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Volume VIII • Issue 11

New Mailing Address:
P.O. BOX 669

EDITORIAL: Ode to a Hero
CONFERENCE: Innovation in Emerging Economies: Hyderabad Meet
SUBCONTINENT: The Great Indian Rat Race
CULTURE: India Jazz Progressions
COMMUNITY: Preschool for Everyone
SOCIAL WORK: Agami Fundraiser
CULTURE: Bangla Theatre
CINEMA: South Asian Film Fest
PERFORMANCE: Theatre for Harmony
TRAVEL: Trip to Mendocino
COMMUNITY: Diwali in Cupertino
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Acura TL Type-S
BOLLYWOOD: Review: Laaga Chunari Mein Daag
RECIPE: Sweet Treat: Gujia


Prem Dutt: Email
Call Prem: (510) 894-9414
Seema Gupta: Email
Call Prem: (408) 745-9663

Ode to a Hero
This year is the birth centenary of Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. In India, his birth centenary has been marked with enormous grassroots affection.

Some, though, have tried to co-opt Bhagat Singh, sequestering the rationalist, atheist, revolutionary into pigeonholes of their liking. Some celebrated him for being a true Arya Samaji, Sikh fundamentalists celebrated him for being a Sikh, while leftists used him to take pot shots at Mahatma Gandhi.

Even the general public have a vague idea of the man. Poet, folklorist and scholar of the Gadar movement Ved Prakash Vatuk writes a detailed account of Bhagat Singh, his illustrious ancestry and the intellectual evolution of this fearless revolutionary freedom fighter whose struggle was not just about a change of flags, but a complete societal change to ensure that the oppressed would be forever free of exploitation.

A whopping 43.7 million people in 127 countries gathered to Stand Up Against Poverty and Speak Out for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals in 24 hours on Oct. 17. This is the largest single coordinated movement of people in the history of humankind. . In India more than 13.77 million people all over the country stood up to demand an end to poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals.

This is an astounding mobilization of public opinion, and it didn’t come a moment too soon.

The MDGs include eight basic goals to fight poverty, illiteracy, disease and gender inequality. In September 2000, heads of state of virtually every country in the world pledged to meet these goals by 2015.

At 2007, midway between the pledge and deadline, it is by no means certain that the goals will be reached, though instances of piecemeal success suggest it is doable with the right amount of political will.

In the case of South Asia and particularly India, it is particularly vital to raise this issues, because elite opinion seems increasingly blindsided by the blistering growth rate.

With 13 million people raising their voices, a strong message has gone to the powers that be that the Indian elite’s giddy celebratory mood needs to be tempered by the sobering reality of shocking backwardness in India’s rural hinterland. In this issue Salil Shetty, director of the UN Millennium Campaign, makes a compelling case for India and indeed, the rest of the world, to act towards redeeming its pledge to the less privileged to make society more human and equitable where everyone can live with dignity.

San Francisco Bay Area theatre group Naatak has been championing the cause of Indian theatre for over a decade. With unflagging commitment to quality, the group’s productions have been a joy for desi theatre aficionados.

Naatak’s 25th production is Sleuth, an intense psychological battle of wills between two characters. The original classic play by Anthony Shaffer has been staged countless times all over the world. It has also been made into a film by Joseph Mankiewicz starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. Interestingly enough, just as Naatak presented its performances recently, a new movie adaptation starring Michael Caine and Jude Law and directed by Kenneth Branagh, which marks a considerable departure from the original film, has opened in cinemas around the U.S.

Naatak member Harish Agastya Sunderam, who directed Naatak’s version, writes on how Naatak has give the play a decidedly desi flavor as he reflects on how the various versions of the original play, both on stage and in film, present distinctly different perspectives.

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


Remembering an Indian Hero:
Shaheed Bhagat Singh

On the birth centenary of Bhagat Singh, poet folklorist Ved Prakash Vatuk offers a detailed overview of the life and times of one of the most beloved heroes of India’s freedom struggle.

