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JUNE 2007
Volume VIII • Issue 6
EDITORIAL: Immigration Reform
NEWS DIARY: May News Briefs
EDUCATION: Going to College
SUBCONTINENT: Small Cars in India
ETHNIC NEIGHBORS: Desperate Housewives
E-BUSINESS: Book Lover’s Friend
HEALTH: After Kidney Failure, Then What?
CONCERT: Maestros in Action
SUBCONTINENT: India Eyes Carbon Credits
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Camry Hybrid
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Film Review: Bheja Fry
TAMIL CINEMA: Karuppasamy Kuthagaitharar
RECIPE: Tiranga Chawal


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

Towards Immigration Reform

In the heat of the fevered, xenophobic hysteria over immigration, it is sometimes hard to believe that this is a country that prides itself on respecting the rights of the individual and human dignity.

The fear mongering and thinly veiled race-baiting of the anti-immigrant lobby masks a profound hypocrisy in U.S. society — while wrath and contempt is targeted at immigrant workers, not a whisper is heard about the beneficiaries of their hard labor — from huge agribusinesses to middle class moms who hire undocumented nannies.

At times of economic uncertainty, public suspicion invariably falls on hapless immigrants. It is at this disturbed time that Congress is considering reforming the immigration law. Unfortunately, given the public hysteria generated by the anti-immigrant lobby, politicians are running for cover, and the Senate is headed towards a compromise where many cruel provisions lurk.

Partha Banerjee is a long-time human rights activist based in New York. In this month’s cover story, he takes a long, incisive look at the compromise being hatched in the U.S. Senate, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

If a grassroots movement is not mobilized against the current compromise, undocumented immigrants who have been here for years may be saddled with draconian provisions that will bring untold misery on them and their families, he writes in this month’s cover story.

This editorial page has been tireless in pointing out that India’s economic growth is only part of the story, and those who get carried away by the euphoria of India’s admittedly stellar economic progress do so at their peril. Large swathes of the country are still in the middle ages, for crying out loud.

Well, it seems that this sensible observation is backed by experts. At a high-powered seminar hosted by the University of California at Berkeley, big honchos came from India, ranging from cabinet ministers to the Infosys CEO to nationally known activists, and several pointed out that India’s public services were so bad that its human development indices sometimes were worse than sub-Saharan Africa and Bangladesh.

Jointly hosted by UC Berkeley’s Center for South Asian Studies and the U.S.-based NRI nonprofit Foundation for the Democratic Reforms in India, the seminar focused on governance and empowerment on the local level, an issue of critical importance.

Two days of passionate discussion and scholarly reflection later, while it was clear that India’s challenges are too complex to be addressed in one seminar, there were signs that a substantive dialogue had begun.

Will any of these deliberations be translated into action? One hopes so, for the sake of the organizers and participants, who otherwise face the rebuke of the Bard: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

For all its worldly pleasures — and if you are successful in this country, they are considerable — one of the downside of expatriate life is that ties with the old country that can sometimes turn painful. Love of family and filial piety are core South Asian values, so if you know that your father is ill, or your mom is getting old and needs care, but you can’t provide it from 10,000 miles away, it’s a tough, heartbreaking issue to deal with.

Then there are more mundane issues. If you grew up in privileged circumstances back in the old country, you might inherit or own property — but who’s going to look after it or deal with the flurry of paperwork that’s a given in a nation beholden to the asinine principle of trivia in triplicate?

The Indian conglomerate Sahara has an answer that appears to be a Godsend, if Sahara’s global operations chief Romi Datta’s words are anything to go by. Traveling in the U.S. with a road show to launch the Sahara Care House program, he says the program can take care of virtually any kind of need in India of an expatriate Indian.

The program, launched in the U.S. by Sahara India Pariwar, a $10.8 billion Indian conglomerate, is a single window service platform for Indian Americans enabling one point, easy access for over 60 support and care services for themselves and their families/ friends in India. The launch in the U.S. marks the company’s first foray into the American marketplace.

The comprehensive offering covers health care, utility, personalized and relationship services and subscribers will be served by highly trained workforce of 3,500 Relationship Ambassadors, enabling family-like support and care to the families of NRIs in India, according to Sahara. From the medical needs of ailing parents to renting out property, Sahara’s relationship ambassadors can do it all for you, he told Siliconeer.

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

A Trojan Horse: The U.S. Senate Immigration Deal

Wheelers and dealers in the U.S. Senate, in their politically expedient, closed-door maneuvering, are hatching an immigration deal that excludes from the dialogue the millions of working-class, undocumented immigrants. The new deal has many dangerous provisions that will bring enormous misery for immigrant workers and their families for many decades to come, writes Partha Banerjee.

(Above, left): A man in San Francisco wears a Mexican flag while holding a child with a bandana of the U.S. flag during a pro-immigrant rally. [REUTERS photo]
(Right): A child at a pro-immigrant rally.

On May 17, immigration reform negotiators in Washington announced an unworkable deal. Our elected leaders, in their politically expedient, closed-door maneuvering, excluded from the dialogue the millions of working-class, undocumented immigrants who had earlier come out and marched all across the United States demanding a real, meaningful, comprehensive reform. The new deal, despite making some rudimentary progress, falls far short of their expectations and their children’s aspirations. In fact, it has many dangerous provisions that neither the politicians nor the U.S. media are talking about. Unless drastically improved in Congress, the bill, if enacted as law after negotiations between the two chambers, will bring enormous trouble and misery for the immigrant workers and their families. The negative aspects of the legislation will impact the immigrant communities for many decades to come. In fact, the prospects are scary.

Many labor unions, pro-immigrant advocates and lawyers, faith institutions and grassroots organizations have already opposed the bill, now introduced in the Senate as Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Notably, key politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Robert Menendez, the Democratic Party’s Hispanic senator, have expressed reservations.

New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, said on May 28 at a Memorial Day speech: “Lawmakers should all look back on their history, and realize that if we had had the laws that they are proposing in many cases, they wouldn’t be here because their parents or grandparents would not have been here.”

The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the country’s oldest and largest Hispanic groups, said, “This bill will dehumanize workers, short-change employers and lead to widespread undocumented immigration as many workers inevitably overstay their visas rather than return home.” Even moderate, non-grassroots groups voiced doubts. National Council of La Raza, a Washington, D.C.-based Latino group, said it would try to reshape the bill. “It is important that we get a good bill over the finish line,” the group said.

Why This Bipartisan Bill Now?

The short answer is, Republicans and Democrats wanted to cater both to conservative and liberal voters, and thus paid more attention to the upcoming 2008 presidential elections than the lives and suffering of the immigrants who do not have a vote. The chief architects of the bill especially bypassed the millions of so-called “illegal aliens” (a term much liked by restrictionist groups, politicians and media — as if these people have descended from the Mars, wiggling antennas) who, unlike the better-placed, permanent resident or H1-visa-holder immigrants, do not have any economic or political power.

They are not computer professionals, outsourcers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, stock market brokers, restaurant or construction firm owners, or teachers — working in Silicon Valley, Wall Street or the many upper-class neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, D.C., Houston, Jersey City, New York or Seattle. They are low-income, work-a-day people, and can often be found at street corners, looking for day jobs.

They have no job security, health insurance or other benefits. Many of them work seven days a week just to make ends meet. But they risked their lives, in the midst of nationwide roundups by police, FBI and immigration agents, and staged massive demonstrations never witnessed in America since the Civil Rights days. But the politicians did not include them in their closed-door discussions. That political game is an opportunistic, insider game, and unjust. It is also beyond any known standards of morality or ethics. But then again, whoever said the current U.S. political establishment was ethical or pro-poor?

The Devil’s in the Details

The so-called bipartisan legislation is a huge disappointment to immigrants who organized million-strong marches on the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and New York over the past two years. The bill has serious flaws. Most importantly, the newly-introduced proposal that originated in the White House and was then negotiated with only a handful of senators from both parties (and perhaps even a smaller number of neo-liberal lobbying groups that call themselves “pro-immigrant”) takes away our country’s bedrock family-based immigration path, prevents temporary “guest” workers from earning legalization, thereby perpetuating an indentured servitude, and conveniently links post-September-11 national security with immigration reform, rationalizing an increased border militarization, a national ID system, and expansion of interior enforcement and detention.

In fact, since former President Bill Clinton passed his Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, private prison corporations have greatly prospered. Immigrant detainees have added to the large number of Black detainees across the U.S.; just like the numerous Black prisoners, many immigrants are detained indefinitely without charges or access to lawyers.

As my Columbia University journalism professor Steve Ross says, the real issue for the two big parties is the poor Mexicans, and not anymore the so-called Islamists. He’s right: in a knee-jerk reaction they created and exploited Islamophobia after the 9-11 attacks, and threw thousands of innocent Muslims in prison; now, after six years of 9/11, it’s the poor Latino immigrants’ turn to be the scapegoats. The “Spanish-speaking invaders” are now to blame for all the social and economic ills of this “pure, best in the world, English-speaking” country.

Grim Border Situation

As a member of a delegation to Arizona and Mexico in June 2006, I had the rare opportunity to see poor Mexicans and Latin Americans crossing over the Sonoran desert into the U.S. Many of these desperate people — men, woman and children — don’t survive the horrendous heat and hardship. It reminded me of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation struggle days, when I had the privilege to work among the refugees walking across the Petrapol border into West Bengal. Here in Arizona, our team visited a morgue in Tucson, where unidentified bodies of migrant victims were brought in. I also met a young, single mother of three who walked and hitch-hiked hundreds of miles from southern Mexico to Nogales, a border town, leaving her three children and an ailing parent behind, only to be ripped off by “coyotes” (privately-hired border-crosser mafia).

The indigenous, native-American community (or whatever is left of them), who have lived on both sides of the modern frontier for centuries, is savaged by the brutality of the border militia and the new, steep fence and rampant militarization. The ecology and wildlife diversity has been destroyed by the newly erected walls and powerful field lights, courtesy U.S. Border Patrol. Again, it reminds us of the fences and militarization of the Bengal borders that suddenly cropped up, first in 1947, and then again, in 1971, displacing and impoverishing millions.

Lack of Due Process

The newly introduced immigration bill, now being debated in Congress, will take the already grim situation one step farther. Even today, since the 1996 IIRAIRA passed, a minor offense committed years ago — such as shoplifting or jumping turnstiles — is considered reason enough for any non-citizen to have an indefinite detention without due process, and then a certain deportation. Many mixed-status citizen families are now permanently separated because of these harsh measures.

According to Detention Watch Network, a group of activist lawyers specializing on this issue, the “current immigration enforcement practices are very harsh. Already this year, thousands of families have been torn apart by raids, detentions, and deportations.  Giving more power to immigration agencies that reject responsibility for detention conditions and treatment undermines the checks-and-balances in our justice system and hurts our communities and families even more while ensuring the private prison industry locks up higher profits.  A real comprehensive immigration bill that offers a just solution must strip these egregious provisions.”

The ivory-castle politicians and insider “advocacy groups” must see how immigrant detainees are yanked away from their families and kept in U.S. jails indefinitely without any charges filed against them. Grassroots groups such as East Coast-based Families for Freedom, Desis Rising Up and Moving, the Coney Island Avenue Project, national groups such as the Oakland, Calif.-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the American Friends Service Committee and American Civil Liberties Union, or border groups such as Arizona’s Derechos de Humanos have worked closely with detainees and deportees for years. They know how dismal the situation is. I myself worked with a number of immigrant women who fled from India and Bangladesh because of domestic violence. A few of them are still rotting in U.S. jails, just because they don’t have proper immigration papers.

The New York Times, in its editorial May 29, writes: “The Senate bill is repellent in many ways. Its fragrant blossoms are grafted to poisonous roots…The problems with the restrictionist provisions of the bill are serious and many. It includes a path to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants, which is a rare triumph for common sense, but that path is strewn with cruel conditions.”

The Role of U.S. Media

The problem is, the New York Times is one of the very few major, mainstream establishment media that has taken a strong, objective and principled stand on immigration issues.

There are hundreds of small or big newspapers, radio talk show hosts, Internet sites and TV personalities that are sparing no opportunity to blast this bill as blanket amnesty for “criminal illegals.” Their stories are often filled with half-truths or lies supplied by anti-immigrant politicians such as Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., or Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

A few Democrats have joined them, too. And they make sure the average people don’t get the correct picture about immigrants and their lives, or the socioeconomic reasons that drive up underground migration (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and other neo-liberal, globalization factors, war and repression), and the dysfunctional immigration system of this country. Recently, CNN’s prime-time anchorman Lou Dobbs used false data to link leprosy with the surge of undocumented immigrants. Radio talk shows have spread anti-immigrant hate messages on a daily basis. Their money and political power far outweigh that of pro-immigrant, peace, justice and rights-minded people of America. Many of these anti-immigrant media personalities openly support far-right-wing, xenophobic groups and individuals with dubious reputation and political connections.

Who Are These Restrictionists?

Tom Barry’s account in the alternative periodical Counterpunch in June 2005 answers the question:

“In most cases, the leaders of the national restrictionist groups are reactionary nationalists who fundamentally believe that immigrants are undermining the U.S. economy and society, while also posing an increasing threat to U.S. national security. But many restrictionist groups, including NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, frame their views in the policy language of environmental protection, access to jobs, anti-corporate sentiment, and population control. Their rhetoric often sounds closer to liberal groups than to the citizen militias, white supremacists, and more nationalist institutes such as Americans for Immigration Control, which is explicitly dedicated to “preserving our common heritage as Americans.” The rhetoric obscures the profile of a growing movement that has as its shared goal a campaign against immigrants and for draconian border controls and legislation.”

Add to Barry’s list the Federation for American Immigration Reform and armed border vigilante group Minuteman.

‘Grand Bargain’ or Politics of Convenience?

Here’s what you are being told by politicians and media:

The new immigration bill

  • Promises path for legalization for the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants

  • Includes the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, to provide at in-state tuition costs college education for many undocumented children)

  • Includes AgJOBS (Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act for farm workers)

Here’s what you are NOT being told:

The new bill will result in

  • An impossibly long, expensive and more precarious-than-ever-before legalization process for those who qualify.

