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MARCH 2007
Volume VIII • Issue 3

EDITORIAL: Nuclear Nightmare
NEWS DIARY: February News Briefs
EXPLORATION: Sunita Williams in Space
COMMENT: Ronen Sen Lecture
HEALTH: Live Health Today
REAL ESTATE: U.S. House Prices Appreciation Rate Steadies (Advertorial)
TRAVEL: A Trip to Venice
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Honda Odyssey
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Review: Eklavya
RECIPE: Spicy Egg Curry


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

Nuclear Nightmare

Thanks to the spectacular IT boom, global outsourcing of jobs and a brisk economic growth rate, the Western perception of India — and the perception of its own elite, one may add — has changed. But Shining India or not, it’s still a land of contrasts. It’s true that members of India’s elite — and its Indian American cousins up here in the U.S. — are basking in an unfamiliar wave of global awe as they enthusiastically join in a frenzy of celebration.

But hold on the champagne just yet.

There may be a new gloss to the latest economic figures, but the old demons seem to die hard. India’s millennial curse — its shocking socio-economic disparity — is alive and kicking.

Nothing underscores this more graphically than the recent disaster in Jadugoda.

The recent disaster where, the reader may blankly ask. And that’s precisely the point. If a few IT workers get killed in a metropolitan city, it’s big news for the desis, but since this happened in an unheard-of town in the backward state of Jharkhand, nobody cares.

While Indians all over the world were still celebrating the historic Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, on Dec. 24 last year, thousands of liters of radioactive waste spilled in a creek after a pipe burst at a Uranium Corporation of India Limited facility.

The recent accident is only the latest example of UCIL’s callousness, and in this month’s cover story Sunita Dubey takes a closer look at a long history of negligence and apathy and its terrible health consequences to the underprivileged people who have had the misfortune of being UCIL’s neighbors.

Living in the West, while one marvels at the continuous news of technological innovation, there does lurk, somewhere in the deeper recesses of the desi conscience, a nagging misgiving that very little of it is relevant to the bulk of the population in the old country, the rural poor.

What wonderful news, then, that the National Academy of Engineering in the U.S. invited solutions to one of the more harrowing environmental health challenges facing South Asia today. Tens of millions of people in the Indian state of West Bengal and its neighbor Bangladesh are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink, because it has arsenic in it.

NAE’s criteria were astute: The solutions must be affordable, reliable, easy to maintain, socially acceptable, and environmentally friendly.

George Mason University chemistry Prof. Abul Hussam won the $1 million first prize for a simple but effective filter. A top bucket is filled with locally available coarse river sand and a composite iron matrix. The sand filters coarse particles, while the CIM removes inorganic arsenic. The water then flows into a second bucket where it again filters through coarse river sand, then wood charcoal to remove organics, and finally through fine river sand and wet brick chips to remove fine particles. The filter to date has supplied over a billion liters of arsenic-safe water to village communities.

Lehigh University chemical engineering Prof. Arup SenGupta and his team won the $200,000 second prize for a system that is applied at typically a hand-pumped well. Each unit serves about 300 households. Water is hand-pumped into a fixed-bed column, where it passes through activated alumina or hybrid anion exchanger to remove the arsenic. After passing through a chamber of graded gravel to remove particulates, the water is ready to drink. This system has been used in 160 locations in West Bengal, India. We salute these two scientists for marrying science to society in such a far-reaching, beneficial and vital manner.

Regular readers may do a double-take when the look at this month’s issue. How is it that we are doing another article on an exhibit of Rajasthan’s art right after we put it on the cover last month?

Our answer: This was too important an occasion to ignore. Rarely has it happened that two important events on India have happened simultaneously in the San Francisco Bay Area, but this is the case here.

Last month, an exquisite exhibit of Rajasthani arts and crafts opened at the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. So did a separate exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. This month we carry an in-depth article on the exhibit in San Francisco, which focuses on the art of Rajasthan’s Mewar, a fabled kingdom of heroism, chivalry and valor in the popular Indian imagination.

Eight years in the making, “Princes, Palaces, and Passion: The Art of India’s Mewar Kingdom,” presents 74 objects featuring art works ranging from the early sixteenth century to the early twentieth century, borrowed from important museum and private collections in Great Britain, Australia, and the United States.

And finally, we wish all our readers a very happy Holi.

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

Toxic Fallout: Jadugoda's Nuclear Nightmare

The folks who are cheering over the Indo-U.S. accord on civil nuclear cooperation live a world away from Jadugoda, the Jharkhand village where India’s uranium mine is situated. It is these hapless villagers who continue paying a terrible price in terms of toxic health hazards after being made the sacrificial lambs of a government policy where jingoistic hubris trumps compassion or accountability, writes Sunita Dubey.

(Left): Ironically, the name Jadugoda literally means “magic land.” Located in the Potka and Mosabani block of east Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, Jadugoda is 25 km from Jamshedpur. Home to the Santhali and Hotribes of Jharkhand, it also has a uranium mining facility that has had a catastrophic effect on the health of its residents.
(Below, left): A child’s face says tells the horrific story of Jadugoda better than any bitter protest. Children have paid a heavy price for the toxic hazards posed by the callous and sloppy practices of a government-owned uranium mine. [ALL PHOTOS BY P. MADHAVAN]

“Whatever befalls the earth befalls the child of the earth. People did not weave the web of life; they are merely strands in it. Whatever they do to the web, they do to themselves”.
— A native American on uranium mining

The Indo-U.S. nuclear deal may be considered groundbreaking and historic by many in India and the United States, but this euphoria must not shroud the misery of thousands of people suffering the effects of uranium mining in India due to poor technical and management practices in existing mines.

While major newspapers and television stations in India celebrated a major political victory by India as it covered the announcement of the Indo-U.S. deal, contrast this with an incident which happened Dec. 24.

Thousands of liters of radioactive waste spilled in a creek because of a pipe burst at a Uranium Corporation of India Limited facility at Jadugoda, India. It neither made newspaper headlines nor did UCIL come to know of the disastrous leak till alerted by the local villagers. Such are the realities of nuclear facilities in India.

Callousness of UCIL. The Dec. 24 accident is the latest example of UCIL’s callousness, which occurred in a small village inhabited largely by displaced families whose lands were acquired to construct two of the three storage dams, also known as tailings ponds. Based on the experience of similar accidents in other countries, the negative effects on human and environmental health will impact not just Jadugoda, but several communities living downstream, perhaps even hundreds of kilometers away.

UCIL had no alarm mechanism to alert the company in cases of such a disaster. Instead, the villagers who had arrived at the scene of the accident soon after the pipe burst informed the company of the toxic spill.

The toxic sludge spewed into a creek for nine hours before the flow of the radioactive waste was shut off. Consequently, a thick layer of toxic sludge on the surface of the creek killed scores of fish, frogs, and other riparian life. The waste from the leak also reached a creek that feeds into the Subarnarekha river, seriously contaminating the water resources of the communities living hundreds of kilometers along the way. This is not the first such accident. In 1986, a tailing dam had burst open and radioactive water flowed directly into the villages.

A similar disaster in 1979 in the United States at Church Rock, N.M., had also left many people and their environment scarred for years altogether. More than eighteen months after the accident, there were strong indications that the radiation and other pollutants had penetrated 30 feet into the earth. A report by a Cincinnati-based firm brought in as a consultant by the EPA warned that at least two nearby aquifers had been put “at risk. “

According to Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center in New Mexico, though remediation/ clean-up in Jadugoda will depend upon local conditions, it is essential to monitor the situation very carefully. Some of the immediate steps which need to be taken include immediate sludge removal from the river bed, as river beds are usually very permeable. The communities downstream should also be warned to not use the water till it has been established to be safe. It can take several months for the water to become safe again.

India’s Navajo Nation. Since 1967, when UCIL first started uranium mining in Jadugoda, the lives of people have been inflicted with unknown diseases, deaths and poisoned environment. The foundation of these mines has been laid on lies and misinformation by UCIL about the impact of uranium mining, radiation and toxicity in Jadugoda. Till the ’90s the tailing ponds (where uranium mine liquid waste is stored to evaporate) was in close vicinity of areas in the villages used as children’s playground, open grazing area and other public use. The radiation levels and related sickness were never revealed by UCIL, even though for years the local population has suffered from the extensive environmental degradation caused by the mining operations which are also responsible for the high frequency of radiation-related sicknesses and developmental disorders found in the area. Even though India’s Atomic Energy Act states that there should be no habitation within five kilometers of a waste site or uranium-tailing pond and even though Jadugoda has been in operation for more than 30 years, seven villages stand within one and a half kilometers of the danger zone. One of them, Dungardihi, begins just 40 meters away.

Questioning Legitimacy. It was only in 1996 when a group of people working in the mines and living in close vicinity started questioning the legitimacy UCIL’s free rein to pollute the environment and lives of indigenous people. This led to the formation of a local anti-uranium mining group called Jharkhandis Organization Against Radiation whose mission is to resist further nuclear development, and to educate the local Adivasis about the dangers of radioactivity. JOAR is also a winner of the 2004 Nuclear-Free Future Resistance Award. Even after the documentation of severe damage caused by uranium mining in Jadugoda in a documentary titled “Buddha Weeps In Jadugoda” by Shri Prakash, UCIL still admits to no wrongdoing, claiming that none of the prevalent congenital diseases in the area are due to the radiation from their uranium mines and milling operations.

India’s Nuclear History. Until World War II, uranium was regarded as little more than a substance used to color ceramics and glass, a byproduct of radium production. However, since the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938, the international nuclear industry has produced more than 1.7 million metric tons of uranium in about 30 countries. The IAEA estimates that about 360,000 metric tons of natural uranium or about 20 percent of the world’s production has been used for military purposes.

India was the first Asian country to develop a nuclear program and the Atomic Energy Commission was set up in 1948, just one year after independence, followed by the Department of Atomic Energy in August 1954. The Indian nuclear program got a boost with U.S. and Canadian support in 1969, which was for research purposes, but with the same technology, India exploded its first plutonium bomb in 1974. This shows that even though the façade behind the nuclear program might be for power generation or research, at any given time the program can be turned into nuclear weapons.

India’s Nuclear Ambitions. India plans to put up a total installed nuclear power capacity of 20,000 MWe by the year 2020. India has 14 reactors in operation and has an installed nuclear capacity of 2720 MWe. At present eight reactors are under construction and, when completed, will add 3960 MWe to the nuclear installed capacity. With such ambitious plans and thrust on nuclear power as a future source of sustainable “green” energy and fresh impetus from the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, many more uranium mines and nuclear plants are on the horizon. UCIL is engaged in mining and milling of uranium ore at Jadugoda, Bhatin and Narwapahar at Singhbhum district of Jharkand. Techno-commercially viable deposits are reported to have been found at Turamdih, Bagjata and Banduhuran in Jharkhand, Lambapur and Peddagattu in Andhra Pradesh and Domiasiat in Meghalaya.

Struggle Continues. Though some clean-up effort has been taken up by UCIL, the there are no alternatives for villagers to escape this radioactive fallout. Most of these poor villagers are already displaced from their lands more than once. They do not have any access to safe drinking water, and the creek, which got poisoned after the spill, was their only source of water. Even in these circumstances, not much is expected from UCIL to help this poor community. The perseverance and struggle of the Jadugoda community has led to international recognition of their problems. They have connected with other indigenous communities from all over the world, suffering the similar fallout of uranium mining. In December 2006 indigenous peoples from around the world who are victims of uranium mining, nuclear testing, and nuclear dumping came together at the Navajo Nation for the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, which called for a global ban on uranium mining on native lands. Representatives from Jadugoda gave testimony about the alarming number of babies who are stillborn or are born with serious birth defects, and of the high rates of cancer that are claiming the lives of many who live near the uranium mines.

The people of Jadugoda are not alone in this fight, even though the Indian government or UCIL may choose to ignore their plight. The recent spill and its mishandling by UCIL has drawn flak from the global community, and 400 individuals have signed petitions circulated by two U.S.-based groups, the Association for India’s Development and FOSA.

More information on Jadugoda is available at www.jadugoda.net


Battling Arsenic: The NAE Awards
Bangladesh-born scientist Abul Hussam has won a $1-million prize for developing the technology for removal of arsenic from groundwater. A team led by India-born scientist Arup Sengupta won the $200,000 second prize for a separate technology. A Siliconeer report.

(Above, right): George Mason University chemistry Prof. Abul Hussam at work in his lab on his novel technique for arsenic remediation. He won the $1 million Grainger Challenge Gold Award from the National Academy of Engineering for his solution for removing arsenic from drinking water, a problem affecting tens of millions of people in West Bengal and Bangladesh.
(Above, Left): Abul Hussam (c) at the awards reception in Washington D.C. after receiving his medal with G.J. Sinclair, vice president and secretary of the Grainger Foundation and Admiral William B. Hayden, vice president of the Grainger Foundation. (Evan Cantwell / George Mason University photos)

Bangladesh-born Abul Hussam, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., has received the Grainger Challenge Gold Award of $1 million for his SONO filter, a household water treatment system that removes arsenic from groundwater.

The National Academy of Engineering announced recently the winners of the 2007 Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability. The contest sought innovative solutions for removing arsenic from drinking water that is slowly poisoning tens of millions of people in developing countries. Three prizes were awarded from a field of more than 70 entries.

In an announcement, the NAE said: “The prize winners are recognized for the development, in-field verification, and dissemination of effective techniques for reducing arsenic levels in water. The systems must be affordable, reliable, easy to maintain, socially acceptable, and environmentally friendly. All of the winning systems meet or exceed the local government guidelines for arsenic removal and require no electricity.”

The prizes were presented at a gala dinner in Washington, D.C., Feb. 20.