(Above, left
, from top downwards): Shaheed Bhagat Singh; Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, months after the massacre; and interior of the Secundra Bagh after the slaughter of 2,000 freedom fighters by the 93rd Highlanders and 4th Punjab Regiment, November 1857, Lucknow.
(Above right, from top downwards): Chandrashekar Azad’s dead body kept on public display by the British to serve as a warning message for other revolutionaries; and Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi.

Year 2007 has been an important year for Indians. India is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first independence war. The Indian government has sanctioned 1.5 billion rupees for the country-wide show. At the same time this is the centenary year of the birthdays of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. That too is being observed throughout India — more by the people than the government. And this is the year when India completed sixty years as an independent country. All in all, this has been a year full of patriotism.

The 150th anniversary of the first war of independence is being celebrated with much pomp and show. Hundreds of cultural shows, exhibitions, seminars and other activities are organized all over India. However, in spite of all the hoopla, all these shows remained mere junkets where participation of the public remained dismal. Many of these shows were inaugurated by the people in power, like the prime minister, governors, etc., and the audience participation in most of them was by invitation only. They were all full of patriotic slogans and very little new was learnt from them. It was an exercise in hero worshiping. No objective analysis, no lessons to be learnt.

On the other hand the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru was fondly remembered by people all over India. These martyrs have become legends in their life time — especially Bhagat Singh. In a way the martyrdom of these heroes is the climax of the revolutionary movements which freed India. In this article we will focus on Bhagat Singh and his times.

The story of Bhagat Singh can not be told just by describing his life alone. Bhagat Singh was a symbol of sacrifice for and selfless devotion to humanity. However, his story began long before he was born. Several generations before him his ancestors were involved in a struggle against colonial rule and injustice. After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the British fought to occupy Punjab. At that time one of Bhagat Singh’s ancestors, Fateh Singh, fought against them. And the same Fateh Singh participated in the first independence war, which the British writers called the great mutiny of 1857. Naturally he suffered when the British survived. He lost his property.

Fateh Singh had a son named Gurbachan Singh. One of Gurbachan Singh’s three sons was Arjun Singh, the grandfather of Bhagat Singh. Arjun Singh met Swami Dayanand Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, when the Swami was touring Punjab. He was so impressed by the Swami that he decided to join the Arya Samaj and dedicate his life to reform Hindu society. At the same time he got involved in the freedom movement. It was he who at the time of the yanjopaveet ceremony for his grandsons — Bhagat Singh and Jagat Singh — declared, “I give these two grandsons to be sacrificed at the altar of goddess liberty.” The grandsons kept their grandfather’s pledge — they would indeed dedicate their life to the freedom movement.

Arjun Singh had three sons. In 1878 his eldest son Kishan Singh, father of all his grandchildren, was born. After graduating from Anglo Sanskrit High School, Jalandhar, he became a great supporter of Mahatma Hansraj, a great devotee of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. He helped victims of famines, plagues, earthquakes and floods from 1898 to 1905 in different parts of India. He came into contact with Gadar heroes like Kartar Singh Sarabha and Rash Behari Bose and completely dedicated his life to the freedom movement. He was jailed for his activities. Thus he gave his children, Bhagat Singh among them, lessons in patriotism from the day they were born.

Kishan Singh’s younger brother Ajit Singh (1881-1947) also got involved in the freedom movement after graduating from the same high school. In his college days he gave talks asking fellow students to dedicate their life to the service of the nation. He was greatly influenced by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He became a close friend of Sufi Amba Prasad when the latter was released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for his involvement in the freedom movement. They along with Ajit Singh’s brothers Kishan Singh and Swarn Singh and other revolutionaries founded Bharat Mata Society. Ajit Singh was one of main leaders in the peasant movement which protested the increase of irrigation taxes and the exploitation of the peasants by moneylenders. The slogan pagree sambhaal jatta — Oh peasant, guard your turban (honor) — became the mantra of the movements. He was jailed for his participation in this movement. Later he was exiled along with Sufi Amba Prasad and Lala Lajpat Rai. Ajit Singh could return to India only after 39 years in 1947. He died on August 15, 1947, the day India became free.