  • Those granted the new “Z” nonimmigrant visa becoming deportable if they fail to maintain continuous full-time employment or school attendance until able to adjust to lawful permanent residence status, a period that would continue for 13 to 18 years for some applicants.

  • Legalized immigrants having no ability during this extended period to petition for their spouses and minor children who live abroad.

  • Requirements to adjust to permanent residence for the Z non-immigrants that would include a mandatory departure and return by the head of household, not just across the border, but generally to the immigrant’s country of origin.

  • In a final stage of the legalization process where adjustment to lawful permanent residence status cannot be completed until the current immigration backlog has cleared, and certain difficult-to-achieve immigration enforcement “triggers” have been met.

  • Sharp cuts in family immigration, a change that would undermine our country’s shared belief in family values.

  • A drastic dismantling of our longstanding system of legal immigration and its replacement with an untested “merit-based” points system that devalues immigrants who are not English-proficient or highly educated.

  • A mandatory, poorly designed, electronic employment eligibility verification system with absurd implementation timelines calibrated to guarantee that the system will be implemented whether or not the necessary improvements are made to ensure its accuracy.

  • Wholesale sharing of personal information between government agencies that would undo confidentiality provisions in the tax code and undermine privacy rights
    Provisions that compromise the due process rights of immigrants, which were originally included in last year’s infamous Sensenbrenner legislation (HR 4437) and later incorporated into last year’s Senate-passed bill.

  • Increased militarization of the border without sufficient civil and human rights protections for migrants and members of border communities.

  • A provision that requires immigrants who have worked and paid into the Social Security system for years to forfeit all of the contributions they made before obtaining a newly issued Social Security number.

  • Undue restrictions on the ability of courts to review Dept. of Homeland Security decisions in individual legalization cases and in the agency’s implementation of the legalization program.

(Source: National Immigration Law Center www.nilc.org)

Families Don’t Matter

It’s Washington insiders and corporate America that are pushing the bill, where families don’t matter. The newly introduced education- and skill-based point system is bound to create deep divisions in the immigrant community — both at familial and societal levels.

Basically what our politicians and business owners are saying is, if you’re rich or educated, you’re welcome; if you’re poor or lack high skills, get out — it doesn’t matter if the rest of your family is U.S. citizens. You’re not supposed to be a part of the American Dream.

What does it mean? A permanent resident or even a citizen family of an immigrant husband and wife, with or without children, can’t sponsor their parents lacking in English proficiency, or apply for a Green Card for their brothers and sisters who don’t have enough education or job skills. The post-September-11 era-created Department of Homeland Security that took over the erstwhile Immigration and Naturalization Service would not allow in the “potential burden” immigrants such as these parents or siblings.

The bill, touted as a “grand bargain” by the Washington, D.C.-based political establishment, eliminates most options for family sponsorships and replaces them with a visitor visa program. According to some South Asian media reports, residents will lose the ability to sponsor parents and children who are 18 years or older. One of the grassroots groups said, “How can other American families stand by while children lose their grandparents, and parents are cut off from their own children? While we build the economy for families in this country, we could be completely cut off from our own.”

Under the new plan, out-of-status immigrants present in the U.S. could initially seek a probationary status while border security measures and a high-tech, worker identification program are put in place. Qualified applicants could then seek a renewable visa. After paying huge fees and fines, and waiting for at least eight to thirteen years, they could finally get on track for a Green Card — although heads of households would first have to return to their home countries. Don’t ask who fends for the family in U.S. when the breadwinner is on a long “vacation.”

The New Slavery

The temporary, “guest workers” would have no chance for permanency — they’ll be allowed in for three installments of two years each, with a mandatory gap of a year in between their stays. After all, these disposable people, who line up daily at street corners — in heat, rain or snow — will be needed to pick apples, grapes and strawberries at pesticide-laden farms, landscape on injury-prone sites, will be put to use on night shifts at corporate chain stores to mop up, employed as round-the-clock slave-maids or nannies whose passports would be confiscated not by Homeland Security but by their employers (who often speak the same language and practice the same religion), or worked in the back of plush Indian, Italian, Chinese, Caribbean or Spanish restaurants to do dishes. Meatpacking industries will need them too.

The entire process is inhumane, unrealistic, cumbersome, and puts severe onus on the immigrant worker and families. Irony is, the measure is being proposed by politicians who do election-year, wide-smile photo-ops on family values.

Human Rights for All

Is this what U.S. stands for? America had a civil rights movement decades ago that precisely talked about such discrimination, abuse, pain and suffering. The glorious struggle of black Americans also whipped up zealots’ angry reactions. History repeats itself.

The fact is, the immigration landscape of U.S. has changed over the past fifteen or so years, and South Asian, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Filipino, Haitian or the large number of Hispanic newcomers are suffering miserably. The million-strong street marches and demonstrations all across the U.S. are nothing but a reborn, immigrant civil rights movement that demands humanity.

Are we ready to embrace this politically opportunistic, deeply flawed legislation the Bush administration and media are touting as comprehensive immigration reform? America needs its working-class immigrants and their back-breaking labor to keep its economic machine running. To return the favor, America must give the workers and families their due rights, respect and dignity.

The civil rights movement in the sixties under the leadership of the Rev. Martin Luther King called for emancipation from the shackles of poverty and despair. The new leadership of today’s immigrant rights movement is repeating the call. It’s time we embrace the new rights and justice movement.

Democracy in India: What is to be Done?
Ministers and activists rubbed shoulders with academics at a very special conclave at a two-day seminar hosted by the Center for South Asia Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. A Siliconeer report.

(Top): Union Minister for Panchayati Raj Mani Shankar Aiyar flanked by veteran journalist Chandan Mitra (l) and Foundation for Democratic Reforms in India member Venktesh Shukla. (Bottom, left): UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau welcoming attendees as Center for South Asia Studies chair Raka Ray looks on. (Bottom, right): San Francisco Consul General of India B.S. Prakash speaking at a two-day seminar on India in Berkeley.

In terms of the participants alone, the seminar on Indian democracy in Berkeley in May was something to write home about. It’s hard to think of any seminar outside India —even in India, for that matter — which has brought together so many distinguished people together.

Two Union ministers, a state minister, a former chief minister, some of the better known citizen activists of India, and a host of academics weighed in at the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley at a two-day seminar on local governance and empowerment jointly hosted by the University of California’s Center for South Asia Studies and the U.S. nonprofit Foundation for Democratic Reforms in India.

“India is unique in history in having a sustained democracy in a poor country with a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society,” the seminar’s organizers said in a statement.

”Today, its economic strength is also widely recognized and celebrated. The role democratic processes play in the sustenance and diffusion of this economic strength into the wider reaches of Indian society is a central question that must be engaged. In order to create an environment in which such crucial questions can be discussed and alternative solutions offered by politicians, policy makers, thought leaders, NGO activists, and scholars, the Center for South Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, together with the Foundation for Democratic Reforms in India, are launching a high-level annual seminar series hosted on the Berkeley campus.”

Two days of intense discussion included Indian federal Urban Affairs Minister Jaipal Reddy, Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh. Activists included Arvind Kejriwal and Jayaprakash Narayan. Infosys incoming CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan was chimed in.

A slew of academics — this was, after all, an academic seminar — joined in, many of whom have a worldwide reputation.

The whole seminar was open to the public, a nice touch.

Two days of presentations brought forth passionate discussion, scholarly assessments, and some debate, which clearly brought out the reality of India’s stark contrasts. The rather clichéd description of India as the land of the missile and the bullock cart, it turns out, is not too wide of the mark even today.

Notwithstanding its blistering economic growth and admirable record of democracy, its role in delivering public services remains appalling and the accountability of public officials is minimal.

Almost as interesting and intriguing as the seminar itself is one of its organizers, The Foundation for Democratic Reforms in India. Many of its key members are products of Silicon Valley whose entrepreneurial success has led them on to broader socio-economic goals.

FDRI was formed in 1998 “to promote electoral, democratic and governance reforms in India,” according to an announcement of FDRI itself. “If India is to emerge as a prosperous country where all its citizens have the opportunity to develop their full potential, FDRI believes that such reforms are essential.”

FDRI certainly has its work cut out. Indians tend to bristle at being offered nostrums from abroad — many Indian activists take a particularly dim view of expatriates pontificating while they fight on in the trenches back home.

From appearances, though, it seems like FDRI activists have mastered the humility and grace to make a go of it — they seem to be in touch with many activists and the grassroots representation in this seminar was impressive.

Policymaking can be an unwieldy beast, and it is unrealistic to expect anything earthshaking to come out of a single seminar. What this conference did was set off a sober, substantive discussion on local governance — although some of the academic stuff was admittedly pretty heavy going for all but the most committed policy wonks.

Whether it will lead to something more enduring remains to be seen.

There’ll be another seminar next year, but will anything more substantive come out? It’s a bit early to tell, but organizers should guard against this effort ending up being all talk and no action.


NEWS DIARY: May 2007 Roundup
Fourteen Seniors Named 2007 Presidential Scholars | HP Labs Chief | Rajasthan Riots | Nepal Poll

Fourteen Seniors Named 2007 Presidential Scholars

At least 14 Indian American high school seniors are among 141 outstanding high school seniors selected as the 2007 Presidential Scholars, the highest annual honor for U.S. graduating high school students.

The Indian American 2007 presidential scholars are: Prateek S. Bhide, Westview High School, Beaverton, Ore.; Pranoti Hiremath, James A. Garfield High School, Seattle, Wash.; Chetan Narain, Madison High School, Madison, N.J.; Neil S. Nayak, Charter School of Wilmington, Hockessin, Del., Shaan B. Patel, Clark High School, Las Vegas, Nevada,; Shalin S. Patel, L.V. Hightower High School, Sugar Land, Texas; Subha Perni, Detroit Country Day School, West Bloomfield, Mich.; Vivek R. Sant, Andover High School, Andover, Mass.; Jay K. Shah, Natrona County High School, Casper, Wyo.; Reema B. Shah, John P. Stevens High School, Edison, N.J.; Umang J. Shukla, Farragut High School, Knoxville, Tenn.; Miel Sundararajan, Penn High School, Granger, Ind.; Arnav Tripathy, East Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Mahesh K. Vidula, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Naperville, Ill.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings May 2 announced the selection of the students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, artistic excellence, leadership, citizenship, service, and contribution to school and community, said a press release from the U.S. Department of Education. Presidential scholars will be honored for their accomplishments in Washington D.C., from June 23-27.
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HP Labs Chief

(Right): Prith Banerjee

Computer giant Hewlett Packard has named Prith Banerjee, dean of the college of engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as senior vice president, research, and director of HP Labs, effective Aug. 1.

Banerjee will report to Shane Robison, executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer. “Prith’s energy, vision and combination of high achievement in scientific, academic and entrepreneurial settings make him an outstanding choice to lead HP Labs,” said Robison. “Technology is at the core of HP, and Prith’s mandate is to ensure that HP Labs continues to be one of the world’s leading research organizations.”

Banerjee, 46, has a 23-year record as a research scientist, professor and administrator. He has served since 2004 as UIC Distinguished Professor and dean of the engineering college, where he leads more than 100 faculty in six departments and eight research centers. 

Previously, Banerjee was the Walter P. Murphy Professor and chairman of electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern University. Prior to that, he was the founding director of the computational science and engineering program and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“It’s a great privilege for me to become director of HP Labs, with its strong reputation for transferring technologies from the lab into the hands of its customers, said Banerjee. “I’m looking forward to joining a world-class research organization focused on creating exciting new opportunities for HP.”
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Rajasthan Riots

The army has been deployed in India's Rajasthan state after 14 people were killed in violent clashes over the government's affirmative action plans.

Police fired on protesters from the nomadic Gujjar tribe who had blocked a key highway near Delhi. At least two of those killed are believed to be policemen.

The Gujjars are demanding that they be included in an affirmative action quota which would give them access to government jobs and other benefits.

Villagers in Peepalikheda, where some of the clashes took place, are still refusing to release the bodies of six people said to have died in the firing, and are demanding a meeting with government officials.

Soldiers have been deployed to maintain order in Dausa district and the town of Bundi, where some of the worst violence has taken place.

The police are stopping vehicles on the key national highway near Bharatpur, fearing fresh trouble on the route.

The state administration held an emergency meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the problem.

"Those who break the law will not be tolerated.. The Gujjar-dominated protest in these areas is taking the shape of an organized movement," Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia told reporters.

Police said they opened fire after tens of thousands of Gujjar protesters turned violent. Protesters said police shot at unarmed crowds.
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Nepal Poll

Elections to a constituent assembly to shape Nepal's future will take place in November, the ruling coalition says.

The seven parties and former Maoists had earlier agreed to hold the vote in June, but the election commission said it needed more time to organize it.

The assembly will decide the future of the monarchy and political system. The date of the vote has yet to be fixed.

The elections are part of a peace deal signed last year with the Maoists whose 10-year rebellion claimed 13,000 lives.

"We have agreed to hold the constituent assembly elections by the end of November and the eight party leaders have given the responsibility to the government to fix the date," Ramchandra Poudel, Nepal's minister for peace and reconstruction, told the AFP news agency.

He said the country's parliament, formed in January, would need to amend the interim constitution in the next two weeks.

"We have also agreed to amend the interim constitution and formulate the necessary election laws by mid-June," he said.
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A Helping Hand: Sahara Care
Sahara India Pariwar, a $10.8 billion Indian conglomerate, has launched Sahara Care House — a single window service platform for Indian Americans offering family-like support and care to their families in India, CEO Romi Datta told Siliconeer in an exclusive interview.

Sahara Care House CEO Romi Datta

Siliconeer: Talk a little bit about Sahara Care House and what it offers. It appears to be a unique, ambitious program that seems to offer something special to expatriate Indians.

