleventh till November 20 th. Rahu will stay in second and Ketu will be in eighth in 2007. You will continue to make steady progress in career but the new commitments you made in 2006 can drain you out financially. It will be hard to hold and preserve money in 2007. You will become more ambitious and focus on new ways to make money. You will definitely achieve major goals in career in between February and April of 2007. A change of job is imminent during this time for job seekers. A new member will be added in the family and you will take more than one trip overseas. You will make new friends and become more active in society. Dealing in stocks will be rewarding. You will escape few minor accidents also after July 15 th when Saturn moves into your eighth house. Any other health issues should be given top priority during second half of 2007. Jupiter in eleventh will keep the money coming. It will be better year for people in sales, marketing and field of communications and those dealing with overseas.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): Saturn will transit sixth house till July 15th and will move to seventh for rest of 2007. Jupiter will stay in tenth till November 20 th. Rahu will stay in first and Ketu will stay in seventh in 2007. Saturn though in sixth will stay strong for most of the time, as a result you will keep doing better in career against all adversities and hurdles. You will get fed up with the existing job and start looking for a change very seriously. You will find another one but that too will not last long. Towards the end of 2007 is when you will find a stable job. Delays will opponents will not slow you down and on the other hand Rahu will give you the fighting spirit. You will ultimately crush your opponents and business competitors. Financially you will do a lot better in 2007 as your commitments and liabilities will decrease considerably from beginning of 2007. Listening to spouse will not hurt but help, you partner will share your stress and burden. You will win some favor from government also and the victory is definite in any ongoing legal battle.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Jupiter will transit ninth house or the house of luck in 2007. Saturn will transit fifth till July 15th and sixth house for remainder of 2006. Rahu will transit twelfth and Ketu will stay in sixth. You should be looking forwards to the transit of Jupiter in ninth with open mind. Jupiter will bring many fortunate changes in career this year. It will keep improving from time to time. Your image and confidence will shoot up. You will become more popular and do some serious religious work with local temple. Prosperity will be constant and ever lasting this time. Saturn in fifth will bring gains from distant lands but will keep you worried about children and may give you some trouble in stomach region till July 15 th only. Once Saturn moves into sixth house it will help you get the dream job. You will be selected for it among number of applicants. You may at the same time pass a very tough exam that will open doors for an excellent job in a totally new field. You will become little money minded and make a very good financial investment most probably in shape of property.

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


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