This was the legacy to which Bhagat Singh was born on September 28, 1907 in this revolutionary family in the village Kharkharkalan, District Jalandhar, the day his uncle Ajit Singh came to their village after being released from jail. Since his birth he found his home to be the center of revolutionary activities, where freedom fighters congregated and debated the ways to work for India’s freedom. As described above his grandfather had decided at his yajnopaveet ceremony that he was to dedicate all his life serving the nation. There is a legend about him that when Bhagat Singh was five years old, his family was sowing sugarcane in a field. He put a rifle in place of a sugarcane piece. When asked what he was doing he answered that he was sowing rifles, so that they can be used to chase the British away from India.

After graduating from high school Bhagat Singh joined the National College of Lahore, an institution founded by the famous Congress leader Lala Lajpat Rai, who was called Panjab Kesari (the Lion of Punjab) by the people. This institution did not produce clerks or civil servants for the British rule, but prepared its students to fight for freedom. Here, besides Lalaji he came into contact with Gadar hero Bhai Parmanand, who taught history. Bhai Parmanand had already served the harsh sentence in kala pani — Andaman Nicobar’s Cellular Jail — where the most dangerous prisoners were sent. It was at this time when Mahatma Gandhi launched the first non-cooperation movement. Bhagat Singh was greatly influenced by Gandhiji. But when Gandhiji withdrew the movement because of violence in Chauri Chaura, in which many policemen were murdered, Bhagat Singh, like many young men, was disappointed. To them Gandhiji’s non-violence was only a tactic and not a dharma. They decided that there was only one way to free India and that was the way of armed revolution.

As we can see, Bhagat Singh was influenced by a variety of thoughts and people. In his young age he was a staunch Arya Samaji, he was greatly influenced by the Gadar movement. Its youngest hero Kartar Singh Sarabha, who was hanged by the British at the age of 19, became his political guru. He kept Sarabha’s photograph in his pocket. He was greatly moved by the heroes of Kakori Case. Its martyrs Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah, Rajendra Lahiri and Thakur Roshan Singh inspired him immensely. The massacre of Jallianwala Bagh left a deep impression on the mind of teenage Bhagat Singh. Later he was absorbed in the study of various European revolutions which left a deep impression on him. Bhagat Singh’s mind was like a house whose windows were open on all sides and all revolutionary thoughts entered in like a free breeze. Throughout his life he kept churning these ideas logically until he became a rationalist, Marxist, atheist, revolutionary willing to sacrifice his life to kindle the flame of revolution.

It was 1928. The British government, besieged by the unrest in India, decided to send the Simon Commission to India to find out what kind of reforms would appease Indians. Since there was no Indian member in the commission and since Indians were fooled so many times by the British before, Indians decided to boycott the commission. In every city the commission went it was met with black flags and protests. “Simon go back,” became the united call. When they came to Lahore on Oct. 20, 1928, a huge protest march was led by the prominent Congress leaders Madan Mohan Malviya and Panjab Kesari Lala Lajpat Rai to oppose their arrival. The police superintendent ordered cane charge on the peaceful crowd. Lala Lajpat Rai was attacked severely and he died because of the blows showered on him on Nov. 17. The whole country was stunned by this savage blow on the most respected leader. Lalaji’s last words were, “Each blow on my head will become the nail in the British rule’s casket.”

Bhagat Singh and his other friends, members of the Naujawan Sabha and Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, were outraged. They had to retaliate to show that Indian youths were not dead and they would show the British they would avenge the death of their beloved elderly leader. On Dec. 17, 1928, they were ready. When a red motorcycle started from the police office, they fired. Unfortunately, the rider was not the police superintendent but his assistant. Next day the hand bills appeared on walls all over Lahore that the death of Lalaji had been avenged and the honor of the nation was upheld. Bhagat Singh escaped and with the help of his friends — Sukhdev and Durga “Bhabhi” along with his leader Chandrashekhar Azad went to Kolkata fooling the police who were everywhere.