Romi Datta: What we are doing is for all the NRIs living in 70 countries, who total about 26 million, they all have a need in India. The guys who have been here for the last 20 years, maybe have property in India, maybe have some relatives. People who have come two years back, five years back, they have their parents there and their sisters and brothers there.

So there is a connect to India, for different kinds of needs which the NRI community needs. Like if someone was living here for 20 years, he might have a property there that he might want to sell off , or which he might want to rent out. So many jobs can be looked at to be done in India.

So we came up with on single access for all the NRIs of the world to look at India for anything they need. The needs may be emotional needs, taking care of their parents, taking them to the hospital, taking them for a pilgrimage, getting them rations, paying their bills, to buying a property for you, giving you information on investment, getting a security agency to man your house — I mean, you can just think of a service or product which you would require in 197 cities of the country and there you have Sahara Care House.

You have an interesting concept called “relationship ambassador.” Apparently you are going to have 3,500 of them to serve the needs of your clients. What’s a relationship ambassador?

When I say that you can take our services through our Web site, what we do is we have got 3,500 people who are our Care House employees who are deployed in 249 offices through 197 cities.

So whenever you ask for an order or a service, the last mile is being delivered by these people.

Once a person becomes a member with us by paying $1,000 as an advance against the services which he will take over the next 12 months, we assign one relationship ambassador to his parents’ house.

So when you become a member you actually tell us about three dependents of yours in India. And those three dependents in India, they are mapped up by one person from the office who becomes like the key account executive, what we call a “relationship ambassador” because, here we are dealing with somebody’s parents.

If you want your parents to be taken down for a pilgrimage and you want this person to go along with them throughout the journey and bring them back, he will do that.

It’s almost like having a younger brother there, right?

Well, I would love to say that, but our feeling is like that, though we can’t replace true blood relations. The emotions of being your representative in your homeland with your parents is something that we are looking at. That is why we have called them relationship ambassadors. It means they are going to maintain the relations of Sahara Care House with your parents while you are away in the United States.

There is certainly anxiety among affluent expatriates who are successful here, but worry about the well-being of their parents. Will Sahara Care Home fulfill their need?

Absolutely. This is a need which we also realize. We did a lot of research on the needs of the NRIs through the United States, United Kingdom and Gulf countries.

That is how we created the whole concept, and got these 3,500 people to fulfill these jobs so that we actually could do what you are asking me for.

India is a very cosmopolitan nation. You might have, let’s say, a Bengali in Hyderabad. Would you able to get him or her a relationship ambassador in Hyderabad who speaks Bengali?

Oh, absolutely. The boys are all from the local domicile. We are present in 197 cities in the country.

How did you go from concept to reality? Did you train these 3,500 relationship ambassadors?

We trained them over a period of three days in Lucknow through a training program called sakhsham (Sanskrit for self reliant).

How the concept evolved? Actually, two years back our chairman Subroto Roy Sahara was here in the United States, and over a couple of dinners and social gatherings, a lot of NRIs from different walks of life met him. They got to know what Sahara India Parivar was, a company which is there for three decades in the country, which is serving one out of every 17 Indians, and is a $10.4 billion conglomerate, employs 910,000 people, has about 1707 offices.

They told Mr. Roy that we have so many things to be done in India. We ask our friends for favors. And sometimes we can’t even be sure that the job which we asked them for will be delivered in the right way. And we can’t even complain, because we are asking for a favor. And if we look at some other small companies to do that for us, we don’t even know if the guy will run away with what you asked them to do.

That was the basic idea which was germinated in the mind of Mr. Roy. When he was on the flight back to India, he actually sketched out a brief outline of how this could be an opportunity of a great visit and a great service to all you guys who are out of the country and doing so well.

The whole management team sat on it. We did a lot of research to understand the basic nuances of an Indian American, or Indian British or Indian Singaporean to see what they needed into this country and where they were from, and that’s how the whole concept got into reality.

SAHARA CARE: How it Works

Sahara Care House is a single window service platform for Indians residing in the U.S., enabling one point, easy access for over 60 support and care services for themselves and their families/ friends in India.

This comprehensive offering encompasses healthcare, utility, personalized and relationship services, provided by 3,500 Relationship Ambassadors, enabling family-like support and care to the families of NRI’s in India, Sahara Care House says.

The services, provided through 249 Sahara Care House centers across 197 Indian cities, can be accessed 24 hours a day and 365 days a year by calling 1-866-813-1542 or logging on to www.saharacarehouse.com

An individual can either transact as a guest, by simply registering for free, transacting and logging out or else he can choose to become a “client” and enjoy various special benefits. Exclusive client benefits include: 24x7 medical emergency facilitation services; free medical insurance — family floater cover of $6,522 for three family members in India; OPD facilities of $109/ person up to three family members; accidental death coverage for three family members of $2,174 each. Pre-existing diseases are included in the policy, which otherwise are not included in standard Medi-claim policies.

“We recognize the significant role that global Indians play in nation building, and their part in shaping the global perception of India. Through Sahara Care House, we would like to share their responsibilities by offering a comprehensive range of support and care services,” said Subrata Roy “Sahara,” managing worker and chairman of Sahara India Pariwar. “Sahara Care House hopes to nurture the family bonds that form so great a part of the Indian culture and tradition.”


Pakistani Rock: Ali Azmat Performs in the Bay Area
The mercurial Ali Azmat, a former member of ‘Junoon’, shook up the Bay Area with an electric live show, writes Ras Hafiz Siddiqui.

(Above): Ali Azmat (c) performing at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif. [Asim Goheer photo]

Ali Azmat, the mercurial Junoon Group Member and now solo entertainer who is amongst the biggest acts in Pakistani rock music today, brought his phenomenal vocal and stage skills to the Chabot College Performing Arts Center in Hayward , Calif., May 20. This event was brought to us by CNY DESI (www.cnydesi.com), a top notch entertainment company which continues to bring great music and entertainment to the South Asian diaspora here in the United States .

And from the perspective of this old fan of the group Junoon (Passion) which once brought together three talented musicians (Ali Azmat, Salman Ahmad and Brian O’Connell) to our delight for approximately 15 years, one can add here that the lights, sound and unique attempt to cater to young fans commonly known as Junoonis at this event was head and shoulders above what has previously been seen in this area. Kudos to CNY DESI for incorporating rare American showbiz professionalism into a desi show here.

Local nightingale Anisha Bakshi opened the event assisted by Noor, Asim, Maneshwar and new member (whatever happened to Legend and Sawaaz?). Anisha started off with a tribute to the late Nazia Hassan along with her take on a popular Fuzon song and a high energy Punjabi number. Anisha deserves credit for not only promoting inter-community harmony here in northern California but also for taking the time to learn Pakistani songs of the masters including Noor Jehan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This writer also hopes that she will soon include Mohtarma Iqbal Bano’s “Hum Dekhe Ge” to her bouquet of Urdu songs.

Ali Azmat brings a great deal to the stage wherever he performs. This evening was no exception as Ali showed his mastery of vocals, guitar playing and crowd motivation (“Don’t be boring ……”). He shared the stage with his group which this time included Omran Shafique, a regular member of the band “Mauj”. Omran’s resemblance to Salman Ahmad was not overlooked, but alas Junoon is no more (isn’t it?).

Ali’s has always been a fringe-experimental act. His last album “Social Circus” cleaved Pakistani society in various unique ways and exposed troublesome thoughts. Controversy and Ali Azmat are no strangers. The “bad boy” of Pakistani rock music has matured and polished his act but he still remains unpredictable. The long hair is gone and “no hair’ is in.
When Ali the entertainer takes over the stage, the crowd certainly moves with him.

Starting off with “Deewana” (Crazy Person), Ali journeyed through a limited amount of Junoon’s old material (which many of us still came to hear). Junoon’s “Mera Mahi” was delightful as the sunken dance floor up front quickly filled up with youngsters. We older folks were very happy about this sunken front floor idea, because historically our main problem with young “Junooni” fans had been that they usually mobbed the stage and blocked our view early during each of Junoon’s performances. Ali said that his new album will be coming out soon and it will not be called Kalashnikov (the Russian Assault rifle) but Clash & Folk (or some variation of this name). And with that he sang an English song titled “Tell Me…”

Ali Azmat is no ordinary Lahori (if there is such a thing as and ordinary Lahori!). English, Urdu or Punjabi, he is right at home singing in any of these languages. When he stepped back into Junoon’s Urdu “Dosti” (Friendship) from his English song we were not disappointed, and his transition appeared to be effortless, especially when he included a tribute to Bob Marley into the song. Another number from his “Social Circus” followed along with an old Junoon ballad and an English song. “Sajna” really moved the crowd into a Junooni frenzy followed by a slow “Tu Bata”(You tell Me) “Mere Khuda” (My God) along with a new Punjabi number and a nice English song (“Take it Away”?).

The crowd response was at its peak during Junoon’s “Sayonee” and “Garaj Baras” but it appears that Ali Azmat made it a point to end with “Na Re Na,” a huge hit from his “Social Circus” CD and not the customary “Jazba Junoon” which is a favorite.

It would not be fair to Ali Azmat and Salman Ahmad if we fans continued to force them into the Junoon mold, but it is certainly difficult for us fans to ignore what was South Asia ’s biggest rock band. But musicians need room to grow on their own and groups do split up. Both Ali and Salman have made it a point to try and re-invent themselves. Salman is probably the only Pakistani origin entertainer today who has had some success in marketing his Sufi-Rock combo in the United States . His support for humanitarian causes has not gone unnoticed either. And Ali is growing as a solo act too and may yet become an international star. It just may be possible that these talented two just had to look beyond the Pakistani/desi music market because there was little left to accomplish in that limited arena.

As we close this report here commending both Ali Azmat and CNY DESI for a great show that many should feel sorry that they missed, this sentimental old fan would like to add that even though Omran Shafique is fantastic, had Salman Ahmad been in his place at this particular event, our evening would have been perfect. Sorry Ali, but this is once again coming from a sentimental old Junooni.


The New Face of Entrepreneurs: TiECon 2007
Now in its 14th year, the world’s largest convention for entrepreneurs had a record-breaking attendance of over 3,500 people who showed up to listen to the likes of EBay CEO Meg Whitman, Salesforce.com chief Mark Benioff, and 13-year-old entrepreneur Anshul Shamar. A Siliconeer report.

(Above, l): Attendees take a break for coffee at TiECon 2007, where eBay CEO Meg Whitman (r) gave a keynote speech.

TiEcon 2007, a two-day convention of entrepreneurs May 18-19, continued a tradition where the convention has become a proud byword for the respect commanded by The Indus Entrepreneurs, the host organization founded by South Asian entrepreneurs. Every year, TiE can pretty much ask any U.S. entrepreneur to deliver a speech, and this year was no exception.

This year was no exception. A veritable parade of top U.S. entrepreneurs was on hand:

Meg Whitman, president & CEO, eBay Inc.; Marc Benioff, chairman & CEO, Salesforce.com; Alex Welch, co-founder and chief executive of Photobucket.com, a popular photo-sharing Web site that MySpace.com is said to have signed a preliminary deal to buy; Ashwin Navin, co-founder and president of BitTorrent; Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems who has moved on to the venture capital world with Khosla Ventures; Curtis Carlson, chief executive of SRI International; and Nobuyuki Idei, chief corporate adviser at Sony and former chairman and CEO of the company.

And don’t forget 13-year-old budding entrepreneur Anshul Samar, CEO of Elementeo, who stole the show.

“The face of business is dramatically changing as baby boomers, the Generation Y, mid-career women, mompreneurs, and new business leaders are coming together to create the most diverse and innovative pool of entrepreneurs,” according to TiE organizers. “Entrepreneurs of today have broken age, language, geography, and money barriers. Clearly, the recent start-ups represent the emergence of a new face of entrepreneurship.”

The newest face at TiEcon belonged to Samar, founder & CEO of Elementeo. Samar attended TiEcon with the goal of finding investors for his chemistry card game, which he would like to see reach $1 million in profits by the time he graduates Middle School.

The “Entrepreneurs Bazaar” provided attendees with an opportunity to schedule quality one-on-one meetings with industry experts from venture capital, legal, finance, and other firms. The format provided attendees with an opportunity to receive feedback and critique for their ideas, which will enable them to take their plans to the next level. In its second year, the event drew an overflow crowd of over 260 budding entrepreneurs who were well matched with over 40 VCs and other service providers.

“TiEcon is emerging as a fertile ground on a global scale. The high intensity meetings which took place at Entrepreneurs Bazaar demonstrate not only the power of entrepreneurship at its best but also the contribution that we at TiE could make to change the course of the future,” said Ajay Chopra, chair of the Entrepreneurs Bazaar program and partner at Trinity Ventures.

New this year, TiEcon LIVE! provided attendees, and those unable to attend, with an opportunity to listen to key messages from the Keynote and Distinguished speakers. Short speaker interviews were recorded and posted on YouTube within a couple of hours of their speech. In addition to the short interviews, the conference proceedings are recorded and available for purchase via the TiEcon website.

TiEcon organizers said a new breed of entrepreneurs is changing the world.

“These new-age entrepreneurs are launching new businesses on new platforms to serve global markets. They are reaching across industries and communities. They are going above and beyond human imagination — empowering consumers, engaging societies, and breaking political and geographical boundaries. The move by companies to create high-value through global presence, the demand for start-ups that fit personal lifestyles, and the need for the best and diverse talent — are only likely to accelerate in the coming years.”

TiE Silicon Valley president Raj Jaswa said successful entrepreneurs realized that giving back to the community was a profoundly rewarding experience.

“I recall an old saying — What you give is what you keep and what you keep is what you lose. TiE is one such amazing change agent that is built on the foundation of giving back and fostering new entrepreneurs and innovation,” said Jaswa. “In addition TiEcon, TiE Silicon Valley holds numerous events including the TiE SIG series, and more throughout the year.”

The IndUS Entrepreneur was founded in 1992 in Santa Clara, Calif. Today, TiE has 12,000 members in 45 chapters across 10 countries.