A team led by India-born Arup SenGupta, professor of chemical engineering and of civil and environmental engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., won the Grainger Challenge Silver Award of $200,000 for their community water treatment system.

SenGupta, John E. Greenleaf, Lee M. Blaney, Owen E. Boyd, Arun K. Deb, and the nonprofit organization Water For People shared the award.

The Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program at Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, will receive the Grainger Challenge Bronze Award of $100,000 for the PUR Purifier of Water coagulation and flocculation water treatment system.

Arsenic contamination is prevalent in neighboring Bangladesh and West Bengal, India, where a quarter of the population drinks water from shallow tube wells — an inexpensive, low-tech way of accessing groundwater. Many of the estimated 10 million tube wells were built to provide an alternative to bacteria-tainted surface water. Unfortunately, these wells frequently tap into aquifers contaminated by arsenic.

Arsenic poisoning is a slow, painful process that can ultimately result in cancer and death. Debilitating sores appear first and are followed by nerve damage, often in the hands and legs, which are especially sensitive to arsenic. Affected people can have difficulty working or even walking, and continued exposure can lead to liver failure, kidney failure, and the amputation of arms or legs.

For Abul Hussam, the arsenic threat hit close to home. About 10 years ago, his brother, a medical doctor in Bangladesh, started to see the frightening consequences of arsenic poisoning in his village. He asked Hussam to help develop a way of measuring the arsenic levels in wells.

Hussam did his PhD work in analytical chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. Developing an instrument to measure arsenic levels in drinking water was a perfect match for his interests.

He started with his own family’s well in Bangladesh. To his shock, he learned his family had been drinking water with three times the toxicity level of arsenic for more than 20 years, and there was a possibility his own father had died from arsenic poisoning.

“Measurement is absolutely critical — it is my strength and what brought me to this project – but once you know what you have, now the question is, ‘What can we do about it?’” says Hussam.

That’s when Hussam started looking at ways to build a filter to help provide safe drinking water for his family and neighbors. The challenges required looking at issues such as economy, environment and efficiency. Because Bangladesh is a developing country, the filter had to be inexpensive. Hussam also had to ensure that the materials used were safe for the environment and easy to obtain and reproduce.

After years of research and testing, Hussam and his brothers developed the SONO filter. Simple, inexpensive and made with easily available materials, the filter involves a top bucket, which is filled with locally available coarse river sand and a composite iron matrix (CIM). The sand filters coarse particles and imparts mechanical stability, while the CIM removes inorganic arsenic. The water then flows into a second bucket where it again filters through coarse river sand, then wood charcoal to remove organics, and finally through fine river sand and wet brick chips to remove fine particles and stabilize water flow.

SenGupta was asked in 1995 by the nonprofit organization Water For People to design an arsenic-removal system. SenGupta’s laboratory is credited with developing and commercializing the first polymer-based arsenic-selective adsorbent. This technology has been employed in the Indian subcontinent and in more than 200 sites in the U.S. to remove arsenic from contaminated groundwater.

His filtration systems have been installed in 150 villages by students and professors from Bengal Engineering and Science University. Arsenic levels in the villages’ drinking water have fallen from 100 to 500 parts per billion (ppb) to well below the 50 ppb maximum allowed by the Indian government. Victims have found relief from their symptoms, and reports of new cases of arsenicosis have plummeted.

NEWS DIARY: February 2007 Roundup
India Steps Up War on Poverty in Budget | Kite Festival a Battle for Pakistan’s Soul | Cheney Survives Taliban Suicide Bomber Attack | Sexy Maoist | ‘Modern-day Nero’ | Over the Moon | Dhaka Fire Kills 3 | Fight against Diabetes | Land, Sea Battles in Sri Lanka | Samjhauta Passengers Overcome Fear

India Steps Up War on Poverty in Budget
P. Chidambaram

India stepped up its war on poverty in a budget unveiled Feb. 28 that aimed at boosting stagnant farm output and raising spending on education and health.

“The economy is in a stronger position than ever before,” Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told parliament as he presented the ruling Congress coalition’s budget for the fiscal year to March 2008.

“I have put these revenues (from growth) to good use to promote inclusive growth, equity and social justice,” said Chidambaram whose government has pledged to put the “common man” at the top of its agenda.

But quoting India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, he said: “The main challenge is agriculture — everything else can wait.”

He outlined plans to hike farm production and rural incomes and said he was confident the government could wrestle down inflation hovering at two-year highs of 6.6 percent.

Both farm output and inflation have become urgent issues with polls looming in India’s politically pivotal and most populous state Uttar Pradesh in two months and federal elections at most two years away.

Congress attributed its losses in polls in the breadbasket state of Punjab and northern Uttaranchal partly to voter anger over rising prices which have badly hit India’s poor masses who propelled it to power in 2004.

Chidambaram announced more spending on irrigation, fertilizer subsidies, seed development and cheaper farm credit along with duty cuts on a host of goods including edible oils to combat inflation.

“There is no death of (agriculture) schemes, no dearth of funds. What needs to be done is achieve the intended outcome,” Chidambaram said.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Kite Festival a Battle for Pakistan’s Soul
Residents flying kites in Lahore to mark the arrival of spring.

Pakistan’s spring kite festival has become the battleground between the forces of moderation and extremism after the deaths of 14 people including a child.

Islamists have called for the banning of the Basant festival which took place at the weekend in Lahore and surrounding Punjab province — while secularist President Pervez Musharraf personally participated in the event.

“This is a very bad battleground because the forces of moderation are apparently in favor of people being killed while the forces of extremism are unlikely defenders of their right to live,” political analyst M.A. Niazi said.

The failure of the government to control the law and order problem has spoilt the case for the festival, Niazi told AFP.

Basant is traditionally the occasion for posh events and parties in central Pakistan but the kite-battles fought between ordinary people on their rooftops are the occasion’s centerpiece.

Most years there are around a dozen fatalities and this year was no exception.

Police said celebratory aerial firing claimed several casualties while a seven-year-old child died when his neck was severed by a banned glass-coated nylon kite string.

The boy was driving home on a bicycle when a falling string caught between two lampposts cut his throat, police officer Mohammad Zafar said.

Islamic fundamentalists have long opposed Basant on the grounds that it has Hindu or pagan origins.

This year, however, they held protests focusing on the deaths.

“Just like Roman emperors used to put people in front of lions in the ring and call it sport, Musharraf is doing the same with the people in the name of Basant,” said Farid Piracha of the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Cheney Survives Taliban Suicide Bomber Attack
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Afghanistan.

A suicide bomber killed and wounded some two dozen people outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan Feb. 27 during a visit by U.S. Vice President    Dick Cheney. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said Cheney was the target.

The blast happened outside the base at Bagram, north of the capital, Kabul. Cheney’s spokeswoman said he was fine, and the U.S. embassy said the vice president later met with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

There were conflicting reports on the death toll. Provincial Gov. Abdul Jabar Taqwa said 20 people were killed, but NATO said initial reports indicated only three were killed, including a U.S. soldier, a South Korean coalition soldier and a U.S. government contractor whose nationality wasn’t immediately known. NATO said 27 people were also wounded.

It was unclear why there was such a large discrepancy in the reports.

Associated Press reporters at the scene said they had seen at least eight dead bodies carried in black body bags and wooden coffins from the base area and into the market area, where hundreds of Afghans had gathered to mourn.

Maj. William Mitchell said it did not appear the explosion was intended as a threat to the vice president. “He wasn’t near the site of the explosion,” Mitchell said. “He was safely within the base at the time of the explosion.”

However, a purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said Cheney was the target of the attack.

“We knew that Dick Cheney would be staying inside the base,” Ahmadi told AP telephone from an undisclosed location. “The attacker was trying to reach Cheney.”
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Sexy Maoist
Nepal’s Maoist leader Prachanda

Pop quiz: Who is the biggest sex symbol in Nepal? If your answer is, Rajesh Hamal, one of the top paid film actors in Nepal, you are wrong.

After Nepal’s decade-old insurgency ended with a peace pact, it’s Maoist chief Prachanda who is making ladies swoon.

A women’s magazine has readers naming Prachanda as one of the sexiest men in Nepal.

A woman even told Nari magazine that she found the chairman’s moustache — like Hitler’s but with a higher smattering of grey — “very sexy.”

Eat you heart out, Rajesh Hamal.

After 14 years in exile, the reappearance of the agriculture graduate and former schoolteacher in public creates a response that can outmatch the fan appeal of any film star.

Prachanda’s first public appearance at Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s official residence, after his once banned party signed a peace pact with the government, created a near stampede.

Even after frequent public appearances since then, the Maoist chief continues to be the centre of all attention wherever he goes.

Last month, when Koirala hosted a tea party in honor of the new constitution, the Maoist chief’s entry made the media desert other leaders including the prime minister. Everyone made a beeline for the rebel leader.

Prachanda, who is ready to speak his mind on most issues, has remained silent on this new phenomenon.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Modern-day Nero’
Narendra Modi

He was accused of being a “modern-day Nero” who sat back while thousands of Muslims were butchered, but Narendra Modi has not only survived as chief minister of India’s western state of Gujarat, he has prospered.

Middle-class Hindus in Gujarat have put behind them the horrific communal riots of 2002 as they grow richer in a state that has become a model of economic development and attracted investment from India’s biggest industrialists, analysts say.

“The middle-class attitude is shorn of any moral compunction when it comes to the riots,” said Gagan Sethi, head of the Center for Social Justice, a local group fighting for the riot-affected. “Their apathy has only emboldened Modi.”

Human rights groups say some 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were beaten or burned to death in Gujarat five years ago, although officials put the toll at about 1,000.

The riots erupted after a fire broke out on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims on February 27, 2002, killing 59 people.

India’s Supreme Court compared Modi to Roman Emperor Nero, remembered as playing his lyre while Rome burned. Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government looked elsewhere while innocent people were burning and was probably deliberating how to protect the killers, it said in a 2004 judgment.

The United States revoked a visa for Modi the following year, on the grounds that he was responsible for severe violations of religious freedom. “Industry doesn’t concern itself with questions of political morality or ethics or even justice,” said Zoya Hasan, an eminent academician and member of the National Commission on Minorities.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Over the Moon
Uday Kumar, Animesh Behera, Amarah Ahmed and Kaushik Parmar

As India plans its first mission to the moon, Rediff.com India decided to ask its readers what a mooncraft would look like, and the news Web site and the Indian Space Research Organization have announced seven winners of “Design a Mooncraft,” a competition inviting Rediff.com readers to send their designs for the first Indian mooncraft.

ISRO plans to send a spacecraft, the Chandrayaan, to the moon in 2008.

The winners are: Uday Kumar, 34, an NIT-Raipur-trained architect, who designs apartment buildings and IT buildings in Thiruvananthapuram (first prize); Animesh Behera, 23, an IIT-Bombay electrical engineering graduate, who works for Texas Instruments, Bangalore (second prize); Amarah Ahmed, 15, a student of B P Indian Public School, Malleswaram, Bangalore, who is studying for her ICSE exams (third prize); Kaushik Parmar, 23, a fourth year IIT-Bombay student, studying aerospace engineering (fourth prize); and Aristo Xavier Coutinho, B.K. Nagaraaj, K. Veera Raghavaiah (all fifth prize winners).

The first four winners received their prizes from ISRO chairman Dr. G. Madhavan Nair, at the ISRO headquarters in Bangalore. The prize ceremony was followed by a tour of ISRO and high tea with Nair.

Each of the seven winners received Rs. 10,000 in Rediff shopping vouchers.

Presenting the awards, Nair, Chairman, ISRO said, “Chandrayaan-1, which is planned to be undertaken during 2008, will be an important program that will provide immense opportunities to the younger generation to undertake challenging pursuits in space science and exploration.”
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Dhaka Fire Kills 3
Survivors escaping a building fire in Dhaka.

A fire swept through a building that houses two private TV stations and a newspaper in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, killing at least three people and injuring scores, rescuers and news reports Feb. 26.

Air force helicopters, troops and firefighters rescued dozens of people from the building in Kawranbazar, a crowded commercial district in central Dhaka, ATN Bangla TV station reported.

A man and a woman died after jumping from the building to escape the fire, doctors said. Another woman who suffered serious burns died later at a hospital, the United News of Bangladesh said.

Maj. Asadul Haq, an army officer overseeing the rescue operation, told the news agency that at least 100 people were injured in the fire, most in jumps from the building.

It was not immediately known what caused the fire, but officials were investigating.

The TV stations and the newspaper in the building are owned by Mossadek Ali, a former lawmaker recently jailed on corruption charges.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Fight against Diabetes
Wasim Akram

Former Pakistan cricket star Wasim Akram said he was setting up an organization to spread public awareness about diabetes and how patients should counter it.

The former left-arm paceman, himself a diabetic, announced a seven-member committee which includes his former captain and cricket legend, Imran Khan.

“We would raise funds through charity matches between Pakistan and Indian film stars, and the first match of this (kind) will be played in Dubai on April 6 this year,” Wasim told AFP.

Wasim, who took a world record 502 one-day wickets and 414 Test wickets during his career, was hit by the disease in 1997 but managed to continue playing until 2003.

He said a study revealed Pakistan would have the world’s fourth-largest population of diabetes sufferers by 2025, and his foundation would fight to minimize this in the coming years.

“Around 80 percent of sufferers don’t know they have this disease, so we want to create awareness and then help them fight it,” said Wasim, now a commentator with a Hong Kong-based television company.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Land, Sea Battles in Sri Lanka
A Sri Lankan Army tank on patrol.

Sri Lanka escalated sea and land attacks against Tamil Tigers and killed at least 18 people Feb. 28, a day after the rebels shelled helicopters carrying diplomats and a minister, officials said.