Instead of paying attention to their grievances, the colonial government tried to suppress Indian masses even more. In order to suppress workerss, who were going on strikes to demand better treatment, the government decided to introduce the Trade Dispute Bill along with another bill to curb mass movements called the Public Safety Bill. Those bills were brought before the Central Legislative Assembly. Even when the assembly rejected them the viceroy used his veto power and declared them adopted. The declaration of the adoption of these bills was to take place on April 8, 1929. The Hindustani Socialist Republican Army decided to protest that by throwing a bomb in the Assembly. The party took inspiration from a French anarchist Auguste Vaillant (1861- 1893) who threw a bomb in the French Chambers of Deputies in 1893 in revenge of the execution of his comrade Rovachol. He shouted, “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear.” When he was hanged for his action, he shouted “Death to the bourgeoisie. Long live anarchy.” Bhagat Singh changed that slogan to, “Death to imperialism. Long live revolution.” When I was a child we used to shout in the rallies, Inqalab zindabad, British hakoomat ho barbad (Long live Revolution, Down with the British Government.)

HSRA was not prepared to send Bhagat Singh to throw the bomb in the Assembly. But when Sukhdev teased him that he wanted to save his neck while pretending to be a revolutionary, Bhagat Singh became agitated and insisted to Azad that he had to do that. Finally he and Batukeshwar Dutt were selected to do the job.

At the appointed time, when the bills were to be declared adopted on April 8, 1929. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw the bomb in the empty space of the assembly, declaring: “It takes a loud voice to make the dead hear. This British Government thrust upon the helpless but unwilling Indian nation is no better than an organized gang of robbers.” They declared that freedom is a birth right of everyone.

The bomb created panic. The assembly was soon empty except for two or three Indian leaders, Malviya among them. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt did not run away. They stood and courted arrest — like brave soldiers of war.

These two episodes made Bhagat Singh a household name, a legend in his own time. Women and men composed songs. They sang them at various occasions — at weddings, while grinding corn and working in fields. Ever since I began to talk and understand I grew up singing these songs at the lap of my brother and father — both freedom fighters.

Bhagat Singh insisted that he was not a terrorist, but a revolutionist. He said again and again that individual terrorism can never bring freedom. He loved life and he and his friends were sorry that they took the life of a British policeman as a human being, but sometimes it is unavoidable to take a life of a person representing a tyrannical repressive rule.

Bhagat Singh and his comrades used the trial as a tool to further awareness of their cause. They explained their philosophy of revolution, motives of their actions and telling their friends outside what to do. Soon the government caught up with their game and they were suddenly tried by a tribunal instead of the lower court.

Again and again Bhagat Singh emphasized that he was a revolutionary. And by revolution he meant “the ultimate establishment of an order of society which may not be threatened by such breakdown and in which the sovereignty of the proloteriat should be recognized and a world federation should redeem humanity from the bondage of capitalism and misery of imperial wars.” To him this revolution was an inalienable right of mankind. To him, like Lokmanya Tilak, freedom was an imperishable birthright of all. “Revolution means complete overthrow of the existing social order and its replacement with the socialistic order.” To Bhagat Singh freedom did not mean merely replacing the white faces with black ones on the throne. Like the Gadar heroes, Bhagat Singh also wanted a casteless, classless, society free from all kinds of social and economic exploitation.

Unfortunately we pay homange to the image of Bhagat Singh who holds a pistol in his hand, not that of a true revolutionary. We don’t admire him for his great love for literature, his fondness of poetry. During the time he spent in his jail cell before he was hanged, he read continuously. His study did not stop at revolutionary books or Marxist literature. He read novels by many American authors of his time. His jail notebook is full of quotations from all genres of literature and subjects — love, marriage, revolution, you name it. He must have read close to two hundred books.