Going to College: CSU Bakersfield
Over 1,000 students and parents from the Bakersfield area, representing a diverse array of ethnic groups, were on campus at Cal State University Bakersfield to find out about college education at the “Know How 2 Go College” tour for families, writes New America Media’s Mark Schurmann.

(Top, left): Parents and students enjoy the sun at the Know How 2 Go college awareness event. (Top, right): Esther Manzano, publisher of El Mexicalo a bilingual paper in Bakersfield, Calif., has encouraged her children and grandchildren to attend educational events for years.
(Bottom, left): Katie Tremper, project director for CalSoap in the South San Joaquin Valley. Cal Soap organized outreach to elementary and middle schools through out the Bakersfield area.

College — the magic word that recently convinced hundreds of elementary and middle school students from the South San Joaquin Valley to forgo their Saturday morning routines.

Over 1,000 students and parents from Bakersfield and outlying towns crowded onto the campus at CSU Bakersfield on a recent Saturday morning for the “Know How 2 Go College” tour for families.

Organized by the Campaign for College Opportunity in cooperation with Cal-SOAP Bakersfield, educators and various community groups from the San Joaquin Valley, the event is one of many planned for the region.

“How many of you want to go to college when you grow up?” asked event organizer Jessie Ryan at an opening rally held in the campus gym. Every hand raised, students answered with a unanimous “me!”

Ryan estimated the day’s crowd to be 90 percent Latino and African American. “This was the most diverse event that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ryan, a veteran organizer and central valley regional director for the Campaign for College Opportunity.

That may be a reassuring sign. Statistics show that college going rates in the south San Joaquin Valley are the lowest in the state — only half of what they are state-wide — with Latinos and African Americans showing the lowest percentages in college attendance.

Many of the parents and caretakers who attended cited motivation and poverty as the biggest obstacles for getting their children into college. Roxanne Lee, of Bakersfield, came with her son, Demus Jerome Stuckey-Lee. “Finding the money is definitely the biggest problem,” said Lee. “It is out there but where can we find it?”

Parents also noted that gangs in the central valley had become a dangerous distraction from school.

Maria Deleon, of Delano (32 miles north of Bakersfield), brought her three granddaughters to the event. Having lost both parents, Deleon has become the primary caregiver for her grandchildren. “Before his death, they’re father was involved in gangs,” said Deleon. “I don’t want the same thing to happen to them. That’s why I have been talking to them about college for years.”

“The influence of poverty and gangs is a big problem,” agreed Esther Manzano, owner and publisher of El Mexicalo, a Spanish/English weekly newspaper in Bakersfield.

Manzano attended the event with two of her grandchildren and brought her neighbor’s two children as well. “I dragged them here whether they wanted to come or not,” said the mother, grandmother and foster mother of 22 children. Manzano says an important factor in getting her charges to attend college has been attending educational events like Know How 2 Go. “It’s the secret of my success,” she said.

For organizers, the event was a call to action to parents, educators, and community groups to reverse low rates of college attendance in the central valley and begin promoting college awareness at a young age. Many of the parents who attended came with children as young as five years old.

“Today was part of a larger effort to bring information, motivation and an understanding of what it takes to get into college to students and parents,” says Horace Mitchell, president of CSU Bakersfield. “Aiming that message at younger students is important because that is when they start thinking concretely about going to college,” noted Dr. Mitchell.

In addition to the rally, separate workshops were organized for both parents and children providing advice, information and financial resources — a virtual road map — on planning early for college.

Workshop facilitator Angie Paquette, with the College Board, stressed the importance of taking the PSAT or Pre Scholastic Aptitude Test as early as possible to prepare for the SAT. “By taking the test as early as the eighth grade, parents and students can learn how questions are formulated and where a students gaps are.” Paquette also encouraged students to participate in Advanced Placement courses and parents to start planning for college and scholarships as early as the sixth or seventh grade.

Workshops also focused on accessing financial aid in the form of loans, grants and scholarships. “There are a lot of financial resources that are left unexplored for so many people,” said Paquette.

At the end of the day, organizers provided free lunch and held a raffle with a $500 scholarship and two free lap-top computers as prizes for participants.

Jessie Cruz, 33, of Bakersfield came with his wife, his 13 year-old son and five-year-old daughter. “I never went to college, I’m doing well now but I had to start from the bottom. My son goes to junior high. I know how hard I had to work and I don’t want that for him.”

He says the biggest difference between his generation and today’s is access to financial support. “That was the big issue in my day. Today kids have that support to go to college but they have to ask themselves, ‘Are we going to?’”

Because of the financial resources available, Cruz says he isn’t worried about financing his son or daughter’s education. “Whatever college they want to go to, in California or out of state, I’ll support them.”

Global Rush: Small Cars in India
From GM to Suzuki to China’s Chery, global auto manufacturers are swarming to get a piece of the action in India’s small car market, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Remember a time when the choice for the Indian auto enthusiast was limited to the doughty old Ambassador, the desi retro version of Fiat and the Suzuki clone of Maruti?
How times change.

Now global automakers are flocking into India like bees to a honey pot, zeroing on in the small car market as a growing part of the population is eyeing to own a car.

A slew of global automakers have announced plans to launch or make small cars in India that accounts for 75 percent of the 1.5 million auto market in the country.

So far Japan’s Suzuki, Korean Hyundai and India’s Tata Motors have dominated the hatchback segment, but now they are going to have a lot of company. The market is going to be really crowded with a host of newcomers.

In the last year and a half General Motors, Fiat, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai have announced Indian investments to the tune of $1.5 billion. Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Toyota and BMW are also looking to move in by setting up manufacturing units.

The top seven or eight automakers are estimated to invest $4 billion, with most of the small cars with engine capacity up to 1.3 liters likely to hit the Indian roads within the next three years.

Tata Motors’ much-anticipated Rs 100,000 people’s car, priced cheaper than some two-wheelers, is likely to open up the competition further when it is launched in 2008.

Japanese automaker Suzuki which has half of India’s car market, is making 800,000 cars a year and ramping up production to build 1 million a year in two years.

The entry of one of China’s biggest automakers, Chery Automobile Company, could hot up the market further. The company has said this week that India is very much in the horizon.

Car companies are looking at young high-income earners seeking an upmarket life style. Also, a quarter of new car purchasers are moving up from scooters.

In the past few weeks Fiat chairman Luca De Meo, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, Honda president and chief executive Masahiro Takedagawa and GM’s chief G. Richard Wagoner have visited India.

Honda Motor Co., Japan’s second biggest largest carmaker, is estimated to invest Rs 10 billion in a new factory in the western state of Rajasthan, with an initial capacity of 60,000 cars per annum. The company is scheduled to start making its first small car model in India in 2009.

“With the proposed plant we plan to foray into the volume segment — the compact car segment,” said Takedagawa.

After a decade of selling big cars in India, last month, Detroit-based General Motors, the world’s biggest automaker, started sales of its first mini car model Chevrolet Spark in India.

Wagoner said the company considers India to be one of its most valuable markets. GM is investing more than $300 million to build a factory in the western state of Maharashtra

“GM has made growth in India a priority. The Spark gives GM an entry in India’s predominant market segment,” Wagoner said.

Renault-Nissan CEO Ghosn spoke about the possibility of launching a small car in India as well as in the U.S. Ghosn said Nissan is looking to introduce a “full-fledged product lineup” from its Chennai plant, including small cars from two different platforms.

Italian auto giant Fiat that has tied up with Tata Motors and is looking to scale up sales with Grande Punto, a premium hatchback car slated for an India launch next year.

“We want to accelerate our entry into key emerging markets. I think India is a market where we could actually get above the 100,000 threshold if the market develops in the right direction,’’ Meo said.

Global giant Toyota, which overtook GM in the first quarter of 2007 to become the world’s top auto seller, is also looking at the compact car for India, with its bigger offers Toyota Corolla and Innova doing quite well.

If they could get their technology and emission standards right, Chery could end up being the spoiler in Tata’s small car launch. Chery’s QQ model will sell in India for around Rs 140,000 with experts predicting that the Tata car will end up settling at the Rs 125,000, range given the rising costs.

“We realize that the Indian small car market is very competitive. But it is also a growing market,’’ Zhang Lin, general manager for international sales, has been quoted recently. “The obvious direction to take is to produce there,” he said.

The Indian government is looking to develop India as a global manufacturing hub and hopes auto sales will jump from last year’s $34 billion to $145 billion in 2016.

The AC Nielsen Company has said that currently nine percent of Indians own a car and that figure could easily touch 25 percent by the end of the decade.

The Indian auto market is forecast to nearly double to two million autos by 2010 and three million by 2015.

Desperate Housewives: Plight of Foreign Wives in Korea
More men in Korea are choosing to marry women from other Asian countries, resulting in some unhappy — even abusive — marriages, writes Aruna Lee.

As incidents of abuse and neglect increase among Korea’s interracial couples living in the countryside, these unions are testing the boundaries of Korean society. “It’s not love, it’s business,” says Nam Nguyen, publisher and editor of the Vietnamese daily Calitoday, referring to the growing trend of Korean men marrying Vietnamese and other Asian women because Korean women, better educated than ever before, are reluctant to marry farmers and fishermen.

In April, Korean media reported about a demonstration in Hong Sung, in southern Korea, by mostly women from South East Asia, China, and the Philippines, demanding the government ban fliers advertising marriages to foreign women. Protesting such slogans as “A Vietnamese daughter-in-law obeys,” or “Fast and successful marriage with Filipino, Cambodian and Vietnamese Women,” the protesters said these ads were insulting, and encouraged the practice of “buying marriage.”

That said, for many foreign women, marriage offers a way out of poverty. As the influence of Korean pop culture spreads across Asia, Korea is fast becoming a desirable destination for many who find little opportunity in their own country. The reality, however, can be far from ideal.

In Korea, these women face language and cultural barriers as well as racial prejudice and domestic abuse. A recent study released by the Office of the President in Korea noted that the majority of these women also live below the poverty line, and receive little or no health care.

The study also pointed out that children of these marriages often struggle with issues of self-esteem and identity, isolated from their peers because of their mixed ethnicity and low socio-economic background.

The rising number of incidents involving domestic abuse of foreign spouses has reached the ears of the government. According to the Department of Women and Families, the number of immigrant family centers has been expanded from 20 to 200 across the country, while over a thousand phone lines have been installed to help women report cases of domestic violence. Yet despite these efforts, the integration of these women into society remains a challenge.

So Yon Kim is a single woman who lives in a small town outside of Seoul. In a telephone interview with New America Media, she said she’d seen numerous cases of abuse and discrimination directed at foreign women. She said the first step in solving the problem is educating the husbands and their families. “Measures need to be taken to stabilize the situation in the homes of these women,” she said.

For some men, marrying a non-Korean woman holds the promise of a submissive housewife completely dependent upon the husband. Their familiarity with the culture and language allows Korean women a greater degree of independence from their husbands, perhaps even a means for leaving an unhappy marriage. For non-Korean women, their inability to speak the language prevents them from seeking work, while their ignorance of local culture further isolates them from society. Ultimately, many are forced to rely upon their husbands for social and financial support.

Why are men in Korea looking for wives outside the country? The reasons for this growing trend are varied. Among them is a reluctance among Korean women to marry into rural families with limited financial means. One individual told reporters that all the Korean women he’d met through a professional matchmaker wanted a man who made above $100,000 dollars annually or owned his own condominium.

Other sources cite shifting attitudes among Korean women, 90 percent of whom see marriage as an option, not an obligation. It is a reflection of a society that is increasingly urban and modern, forcing rural families to reach beyond Korea’s borders for what is unavailable at home.

With a low birth rate, interracial marriage and immigration are becoming necessities for a society that has traditionally defined itself along ethnic lines. But it’s anything but an easy option. Divorces among interracial couples increased from 4,208 to 6,187 since last year, according to a Supreme Court report in Korea.

To be sure, many marriages often turn out successful. Bong Su Seo, 54, is a professional chess player. Several years ago he married a Vietnamese woman 29 years younger than he was, reports The Korea Times. It was Seo’s second marriage after being single for a long time. “I was lonely,” says Seo. “I thank my wife for accepting all the disadvantages of living in this strange country just because of me.”

Bok Yul Chon, 44, is a small business owner. Two years ago, he flew to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to meet his new wife, 22-year-old Anna Jang, an English teacher at a local college. He says that while he considered a Korean wife, for a man over 40 with little savings it was not an option.

Such a wide age gap between husband and wife is common in these marriages, in contrast to marriages between two Koreans, where the age difference is considerably less. Still, some women say that despite the age difference, they remain content in their relationships. Jang, who now has two children, is one of them.

Chun Sik Kim is a professor of Korean language. He has lived in Tashkent for seven years. In an article for the online Korean news site, Naver, he said that more Korean men are marrying Uzbek women who, despite their high education, face both poverty and little opportunity at home.

CaliToday editor Nam Nguyen acknowledges that people have the right to choose whom they marry. However, he says he is concerned with the growing number of reports of Vietnamese women who discover they’ve gotten married to an abusive man several times their age. “The Vietnamese government should enact strict laws to prevent a practice that is tantamount to human trafficking,” Nguyen says.


Book Lover’s Friend
: 10 Years of BookFinder
From a college project, Bookfinder grew into one of the most popular search engine for books in the U.S. Founder Anirvan Chatterjee looks at the lessons learned.

BookFinder.com is an ecommerce search engine for new, used, rare, and out of print books. We just celebrated our tenth anniversary online, running a site that started off as my UC Berkeley class project, which we turned into a resource Entertainment Weekly called “more amazing than even Amazon.com.”

My business partner (and high school buddy) Charlie Hsu and I are both first-time entrepreneurs. When we started, it was really helpful for us to learn from other entrepreneurs about this strange new world we were venturing into. We’ve learned a bit ourselves over the past decade, and are happy to share what the lessons we learned building our own business.