The navy engaged a flotilla of rebel boats off the northeastern coast in a pre-dawn clash, sinking two craft together with at least 15 people, navy spokesman Commander D.K.P. Dassanayake said.

The three-hour confrontation with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam off Pulmoddai wounded at least two navy sailors, he said.

“There were about 14 Sea Tiger boats. The navy destabilized two of the boats. We believe about 15 to 16 people were there in the two boats that were destroyed,” Dassanayake said.

In southern waters, naval patrol craft fired at a “large ship” which exploded and burnt for over two hours, Dassanayake said.

“We contacted the vessel on radio and the information they gave us turned out to be wrong,” he said. “The vessel had no identification marks and after we fired warning shots, they began to attack our patrol craft. We retaliated.”

He said the 75-metre (250 feet) long vessel was believed to be carrying a large haul of arms for the Tigers. However, there was no immediate word from the rebels.

Military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said three suspected Tiger rebels were also shot dead by a foot patrol of the elite police Special Task Force commandos in the northwest district of Mannar early Feb . 28.

The land and sea battles came a day after the Tigers shelled two military helicopters carrying ambassadors from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States,    European Union and the heads of UN agencies.

The Italian and US ambassadors as well as the UN resident coordinator were among more than a dozen people wounded in the attack in the eastern town of Batticaloa, 300 kilometers (187 miles) east of the capital by road.
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Samjhauta Passengers Overcome Fear

Hundreds of passengers overcame fear and strict security checks March 1 to travel by rail from India to Pakistan, the first journey on the route since 68 people were killed when a train was bombed.

Two bombs exploded around midnight Feb. 25 on the Samjhauta Express, which connects New Delhi to Lahore in Pakistan, triggering a blaze in two coaches that burned victims alive about 80 km (50 miles) north of the Indian capital.

“All of us have to die someday. There is no need to be scared,” said Ameena Bano, a 63-year-old Pakistani woman, sitting on a large blue bag near the platform before boarding the train in Delhi’s chaotic station.

Bano, who had been visiting her brother-in-law in India, said those behind the blasts would not achieve their goal.

“They want to hurt the improving relations between Pakistan and India but they will not succeed,” she said, as people carrying suitcases pushed their way through security barricades.

Although the old rivals are linked by air and bus services as well, the bi-weekly train is more popular with the mostly middle-class and poor travelers as it is cheaper. Besides, it was relatively less guarded by security agencies.

It is for these reasons, investigators suspect, the train may have been targeted by Muslim extremists who are opposed to a peace process between the neighbors and want to derail it.
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The Art of Mewar: Asian Art Museum Exhibit
Mewar is celebrated as one of the most heroic and illustrious of the kingdoms of Rajasthan. The Asian Art Museum pays homage to Mewar with an exhibit of 74 objects showcasing Mewar’s artistic achievement. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): Damodarlalji of Nathadwara, approx. 1925–1930. By Nathulal Go(va)rdhan Nathadwara, Rajasthan state. Opaque watercolor on paper with graphite or lead underdrawing. Asian Art Museum, From the Collection of William K. Ehrenfeld. M.D., 2005.64.173. [KAZ TSURUTA photo]

For the second time this year, the sheer beauty and magic of Rajasthani art has been brought to the San Francisco Bay Area. After an exhibit of Rajasthani folk arts and crafts that debuted in the Phoebe Hearst Anthropology Museum at the University of California at Berkeley in February, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco opens an exhibit of exquisite Rajasthani art.

When the nineteenth-century American painter Edwin Lord Weeks arrived at Udaipur, the capital of Mewar in India’s Rajasthan — the “Land of Kings” — region, he found a city “airy, unreal, and fantastic as a dream, stretching away in a seemingly endless perspective of latticed cupolas, domes, turrets, and jutting oriel-windows, rising tier above tier, at a dizzy height from the ground …”

Few regions of India have excited the imagination as much as the kingdom of Mewar. It was celebrated as the most heroic and illustrious of the kingdoms that made up the northwestern area of present day India. Despite this, very few museum exhibitions have been devoted to the innovative artists whose work helped establish the state’s reputation. “Princes, Palaces, and Passion: The Art of India’s Mewar Kingdom,” an exhibition presented at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco from Feb. 2 through April 29, addresses that deficiency by gathering some seventy-four objects encompassing the depth and range of Mewar’s artistic achievement. Princes, Palaces, and Passion was organized by the Asian Art Museum, and curated by Dr. Joanna Williams, professor of art history at University of California, Berkeley. The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s Osher Gallery, and the Asian Art Museum will serve as the only venue.

In the making for more than eight years, this exhibition — the first outside India to focus on the art of this fabled Rajasthani kingdom — features artworks ranging from the early sixteenth century to the early twentieth century, borrowed from important museum and private collections in Great Britain, Australia, and the United States. At the core is a selection of paintings that dramatically conveys the brilliance of Mewar’s artistic traditions. The exhibition brings to life some of the great individual Mewari painters — especially Bakhta (active 1760–1810) and his son, Chokha (active 1799–1824), who previously have been largely relegated to anonymity.

The exhibition also breaks new ground in viewing the complex links between the arts of the court and the arts of the village. Through the inclusion of such works as terracotta devotional panels, large temple paintings on cloth, and a miniature shrine and huge painting for village retellings of heroic legends, the exhibition highlights some of the many ways in which court, temple, and village were inextricably linked.

All of the material in Princes, Palaces, and Passion originates from Rajasthan, the region of India — in terms of visual associations, folk art, tourism, and merchandise — most familiar to museum-goers. The most powerful Hindu kingdom in Rajasthan was Mewar with its capital located at Udaipur, a city known for its beautiful palaces and vibrant cultural traditions. Mewar’s defense of its first capital at Chittaur against waves of Muslim invaders between the early fourteenth and the late sixteenth centuries caused it to be celebrated as the most heroic and illustrious of the Rajput states. In response to the siege of Chittaur the Mewar capital was moved south to Udaipur in the 1560s. From that base, until 1615, Mewar stood as the last holdout until it, too, was forced to submit to the Muslim Mughal empire.

In defending his state and its values, a Mewar ruler was expected to measure up to the ideal of heroism. Paintings of princely hunts and sport, produced throughout India’s courts, immortalize such heroism. Royal hunts were occasions for displaying wealth, territory, and resources, and for demonstrating the martial prowess with which every Indian ruler was expected to guard his state and his subjects.

An important aspect of the exhibition focuses on the royal courts of Mewar which supported the production of great paintings from the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. Rulers were expected to be generous patrons supporting their communities. Over the centuries these rulers made gifts to schools and religious institutions as well as to artists, artisans, and performers. Most courts maintained painting workshops, but in Mewar, court artists made a specialty of documenting the activities of reigning kings. Two particularly memorable royal patrons from this period are examined. During the reign of Bhim Singh of Udaipur (1778–1828), continuous internal power struggles resulted in the eventual acceptance of British suzerainty yet the continual commission of grand paintings reflected the previous glories of the state. Udaipur was the overlord of the smaller state of Devgarh which had an equally vibrant culture. From 1786–1821 Devgarh was ruled by the physically immense and intellectually complex Gokul Das, who took political and artistic advantage of his overlord’s weaknesses, making a dramatic impact on courtly painting in the region.

Indian art has often been considered the production of anonymous artists uninterested in leaving personal legacies. This view is beginning to be challenged. Princes, Palaces, and Passion brings together for the first time more than a dozen paintings by two Mewar painters, Bakhta and his son, Chokha, as well as pictures created by a number of known artists.

The miniature paintings are truly remarkable pictures, illustrating Hindu stories, epic myths, charismatic gods, and royal heroes, as well as private and intimate moments. The presentation of these subjects may be strikingly dramatic in the case of religious and heroic pictures, and visually intriguing and sensual in images of a more personal or erotic nature.

A highlight of the exhibition is the 1761 painting by Bakhta entitled Maharana Jagat Singh and companions hunting boar at Khas Odi, which features an annual spring hunt and festival. At the left in this painting a wild boar (portrayed twice) is being executed at close range by the solemn maharana (king). The viewer is brought close to the ruler, who stands out by virtue of scale and strong line rather than through the glitter of gold. He and his nobles are set in a solid pink enclosure, which picks up tones of the clouds and the cushion in the royal barge. The expansive landscape of lobed hills and small trees is punctuated by a pattern of light, rough crossed lines probably made by dabs with a piece of cloth dipped in pigment. This is the first dated work by Bakhta, providing an excellent example in which his distinctive sensibility toward landscapes and the use of colorful washes in the sky characterize this artist’s distinctive style.

Another painting of note is the early nineteenth century watercolor Lovers on a terrace, believed to have been created within the circle of Bakhta’s son, Chokha, which features a couple in an ardent embrace. The man in this couple is an unidentified prince. The lovers’ amorous position suggests passive delight on the woman’s part. The man’s eyes focus on the woman’s breasts, and her eyes on the colors of the clouds. This image seems to belong to a group of versions of a similar subject produced by Chokha and his contemporaries in training or in competition. This picture is perhaps the most attractive in the series, with the luminous colors of the bolsters framing the delicately painted torsos. This painter was skilled in various kinds of brushwork: delicately refined for the faces, flat for the intense textiles, and pale for the washes of sky and the fine white cotton clothing that mutes the colors beneath.

Such an assembly of paintings provides a fascinating look at the work of individual artists, presented in the full scope of their career undertakings and accomplishments. While in Western art it is quite common to analyze the work of particular artists, citing influences and evolution, such consideration has rarely deemed possible for Indian artists. The presentation of these individuals as artists who succeeded in creating compelling masterpieces offers a fresh understanding of the courtly painting milieu, in particular, and of the way Indian artists traditionally worked.

Most exhibitions of art from the Rajasthani kingdoms have focused on courtly artistic production, rarely exploring the ways in which the histories, beliefs, narratives, and customs of court, temple, and village intersect. But such links go beyond the mere commissioning of village artists to produce objects for the court — village arts played a role in the broader religious and cultural arena. Scroll paintings narrating the legends of village gods and heroes functioned as portable shrines. The epic stories of these gods incorporate ideals of heroism and honor, showing village participation in the same myth-making traditions as those practiced at court.

Among the folk arts featured in the exhibition is a watercolor on cotton wall hanging for the festival of Sharad Purnima, dated to approx. 1880. A large cloth hanging like this, known as a picchavai (literally, “that which hangs behind”) was made for a temple or shrine in a private home. The central image of Krishna as Shri Nathji, his arm forever raised to hold aloft Mt. Govardhana and protect his villagers, is flanked by beautiful village girls and two priests. A full moon in a starry sky identifies this as a painting for Purnima, the full-moon festival of the autumn. At the bottom of the hanging, other events are encapsulated. On the left Krishna arises from a hill that is in fact a mountain of rice like that created every winter at Nathadwara for the festival of Annakut. On the right Krishna plays tax collector and insists the village girls pour him a toll of milk. The small compartments surrounding the sides and top of the picchavai constitute a running calendar of the major festivals celebrated in Shri Nathji’s shrine, differentiated by the god’s costume as well as the form of worship.

The work of village artisans is a vibrant feature of Mewar’s artistic landscape. The potters’ village of Molela still makes images for tribal people, who walk hundreds of miles across hills and desert to take these terracottas (examples featured in the exhibition) back to their modest yet colorful mud shrines. Furthermore, three towns in this region have long produced large paintings of folk epics known as phads. A bhopa, a storyteller/priest, would purchase a painting from a Brahman painter and travel on camel-back all over Rajasthan to perform at important events for the herder communities. The exhibition includes a phads, which is at once a complex picture, a backdrop, and a shrine to the deified hero.

Princes, Palaces, and Passion goes beyond an exploration of the courtly arts of Rajasthan to highlight some of the many ways in which court, temple, and village were inextricably linked. The artworks on view explores the rich interactions that occurred between specific courts and many different aesthetic arenas. There are interesting caste and family connections among different painting traditions in the Mewar region. In Nathadwara, traditional painters producing the picchwais have the same caste background as the aforementioned imperial painters, and their present-day milieu may shed light on the origins of other great painters. Likewise the long narrative cloth phads were created by painters with caste connections to the other groups. The itinerant nature of these images is a fascinating example of the dispersal of style.

Illuminating the brilliant arts of Mewar, Princes, Palaces and Passion brings to life the vibrant kingdom that enchanted Edwin Lord Weeks with its “delightful confusion of light and color.”

Readers can find more information by calling (415) 581-3500 or by visiting the museum’s Web site at www.asianart.org.

Strolls in Space: Astronaut Sunita Williams
NASA astronaut Sunita Williams logged over 28 hours outside the International Space Station to hold the new world record in space walking for a woman. A Siliconeer report.

Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, Expedition 14 flight engineer, participates Feb. 4 in the second of three space walks in nine days, as construction continues on the International Space Station. [NASA photo]

Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams ventured out of her home in space with Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria Feb. 8 for her fourth space walk and set yet another record.

Williams now holds the records for number of space walks and total time spent on spacewalks by a woman: four space walks for a total of 29 hours and 17 minutes.

Williams’ walk Feb. 8 outside the International Space Station, in addition to her three walks Dec. 16, Jan. 31 and Feb. 4, tops Kathryn C. Thornton’s previous 21-hour record.

It was the last in an unprecedented series of three spacewalks in nine days from the Quest airlock. Major tasks of this spacewalk included removing and jettisoning two large shrouds and installation of attachments for cargo carriers.

Lopez-Alegria and Williams moved from the airlock out to Crew Equipment Transfer Aid (CETA) carts on the rails of the main truss. Pushing one cart with their equipment, including a foot restraint, they moved to the Port 3 Truss. Their first job was to remove two thermal shrouds on two Rotary Joint Motor Controllers (RJMC) on P3.