Pick a great vertical, and stick to it. We love books. Passionately. As high-tech bibliophiles, our team spent a lot of time grappling with unique problems inherent in book search to design a better way to find and buy books. We decided not to develop generic product search tools. Focusing on the book search vertical helps us offer the best possible product, serving the various types of book shoppers, a surprisingly diverse group (from deal-hunters to collectors).

Shut up and listen. The used and rare book trade is centuries old, and some sellers and collectors have spent lifetimes in the field. We, on the other hand, started off with relatively little experience with bookselling or book collecting. While developing our product, we were reading up on the trade, lurking on industry mailing lists, and talking to hundreds of sellers and collectors. Our users taught us the subtleties of Long Tail book search. All we had to do was listen.

Figure out how to work with everybody. As an open marketplace, we need to work with the widest possible variety of online booksellers and bookselling platforms. We built our software to exchange data via a wide variety of formats and mechanisms, while allowing for non-ISBN books and various kinds of dirty data and human data entry problems. (We once spent three weeks training our systems to accommodate Italian booksellers’ incredibly poor cataloging practices.) Our tolerant systems enable our huge searchable inventory.

Control your core infrastructure, but don’t reinvent the wheel. With a team as small as ours, it’s crucial to know what work to do in-house, and when to use third parties. Product development, customer service, and marketing are critical, so we keep those in-house for maximum control and flexibility. We rely on third parties for legal services, accounting, and print design, and use hosted online tools for non-critical applications. Our infrastructure is built on open formats and open source platforms.

Communicate. We strive to be as open as possible with users and booksellers. We host the BookFinder Insider, a many-to-many industry discussion list, launched in 1998 and now one of the largest in our sector. For everyone else, we offer the BookFinder.com Journal (our weblog), and we accept feedback via our website. Communication helps us hone our ideas, catch mistakes, and gives our communities a voice in our work.

After Kidney Failure, Then What?
A Doctor’s Advice
Although diabetes and hypertension cause the bulk of kidney failures, studies show that people who take good care of their diabetes and hypertension can delay, and even prevent, the onset of kidney failure, writes Mubasher Rana, M.D.

In my 17 years of treating patients for kidney-related diseases, I often think of one patient of mine whose kidneys failed when she was in her 20s. She had untreated diabetes, which eventually caused her kidneys to stop working.

Your kidneys have the important job of filtering waste products and extra fluids out of your body and flushing them from your body as urine. When your kidneys don’t work properly, wastes build up in your blood and make you sick. When kidneys fail, there are two treatments: dialysis, a treatment that removes toxic substances from blood by means of a machine, or kidney transplant. Most patients with kidney failure go through dialysis treatment, as the wait for a kidney transplant often takes years.

People who go through dialysis face many challenges because it eats up a good chunk of their daily lives. A treatment could last for a couple of hours, and needs to be had three times a week. Many patients complain of tiredness after a treatment.

This lifestyle change can also have a difficult financial effect. However, every dialysis unit should have a social worker and dietician. The social worker can help you manage the paperwork, make a plan for how you will get to and from the clinic and also help you manage the costs of treatment and any medications. The dietician can work with you to create a nutrition plan.

Despite all that, this patient of mine not only came in for her dialysis regularly, she also continued attending school full time. And she took care of her three children. She eventually received a kidney transplant and is now teaching full time.

I am telling you her story because she demonstrated that with determination you could lead a fairly full life after kidney failure. Between 30 and 40 percent of kidney failure is caused by diabetes, and a similarly high percentage is caused by hypertension. But studies show that people who take good care of their diabetes and hypertension can delay, and even prevent, the onset of kidney failure.

Here are some tips on how to do that:
  • Work with your doctor to create a diet plan.
  • Stick to low sodium, low potassium, low sugar and low phosphorous foods.
  • Eat meals at fixed times.
  • Rest when needed.
  • Take your prescribed medications.


Maestros in Action: Zakir Hussain and Shivkumar Sharma
Santoor exponent Shivkumar Sharma and tabla whiz Zakir Hussain performed in April in the San Francisco Bay Area. Both are known for their remarkable and total mastery of their art, honed over decades of dedication. Music lovers were thrilled by their feisty live performance. A photo essay by Ahmed Sharif.


Greenbacks for Going Green: New Delhi Eyes Carbon Credits

New Delhi is strongly promoting the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, noting that Indian companies have already earned almost US $8 million via carbon-credit trading, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

At a time when there is growing international concern about global warming and climate change, the Indian government has made the astute observation that it pays to be green — literally.

Recently, ITC’s Sonar Bangla in Kolkata became the first hotel in the world to obtain Certified Emission Reductions — CERs — issued under the aegis of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention.

These CERs, also known as carbon credits, are issued under the Clean Development Mechanism — CDM — of the Kyoto Protocol.

CDM under the Kyoto Protocol allows richer countries to trade their emission-reduction targets with developing countries by buying carbon credits earned by the latter for projects reducing greenhouse gases emission.

Recently, Tony Beck, coordinator of the Australasia Emission Trading Forum, told a Pacific Economic Cooperation Council conference said that India dominates in the carbon credit race with a tally of 226 CDM projects, followed by Brazil with 99, Mexico on 78, and China on 71.

The global carbon market last year has trebled to $30 billion from $11 billion in 2005, the World Bank’s carbon finance unit has said.

New Delhi is strongly promoting CDM. Recently, India’s Environment and Forestry Ministry has said that Indian companies have already earned almost $8 million via carbon credit trading.

The government estimates that India’s green initiatives could fetch a very healthy $3.5 billion by 2012, with total number of projects under CDM with potential to generate 355 million certified emission reductions (CERs) at a minimal rate of $10 per CER.

Ecosecurities, a pioneer of carbon credit projects that is listed on the London Stock Exchange, set up office in India last year and has estimated that the Indian market is already worth $50 million annually.

According to estimates by RaboBank India Finance Ltd, the carbon credit market was $25 billion last year and it is growing at a tremendous space. There is a demand to reduce 1 billion metric tons of carbon emissions in the world to mitigate threats of global warming.

If India meets one fifth of this requirement, it works out to be 200 million metric tons of carbon emissions reduction, which means that Indian entities can earn over $2.5 billion by the year 2012.

Indian projects range from a biomass plant in Rajasthan to a wind power plant in Karnataka. The Industrial Development Bank of India Ltd has entered into a non-exclusive MoU with Germany-headquartered KfW Bankengruppe to jointly assist domestic companies undertaking CDM projects.

IDBI has also tied up with IFC to help fund Indian companies to lower carbon emissions.
India’s state run oil explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp has registered its first CDM project at the UNFCCC. This is one of the thirteen projects ONGC has developed as potential CDM projects in the first phase.

Recently, chemicals and technical textiles manufacturer SRF announced that it has raised around Rs. 5 billion from the sale of carbon credits in 2007.

However, there is still some way to go.

Indian experts say that foreign companies in the CDM business need to invest in adaptive technology. This should be suitable for local conditions (including, for example, very hot weather and rains) in order that the benefits accrue over a period of time rather than a one time benefit (including CERs) due to a mere replication of what already exists.

Environmental activists, on the other hand, pooh-pooh the entire project as a shell game to help the West procrastinate on painful decisions it needs to make to cut energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions if it is to genuinely address climate change.

Otherwise, it’s all an exercise in futility comparable to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
'Golmaal Pyar Ka' | Community Members attend Garamendi Barbecue | Friends of Pakistan Founder in Sacramento | AIF Gala | World Peace Prayer | Peace Dinner | Mosque Bombing Condemned | Scholarships in India | Heritage Awards

Golmaal Pyar Ka,’ A Comedy About Love

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Manoj Joshi (lying on the floor), Aruna Pandey and Rajpal Yadav in ‘Golmaal Pyar Ka,’ a comedy presented by a visiting Indian troupe at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple recently. Directed by Joshi, the play was also performed in Stockton, Calif., and Los Angeles. [Som Sharma/Digital Ivision photo]

Community Members attend Garamendi Barbecue

(Above): Seen at the barbecue hosted by Lieut. Gov. John Garamendi (l-r): Vijay Kumar, S. Dhoot, Inderjit Kallirai, Raman Dutt and Sonny Dhaliwal.

Indo-American Cultural Heritage members together with Raman Dutt, vice president of the Punjab Pradesh Youth Congress and other members of the Indian American community attended Lt. Governor John Garamendi’s annual barbecue May 19, according to a press release from IACH.

The 30th Annual BBQ event was the first for John Garamendi as lieutenant governor of California, with attendees representative of California’s demographics. Garamendi welcomed all attendees personally at the gate to his Touch the Earth Ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

IAHC Inderjit Kallirai, Vijay Kumar, Mahavir Kallirai and Jasvir Kallirai attended this event along with Dutt. Also in attendance were Sonny Dhaliwal, Jeff Singh and Prem Dhoot.

Dutt exchanged views with various NRIs in attendance on current affairs in both India and in the U.S. Many attendees highlighted the need to improve services at Amritsar Raja Sansi International Airport. Dutt confirmed his resolve to push for improvement in services at India’s airports.

Garamendi’s address to the attendees covered his first few months in office and touched on the need for conservation. He also talked about developments in the campaign to conserve energy and ensure a greener environment.

Friends of Pakistan Founder in Sacramento

(Right): A performer at the Friends for Pakistan event at Sacramento, Calif.

Friends of Pakistan founder Sarfaraz Khan recently attended a gathering in Sacramento to open a local chapter, according to a press release. Khan said that in the absence of a vibrant organization at the grassroots level, average Pakistani-Americans often found themselves helplessly perched. They could not air their views on subjects that directly impacted their lives or overcome vexing problems.

Los Angeles-based Friends of Pakistan serves the voice of the Pakistani Community, he said. It is also a bridge between Pakistanis and various groups, it cements closer ethnic ties, strengthen bonds and makes Pakistanis useful members of American society, he added.

Shahab Siddiqui, who conducted the event, highlighted the need of a group effort to solve community problems. After 9/11, the community is facing several hurdles and discrimination is widespread, and unless it is united, the community cannot overcome these problems, he said.

FOP Sacramento chapter president Malik Younas Awan thanked everyone present for participating in the function.

In his speech, Sarfaraz Khan said that he is not affiliated with any political party or any government, he is doing all this work for the betterment of the community. “I owe to Pakistan and I owe to my community,” said Khan. He added that every Pakistani residing in this country owes to Pakistan as Pakistan used its resources to educate them.

Dinner was followed by musical entertainment.

AIF Gala

The American India Foundation set a new record by raising $3 million on a single evening from its May 11 Awards Gala in New York City, according to an AIF press release. “Proceeds will benefit AIF’s three pillars of development work in India: education, livelihood, and public health,” the release added.

To date, AIF has raised around $40 million for India’s non-profit organizations.

“We are very proud to see that AIF’s work resonates in the hearts and minds of the Indian diaspora and supporters of India in the corporate sector throughout the United States. AIF’s agenda is not finished. Our mission to speed development in India is not over. AIF has the power to create a common platform for philanthropic giving among Indian Americans. We will not stop until we bring about greater change in the areas of education, livelihood, and public health,” said AIF executive director Pradeep Kashyap.

“AIF is using the leverage of its grants to move state governments in India to invest their resources as well. In the area of education, AIF and its partner Janarth supports nearly 25,000 children—this now has Maharashtra State Government support. The benefits of such government partnerships are clear – they allow more leverage for everyone’s investment, and increase our ability to scale these solutions faster.” Rajat Gupta, co-chair, American India Foundation.

AIF honored Martin Sullivan, President and CEO, American International Group, Inc., and Deepak S. Parekh, Chairman of Housing Development Finance Corporation Ltd., both of whom spoke of their commitment to India and their admiration for the work of AIF.

World Peace Prayer

(Above): Devotees at the World Peace Prayer at the Atlantic Vedic Temple.

A large gathering representing multiple South East Asian Communities (Indians, Nepalese, Guyanese) including ISKCON had gathered early morning April 22 to perform the Samaveda Mahayajnya, or world peace prayer at the Atlantic Vedic Temple, according to a press release from the temple.

“It was a unique congregation, because of the simultaneous 28 Havans (agnihotras) under one roof, compared to normally one havan generally performed at any one time,” said the release. “The essence of agnihotra is a personal sacrifice to cause peace to others in the world. It also raises the health of mind, body and soul.”

With increasing unrest and wars in the world, the Atlanta Vedic Temple tried the powers of a unique Mahayajnya for steering peace, and tranquility in all regions of the world, whether it be a nation, or a community or a school or a family or within one-self, the release added.

The main Yajnya started under the guidance of visiting Acharya Shridhar Premchand from Houston and Atlanta Vedic Temple's Acharya Naresh Vachaspati and Shri Vishnu Arya. The yajnya proceeded simultaneously at all 28 Havan Kunds. The Vedic Hymns started with Dainic Mantras, followed by Samved Mantras. Acharyas explained the meaning of mantras and their connection with the message of peace and unity.

The Mahayajnya ended with Shantee Path, Aartee followed by Bhoj (lunch).

Peace Dinner

(Above): Bhai Sahiba of Sikh Dharma International Dr. Bibiji Inderjit Kaur (front center) with her daughter Kamaljit Kaur (back left) and Siri Sikdar Sahiba of Sikh Dharma International S. Guru Amrit Kaur Khalsa ((back middle) join with Guatemalan presidential candidate and Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum (bottom left) and her staff at the Peace Dinner. [PHOTO: ARDAS KAUR KHALSA]

At a peace leaders dinner held in Santa Fe, N.M., May 16, Nobel peace-prize laureates Rigoberta Menchu Tum and Jodie Williams and peace activist Arun Gandhi talked about their experience of leadership that inspires peace at an event sponsored by Peace Cereals, 3HO Foundation International, and Sikh Dharma International, according to a press release from Sikh Dharma International.

The event was intended to honor peace leaders attending the two-day New Mexico World Peace Conference Building a Culture of Peace in Santa Fe, N.M.

Colorfully dressed Bhangra performers kicked off the event. A musician singing an original peace song closed it. In between, peace leaders visited with attendees. The program focused on peace leaders sharing “a kernel of wisdom on leadership embodying peace.”

Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum, the first Mayan to run for president in Guatemala, told of losing all of her family in struggles in that country, except for her younger sister who accompanied her. She said that those tragedies of murder, kidnap and torture, have left her a survivor – and it is her time to make a difference.

Nobel laureate Jody Williams confronted the many public officials attending the event, including New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Patricio Serna. She focused on the issue of nuclear disarmament, citing the Los Alamos Manhattan Project which resulted in the creation of the atomic bomb. Williams called on the people and government of New Mexico to disarm Los Alamos and lead the way for peace.

Yogi Bhajan family members attending included daughter Kamaljit Kaur, and addressing the attendees, his widow and Bhai Sahiba of Sikh Dharma International Bibiji Dr. Inderjit Kaur, who recognized conference organizers Marjorie Mann and Louise Diamond and others. Offering the closing prayer, along with a quote from Yogi Bhajan, was Siri Sikdar Sahiba of Sikh Dharma International, S. Guru Amrit Kaur Khalsa, “Peace to all, Love to all, Light to all.”

Mosque Bombing Condemned

The Hindu American Foundation has condemned the recent bombing of the 17th century Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, India in a statement released May 25. The explosion killed 11 people, and injured dozens. At least five more were killed by police in subsequent riots in the city.

Hyderabad is a city of 9 million, 40 percent of whom are Muslim. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. HAF commended the work of the police as they began investigation into what the media are terming an attack carried out by international terrorist networks. This attack, aimed at unsettling the delicate balance of amity between Hindus and Muslims in India, follows last year’s bombing of a mosque in the town of Malegaon in Maharashtra state, which killed at least 37.

"The destruction of places of worship and slaughter in the name of religion is never justified and such actions violate the ancient values of our traditions," said Ishanaa Rambachan, member of the HAF working group. "Attacks that target places of worship arouse fear and suspicion among neighbors, and we are confident that this attempt to instigate division in the religiously plural community of Hyderabad will fail."

The Hindu American Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.

Scholarships in India

Washington-based Sikh Human Development Foundation has awarded 153 scholarships this year to needy students in Punjab and neighboring states in India, according to a press release from the organization. “This is the highest number of need-based scholarships granted in any single year by SHDF to meritorious Sikh and non-Sikh students pursuing professional degree courses,” the release added. “The last year’s record number was 127.”

Starting with 24 scholarships in 2000-01, SHDF has continuously improved upon its previous year’s record. By now it has awarded a total of 580 scholarships of which more than 160 recipients have already graduated. SHDF is now tracking their placement in appropriate jobs, said Gajinder S. Ahuja, SHDF secretary general.

Ahuja said that an analysis of the scholarships for 2006-07 shows that 53 percent of the scholarships went to male and 47 percent to female students. Sixty percent of the scholarship recipients, boys and girls, came from villages and 40 percent from urban centers. The professional split of scholarships was: 44 percent for different branches of engineering and technology, 22 percent for medicine and health, 20 percent in computer sciences and the balance for disciplines like agriculture, aeronautics, business management and journalism. A number of these students are children of widows, terminally sick parents, domestic servants, pensioners and daily wage laborers in urban as well as rural areas.

Founded by a group of Sikh professionals in the Washington metropolitan area in 1999, SHDF is a Sikh organization which is focused exclusively on the grant of scholarships to needy students for higher education in northern India.

Heritage Awards

More than 300 members and friends of San Diego's Asian Pacific Islander community turned out May 22 at a luncheon ceremony to honor achievers in 11 categories and give special recognition to Dr. Michael Inoue, honorary consul general for Japan in San Diego, who has been active in San Diego's Japanese American community for years, according to a press release from the organizers of the event.

The Fourth Annual Asian Heritage Awards, held at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, was hosted by ASIA, The Journal of Culture & Commerce, and title sponsor Prudential Financial.

The ceremony concluded with Dr. Inoue being recognized for his decades-long work building cultural and business bridges among Japanese and Japanese Americans in San Diego, and the cities of San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.

The event for the first time included the category of Youth Leadership, chosen by a panel from Asia Media Inc., publishers of ASIA. The winner, Lucy Yu, also received a $1,000 scholarship fro Phamatech. Rosalynn Carmen and Leonard Novarro, owners of Asia Media Inc., also awarded a $500 scholarship to high school student Tracy Han.

BUSINESS: News in Brief
Industry Leaders Meet at Indo-U.S. Biotech Summit | EVA AIR: Twinkling Star Lights | ELEPHANT: South Asian Marketing | SBA Appointment

Industry Leaders Meet at Indo-U.S. Biotech Summit

Leading biotech industry leaders from the United States and India, investors and policy makers converged to participate in the U.S.-India Biotech Summit in Boston organized by USA-India Chamber of Commerce recently, according to a chamber press release. Over 300 senior executives discussed, among other issues, what needs to be done to double U.S.-India biotech business in the next two years and what can be done to accelerate the cross border investments in the life sciences industry.

The summit was inaugurated by James C. Mullen, chairman of Biotechnology Industry Organization and chief executive officer of Biogen Idec. Mullen stressed that for the industry to flourish, it is important to have research-friendly legal and regulatory climate. “In India , an admirable start has already been made through measures like a well conceived regulatory framework,” he said.

USA-India Chamber of Commerce president Karun Rishi, emphasized the need for a closer interaction between all the stake holders: industry, investors, policy makers and academia.

“To start with, we are releasing U.S.-India Chamber of Commerce-Ernst & Young position paper on the Indian biotech industry. It will be followed up with our recommendations based on the deliberations of this Summit,” Rishi added.

In his keynote address, Dr. M.K. Bhan secretary, Department of Biotechnology, talked about several initiatives by the Indian government like Small Business Innovation Research Initiative, Centers of Excellence to promote innovation and encouragement to biotech clusters, and establishment of biotech parks.

EVA AIR: Twinkling Star Lights

EVA Air's sixth Boeing 777-300ER, delivered at the aircraft manufacturer's Everett, Wash., factory May 10, treats its Premium Laurel and Elite Class passengers to flights with twinkling star lights and mood lighting timed to help regulate body clocks, according to a press release from EVA.

“EVA is the first Taiwan-based carrier to brighten its flights with these innovative LED lighting features in cabin ceilings and windows,” the release added.

Passengers in Premium Laurel Class, EVA's top cabin, can lie flat and gaze up at twinkling constellations, including Orion, Ursa Major, Pegasus, Cygnus, Auriga, Centaurus and more. Mood lighting in the two cabins adjusts to six different levels, starting with sunrise and progressing through midday, sunset, evening, relaxation and night-time. The subtle changes in brightness are designed to help passengers' body clocks adjust to the kinds of time-zone variations experienced on trans-Pacific travel. The new onboard lighting system makes long flights more pleasant and brings the outside sky onboard.

EVA will deploy its sixth new B777-300ER on its Taipei - Los Angeles route, and will fly the majority of its 17 flights from Taipei to Los Angeles with B777-300ERs. The airline is taking delivery of two more of these aircraft later this year and will also place them in service on routes to the United States. EVA flies a total of 36 flights between Asia and the U.S. every week.

ELEPHANT: South Asian Marketing

Elephant Advertising, a subsidiary of CineMaya Media Group, announced May 30 that it has it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Starcom MediaVest Group. This marks the beginning of the last phase of Starcom MediaVest Group’s preparation for what is intended to be the world’s largest diaspora marketing company focusing on South Asians.

“We have been fortunate to have successfully fulfilled the marketing needs of many Indian and American clients, targeting South Asians in the U.S.,” said Elephant Advertising president Nayan Padrai. “Of late, we have seen a steady rise in the interest shown in the ethnic South Asian consumers and believe that there is a large potential in this segment.

“We are happy to partner with Starcom MediaVest Group, a leader and future ready company in its business, and we are full of optimism that we will be able to offer a compelling and unique capability to SMG clients with an eye on the South Asian diaspora.”

Commenting on the alliance, Ravi Kiran, CEO-South Asia and CEO-Specialist Solutions, Asia, Starcom MediaVest Group said, “The estimated 30 million South Asians around the world today represent a beautiful and varied texture of influence and consumption potential. Add to it the fact that more than half a million people from the region continue to migrate overseas every year in search of a different working career and life, and marketers have a dream opportunity to target this segment with their brands of products and services.”

SBA Appointment

Anoop Prakash has been named associate administrator for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development, the agency announced.

Prakash brings a wealth of expertise in business development, having served most recently as vice president of Strategy and Business Development for LexisNexis Special Services, Inc. in Washington, D.C., where he was responsible for strategy, marketing, and alliances for the company.

“Anoop Prakash will be a tremendous asset to SBA as we strive to improve our business development tools and our outreach to entrepreneurs,” said SBA administrator Steven C. Preston. “He has a deep understanding of the issues that are critical to businesses just getting off the ground, such as marketing, forming strategic alliances, and developing growth strategies. We look forward to having him on board.”

OED oversees SBA’s resource partners who provide technical and special assistance to small business owners throughout the country. Programs and services within OED’s network include Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, SCORE, Business Initiatives and the Small Business Training Network. Last year, 1.5 million people received counseling or training through SBA and its resource partners.

TCS Shifts Gears in Latin America | Attrition, High Property Prices to Impact BPOs | INFOSYS: Islamic Bankwagon | VODAFONE: 1B Pounds Investment | ORACLE: Strategic Alliance | IBM: No Fab Unit | IT Exports | Call for H-1B hike

TCS Shifts Gears in Latin America

Latin America is emerging as an important destination for Tata Consultancy Services, the country’s largest software exporter, with over $4 billion in revenues. Recently TCS bought out its Brazilian partner in a 51:49 joint venture. The year before, it did the same in Chile, where it not only bought out its partner in the IT services joint venture but also acquired its BPO firm, Comicrom. Within the next few months, it is expected to announce the inauguration of its Mexico facility, where it currently has about 100 associates.

In the next two-three years, TCS’ Latin American operations will double its headcount to 10,000, making it a centre that will play a strategic role the firm’s own metamorphosis from an Indian IT player to a multinational player with a global presence.

“The importance of Latin America is three-dimensional. It is an offshore centre for U.S. clients, especially for applications that need to be serviced in the same time zone; it can service MNC clients present in Latin America locally; as well as regional companies such as Brazil Telecom and Telefonica,” TCS executive vice-president and global head of sales N. Chandrasekaran told ET.

Back in 2002, realizing the importance of Latin America, TCS set up a delivery centre at Montevideo, Uruguay. However, Uruguay, while offering a lower cost structure, did not have the sufficient manpower needed for scaling up. So, in the same year, TCS entered into two joint ventures — one in Chile and one in Brazil. In both the ventures, it had management control with 51 percent stake and the option to buy out the partner’s stake after three years. Last year, it exercised this option in Chile and this year, in Brazil. In Chile, because of the Spanish language capability the country offered, it also acquired BPO firm, Comicrom. The U.S. has a sizeable Spanish-speaking population.

Attrition, High Property Prices to Impact BPOs

The growth of India's BPO industry is likely to get adversely impacted due to high attrition rate and unprecedented hike in property prices, industry body ASSOCHAM said May 28.

“(With a) high attrition rate of around 40 percent and (an) almost 100 percent hike in property prices in metros, BPO firms might have to satisfy at 25 percent growth rate in the next two-three years as against the projected rate of 35 percent,” the chamber said.

The high attrition rate experienced by 60 percent of BPO units are because of higher salary expectations, a study entitled “Rising property prices and high attrition in outsourcing industry” showed.

Over 80 percent of the respondent BPO companies felt their attrition rates in future will rise even over 40 percent whereas the remaining 20 percent firms were optimistic that it will drop down and should stabilize between 20-25 percent.

“The impact of attrition would be an increase in expenditure of training and development, loss of clientele, failure to attract more business based on high output, inconsistent delivery and loss of productivity, high turnaround time, costly recruitment process which would create a dearth of 300,000 professionals by 2009,” Assocham president Venugopal Dhoot said in the statement.

Following the sealing drive, the property rates in the capital and its suburb have gone up. During the last six months, the rentals have increased by 20-30 percent in Delhi. About 80 percent of the BPO companies believe that the property prices have grown by nearly 100 percent in the last decade.

INFOSYS: Islamic Bankwagon

IT giants like Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and i-flex are now hopping on to the Islamic banking bandwagon by offering new software solutions geared to meet the requirements of this niche banking. The estimated $300 billion assets under Islamic banking offers a huge potential which Indian IT companies are now planning to tap through specially designed software solutions.

Islamic banking is based on the Shariah law which does not permit interest-based transactions. For instance, instead of lending funds to a customer, an Islamic banking product will buy an asset from a seller and sell the asset to the customer at a higher price. This is a profit to the bank, which makes up for interest-free transaction under the Shariah law. The customer is not charged penalty on late payment, since the principal amount can be returned in installments to the bank.

“Conventional IT systems need to be modified to keep track of assets sold or distributing assets in a meaningful manner under Islamic banking,” Vishnu Dusad, CEO, Nucleus Software said. TCS, one of the leading companies in this space has already created a sizeable presence with almost 5 percent of the total portfolio comprising Islamic Banks.

Infosys, too, plans to size up its client portfolio of Islamic banks. “We have already tied up with the Arab National Bank in Saudi Arabia and have advanced prospects with various banks in the Middle-East and south-east Asia,” said Infosys core banking solution Finacle head Merwin Fernandes. “We also plan to make significant investments in this sector this year,” he added.

VODAFONE: 1B Pounds Investment

British giant Vodafone's plans to invest one billion pounds in India this year is nearly one-fifth of its global expenditure, reflecting the importance the world's largest mobile player attaches to expand in the fastest-growing telecom market.

Vodafone, which has equity interests in 25 countries besides India where it bought a controlling stake in Hutchison Essar early this year, said its capital expenditure on fixed assets this fiscal would be around 4.7-5.1 billion pounds.

This includes more than one billion pounds in India, announced by the company's India-born CEO Arun Sarin during his visit to the country earlier this year.