Next they removed two large shrouds from P3 Bays 18 and 20. The shrouds, larger than king-size bed sheets, provide thermal shading. With the station in its present orientation, they are no longer needed. They are being removed to avoid trapping heat.

The spacewalkers worked together to fold each into a package a bit smaller than an outdoor garbage can. They jettisoned them toward the rear of the station to starboard and slightly downward.

That shroud task was followed by deployment of an Unpressurized Cargo Carrier Assembly Attachment System (UCCAS) on the upper face of the P3 truss. That was done in preparation for attachment of a cargo carrier during a subsequent shuttle mission.

While Lopez-Alegria finished work on the UCCAS, Williams moved to the end of the P5 truss to remove two launch locks, to prepare for the relocation of the P6 Truss.

The final scheduled task of the spacewalk was connecting four cables of the Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS) to Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2) at the forward end of the Destiny laboratory where shuttles dock. The SSPTS will allow visiting shuttles to take power from the station and thus extend their missions.

Work began on the system during the Jan. 31 spacewalk, and two of the cables were routed and connected to PMA-2 on the Feb. 4 spacewalk. The last four cables were connected to the PMA Feb. 8.

Lopez-Alegria completed one get-ahead task. He took pictures of the connections on the PMA that provide communications between the station and shuttle while docked and before the hatches are opened.

The three spacewalks from the Quest airlock in U.S. spacesuits and a Russian spacewalk Feb. 22 are the most ever done by station crew members during so short a period. They will bring to 10 the total number of spacewalks by Lopez-Alegria, an astronaut record. Williams has a total of four, the most ever by a woman.

Starting from scratch, it takes about 100 crew-member hours to prepare for a spacewalk.

Progress & Tradition: Ronen Sen Lecture

Whether it’s India’s economic growth or democtatic institutions, or its blossoming ties with the United States, none of this happened overnight; instead, it was all part of a long, continuous process, India’s U.S. Ambassador Ronen Sen told an audience during a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.

(Above, left): India’s ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen speaking at an event hosted by the India Community Center at Milpitas, Calif. [ICC photo]
(Above, right): At an event to host a lecture by the Indian ambassador (l-r): Bakul Joshi of ICC, India’s San Francisco Consul General B.S. Prakash and Indian ambassador to the U.S. Ronen Sen. [All photos except above left: Pravin Desai / DreamSnaps]

(The following remarks by Ambassador Ronen Sen are excerpted from a speech he gave Jan. 31 at the India Community Center at Milpitas, Calif.)

Of course India is the buzz today, the talk of the town. You hear of resurgent India, the BBC is saying “Rising India,” you hear about India on the move.
And all of this is true.

The last three years average growth was eight percent, but we have reached that figure early also. We are confident that we will be able to maintain a higher rate of growth and sustain it for a longer period of time.

After we became independent, there were lots of question marks. Will democracy survive in India? Nobody talks about that anymore. Everyone recognizes that we are a resilient and vibrant democracy. We’ve survived every challenge. We’ve faced the challenge of political assassination right from Mahatma Gandhi, we’ve had oil shocks, we’ve had natural disasters of unprecedented magnitude, we’ve had water conflicts, we’ve had every kind of challenge but democracy has survived.

Democracy has survived, because it’s not a foreign implant, because we had a tradition of popular participation. There was really never a recognition in India like there was in the West of the divine right of kingship. In Ramayana, for instance, someone who was supposed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, was bound to follow the will of the people, even in very personal matters.

One thing I can say, and I do believe in, is that we are not just a vibrant democracy. There were earlier doubts about whether democracy and development can go hand in hand. We have proved that it can. We are today not just the world’s largest democracy, we are the world’s fastest growing democracy and I am sure that we are well on the way to become not only the world’s fastest growing democracy, but the world’s fastest growing country. We are still the second fastest growing country. I am firm in my conviction that it’s no longer a question of if but it’s a question of when India will be the first three economies of the world.

It’s fashionable to say that all this has happened because of the economic reforms initiated in 1991 after getting rid of the baggage of the past. It’s partly true, but I think mostly not true.

Ambassador Ronen Sen with ICC's Anil Godhwani

If you see a lot of our achievements today, they are the result of what has been happening in a cumulative manner for a long time. The vision of (India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal) Nehru — actually it was Humayun Kabir’s idea, really — of setting up the institutes of technology is paying dividends now. The collaboration which made the Green Revolution possible was made by Mrs Indira Gandhi, conceived of by Jawaharlal Nehru. We are today talking about a nuclear agreement. People still don’t realize that we were the first country in Asia to build a reactor on our own. And that we were among the first five countries in the world to have full nuclear cycle activities We are among six countries in the world which can launch satellite in geostationary orbit.

We talk about progress which has been made, information technology and many other areas, biotechnology. These did not happen, as someone said, because the government forgot about it. I remember discussions late into the night, into the wee hours of the morning, of the technology missions, and (erstwhile Prime Minister) Rajiv Gandhi’s discussions on this particularly in ’86 and ’87 years of drought, when we were going through a critical time, when he was focusing on the future.

Consul General B.S. Prakash, Ambassador Ronen Sen with ICC's Talat Hasan

What I am saying is that it’s not that suddenly something happened overnight. It was a process, we went through them and what we are today is a result of those contributions. The same I would say about our relationship (with the United States).

Conventional wisdom is that well, we had bad relations with the United States because of the Cold War and India was seen to be closer to the former Soviet Union, and seen as an alliance, which distorted our relations; and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, relations blossomed.

But the fact is that it was not so. The green revolution was because of cooperation of outstanding individuals like Norman Borlaug and other institutions over here. Even at the height of the Cold War, we forget the number of meetings between Eisenhower and Jawaharlal Nehru. It went off extremely well. When two people left the room — that is on our side Krishna Menon and on the American side John Foster Dulles — they got on very well. I have been in meetings with Mr Rajiv Gandhi and Mr. Ronald Reagan. That was the height of the Cold War. Just before that we signed the first memorandum of understanding on high technology (with the U.S.). India was the first non-NATO country to be supplied with a supercomputer.

(So) those stereotypes sound nice, but it is not so. The fact is our relationships were sometimes close, very close, sometimes they were bad, particularly at the time of the Bangladesh operations (in 1971), and a lot of times (characterized by) mutual indifference. The longest period of mutual indifference was actually after the end of the Cold War till very recently. (It was) during the second term of the Clinton Administration that the relationship started reviving again and it was given a new impetus and momentum by the Bush administration.

It’s true that there is much happening (in India), there’s a lot of progress and if you visit India after a gap of two years or three years, you can’t help noticing the difference. You have new building complexes coming up, new shopping malls. At the same time you will notice that in the shadows of those skyscrapers there are those slums. You can’t ignore it.

Agricultural production has increased a lot. (But) we have 600 million people (in agriculture). Agriculture is not a business in India, it’s not even a vocation. It’s a question of survival. We cannot forget that. So we have to recognize that we have to make our growth inclusive, and that’s a challenge. We need very high technologies, but we need high technologies to make a difference to the lives of people everywhere, to the poorest of the poor, villagers, fishermen, farmers.

India is changing. Though there are changes, and changes we should celebrate, we have to remember — and that’s been our strength — we should not get swept away by those changes, because India is much more than a country, a state. India is more than its flag or anthem also. India has been a civilization before we became a nation and before that nation became a state.

The essence of our civilization is very diverse. What makes us Indian is our belief in inclusiveness in terms of not just tolerance but respect for difference and diversity, indeed a celebration of diversity. If we lose that spirit, we will cease to be what we are.

Trade, Not Aid: A Changing Relationship
As India’s economy booms, the U.S. is cutting back on aid, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

USAID disaster specialists deployed to the stricken area in October 2005 following the Kashmir earthquake — the first responders on the ground among bilateral donors — talked with villagers, local officials and relief workers to assess needs and distribute relief. The U.S. has decided to wrap up its aid activities in India following the latter’s robust economic growth in recent years. [USAID photo]

The United States has decided to curtail all bilateral financial aid to “rising” India, following the country’s economic growth in the past few years, with government estimates that the Indian economy will clock over 9 percent growth this fiscal year.

The Bush administration has cut down its already paltry $124.9 million aid in 2006 to a low $81 million for the coming fiscal, a drop of 35 percent, citing New Delhi’s growing economic performance and changing profile.

Even that downsized funding “will be used for the eventual orderly close out of the U.S. Agency of International Development’s program in India,’’ a State Department spokesman said recently. This will bring to an end one of the largest aid efforts undertaken by Washington, rivaling the massive Marshall Plan, though not as much talked about.

U.S. President George Bush’s proposed $2.9 trillion budget for fiscal year 2008 seeks $20.3 billion for foreign assistance with increases for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but a cut for India as it has emerges as a “donor country.”

Afghanistan’s share is $1.067 billion, up from $968 million; Pakistan gets $785 million, up from $707 million. However, Israel and Egypt’s assistance levels are being reduced.

About 51 percent of USAID resources now are concentrated in rebuilding and developing activities.

The move comes as Goldman Sachs has said that productivity growth will help India sustain over 8 percent growth until 2020 and become the second largest economy in the world, ahead of the U.S., by 2050.

According to U.S. estimates, India has received the equivalent of $14 billion in American economic assistance ($57 billion in current dollars) from the time Washington began the aid flow in 1951. The U.S. Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II involved $13 billion over a four-year (1947-1951) period.

U.S. bilateral financial assistance to India has been declining steadily after peaking in 1960 when Washington gave $1.6 billion, 92 percent of which was food aid.

“A lot of the cuts that were made are cuts in programs where we’ve really gotten to the point where India, for example, is a country that has an economy that’s growing by 8 percent. India has become a donor country. India is providing like $50 million, I think, in support for Afghanistan,” said Randall Tobias if USAID.

“So India is in a position where they are taking on more of the burden for the problems facing India. We still have a major program in India, but it is reduced in 2008 from what it was in 2006.”

The U.S. has been “a leader in championing human dignity and human potential,” and its commitment to global development is evidenced by its level of development assistance “nearly tripling ... from approximately $10 billion in 2000 to $28.5 billion in 2005,” Tobias said.

Washington poured in billions into India in 1960s to help establish India’s Green Revolution to increase agricultural productivity. U.S. aid helped establish eight agricultural universities across India, as well as two of the famed Indian Institutes of Technology, at Kanpur and Kharagpur, and 14 regional engineering colleges.

More recent U.S. assistance have been efforts such as establishing a National Depository and paperless trading in stock exchanges and helping Ahmedabad become the first city in India to receive an investment grade rating and float a municipal bond.

However, in the current scenario, Washington expects New Delhi to give it leeway in major commercial contracts following the passage of the historic civil nuclear cooperation deal by the U.S. Congress that seeks to allow India to access international technology to build nuclear reactors.

For example, the U.S. is now looking at defense deals from India over the next five years and is hopeful of winning the coveted Indian contract for 126 fighter jets, worth up to $10 billion.

Currently, U.S. defense exports to India is at a low $300 million range, due to a history of sanctions and Cold War suspicions. Washington will want this figure to improve substantially. In the defense sector, India is expected to make purchases of over $10 billion every year over the next decade.

India and the U.S. inked a 10-year defense agreement in June 2005 titled the “New Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship,” signed by former defense ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Donald Rumsfeld.

In other sectors, such as retail, two of America’s biggest brands Starbucks and Burger King are looking to tap the Indian market, following the recent decision by U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart to finally take the Indian plunge, by tying up with India’s Bharti Group.

A reflection of prospects of the Indian market and the increasing clout of Indian companies has been the huge India-related mergers and acquisitions. Vodafone, the world’s largest telecom company, has won the bidding war with an aggressive price of $19.3 billion for the whole of Hutch Essar, India’s third largest private sector mobile operator. Cellular phone usage has grown phenomenally in India in the last couple of years.

The AV Birla Group has bid for the Canadian aluminum giant Novelis Inc for $6 billion. If this mega transaction goes through, Novelis and AV Birla company, Hindalco, will jointly become the world’s largest aluminum rolling company

This follows Tata Steel’s $12 billion acquisition of Anglo-Dutch steel maker Corus, making Tata-Corus the fifth biggest steel-maker in the world. Washington, thus, has reason to believe that India is no longer in need of any aid, though it must be emphasized that according to government estimates, one third of India’s rural population or over 200 million people still live on less than Rs. 12 per day (a little more than a quarter). Also, 10 percent of all-India rural population is living on just Rs. 9 per day.

In this context, many observers in India have said that while India has done well in portraying itself as an emerging market, it is important to emphasize to the Western world the vastness and variations in economic and social levels, in order not to lose out on help, which the country still desperately needs.

There is dire need for intervention in dealing with AIDS, rural health care and primary education, spheres in which both private and government efforts leave a lot to be desired.


Live Healthy Today: Be Healthy Tomorrow
A healthier lifestyle now will avoid health issues in the future, writes Dr. Thuan L. Tran, MD.

Mr. Pham really enjoys eating. Every meal is a feast, with sweet rice, fried pork, pickled shallots and plum wine. But recently one of his uncles suffered from a stroke. His uncle now lives in a nursing home, unable to walk or get dressed on his own. His uncle’s condition made Mr. Pham realize he needs to adopt a healthier lifestyle now to avoid health problems in the future.

When he came into my office for a routine check-up and asked what steps to take, here’s what I told him:

Eat a balanced diet of at least three meals a day. There’s no reason to stop treating each meal as a feast, just make sure fresh vegetables are the main course. Drink plenty of water, especially if you work outdoors. Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day.

Exercise 30 minutes every day. Exercise can be any activity you enjoy, like bicycling, tennis, soccer or walking the dog. It’s more fun to exercise with someone else, so find a health buddy to motivate you.

If you smoke, commit to quit. As I tell my patients, quitting cold turkey is often easier than cutting back. Either way, it’s important to plan ahead. Keep substitutes for the cigarette (like celery sticks, baby carrots or chewing gum) on hand in case you feel the urge to smoke. Get support from friends and loved ones before you quit.

Limit your alcohol use to three drinks or less each week. That’s three cans of beer, glasses of wine or shots of hard liquor. Please never drive after drinking alcohol.

Drink no more than two cups of caffeinated beverages a day. Just like alcohol, the less you drink the better. Creamer and condensed milk are loaded with sugar and fat, so use them in moderation.

Take time for your children. Spend at least one hour a day during the week and one half-day each weekend with your children. They grow up faster than you think.

Date your spouse! Hire a babysitter and take your wife our husband out once a month. It doesn’t have to be anything lavish. A movie or walk in the park is all it takes to keep romance in your relationship.

You probably have other great ideas, so whatever you can come up with, have a plan to reward yourself for honoring it.

Special Section | WORLD CUP CRICKET
Ready to Roll | Full Match Schedule | PDF

Ready to Roll
World Cup 2007
The top cricketing nations are getting ready to fight for cricket’s top prize. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): Indian cricket team for the 2007 ICC World Cup.
(Right from top): Australian captain Ricky Ponting poses with the 2003 World Cup trophy that Australia won. They haven’t had a good time lately, but you can’t ever count them out; The three batting stalwarts of the Indian team: Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. The Indian team’s success will depend on their performance; and New Zealand power hitter Craig Macmillan. His spectacular recent performances just adds that extra bit of spice of uncertainty that makes cricket so special. [All photos Getty Images]

As cricket fans all over the world get ready for cricket’s premier tournament, all eyes are on the West Indies now. The cricket itself is a fascinating prospect, given the results in recent matches.

The almighty Aussies have been humbled, which means the top prize is no longer a foregone conclusion.

But the key question for India fans is: Can the last tournament’s finalists actually deliver?

The answer has to be a qualified maybe. There is no question India has the talent, but as is so often the case with India, what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate as well on the field.

India’s batting line-up remains one of the most formidable in the world — the addition of the majestic Sourav Ganguly to the in-form Sachin Tendulkar and the ever-dependable Rahul Dravid augurs well. Add to that the blazing talent of Mahender Singh Dhoni when he is in form, and India can take on pretty much any attack on its day.

Its bowling remains its Achilles’ heel, and how it performs could determine its prospects in the tournament.

As for the rest of the South Asian nations, while Sri Lanka have lost the luster of earlier years when they were simply a sight to behold, changing one-day cricket forever with their amazing batting aggression, they are still a force to reckon with.

Pakistan has a talented if temperamental team; their last-minute loss of quicks Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif has dealt a crippling blow to their bowling line up, and it remains to be seen if they can recover.

Bangladesh, while capable of the very occasional surprise, are still not ready to take on the big boys yet.

As for the rest of the world, the South Africans have good cause to be optimistic after an excellent performance against India and Pakistan. Some would call them the favorites, given a recent run of bad performances by perennial favorites and current holders Australia. The Aussies’ recent loss to unfancied England and New Zealand—particular two consecutive defeats to the latter, raise questions about their prospects. The loss of paceman Brett Lee in particular is cause for concern. But only a fool would rule the Aussies out.

What makes the coming World Cup so exciting is the possibility of an upset. Only a few weeks ago, the Aussies were ruling supreme, and England were the pits, yet their remarkable comeback in the triseries in Australia is a measure of how, on a given day, even the most powerful team in the world can be humbled.

Take New Zealand’s Craig MacMillan. His power hitting twice helped the Kiwis humble the Aussies, chasing massive scores. If that scenario is repeated a few times, cricket’s wonderful unpredictability promises a very exciting World Cup indeed.

[Download PDF]


Magic Moments: A Trip to Venice
After a memorable trip to Venice, what lingers on are memories of Italian warmth, the sheer drama of the welcome and the sound of a disembodied tenor echoing over the water of the Grand Canal and in the narrow alleys, writes our travel editor Al Auger.

(Top): A vaporetti, a kind of water-bus, is a cheaper, fun alternative to the expensive gondola for getting around in Venice.

Heading to Venice, we made a short camping stop at one of the numerous campgrounds between Venice and Milano. Just a few miles outside of Milano we found what looked like a charming camping spot with a beach on the lake.

I approached the woman behind the counter and in slow, not-very-good Spanish asked her if she had a vacancy for our camper bus. She patiently listened to my speech, a small smile lingering on her face. She looked at me and said, “I hope you won’t be offended, but I’m from New Jersey and speak excellent English.”

Later, as our campground landlords became our friends, we discovered she had come to Milano to teach at the American school, met a local and together built the campground with their own hands.

What was originally intended to be a short 2-3 day stop, turned into nearly 2 weeks, as our hosts — now good friends — would have us in for dinner or lunch or just sitting around sipping local wine and telling stories. Mario, the husband, was curious to know what we were experiencing on our fantasy trip and his wife, Jennifer, curious about what was going on in America.

This friendship and some other wonderful sidebars were our early-on introduction to the warmth and openness of the Italian people. After many horror stories of what to expect from the unfriendly Italians, the French, the Germans, etc., towards Americans, our actual experience made us wonder if these American tourists were traveling to a Europe on a parallel world. As usual, the Italians proved, just like their European brothers and sisters, to be as friendly as you were to them.

One little experience on the beach at the campground was typical. Lying on the beach one day, a resident foursome next to us were lounging on their chaise lounge by their rather large yacht. As they prepared to cast off, one of the group came over and expressed concern that we only had towels to lie on and would we like to borrow their chaise lounges while they went for a cruise. Along with the lounges offered was a lovely bottle of Chianti wine.

Our introduction to the illusion called Venice was but a hint of what was to come. Our Frommer budget travelmeister had this to say about Venice (liberally paraphrased): “To introduce yourself to Venice, forget the overpriced gondolas and power boats, instead take a vaporetto (waterborne bus) down the Grand Canal that will cost you mere pennies in comparison. Not only will you see centuries of exotic architecture built by the rich and powerful and the beautiful churches and government buildings, but you will mingle with the people of Venice as they go to work, shop, etc.”

Not even the inventive Frommer could have imagined what an extraordinary welcome we were given as we returned on the vaporetto to the train station at the upper end of the Grand Canal. The day was overcast with metal grey clouds scudding across the sky and oppressively warm as we stood on the open rear deck of the vaporetto, soaking in the rich atmosphere of this seemingly unreal city. All of a sudden, the skies opened up with a deluge of rain accompanied by a booming thunderstorm.

Broad streaks of lightning lit up the open windows of the palazzos as we passed by, followed by teeth-jarring thunder. While the passengers huddled inside for protection, my wife and I, wet to the skin, were transfixed by the show that we felt must have been just for us. Inside the massive open windows of the grand rooms passing by us we could view the magnificent tapestries on the wall, the finely wrought furniture and massive chandeliers, their glow overpowered by the light show outside.

That was only the beginning. The next evening was a warm, sultry Venetian September night, the kind of evening that filled the plazas of the neighborhoods with fathers in undershirts drinking cold beer, children in shorts playing and wives clustered on the outer circle gossiping. This is the Venice not seen by most tourists, easily found up the side canals, all served by the vaporetti. The local restaurants were filled with Venetians, the outdoor cafés overflowing with late night diners enjoying an after dinner Cinzano or espresso. This part of the “real” Venice is a wonderful place to explore on foot. The people are warm and receptive to foreigners. The food is excellent and well below the prices on the tourist side of the Grand Canal.

Venice is a city where finding a trattoria is simply a process of turning your eyes in any direction. And the choices are large, mainly anchored by a seemingly never ending choice of pasta dishes. Small restaurants with affordable menus could be found everywhere on the people’s side of the Grand Canal. Naturally, succulent pizza was a given wherever we happened to be. To add a sense of glamour to our normally pedestrian quest we would stop before dinner and watch the life of Venice pass by on the terrace of the Hotel Bauer. A recent $50 million restoration has turned the Bauer into a world-class hostelry.

One evening after dinner, as we cruised the narrow labyrinths generously called streets between the old buildings and bordering the twisting canals, the echoing sound of singing was heard from some distant source. At first we were sure the arias were coming from some nearby trattoria or bar. But the water of the canals and narrow streets bounced the sound around with abandon. We spent the next 10 minutes searching the maze of streets hoping to find the source of the songs.

Giving up on ever finding the beautiful tenor singing popular operatic arias, we turned instead to the nearest vaporetto stop. And there, practically at our feet, was the ghostly singer. His theater was the Grand Canal and a stretch of gondolas forming a traditional wedding party embarking from St. Mark’s Basilica.

At the center of some 12 or more gondolas was the wedding party, the newly married couple in their gondola crowned by a halo of lights. On their left an accordionist and violinist; on their right our shadowy tenor serenading the celebrants. Bottles of wine were passed from gondola to gondola as the gondoliers pushed their craft down the Central Canal.

A local, also waiting for the vaporetto, told us the party was heading to the Mensa Dopolavoro Ferroviario next to the rail station for the reception. He also told us that many of those in the waterborne jubilation were not actually part of the wedding party but that tradition allowed anyone on the Canal at the time to join the celebration as far as the reception place. And, as the gondolas — side by side — headed towards the Mensa, we could see the line growing like a time-lapse movie.

We wandered the neighborhoods daily, surrounded by curious children and asking and answering questions of the adults through a mix of basic English, Spanish and bad Italian. We sampled all the splendid foods of the marketplace, the fresh vegetables and fruits, the breads, cheeses and wines, sitting in the sun taking in the various panorama of family life going on around us. Italians love their sweets and nothing soothes the palate more than a tasty gelato or fruit-flavored sorbetto.

Time and the seduction of what lay over the next hill brought our time in this extraordinary city to an end (until the next time). What has never ended is the footprints of the memories of our generous campground hosts, the sheer drama of our welcome to Venice and the sound of a disembodied tenor echoing over the water of the Grand Canal and in the narrow alleys. Arrivederci, Venezia.

Appreciation Rate Steadies: U.S. House Prices

WASHINGTON, DC — The rate of home price appreciation in the U.S. remained steady in the fourth quarter of 2006, extending a general trend of deceleration begun earlier in the year. Home prices, based on repeat sales and refinancing, were 1.1 percent higher in the fourth quarter than they were in the third quarter of 2006.  This is slightly above the revised growth estimate of 1.0 percent from the second to the third quarter. Prices in the fourth quarter of 2006 were 5.9 percent higher than they were in the same quarter in 2005.

Price appreciation in 2006 was substantially smaller than the tremendous price gains of recent years, which ranged from 7.4 percent in 2002 to 13.2 percent in 2005. The figures were released today by OFHEO Director James B. Lockhart, as part of the House Price Index (HPI), a quarterly report analyzing housing price appreciation trends.

“These data show that, on the whole, prices are still rising, albeit at a much slower pace,” said Lockhart. “This suggests that house price appreciation is, for now, more in line with historical norms.”

House prices grew faster over the past year than did prices of non-housing goods and services reflected in the Consumer Price Index.  House prices rose 5.9 percent, while prices of other goods and services, excluding shelter, rose 0.9 percent.

“The continuing strength in the economy and decreasing interest rates for borrowers prevented a harder landing in housing markets during the second half of last year,” said OFHEO Chief Economist Patrick Lawler.  “Last quarter, though sharper drops occurred locally, no state had average price declines of as much as one percent,” Lawler said.

Significant HPI Findings:
The states with the greatest rates of appreciation between the fourth quarter of 2005 and the fourth quarter of 2006 were: Utah ( 17.6%), Wyoming (14.3%), Idaho (14.0%), Washington (13.7%), and Oregon (13.5%). The states with the lowest rates of appreciation for the same period were: Michigan (-0.4%), Massachusetts (0.5%), Ohio (1.0%), Indiana ( 2.3%), and Minnesota (2.5%).

Of the 282 cities on OFHEO’s list of “ranked” MSAs, 256 had positive four-quarter appreciation, 25 had price declines, and prices were unchanged in one city.

Other Notable Results:
  1. In the Pacific Census Division, quarterly appreciation is decelerating rather dramatically.  Prices grew 0.4 percent between the third and fourth quarter, nearly one full percentage point below the growth rate in the prior period.
  2. California saw quarterly appreciation rates that were negative in 21 of the 26 cities on OFHEO’s list of “ranked” metropolitan areas.
  3. Nevada, which had the highest statewide appreciation in the nation two years ago, is now ranked 40th among the states with four-quarter appreciation of 3.9 percent.

Purchase-Only Index: A purchase-only index increased 4.1 percent between the fourth quarter of 2005 and the fourth quarter of 2006, compared with 5.9 percent for the HPI.  The purchase-only index increased 0.5 percent (seasonally-adjusted) between the third and fourth quarters of 2006, compared with 1.1 percent for the HPI.  The difference between the two appreciation measures may reflect differences in the types of homes refinanced versus those purchased or changing biases in the appraisal valuations and different proportions of appraisal and sales price data.

To obtain OFHEO’s full report, readers can email Ashok Gupta at ashok@bridgerealtyloans.com.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
CNPA /CSNE Governmental Day | Hempstead, N.Y., Celebrates India’s Republic Day | Cupertino Celebrates | Battling HIV/AIDS | Fighting Polio | Fundraising Show | Sikh Aid for Hospital | HAF Responds

CNPA /CSNE Governmental Day

Debra Bowen and John Chiang

The California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California Society of Newspaper Editors jointly held their 11th Annual Governmental Day in Sacramento Jan. 31. On hand to interact with close to 200 people working in the print media (including a handful from NAM) were state lawmakers.