“With market penetration still around 14 percent and a population of over 1.1 billion, India provides a very significant opportunity for future growth,” Sarin said in a statement after announcing the company's FY07 results.

Sarin said gaining control of Hutch-Essar significantly increased its presence in emerging markets and a key priority for the year ahead was to continue expansion of the network and capture the growth opportunity in this market.

The company invested 4.2 billion pounds in capital expenditure in the year-ended March 31, 2007.

Sarin said the company's focus was to build on its strong track record of creating value in emerging markets.

The company also announced that it will sell the first tranche of its stake in Bharti Airtel by March. The company has decided to off-load 5.6 percent of its shares in Bharti Airtel for $1.6 billion.

ORACLE: Strategic Alliance

Satyam Computer and Oracle Asia Pacific have announced a strategic alliance that will help companies in Asia Pacific jump-start business intelligence implementations.

The announcement saw Satyam Computer shares rise 0.84 percent to Rs 472.95.

iDecisions, the company's business intelligence accelerator, will become the first major application to be ported to Oracle's Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition, a notice to the Bombay Stock Exchange said.

The combined solution will be available for multiple verticals, including banking, telecommunications, and insurance.

The company quoted industry reports, saying the Asia Pacific business intelligence platform market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15 percent, based on software revenues from 2006 to 2011, and will reach $ 624 million by 2011.

IBM: No Fab Unit

Ruling out setting up of any fab facility in India, IBM has said that it would be keen to providing the technology know-how to any of the units coming up in the country.

“We will be ready for technology transfer whenever they (fab units) are ready as we are keen on contributing towards the growing ecosystem of the Indian semiconductor industry,” said, Adalio Sanchez, GM of global engineering solutions, STG, IBM.

IBM has been associated with the semiconductor industry for around 30 years and its activity includes manufacturing, design and R&D. The multi-billion dollar IT giant had also recently set up the Semiconductor Research and Development Enablement Centre in Bangalore, which is its sixth globally and the first outside the U.S. and Europe. Sanchez said it would be keen on the transfer of process technology to proposed fab units in India and not any chip design activity.

IBM has also announced a grand alliance with four other major players in the semiconductor industry to work on the latest 32nm bulk CMOS process technology. The other partners include Chartered, Samsung, Infineon and Freescale.

According to IBM, the five companies intend to work together to come out with technology for chips which is high on performance while using lesser power. It is also looking at a common manufacturing platform strategy, whereby the technology can be more easily transferred between partners.

IT Exports

IT exports from Karnataka in FY07 has taken a small hit, a fall of over 6 percent in its growth rate when compared with FY06. IT exports for FY07 stood at Rs 487 billion ($11.87 billion, recording a growth of 29.52 percent when compared with FY06.

For FY06, exports stood at Rs 376 billion, while the growth was much higher at 36 percent over the previous year. The IT state, however, maintained its dominance as far as share of the total national pie is concerned, accounting for 37.46 percent.

The growth has been marginally higher than the tentative estimates of the national growth of IT exports for FY07 at Rs 130,000 crore which is a growth of 28.95 percent, but neighboring states like Tamil Nadu (46.6 percent growth on exports of Rs 20,701 crore) and Andhra Pradesh have put up great performances, even though these are on smaller bases.

According to sources, the reasons for the hit could be saturation, expansion of companies in other cities like Hyderabad, Chennai and NCR, as well as the rupee appreciation.

J. Parthasarathy, director, STPI Bangalore, said that he expects growth in FY08 to be between 28-30 percent. A calculation would then peg software exports for the current fiscal at about Rs 63,000 crore. It is also to be mentioned that Karnataka has projected $20 billion in exports and 10 lakh jobs by 2010.

Hardware exports from the state in FY07 stood at Rs 2,950 crore, a growth of 18.95  percent over Rs 2,480 crore in FY06. Parthasarathy said, “Total investments during the year in the state amounted to Rs 3,000 crore, with about Rs 500 crore going to tier-II cities.”

Call for H-1B hike

The high-tech industry in the U.S. has opposed the immigration bill being debated in the Senate, saying the measure as currently drafted would harm the American technology industry.

The Information Technology Association of America, a lobbying group representing high-tech companies, says the bill won't do enough to compensate for a shortage of skilled workers and will make it more difficult to hire qualified people from overseas.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, ITAA president and CEO Phillip J Bond said America's economy is strong and vibrant, but the country's future competitiveness rests on the ability of firms to recruit globally.

“As you know, the H-1B cap for FY `08 was reached in April, shutting out U.S. employers from recruiting highly skilled foreign nationals who are graduating from U.S. institutions with degrees in computer science, engineering, mathematics and other scientific and technical fields.

“Vacancies go unfilled and highly valued workers are forced to leave the country. Even worse, significant shortages exist in the permanent resident visa (green card) program,” Bond said.

Jeff Lande, a senior vice-president at the ITAA said the industry wants more people to be able to come into the country to fill shortages.

“We also want more green cards because for many companies they want someone to come in here who can innovate for their companies, work for their companies and who can transition to permanent status,” Lande told National Public Radio.

Family Car Gets Even Better: 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
The new Hybrid version makes American’s favorite family car even better, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

What can you say about a Toyota Camry that hasn’t already been said, time and again? About half the population has either owned one or at least driven around in one, as Camrys have been on the market since 1983. The cars ring so many bells for the motoring public that they consistently remain one of the top-selling models.

Well, believe it or not there are new things to say about Toyota’s Camry. The 2007 models have been totally redesigned and now Camry is in its sixth generation. This redesign also provides the motoring public with access to a Hybrid Camry. Now, what more could you want? The terrific gas mileage of a Hybrid, wrapped up in a Camry that continues to offer plenty of room for a growing family, as well as a strong reputation for reliability and affordability.

The Camry Hybrid becomes the third hybrid vehicle in Toyota’s model line-up. The others are the Prius and the Highlander. It features a new version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. This produces a combined 187 horsepower, nearly the same as the Camry’s 2006 3.0-liter V6 engine. The system varies its power between gas and electric, or both, as the situation warrants. Driving a hybrid means getting used to a very quiet engine which, at times, seems as if it isn’t even on. The only other difference you may note is the “feel” you experience when the engine “floats” between gas and electric power. The Camry’s Hybrid engine accelerates well and there is no hesitation. And the gas mileage is, as to be expected, very nice indeed. Mileage ratings are 40 mpg per city driving and 38 for highway driving.

Whether you select a traditional Camry or a Hybrid, for 2007 the vehicles take on a more “athletic” exterior, according to Toyota press materials. While this year’s models are built on a longer wheelbase (which adds more inches to the interior dimensions), you’ll be hard pressed to notice that. The car’s “footprint” isn’t longer than its predecessors because the rear overhang has been shortened and the car’s wheels have been pushed more toward the corners.

As for performance, other non-Hybrid Toyota Camrys offer enhanced performance through an upgraded 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine. A 3.5-liter V6 is available in the LE, SE and XLE grades, and this V6 is more powerful than previous versions. The Camry is available with a five-speed automatic transmission, or a new six-speed automatic transmission on the models with the V6 engine.

Camrys also come equipped with standard anti-lock brakes, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. Vehicle Stability Control with Traction Control is available as an option. The Hybrid version is equipped with the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system, which helps control vehicle traction and stability through throttle control, brake application on individual wheels and even minor steering correction, if required.

As for other standard safety features, they include dual-stage advanced air bags, seat mounted side air bags and side curtain air bags, as well as a driver’s knee air bag. Adjustable head rests in all five positions, and halogen auto on/off headlamps are also standard.

Under all the tweaking still lies a highly functional family car. The Camry’s seats are firm and comfortable, there is a good amount of head room, the car’s doors are designed so that it is easy to get in and out easily, and the trunk is large.

The audio system on the test car included a JBL Digital AM/FM/MP3 six-disc in-dash CD changer and eight speakers. A push-button start, keyless remote, power seats, windows and door locks are also standard.

The Camry, in its sixth generation, is a well-put-together, affordable family car. Add the Hybrid capability, and it gets even better.

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


Hard Times for the ‘Farmer-Film Star’ | Bollywood Stars Descend on Cannes | Married and Expecting | Fool’s Apology | Itsy Bitsy | Bollywood in Vilayat | ‘Undue Importance’ | Star Tantrums

Hard Times for the ‘Farmer-Film Star’

(Right): Amitabh in “Cheeni Kam.”

Talk about chutzpah. Just how brazen can you be if you are trying to pass off Amitabh Bachchan as a farmer? That’s what he tried to do just that when he got hold of some land in Pune in Maharashtra as well as in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district.

Well, things aren’t looking too good for him in U.P., now that his buddy Mulayam Singh Yadav has been shown the door by the good folks of the state, and new firebrand dalit Chief Minister Mayavati has asked the district magistrate in Barabanki just how Bachchan was allotted agricultural land.

Now Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has joined in the fun.

Deshmukh has said the state government would seek a factual report from Uttar Pradesh and would take appropriate action as regards “farmer” Bachchan’s land deal in Pune district. Under Maharashtra’s Tenancy and Agricultural Land Act 1963, only farmers can buy agricultural land and Bachchan may lose 24 acres in Maval in Pune district if he fails to prove that he was a “farmer.”

So what does the Big B have to say about all this? Bachchan claims that the property papers given to him by the government were in order.

Like the wronged citizen he plays so well in Bollywood potboilers, he recently told NDTV: “I am a law- abiding citizen and will obey whatever the law asks me to do. If proved wrong, we are ready to face penalty.

If everything is found to be in order, I would say thank you.”

Just like you do when you go to see a Bollywood film, suspend all logical thought. Otherwise a pesky question refuses to go away: How on earth can papers be in order if the country’s best known film star owns land as a “farmer”?
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Bollywood Stars Descend on Cannes

(Above): Abhishek and Aishwarya in Cannes.

As world beauty Aishwarya Rai walked up the steps of the Theatre Grand Lumiere on the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival, it was apparent that the parade of Bollywood stars on the French Riviera this year would be stronger than it has ever been before.

Aishwarya, a Cannes red carpet regular, was at the opening night yet again May 16, but this time with hubby Abhishek Bachchan by her side.

Media reports in India had suggested that Aishwarya, who first walked up the red carpet in 2002 for a special screening of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, might skip Cannes this year because she would be busy shooting for Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodha Akbar.

But as a brand ambassador for French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, one of the official partners of the film festival, she was contract-bound to make it to Cannes.

Aishwarya and Abhishek were in attendance when Mani Ratnam’s box office hit Guru was screened in the Tous les Cinemas du Monde as part of a special focus on Indian cinema.

Also present at the opening night ceremony was Preity Zinta, in Cannes for the second year running, to promote luxury watch and jewelry manufacturer Chopard.

Bollywood hot couple John Abraham and Bipasha Basu also showed up in town to promote Vivek Agnihotri’s Goal, a film about an Asian soccer league team shot for the most part in London.

The biggest Bollywood star of them all, Amitabh Bachchan, was in Cannes for the first time to promote Cheeni Kum, helmed by advertising executive and debutant director Balki.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Married and Expecting

(Right): Mahima Chaudhry

After a while in the wilderness, now comes news that Subhash Ghai protégé Mahima Chaudhry has been one busy woman. Oh, not making films, that seems to be history.

Mahima has gotten married. And yes, she is in the family way. In fact, by the time this hits the press, she might have given birth to the baby.

She says she is thrilled with life.

“Pregnancy is a beautiful phase. You put on lots of weight. But I must say I look well endowed,” says Mahima. “I think all mothers-to-be look most beautiful when they are expecting.” True to her words, her skin glows, her eyes sparkle, and her emotions are run high.

Her husband is her brother’s best friend, the noted architect Bobby Mukherjee. She married Bobby last year March 19 in Las Vegas. He was earlier married but divorced when they met.

She laughs off rumors of conceiving out of wedlock. “Just because I didn’t invite the world for a reception, doesn’t mean I am not married,” she said.

Mahima’s sister Aakansha has come down from Florida with her old maternity clothes and her little son’s baby outfits. “In our custom, we don’t allow the newborn to wear anything new for 15 days,” explained Aakansha. Mahima, who is delighted with Aakansha’s company, said, “Bobby wants a daughter. So do I. But it’s fine if we are blessed with a son.”
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Fool’s Apology

(Right): Shakti Kapoor, flanked by Saif (l) and Sanjay Dutt in “Nehle Pe Dehla.”

You sometimes wonder what actually goes on in what some Bollywood stars are pleased to call their minds. After years of putting on the greasepaint and hamming for the janta, do they believe in Shakespeare’s observation that “All the world’s a stage,” as the Bard had said in As You Like It?

Or is it simply a matter of lacking even basic common sense? Take the recent case of Shakti Kapoor.

The guy doesn’t seem to be content torturing us with his excruciating performances on screen. Now he shows off screen. Bollywood buffs will remember the big tamasha over a television scandal where Shakti was caught with his pants down. Well not literally, but almost.

Some TV nymphet pretended to be an aspiring Bollywood starlet and caught him on tape as he appeared to solicit sex for access to Bollywood. Later he publicly apologized for his actions.

Well, he’s at it again. Recently in Pushkar in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district, Shakti was returning from Ajmer’s sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, when the vehicle in which he was traveling was stopped at a check post for tax despite the fact that it had already been paid.

Kapoor, in a fit of anger, “uttered some harsh words,” we are told diplomatically. The local folks got really angry, and thronged the hotel where Shakti and other artists were staying.

To give credit where it’s due, Shakti wised up quickly enough, and apologized.

Thankfully, the whole issue is behind us, but here’s a word of advice to Shakti for the future: Except when you are in front of the camera, keep that big mouth of yours shut, and everybody will be happy.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Itsy Bitsy

(Right): Mallika Sherawat

After an itsy bitsy role in Jackie Chan’s movie The Myth, Bollywood siren Mallika Sherawat’s is back to more familiar terrain: itsy bitsy outfits.