The gathering commenced with planned welcoming remarks by Harold W. Fuson Jr. on behalf of the CNPA and CSNE president Mike Jenner along with Thomas W. Newton, Jim Ewert and John O’Malley.

A Constitutional Officer Panel followed which discussed a number of issues with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and State Controller John Chiang. Both panelists stressed the need to look towards changing current trends in news and views.

Bowen pointed out some of the new avenues through which young people are getting their news today and the new issues that are coming to light from the use of the Internet. Chiang pointed to the various social phenomena that need attention and why only 24 percent of people elected are trusted by the public to do the right thing. Bowen came out supporting the printing of multi-lingual voter information and ballots for California’s ethnic communities.

The post lunch Legislative Leadership Panel covered some hot issues including prison reform, term limits, budget, redistricting and health care

The print media through the CNPA / CSNE here remains an essential element in the politics of California. Just sharing a lunch table with a diverse group of print media professionals from The Black Voice News, the Westside Story newspaper, the Annenberg School for Communication at USC amongst others yielded interesting insights. From “Medical Apartheid” to Senator’s Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to the relevance of the Rev. Jesse Jackson today and as to who did or did not openly endorse Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger during his last campaign, it was an edifying sharing of a meal.

—    Ras H. Siddiqui


Hempstead, N.Y., Celebrates India’s Republic Day

At an event Jan. 26 to honor the contributions of Indian Americans in the U.S. in Hempstead, N.Y., seen here (l-r): Donald Clavin, Angie Cullin, Mohinder Taneja, Kate Murray, Indu Jaiswal, Anthony Santino, Parveen Chopra, Dorothy Goosby, Edward Ambrosino and Mark Bonilla.

For the first time the Town of Hempstead, N.Y.,which likes to call itself the largest town in America, unfurled the flag of India side by side with the American flag to recognize the contributions of Indian community to America and to mark a new level of accomplishments in Indo-U.S. relations, according to a press release. Senior Councilmember Tony Santino unfurled the flag on Jan 26, India’s Republic Day in a temperature of 22 degrees below zero. Kate Murray, supervisor of Hempstead accompanied by the entire Town Board, accompanied by New York Supreme Court Judge Rick Lawrence New York State Supreme Court Judge, District Criminal Courts Judge Jerald Carter and former Judges John Pessala and Jane Shrenkel and her husband Louis.

All took part in the Republic Day Celebrations along with 250 people representing the Irish, Italian, Jewish, African American, Hispanic, Korean, Chinese and Indian community. The Indian Consulate was represented by Praveen Kumar.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Parveen Chopra, whose honors include the Dr. Martin Luther King Award and Ellis Island Medal of Honor, lauded President George W. Bush’s signing of the India-U.S. Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act in December, 2006.

The Town Board honored two Indian Americans:. Detective Farokh Mehta, the first Indian who joined the Nassau County Police force over twenty years ago and was also the first Indian to be promoted to Detective

Dr. T.K. Sreepada Rao, associate director of the Renal Disease Division at the State University of New York at Down State Medical College was honored for his contributions to research with over 120 published articles, reviews and chapters in text books. He was the first Indian doctor who transplanted two donor kidneys from New York to Mumbai and participated in their transplantations to two dialysis patients in India for the first time.

Cupertino Celebrates

The Cupertino Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual STAR Awards to recognize the outstanding Citizen of 2006 as well as the top small and large-sized Businesses of the Year at a gala banquet at the Cypress Hotel March 31, according to a press release.

Seating is limited. To make a reservation, call the Chamber office at (408) 252-7054.

Chamber CEO Christine Giusiana formally announced the recipients selected at the Installation of Officers Jan. 17, 2007: Citizen of the Year: Lauralee Sorensen, retired nurse; Mahesh Nihalani of Jewels in Style. Small Business of the Year is Alotta’s Delicatessen & Catering, and the Large Business of the Year is Stevens Creek Quarry, Inc. Chamber Ambassador Volunteer is Diane Renna.

The criteria for selection are based on significant service, teamwork and achievements of the nominee. The purpose of the STAR Award is to recognize a local business or citizen whose contributions have made a significant and beneficial impact on the Cupertino community.

Selection is based on achievements and contributions in areas such as civic and community service, education, and governmental affairs.

The Cupertino Chamber of Commerce is a not-for-profit business association that was founded in 1954. The mission of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce is to promote and enhance the business environment and economic climate of the Cupertino community.

Battling HIV/AIDS

(Seen from l-r): Dr. Zeenat: secretary general of Federation of Indian NGOs of Drugs and Prevention; Mukta Kaur Khalsa, DIRECTOR of 3HO SuperHealth; Gary Lewis, South Asian regional director of United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (from Barbados); Dr. Rajesh Kumar, executive director of Societal Promotion for Youth and Masses and affiliated with the Indian Ministry of Social Justice and Ministry of Health.

From Feb. 3-6 in Goa, India, representatives of the 3HO SuperHealth program attended an international seminar focusing on HIV/AIDS and drug demand reduction throughout India. 3HO SuperHealth is a de-addiction program, developed by the late Kundalini Yoga masterYogi Bhajan, which combines of Kundalini Yoga with modern therapeutic approaches. Mukta Kaur Khalsa, director for 3HO SuperHealth, attended the event.

The seminar was organized by Dr. Zeenat, secretary general of the Federation of Indian NGOs of Drugs and Prevention; and her husband Dr. Rajesh Kumar, executive director of Societal Promotion for Youth and Masses. This couple has developed strong relationships with NGOs throughout India and the Indian government. Traveling across the country, Dr. Zeenat and Dr. Rajesh Kumar work to support NGO’s local involvement.

According to Mukta Kaur Khalsa, “They are passionate, well connected and caring people who link people working in the field of human tragedy and empower them with resources to make their job on the front lines possible.” This dedication to connecting people in need with the people and resources who can help them is an essential ingredient in battling AIDS and drug addiction at the grass roots.

In addition to NGO’s, other international representatives attended including Gary Lewis, South Asian regional director of United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (from Barbados) and government representatives from the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom has recently given aid to India to help fight AIDS and drug addiction.

Fighting Polio

Nearly 100 volunteers from the United States and Europe traveled to India and Nigeria to immunize children against polio — a crippling and potentially fatal disease that still threatens children in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, according to a press release from Rotary International.

These volunteers — all members of Rotary, a humanitarian service organization that has made polio eradication its top philanthropic goal — will work with local authorities and Rotarians to help administer the drops of oral polio vaccine to every child under the age of five, deliver the vaccine to remote villages and educate families on the importance of protecting children against polio.

Nigeria and India are the major strongholds of polio and among just four countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan where the virus has never stopped circulating. World health experts recently announced that a polio-free world now hinges on these four countries.

India is a major hotbed for this disease, accounting for 655 cases in 2006. “Until polio is eradicated worldwide, every child remains at risk,” said Anil Garg, team leader of the group traveling to his former homeland of India. “Preventing paralysis from polio in just one child has major social and economic consequences for the victim, family and entire country, as many suffering from polio become social outcasts and are often prohibited from working or marrying.”

More information is available at www.rotary.org, www.polioeradication.org or http://rotarynid.blogspot.com

Fundraising Show

Dallas, Texas-based ThinkIndia Foundation presents its fundraising cultural show “Kohinoor… A Priceless Legacy” March 17 at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, according to a press release from the foundation. This event is aimed at raising funds to support charitable causes including CITY House Plano, and several charities in India.

“Scripted in English, the production will showcase the amazing and incredible contributions that India has made to the world,” the release added.

With a cast of over 125 performers, the show will last for two hours, and will be presented twice – once in the afternoon and again in the evening.

In between the two shows a bazaar in the lobby and a selection of North and South Indian cuisine will be available. The bazaar will feature apparel, accessories and decorative items from the Indian subcontinent.

Founded in 2004, ThinkIndia Foundation is a non-profit organization, with the charter of fostering community involvement in creative cultural events and service projects, supporting charitable causes around the globe. Reader can get more information from the foundation’s Web site at www.thinkindiafoundation.org.

The public is invited to attend the event – tickets are available online at www.sulekha.com, or on the foundation Web site at www.thinkindiafoundation.org. For more information readers can call Shibani at (469) 733-6404.

Sikh Aid for Hospital

When the new Brampton Civic Hospital in Brampton, Ontario, opens its doors later this year, it will be due in no small measure to the generosity of the South Asian community, particularly residents with Punjabi roots who live in the area.

The move to name the new emergency department after Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, gave Sikh fundraising efforts a boost – and caused a flap.

"I won't lie. That (name) was a huge push for our campaign. It's an emotional connection so it was really well-received in the community," said Ramandeep Grewal, a lawyer who is among those spearheading the Canadian Sikh Subcommittee.

Through a radio-thon, a dinner, and individual donations, the Sikh community has raised $3.4 million toward its goal of $10 million over five years. The Ontario Federation of Hindu Temples pledged $2.5 million and the Muslim Friends, $1 million.

"We're just thrilled," said Maureen Flanagan Pool, director of development and new initiatives for William Osler Health Centre Foundation, under whose umbrella the new hospital falls.

The $550 million, 608-bed acute care hospital at Bovaird and Bramalea is in Brampton's predominantly South Asian Springdale neighborhood.

The community saw donating as a way to give back, as well as be actively involved in ensuring the new hospital was sensitive to their cultural and religious needs.

"It's an opportunity to celebrate. The community has struggled, as a lot of immigrant communities do, and is on the threshold of moving to another era. Being able to contribute in this way, at this level, really shows that we have made this our home and we see it as our responsibility to give back," said Grewal.

HAF Responds

The Hindu American Foundation was recently notified of a story by an individual who claimed that during her trip to India she saw a security sign on a public train from Goa to Mumbai that advised passengers against taking eatables from strangers because they could be drugged. The cartoon image with the sign featured two religious Jews reading the Torah. Although the Foundation has not been able to verify the authenticity of this claim and cannot comment on the specific incident further, if this incident is true, HAF urges the appropriate authorities in India to immediately remove the sign, investigate how this came to be, and appropriately charge the perpetrators.

The Foundation reiterates a prior statement of the Israeli Consulate in India that India is the only country without a history of anti-Semitism and reaffirms that Hinduism believes in pluralism and tolerance, as inspired by an ancient Vedic hymn, "Truth is One, the Wise Call it by Various Names" and has no basis of anti-Semitism.

The Foundation affirms the strong ties between Jews and Hindus over thousands of years, from the time Hindus on India’s west coast gave refuge to Jews after the Romans destroyed the holiest temple for Jews, to current times, when Israeli tourists are welcomed like all other tourists without the fear of anti-Semitism or terrorism that Jews face in many other nations.

BUSINESS: News in Brief
EVA Adds Fifth New Boeing 777
U.S. SBA Letter of Intent
Indian American Council
Shares Fall

EVA Adds Fifth New Boeing 777

EVA Air took delivery of its fifth brand-new Boeing 777-300ER on Feb. 8 in Everett, Wash., and ferried it back to Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei where it arrived on Feb. 9, according to a press release from the airline.

The aircraft joins two more B777s that were delivered last fall and are now in use on Los Angeles-to-Asia service.

EVA is using its other two B777s on its TaipeiBangkokLondon route.

Addition of the new aircraft equips EVA to use B777-300ERs on all of its Los Angeles night flights to Taiwan.

“With 17 flights a week, EVA has greater frequency on this route than any other Asian carrier,” the press release said. “Multiple daily flights and convenient schedules make it easy for passengers to travel onward to destinations throughout Asia with just one stop. Combined with EVA's passenger friendly service and advanced aircraft, it all adds up to growing passenger appeal.”

“EVA Air is proud to serve our passengers with the B777," said Y.Y. Chen, senior vice president and general manager, EVA America head office. “It is a fine piece of equipment. Not only is it outfitted nose to tail with the latest passenger comforts, but it also gets travelers to their destinations in the shortest amount of time."

In addition to Los Angeles service, EVA flies from San Francisco to Asia 12 times a week, New York four times, and Seattle daily. It provides a total of 40 passenger flights to and from the U.S. every week. Passengers can check schedules, make reservations, buy tickets and find special airfare deals on EVA's Web site at www.evaair.com

U.S. SBA Letter of Intent

The U.S. Small Business Administration and India’s Ministry of Small Scale Industry recently signed a letter of intent to increase interagency cooperation and identify opportunities for strategic alliances between U.S. small businesses and Indian small and medium enterprises, according to a press release from SBA. The agreement will further economic development and job creation in both countries.

The letter of intent was signed by Jawhar Sircar, additional secretary and development commissioner of SSI, and Manuel Rosales, SBA associate administrator for international trade. Rosales’s trip to India comes on the heels of Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Franklin L. Lavin’s business development mission to India, which had a strong SME component.

At the signing ceremony, Rosales praised the vitality of India’s economy and highlighted the importance of trade and cooperation between both countries’ small business communities as a tool for growth and jobs creation. “Small businesses are the backbone and driving force of our economies,” Rosales said. “Working together, we will encourage and facilitate business relationships that will help them to become even stronger, thus furthering economic development and job creation in both our nations.”

India is the world's fastest-growing free-market democracy and the U.S. is its largest trade and investment partner, which presents U.S. companies with very lucrative opportunities,” the release added. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2005 U.S.-India trade reached an all-time high of $26 billion, with about $8 billion in U.S. exports.

The signing took place at the American Chamber of Commerce international summit in New Delhi, India. The theme of the event was “Emerging India – Opportunities for SME’s,” and it focused on the opportunities India offers for businesses globally because of structural changes in its economy and the sheer size of its market: more than one billion people.

More information about SBA is available at its Web site at: www.sba.gov

Indian American Council

The Confederation of Indian Industry, the premier industry body of India, has set up the Indian American Council to connect Indian Americans to opportunities in India and enhance their engagement with India, according to its Web site. The Council provides a formal mechanism through which Indian Americans can identify avenues for participation in India's developmental process.

The council is led by a 14-member governing body led by Sam Pitroda, who is its chairman.

“Indians are excelling in every field, not only in India but also globally. Whether in India or the United States, UK, Germany, or Italy, many Indians have made winning a habit,” the Web site says. “Over the years, several Indian Americans have risen to positions of great prominence in all walks of life. Approximately two million Indians live in the U.S., the largest number of people of any non-native origin residing in a particular country. Of these, many of them have achieved great recognition in their fields of expertise.

“Having achieved this success, most Indian Americans are very passionate about contributing to the growth of their country, to engage with her people in a meaningful way. They have abiding ties and a commitment to contribute to India's growth process.”

It invites interested Indian Americans to join the council.

“Joining the Indian American Council is, in a sense, the first step to finding a formal platform for participating in India's growth,” according to CII. “The Council, which is the first initiative of its kind, endeavors to bring together Indians and Indian Americans willing to contribute to building a better India. It is a formal mechanism that brings to the surface a substantial and meaningful list of projects/areas in India that may benefit from Indian Americans' participation.”

More information is available at the IAC Web site at: www.indianamericancouncil.org

Shares Fall

Indian shares fell sharply Feb. 28, weighed down by the global stock-market sell-off Feb. 27 and concerns over the country's annual budget, with most other emerging markets remaining under selling pressure.

In Mumbai, the benchmark Sensex closed down 4 percent and is now down 6.2 percent this year, making it the worst performer among major indexes worldwide.

On Feb. 28, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram presented the annual $153 billion budget, which contains increased spending on health, education, infrastructure and agriculture. The budget also focused on fiscal consolidation through the phased removal of tax exemptions and including more services within the tax net.

"The budget is likely to disappoint the stock market due to the taxation hit on sectors like software and construction," said Jyotivardhan Jaipuria, a Merrill Lynch analyst, in a Wednesday research note. "This overshadows the success in controlling fiscal deficit and the hike in infrastructure spending."

Corporate-tax changes are likely to hit software, construction, real estate and housing finance, Jaipuria said.

Measures to tame inflation included reduction in import duties and the introduction of a dual excise structure for cement, which rewards producers with lower prices and penalizes those who charge more.

SATYAM: Pact with Northrop | ERICSSON: GSM Expansion | WIPRO: IT Tax ‘Retrograde’ | India Poaching: U.K. | HCL: Smiths in India | Digital TV

SATYAM: Pact with Northrop

Satyam Computers has forged an alliance with the $30-billion U.S. global defense and technology company Northrop Grumman for expanding its footprint in the global aerospace and defense market place. Both companies will jointly bid and provide high-end engineering services to global players in the aerospace and defense space.

For Satyam, the agreement will enable it to deepen its presence in the domain while Northrop will benefit from the Hyderabad-based company’s strength in providing engineering, development and consulting support as an off shoring partner.

Satyam vice-president Pinaki Dasgupta said: “This practice accounts for 15 percent revenue of our overall revenue from manufacturing business. We are looking at over 100 percent year-on-year growth for this practice. Our pipeline is strong.

“We are bidding for multiple projects that could yield revenues in the region of $100 million over a few years.”

Commenting on the revenue-sharing arrangement, Dasgupta said: “The alliance is unique and is not just another technical tie-up. The revenue sharing will be project-specific.”

Both companies are working on Hawkeye surveillance aircraft technology. The all-weather E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft has served as the “eyes” of the U.S. Navy fleet for over 30 years, according to the Northrop Web site.

Satyam and Northrop are exploring the Indian defense market and will be looking at possibilities of developing and customizing the Hawkeye to suit the requirements of the Indian Navy.


Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson said Feb. 27 it had signed three-year GSM expansion contract with Indian mobile firm IDEA Cellular.

Under the deal, Ericsson will provide radio access, microwave transmission and softswitch technology. It did not disclose the financial details of the deal.

The network will be built in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

WIPRO: IT Tax ‘Retrograde’

A new tax proposed on Indian software services exporters in the annual budget for the fiscal beginning in April should be scrapped, a senior official at Wipro said Feb. 28.

“We think this is a retrograde step in the sense that the sector has already been given tax holiday till March 2009,” Wipro chief financial officer Suresh Senapaty said.

He said the government’s proposal to bring employee stock options plan under fringe benefit tax was also “unfortunate.”

India Poaching: U.K.

India is being accused of squeezing Britain’s information technology industry by poaching low skill jobs and exporting managers to the U.K. to take top posts.

The charge was leveled by the Association of Technology Staffing Companies after figures pointed to a sharp rise in foreign IT workers entering Britain.

The Home Office issued more than 33,700 work permits to foreign IT workers last year, almost 80 percent of them from India.

HCL: Smiths in India

Britain’s Smiths Group Plc’s aerospace unit has set up an engineering services centre in India in partnership with software exporter HCL Technologies Ltd., a joint statement said Feb. 27.

The facility is the result of an agreement between Smiths Aerospace and HCL Technologies signed in December last year, it said. Financial details were not available.

Indian software firms are vying for a bigger share of the aerospace market as aircraft makers and defense companies look to control costs by outsourcing design and management systems.

Global spending on engineering services was $750 billion in 2004, with aerospace accounting for 8 percent, and could rise to $1.1 trillion by 2020, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies.

Digital TV

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has kickstarted discussions with broadcasters, cable operators, equipment manufacturers, industry and technology experts to lay the road map for digitalization of television services across the country.

Following the consultation process, TRAI is likely to set up a deadline for complete digitalization of television services in India. This implies all cable operators in India will have to change their existing infrastructure within this time-frame. At present, only DTH and CAS platforms use digital infrastructure.

The first of the meets between the regulators and all stakeholders took place on February 23. Sources said several proposals were discussed in the meet, including setting a deadline for voluntary rollout of CAS across India, implementation of technologies that allow cable operators to roll-out digital infrastructure without a set-top box and setting a time frame by which all forms of TV services in the country will have to migrate from analog to digital. Other issues to figure in the meet related to fiscal rationalization, encouragement of domestic manufacturing, changes in the regulatory regime, specially the need for price control, ensuring affordability and choice and exploring alternative models for voluntary CAS, the sources added.

Minivan for Mom: 2007 Honda Odyssey
For moms who are on the road all day long, driving to the school, grocery, swim meets or dentist appointments, the Honda Odyssey is certainly one way to go, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

Anyone with a family knows that a two-door coupe is probably not the best vehicular choice, especially if you’re bending and twisting around in the back seat, buckling children into their infant seats. That alone may be the reason why minivans such as the Honda Odyssey are so popular.

The Honda Odyssey, however, takes it to the next level, when they pack the vehicle with so many features that families need.

What mom wouldn’t love dual sliding doors or a keyless remote and eight-passenger seating? How many times did my kids stand around in the rain while I buckled the littlest one into the infant seat? That never happens with dual sliding doors. Pop both doors open in the grocery store parking lot, and everyone hops in at the same time. How many times were we not able to bring their friends along, because we didn’t have enough seat belts? That’s not happening with eight passenger seating. How many times did the three of them fuss and complain about not having enough elbow room in the back seat? That’s something you’re not going to hear from the third row in the Odyssey.

The Honda Odyssey is available in four trims, and all place family creature comforts at the foreground. How many of those comforts you must have will depend on how high up the trim chain you’re willing to go.

We were offered the opportunity to test drive the top-of-the-line touring version. Everything imaginable was packed in to this vehicle, which could make motoring life a breeze with young children. Topping that list is a DVD Rear Entertainment System, power adjustable pedals, a power tail gate, seven-speaker sound system, run-flat tires and XM Satellite Radio. But, while all of that is terrific, the amenities carry a price tag some families may not be willing to plunk down — $36,895 as suggested retail price. The entry level LX, on the other hand, starts at $25,645.

So, what do you get with a top of the line minivan? In addition to the aforementioned, you also get leather-trimmed seats and a power moon roof, heated front seats for the comfort of driver and front passenger, heated side mirrors and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
As for safety features, the Odyssey is equipped with anti-lock brakes, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Brake Assist, fog lights, multi-reflector halogen head lamps and a security system. The run-flat tires are a safety feature that allow you to travel many miles on a flat, but the tires, I understand, are very expensive to replace.

In addition to the other previously mentioned nice-to-have goodies, the Odyssey touring version is also equipped with a total of 17 beverage holders tucked here and there; tri-zone automatic climate control so even in the third row of seats you can select your own personal temperature level; and a removable center console in the second row of seats. Now, for us moms who spend entire days in the minivan (it seems), the Odyssey has a trio of amenities designed to please. Take the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, add the eight-way power adjustable seats to the power adjustable pedals, and you have three features designed to help you create a customized driving position.

On the road, the Odyssey handles very well, and its 3.5-liter, V6 engine is certainly powerful enough to launch you onto the freeway even from the shortest on-ramp. Road noise is not noticeable.

Your passengers in all seating positions are going to be treated to plenty of head, leg and hip room. The rear cargo area is quite nicely sized.

Although the Odyssey does have available seating for eight, our version gave up the eighth seat to have a console in the second row of seats.

Overall, we found the Odyssey to be packed with plenty of family-friendly comforts. For those who are on the road all day long, driving from school to the grocery store, from swim meets to dentist appointments, the Honda Odyssey is certainly one way to go.

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


That’s Like Saying: ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ | A Golden Raspberry, Richly Deserved | Rituals Assailed | No Qualms | Pukka Politician | ‘Pray for Me, Brother’ | No Heart Attack

That’s Like Saying: ‘Let Them Eat Cake’
Hema Malini

Okay, she’s still quite pretty and has millions of fans, and we don’t say she doesn’t deserve it. Hema Malini still can make you stop and take a second look, but one wishes she would stick to what she is good at, i.e., making Bollywood movies.

When film stars decide to share their wisdom—if that’s what you want to call it—about politics and the state of the nation, that’s when they get into trouble.

Recently Hema has been making the rounds as Rajya Sabha MP of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and asking farmers not to commit suicide.

Aap log himmat se kaam lijiye, aatmhatya karna kayarata hai,” (Have courage and don’t commit suicide as suicide is a cowardly act), she told a gathering of farmers in Katol near Nagpur, Maharashtra.

Now that’s like adding insult to injury. Somebody should tell the phillum star that farmers in Vidarbha, Maharashtra, have not meet committing suicide because they are cowards, but because their circumstances are horrific.

State supports have dried up, they’ve been growing capital-intensive cash crops after getting up to their necks in debt, and after prices of those crops crash, thanks to the brave new world of “free” markets where they have to “compete” with first world farmers bolstered with generous government subsidies, what on earth are they supposed to do?

On her way to Amravati for a dance-drama program, Hema Malini addressed farmers at a rally organized by former state Congress chief Ranjeet Deshmukh, Vidarbha Progressive Farmers Sanghatana and the state agriculture department on “natural farming and farmers’ training camp.”

She later stressed the need for low-cost farming and efforts to double yields in a brief interaction with reporters. Okay, that bit made sense. But, please Hema, don’t call farmers cowards. That sounds uncomfortably like the unlamented Marie Antoinette, who (in)famously said of starving peasants who had no bread: “Let them eat cake.”
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

A Golden Raspberry, Richly Deserved
Manoj Night Shyamalan

Call us heartless, but we refuse to shed a tear over the fall from grace of one-time Hollywood uber-filmmaker Manoj Night Shyamalan. This is what happens when you believe all the hype. After a smash hit debut, Shyamalan’s films have been going progressively downhill, until now it seems to have reached the pits.

His latest movie Lady in the Water has ‘won’ this year’s Golden Raspberry Awards, which “recognize” the worst movie the industry had to offer.

The 27th annual Razzies — as the anti-Oscar awards are nicknamed —granted the writer-director’s latest film four nominations — the worst picture, supporting actor (Shyamalan himself in a minor a brief role), director and screenplay.

A statement from Golden Raspberry Awards called the film “brain-dead bedtime story (and box office dud).”

Don’t feel too bad, Shyamalan. You’ve got pretty interesting company. Last year’s Oscar winner The Da Vinci Code got a nomination, putting up director Ron Howard for the Worst Director award.

Another Oscar-winning actor, the Gujarati-British actor Ben Kingsley, also received a Razzie nod in the worst supporting actor for his role in Bloodrayn.

Other nominees included Nicolas Cage (The Wicker Man) and Rob Schneider (The Benchwarmers) for Worst Actor Award . Among those up for the Worst Actress Awards were Jessica Simpson (Employee of the Month), Lindsay Lohan (Just My Luck), and Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct 2).

Which goes on to show, unsurprisingly, that lack of talent—and sometimes good sense—is not such a rarity in Hollywood.

So get your act together, Shyamalan.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Rituals Assailed

Abhishek and Aishwarya in “Guru.”

Spare a kind thought for poor Abhishek and Aishwarya. After suffocating publicity and speculation about their on-again, off-again romance, now a U.S.-based Hindu group is on their case.

A U.S.-based Hindu reform body has expressed concern at “astrology-related and similar unscientific rituals” performed by Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s family ahead of the marriage of his son Abhishek with Aishwarya Rai.

In a statement from Troy, Mich., Navya Shastra strongly disapproved the Mangalik-related ceremonies performed by the Bachchan family before and after the couple’s engagement.

“Astrology and similar unscientific practices should be renounced in marital matchmaking and other everyday activities in Hindu society,” said Navya Shastra chairman Jaishree Gopal.

“What concerns us is that millions of people may rationalize their mistreatment of women based upon the Abhishek-Rai example.

“As it is, hundreds of thousands of women — and even some men — have difficulty marrying because of the alleged perniciousness of a random confluence of stars,” Gopal said.