So frontbench-wallahs, rejoice. In Himesh Reshammiya’s upcoming movie Aap Ka Suroor, Mallika will do a “raunchy jig,” we are told.

It’s all for the role, you see. Mallika plays a manipulative siren who does everything in her power to seduce Himesh and create a misunderstanding between him and his lover (Hansika Motwani).

Designer Ashley Rebello has been busy designing a gypsy skirt (with frills) and a tiny, colorful blouse for Mallika.

The latter portion of the song will be shot in a lavish set-up depicting the interiors of a casino. For this portion, Rebello is designing a translucent black gown for Mallika.

Oh la la! Can a transparent gown be far behind?

Not that the talented Mallika needs it. What little is left to the imagination will be made evident by the writhing and wriggling bodily movements that pass for dance.

So what of her acting?

“It’s simple, yaar,” sneers a Bollywood wag. “If you got an itsy bitsy brain, all you get are itsy bitsy roles, so you fall back on itsy bitsy clothes.”
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Bollywood in Vilayat

(Above): A scene from “Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham” shot in Britain.

If Buckingham Palace and the beautiful countryside of the Lake District, leave desis cold, the British tourism industry has another trick up its sleeve.

Britain has drawn up a map featuring dozens of its locations used by directors of 30 Bollywood hits to attract more Indian tourists to London and the rest of U.K.

The tourism body, VisitBritain, will launch the map this week ahead of the International Indian Film Academy Awards.

The map will be handed out to stars and movie moguls at the IIFA awards ceremony. In addition, more than 30,000 copies of the map will be distributed in India where VisitBritain has set up a film tourism office.

Among the less well-known attractions included in the map are an obscure Surrey football ground and a Slough shopping centre. Molesey FC featured in scenes from the Indian-origin film director Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham, while Slough’s Queensmere centre provided the backdrop for the 2001 Bollywood movie Yaadein.

Other unusual attractions on the map include Bicester Village shopping centre in Oxfordshire, which featured in the 2001 film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Dolbadarn Castle in north Wales, used in Kyun! Ho Gaya Na in 2004.

Kamaal hai, yaar.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Undue Importance’

Having dominated headlines with the controversies over the Big Brother reality TV show and the kissing episode with Hollywood actor Richard Gere, film actress Shilpa Shetty has attacked the media for creating “unnecessary hype” over the issues.

“Only you all would have an answer to that. You are from the media and it is all of you who put me in the headlines and are unnecessarily giving me undue importance,” Shetty told news channel IBN7 in an interview.

She was responding to a question on her name making headlines of late.

“If I don’t blame the media then what should I do? One goes for a praiseworthy event in support of HIV/AIDS and instead of focusing on the severity and importance of the cause, the media pays more heed to matters that are completely irrelevant and inconsequential,” Shetty said, referring to the controversy over the kiss involving her and Gere.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Star Tantrums

The Mumbai Mirror has recently published some weird demands made by stars from producers.

Rani Mukerji preserves gas bills while traveling to work in an envelope that then goes to the producer — for reimbursement.

John Abraham and Bipasha Basu never travel abroad by India-based airlines.

Viveik Oberoi only wants five-star delicacies on the sets. He orders food in bulk, refuses the “sets ka khaana” and takes the leftover food home in a doggy pack.

Fardeen Khan cannot drink studio or location coffee and needs imported coffee beans. His chamcha has to run to upscale coffee store Café Barista all the time.

Celina Jaitley demands a double-door big-size vanity van to avoid feeling “cramped.” She changes personal staff all the time and is unkind.

Arjun Rampal, who has yet to give a hit in six long years, cannot travel by air if he is not booked by first class — even the executive class won’t do.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Comedy with Class: Bheja Fry
(Rating ***1/2 Superior)

It’s not what you have got, it’s what you do with it. Amid a sorry spectacle of many a Bollywood hot shot throwing around money like there’s no tomorrow and still coming up with a turnip, here’s a bunch of guys who took the plunge with a shoestring budget. They might not have had a lot of money, but they had was savvy, intelligence and chutzpah—and presto! They’ve landed with a hit film that’s already recouped 16 times its (admittedly modest) budget.

And boy, do they deserve it. This film will not make festival circuit audiences swoon, but it has something that’s rarer than hen’s teeth in Bollywood—a witty, hilarious slice of life told without the slightest artifice, and with a lot of style to boot.

There is a lot of talk these days of Bollywood going global, but when you take a close look, you find that the fact remains that Bollywood hasn’t been able to quite break its ethnic wall.

The reason is simple. Bollywood has a storytelling aesthetic that’s too garish and over the top to attract the uninitiated beyond its niche audience.

Here’s a film that is so well made that it could easily pass off as a Western film, yet it’s made with pretty much virtually unknown actors with the exception of Sarika and Milind Soman. Sagar Ballary’s sure hand ensures all deliver a seamless performance to make this a hilarious comedy.

It’s everything your standard issue Bollywood potboiler is not. Where Bollywood loves excess — heroes who are studmuffins, heroines who are drop-dead gorgeous, scenes that are breathtaking — New Zealand, Switzerland, Scotland, you name it — this film scores by just presenting a down-to-earth slice of upper middle class life in India.

It’s the utter lack of excess and artifice that makes you feel — as all good films should —that you have just walked into the life of a bunch of characters.

The humor is also wondrously un-Bollywood-like. No slapstick, no downmarket lewd allusions, no exaggerated performances in drag with monstrous artificial bosoms, just a dependence on simple, intelligent wit.

The story is essentially about the comeuppance of music company owner Ranjit (Rajat Kapoor). Ranjit is a bit of a selfish cad, and his wife Sheetal (Sarika) is beginning to get pissed off about it.

One of Ranjit’s favorite pastimes is to hang out with friends every Friday, where one person brings some naïve guy who believes he/she is talented, then have fun at this guy’s expense while pretending to admire his/ her talent.

This pastime has a cruel edge that bothers Sheetal, but Ranjit loves it.

Thanks to a friend, who had the misfortune of sharing company on a bus tip with a tax department employee who is obsessed about singing, Ranjit learns about Bharat Bhushan (Vinay Pathak in an absolutely marvelous turn) and invites him to join him for the weekly Friday party.

As a sort of a rehearsal, Ranjit invites Bharat Bhushan to his home to check this guy out. It turns out that this guy is indeed, as they say in Hindi, quite a namoona. Roly-poly and bursting with self importance, Bhushan is fastidious, given to breaking into fits of singing where the mismatch between his awful singing and the intensity of his delicate gesturing is itself enough to crack you up.

To makes matters worse, he is a driven person with an irresistible urge to talk, incapable of sticking to the point, and has an eagerness to help that is exceeded only by his ineptitude.

On the day he comes, Ranjit gets a backache, and Sheetal leaves him. Meanwhile Suman is a girl with whom he had a fling and is now trying to dump. Sheetal, on the other hand, used to be the girlfriend of his friend composer Anant Ghosal (Milind Soman).

Ranjit gets frantic for Sheetal, worrying that she might end up with another man, Kewal. Suman, in the meantime, is trying to reach him.

In this delicate and complicated situation, Bhushan rushes in like a bull in a china shop, and causes hilarious misunderstandings.

Full marks to filmmaker Sagar Ballary, who weaves together superb ensemble acting, excellent photography and production values into an utterly convincing slice of middle class life, with Vinay Pathak absolutely brilliant as the naïve busybody.

Even the dialogues are an extremely believable upper class lingo of English laced with the odd Hindi phrase.

Once again, its in its intelligent use of humor that makes the film such a gem. It is films like this that may begin to crack the barrier that’s stopped Bollywood from making any meaningful inroads into the Western market.

Sensible Hero’s Act: Karuppasamy Kuthagaitharar

After acting in character roles in innumerable films, then striking it rich as a hero in Kokki, Karan takes on his second film as a hero. It is to the credit of the actor that he chooses roles suitable to him. As in Kokki, here, too, it’s the role of a simple-minded youth minding his business and retaliating when he is pushed to the wall. Except for a couple of scenes, there is no attempt to play up the larger-than-life element of a hero. That works well for the actor.

Karan is impressive as Karuppasamy a.k.a. Xerox, who runs a dance-mimic troupe, apart from getting a contract to manage a parking lot for two-wheelers. Karuppasamy’s ability to mimic top actors had earned him the nickname of Xerox. It’s at the parking lot that he encounters Rasathi, a medical student.

The motherless Rasathi looks up to him as an emotional anchor. Her dependence on him, her yearning to continue her studies and become a doctor despite some family opposition, and his unflinching support for her even putting his life at risk and her family’s antagonism towards him, all form part of the plot.

There is the sub-plot of the running feud in Rasathi’s family, and the reconciliation to fight the common enemy, Karuppasamy.

The debutant director (apprenticed under directors Sasi and Simbudevan) keeps the proceedings alive and engaging for the most part. The film lags a little towards the second half where the songs are thrust in. But it peps up again towards the end where Karuppusamy takes on his detractors in an adrenalin-flowing finish. The divine sanction for his violent retaliation is depicted in shots of him lashing out, being juxtaposed with shots of him in a divine garb.

Shakti Kumar as Rasathi’s cousin Nallathambi plays his part well. Vadivelu’s comic antics amuse only occasionally. Debutante Meenakshi (a Bengali model) looks appealing and graceful, fits in perfectly in the milieu and performs like a seasoned actress. Here’s a face to watch out for. Karan’s second heroic effort hasn’t let him down.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


A Culinary Tribute: Tiranga Chawal

As August beckons, the thoughts of Indians all over the world turn to the proud days of India’s independence struggle. Sudha Gupta presents a recipe appropriate for the occasion.

Ingredients: (Serves four)
  • 1½ cup rice
  • 3 tsp grated ginger
  • 6 cloves
  • 6 pods of cardamom
  • 2 green chillies
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder
  • ½ cup grated carrot
  • 1 cup spinach, finely chopped
  • ½ cup grated coconut
  • 1 tbsp yogurt
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • Raisins for decoration

Half cook or boil rice and drain it. Divide it in three parts and set aside for further preparation.

For Orange Rice:
Take 1 tsp ginger, 2 cloves, 2 cardamom, tomato puree, carrot, red chili powder, saffron and salt and blend in a blender. Heat a pan, add 1 tbsp butter, add a third part of the half-cooked rice. Stir for one minute, then add carrot paste and cover it in slow heat till the rice gets cooked (about 10 minutes). Keep aside.

For White Rice:
Take 1 tsp ginger, 2 cloves, 2 cardamoms, coconut, yogurt, sugar and salt and blend in a blender. Heat a pan. Add 1 tbsp butter, add a third of the half-cooked rice. Stir for a minute, then add coconut paste and cover it in slow heat till the rice gets cooked. Keep aside.

For Green Rice:
Take 1 tsp ginger, 2 cloves, 2 cardamoms, green chili, spinach, ½ cup water, lemon juice and salt and blend in a blender. Heat a pan. Add 1 tbsp butter, add the remaining rice. Stir for a minute and then add spinach paste and cover it in slow heat till the rice gets cooked. Keep aside.

Take a rectangle plate. Arrange orange rice in a longitudinal column over the top third of the plate. Arrange the white rice in a second, middle column. Arrange the third column of green rice along the lower third of the plate. (See photo). Arrange raisins in a chakra (wheel) at the center of the white column. Your Tiranga Chawal is now ready to serve.

- Sudha Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: June By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You will regain the confidence and energy to enforce your ideas very aggressively. A government agency delaying matters for long will finally give decision in your favor. Strong planets will ease off the financial pressure through expenses will remain same. You will visit a beautiful place with family.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Things will start straightening out at work. You will buy some expensive items for the house. You will have everything going right but mind will be restless. All business trips and meetings will go well. You may be on the verge of giving up a relationship but control yourself. Time to get the eye sight retested.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Hold your temptations and think twice before making the commitment. If you negotiate you will benefit for long time. You will continue to well at work or business. Some money will be spent on a vehicle also. You may seek help from your siblings for your venture. You will become more patience and diplomatic.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): You will be writing a small check to government in shape of a fine or penalty. Mars in tenth will help you fulfill your career related dream. You will need to decide it fast and grab the opportunity. An interesting personality will try to flirt with you at the party. Reunion will finally take place and you will enjoy the month.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): This will be a fortunate time. Changes in career will prove to be blessings. Planets assure personal victory over strong opponents and make you more popular. You may try to cut down on caffeine or nicotine also. Business will keep improving at fast speed and you will get new contracts. Party will be entertaining.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): Some one close will need minor surgery. You will start some kind of loan process also. You will have several choices and will make the right decision in career. Money wise you will stay comfortable. You will be getting ready to travel overseas for business as well as pleasure. You will be deeply involved in religion.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): You will be able to trim expenses and once again start marching towards positive. Property deal will close and you will find some extra cash in your pocket. You may be thinking of taking a short but long distance trip. You may be in touch with an expert for some advice. Hard work and patience will not go waste.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): You will have to face opposition and hurdles in order to achieve your goals. Extra stress may elevate an old health problem. Relationship will keep getting stronger and you will make some sacrifice in order to keep others happy. News you have been waiting for will come soon. Bank balance will also grow.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will spend time with very ambitious people and get motivated too. Planets are very favorable to make fresh attempts in career. Throw the fear out and make that important phone call now. Spouse will be busy shopping for the trip and will purchase some beautiful items for the house also.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Combination of Venus and Saturn in angle is good to make career related moves. You will have the assurance very quickly. Expenses will not leave you alone and it will be hard to hold the money in bank. Some of you may be appearing for a competitive exam also. You may change some electric gadgets in the house.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You may accept the offer and start making the necessary preparation. Watch out for hidden enemies among the people close to you as one of them is trying to hurt your image. Physical activities will increase. You will become more aggressive but get several jobs done. Spouse too will be full of bright ideas.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will be fortunate with money. Deals hanging in there for long will finally materialize. Difficulties will come but will ultimately get resolved. Do not be nervous as planets are moving in to help you. You will pay a visit to old friend. Idea of changing your vehicle with a newer model will cross your mind.

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


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