Aishwarya’s Mangalik sign (Mars-bearing) is believed to have negative consequences on her impending marriage.

Special pujas were performed at Kashi Vishwanath temple and Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi before the couple’s engagement. After the Big B announced last month that Abhishek and Aishwarya were engaged, the family went to Vindhyavasini temple where Mangalik-related ceremonies were performed.

According to Navya Shastra, “These actions will have an unhealthy impact on their (the family’s) fan base and subject brides-to-be to expiation ceremonies.”
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

No Qualms
Amitabh Bachchan in “Nishabd.”

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who plays a 60-year-old man in love with an 18-year-old girl in his new film Nishabd, has said he had no qualms about essaying such characters as long as they are viewed with a “psychological perspective” and not a “physical one.”

“I have no qualms playing a 60-year-old man in love with an 18-year-old girl because the film looks at the mental make-up of the character who finds himself in this situation,” he told reporters at the launch of the music of Nishabd in Mumbai Feb. 17 night.

“The movie should not be looked at from a physical or sexual point of view.

“I believe Indian audiences are maturing fast and we have to thank them for pushing us to go beyond the escapist norms that we have followed. The more we go beyond these, it is better for us,” said Bachchan, flanked by the film’s director Ram Gopal Varma and debutante Jiah Khan who plays the teenager.

Asked whether he had thought of playing such roles before, he remarked, “I didn’t get such roles before because I hadn’t turned 60 before. But I am very happy that even at this stage of my career, I am still getting roles that excite and challenge me.”

Varma, clarifying that his film was not inspired by Vladimir Nabakov’s “Lolita,” was all praise for his actor. “I wouldn’t have made the film if he hadn’t agreed to act in it.

“Besides the depth of acting that the actor was required to have, I wanted to use Bachchan’s larger than life image to portray that if a man like him can lose control over his emotions, forgetting his responsibilities to his family at his age, what would be the mental trauma that he goes through, Varma said.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Pukka Politician
Govinda in “Bhagam Bhag.”

No longer is our tapori hero Govinda Mr. nice guy. So forget the toothy smile and the cute antics. Politics is a contact sport in India, and Govinda is ready to play hardball, as he made it clear during a political campaign in Punjab recently.

Accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party of being a party of “corrupt and selfish” individuals, Bollywood actor-turned-politician Govinda Feb. 11 said it was the reason why he decided to join politics.

“I saw such corruption in the BJP that they were willing to extract commission even from the last rites of their party cadre. Nothing can be more shameful than this,” the Mumbai Northwest MP said while addressing a rally at Tarsika village for Congress candidate for Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency Surinder Singla.

Singla is pitted against the BJP’s Navjot Singh Sidhu in a multicornered contest in bye-election.

Govinda said the incident affected him so much that he decided to enter the political arena, “or else, the field will be left open for corrupt and selfish individuals.”

He said the liberal policies of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the centre had given economic growth a new direction.

“Today Indian businesses are buying foreign companies, which is a clear indication of our economic growth and progress,” the star-turned-politician reminded the audience of the sacrifices made by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is synonym to development, he said.

It is due to the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that India was progressing rapidly in every field, he said.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

'Pray for Me, Brother'
A.R. Rahman

Poverty has no caste or gender, but it now has a voice in the form of music virtuoso A.R. Rahman, whose English single “Pray For Me Brother” will be the UN’s anthem for its Millennium Development Goals campaign.

The MDGs comprise a set of eight promises by world governments to end poverty, hunger and disease by 2015.

After rocking India with his “Vande Mataram,” Rahman’s first English song, released by Universal Music, is his call to wipe poverty off the face of the earth.

“Poverty and hunger have no religion or gender and this song is to inspire people to do a little bit about the world. We all believe in a creator and even a prayer can change things,” Rahman said at the launch in Mumbai of “Pray For Me Brother” and its music video.

Explaining the reason for singing the song in English, Rahman said it was like a “statement from India.”

“If we have a message for the world, English is the best form of expression,” he observed.

Music, he pointed out, had the power to change the lives of the people.

“Poverty is the root of all problems like disease and crime,” he said.

“Pray For Me Brother” is the world’s first music video shot in the mobile cinemascope format to enable suitable viewing by mobile phone customers.

The video was shot in black and white by Bharatbala of “Vande Mataram” fame. The song was written by Blaaze and composed and sung by Rahman.

The video was launched exclusively on the Nokia N series music edition of mobile phones.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

No Heart Attack

While other professionals from the corporate and other worlds are reportedly getting much more stressed than their counterparts from earlier generations, it would seem that the top stars should be much less insecure, as they are choosier. Saif Ali Khan, who is said to have paid a hefty alimony to ex-wife Amrita Singh and might be paying maintenance for his kids, was admitted Feb. 18 to Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital for severe chest pain.

Though rumors of a heart attack flew thick and fast and the news was even reported in one publication, doctors ruled it out, stating that the angiography was normal.

Apparently, Saif had over-exerted practicing his dance for a forthcoming awards night (Stardust) that was held the same day. The actor had landed in Mumbai from a shoot in South Africa on 1:30 a.m., went directly to the rehearsals at MMRDA Grounds, got home at 4 a.m. and went again at 4 p.m. for the rehearsals. He practiced there for three hours, but at 6:30 p.m. he complained of chest pain and was taken by his driver to a nearby clinic and then shifted to hospital. Rosa, his girlfriend, joined him latery, .
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Impressive Thriller: Eklavya
(Rating ***1/2 Superior)

This page has never been a fun read for the Bollywood average aficionado — a remarkable species with the patience of Job. Unfortunately, this reviewer is a lesser mortal whose patience begins to run exceedingly thin at the many antics of Bollywood filmmakers who are all too often clueless about what they are up to.

But that may be about to change. If some of the recent Bollywood films are any guide (Kkrish, the Munnabhai franchise, Madhur Bhandarkar’s terrific Page 3, even Mani Ratnam’s imperfect but impressive Guru), Bollywood films, though still assuredly middle-brow entertainment, are beginning to display a technical skill and production panache that bodes well for its future.

Mind you, these films won’t set the festival circuit on fire, but Bollywood filmmakers couldn’t care less. Their object is to get in the janta and rake in the moolah. That’s fine, as long as they try to do their job with a ripping good yarn and solid production values rather than snatching at desperate ploys — either depending on a raunchy display of flesh or indulging in toilet humor.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra prides himself on being a filmmaker who can entertain as well as make films that are a cut above in quality, and it has to be said, in Eklavya he acquits himself quite creditably.

The story is set in today’s India, but the ambiance is of a bygone era of kings, chivalry, intrigue and loyalty. What better place to set it than in Rajasthan?

Welcome to Devigarh, where although a royal dynasty no longer rules, and the king is without a kingdom, Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan), the royal guard, lives as if the past century hadn’t happened.

Like nine generations before him, Eklavya lives to protect the fort, the dynasty and the king. He has spent his life serving the royals and guarding their secrets, and he is not about to change. But now he’s getting on a bit, as he is getting old and his eyesight is beginning to fail him.

Prince Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan) is the heir, but shares none of the nostalgia of Eklavya, so he escapes the starchy mores of yesteryear’s regal era by living in London.

However, when the queen, Rani Suhasinidevi (Sharmila Tagore), dies, Harsh is forced to return. The fort shakes off its doldrums and it appears as if somebody has breathed new life into it. His mentally handicapped sister Nandini (Raima Sen) and his childhood love Rajjo (Vidya Balan) are delighted.

But trouble looms. Farmers are becoming increasingly rebellious, as the king, Rana Jaywardhan (Boman Irani), and his brother Rana Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff) continue the scandalous oppression of the peasants.

When the king receives a death threat over the phone, Pannalal Chohar (Sanjay Dutt), a cop, comes to investigate, but maybe the damage is already done. Amid the mayhem triggered by a barrage of bullets, all the safely guarded secrets of the fort come tumbling out.

The film is an unusually good whodunit, something Bollywood has never been very good at, and what’s most amazing is there are virtually no loopholes, a possible Bollywood first.

The story moves along with cracking pace, with marvelous twists and turns, and some of the murder sequences can hold their own with any cinema in the world.

To be sure, there are some (minor) flaws: For such a superbly executed thriller, the climax is a bit too filmi. Secondly, the acting leaves a bit more to be desired. The star-studded cast, though mostly quite good, sometimes came up short. Even stars like Big B, Vidya Balan or Boman Irani appeared clichéd at times.

But so what? Overall, it’s a pretty creditable effort. Lage raho, Vinod-bhai.

Mediocre Effort: Veerasamy

Jack of all trades T. Rajendhar (he’s added “Vijaya” to his name) is back after a gap with his new film Veerasamy. And this time apart from scripting, directing, producing, cranking the camera, composing the music and lyrics, and singing his own songs to boot, TR also plays the full-fledged role of the hero. He is Veerasamy, a lawyer who may not be seen anywhere near a courtroom but gets to fight, dance, romance, sing dream songs with the buxom Sarasu (Mumtaz), and wear some colorful costumes while he’s at it. One can admire TR for his persistence and chutzpah in handling so many departments, but the result is far from satisfactory.

There is a naivety about the director-actor that prevents him from looking beyond his style of work and performance, and leaves him unaware of the impact it has on the viewers. Does he know that when Veerasamy gets all emotional with sudden tears brimming in his eyes, and a quiver in his voice, it generates amusement rather than sympathy? When he does all those jigs energetically, it adds to some more unintended humor.

Veerasamy’s tears are at his helplessness in bailing out Sarasu from the harassment and torture she suffers at the hands of her mother, a sex worker. The mother had wanted to push her into her profession, but Sarasu’s love for Veerasamy threatened to ruin her well-laid plans. TR tries to have it both ways. He tries to give Mumtaz (his discovery) a performing role, but at the same time can’t ignore her attractiveness. He ends up making a mess of her character. Sarasu earns no sympathy when she goes through all that torture and physical abuse. In the confusing melee, the young pair of debutant Ajis and Shiela, and Meghna with her one-sided love, hardly make an impact.

There is Veerasamy’s bete noire, the arrogant Rouse Rani (Padma) a powerbroker whose unholy alliance with a minister gives Veerasamy some more troubled moments. When his sister falls in love with Rani’s brother Arun, and Sarasu is forcibly married off to a goon, Veerasamy’s cup of woes is full.

“Sollama Varrathu tsunami....Solli Varrathu Veerasamy,” goes the opening line, introducing Veerasamy. It’s a scenario that should have earned admiration and sympathy for the protagonist. But all that it does is generate humor, mostly unintended.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Savory Entree: Spicy Egg Curry

Here’s a simple, easy and delicious entrée that goes well with either chapattis or rice. Seema Gupta shows you how to make it.

  • 44 boiled eggs
  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 1 tomato finely chopped
  • 4-5 green chillies
  • 1-inch piece of ginger
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • A pinch of turmeric
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 2 cups water

Make a paste of ginger and green chillies in a blender. Heat the oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds till golden brown then add the chopped tomatoes. Fry for five minutes. Add paste, onions, garam masala, turmeric, coriander, red chili and salt.

Keep frying for about another five minutes till the mixture is cooked. Add water, finally add boiled egg. Cook egg with curry for 5 minutes till curry sauce is thick.

After cooking, slice eggs lengthwise and serve with the cut surface facing

- Seema Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: March By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You will overcome a major hurdle and come out clean in a messy situation. Value of your stocks will appreciate and it will be wise to cash them for the time being and wait before investing again. Business trip will be successful and negotiations with a large and well known organization will continue in the positive direction.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): You will spend quality time with the rich and famous. Anxiety about a child will be over. You will cut down on spicy food for the time being. Bachelors will receive few very good proposals. You will have several chance to make quick money. You may add another luxury car to your fleet.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): The situation will get reversed and you will find excellent loopholes to beat the odds. Legal bills will be high. Some of you will be working on a new job opportunity. You will be invited to few parties. You will change your plans about starting a new kind of business. Spouse will offer you complete support.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): You will win some lottery. Speculation will be very profitable. You will write a few small checks to government as fines. You will be aggressive and get the job done. You will develop patience and wait for the right opportunity to strike against opponents.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): You will save a lot if you negotiate hard and have patience. A loan application will go through without any difficulty. Some of you will be getting ready to move to another location. Your talents and skills will be recognized by superiors and a big promotion is on its way soon.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): It’s your lucky month. Even the decisions taken hurriedly will be good for you. Improvement in career and new contracts will bring excitement. You will make final payment on several old bills. You will spend money on buying gifts for people living far away. A party will be entertaining as well as relaxing.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Health will improve with a change of diet and exercise. A proposal will come from an interesting personality. You may invite few old friends at your place. You will soon be rewarded for hard work and patience as boss has already made the necessary recommendations.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): You will benefit from other peoples’ mistakes. You will enjoy company of a new colleague. Child will be adamant and hard to convince. You will meet a prominent person in business. Government agency will give the clearance making room for new opportunities.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will feel lucky. All attempts will hit the bull’s eye and you will achieve a lot during the month. There is strong chance of some easy money coming into your pockets. Relocation, though getting little delayed, is inevitable. A colleague will try to drag you into an unnecessary argument.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Hurdles will haunt you, though they will be solved quickly. A business partner may decide to quit. A change of job is a certainty and will occur soon. You may think of adopting legal procedure to get the claim. You will badly miss an old friend or relative.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You may hear some upsetting rumors at work. You will be travelling to a nice place with the family. People in business will face growing competition and poor sales. You may be thinking about disposing some assets purchased in last few years. You will do some charity and visit a holy place.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Spouse will argue on small matters. Business will start improving and a new job just is around the corner. You will be successful in any exams and interviews. Financial juggling will reduce pressure temporarily.

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


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