Today the tragedy is that everyone wants to cash in on the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh. Even those religious institutions who did not give a damn about the Gadari babas or Bhagat Singh today want to arrange akhand path in their memory. To me it is an insult to Bhagat Singh — a rationalist, atheist — to place his portrait next to fundamentalish Sikh separatist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. To me at is an insult to Bhagat Singh when the Haryana chief minister proposes to build a statue in his honor, because he was a “true Arya Samaji.” To me it is also an insult to Bhagat Singh when the armchair leftist historians want to use him to condemn Gandhiji. They blame Bhagat Singh’s execution on Gandhiji. On this score let us be clear. Did Bhagat Singh want to live? He is his own best witness for that. Like Kartar Singh Sarabha, Ram Prasad Bismil, Thakur Roshan Singh and Ashfaqullah, Bhagat Singh, too, felt that his martyrdom will serve their country better. Bhagat Singh was so angry when his own father tried to save his life and sent a petition to the government that he rebuked his father in no uncertain terms. He felt sorry that his father showed weakness. He told his father that he had put no defense for himself at the trial and he did not want to live devoid of his principles. “My life is not at all worth living at the cost of my principles” Anyone who can rebuke his father in such a harsh way could have never wished anybody including Gandhiji to beg for mercy on his behalf, especially when Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev in several communications rejected Gandhi’s way of thoughts.

Let me quote extensively from Bhagat Singh’s statement.

“I make no secret of the fact that it is but natural for me to desire to remain alive. But I can live only under certain conditions. I refuse to live in prison or parole. My name has become the focal point of the party of revolution and its sacrifices have placed me on an elevated pedestal. This pedestal is so high that if I survive by being spared I will not be able to live up to that standard. My weaknesses are not generally known and the public is unaware of them. If I manage to cheat the gallows , they will be exposed for all to see. Maybe the revolutionary fire in me will cool down. it may be even extinguished.”

He further writes:

“But if I am hanged like a brave man, with a smile on my face, Indian mothers will encourage their children to emulate my example. Our hangings will substantially add to the number of martyrs in the cause of the freedom of our motherland, so much that it will be impossible any longer for the satanic powers of imperialism to resist the Revolution.”

On November 30, 1930 Bhagat Singh wrote to Batukeshwar Dutt:

“(I) am anxiously waiting for the day when I will be fortunate enough to embrace the gallows for my ideals. I will climb the gallows gladly and show the world how bravely the revolutionaries can sacrifice themselves to the cause.”

Bhagat Singh is a hero because of his martyrdom. When I look at the life of those heroes, who were no less heroic or deep thinkers than Bhagat Singh, but who survived gallows, I feel sad. Shiv Varma, Durga Bhabhi, Batukeshwar Dutt and many others were not remembered by the masses even when they died. How many people know about the youngest prisoner of Kakori case, who served fourteen years in prison? His name — famous Hindi novelist Manmathnath Gupta.

With all due respect to my armchair leftist historian friends, I would like to close the article by quoting Gandhi. In Gandhi’s tribute to these heroes, who were hanged at 7 pm on March 23, I feel the whole nation paid tribute to them.

Gandhi wrote in Young India March 29, 1931 issue:

“Bhagat Singh and his two associates have been hanged. The Congress made many attempts to save their lives and the government entertained many hopes of it, but all has been in a vain.

“Bhagat Singh did not wish to live. He refused to apologize or even file an appeal. Bhagat Singh was not a devotee of non-violence, but he did not subscribe to the religion of violence. He took to violence due to helplessness and to defend his homeland. In his last letter Bhagat Singh wrote: ‘I have been arrested while waging a war. For me there are no gallows. Put me into the mouth of a cannon and blow me off.’

“These heroes have conquered the fear of death. Let us bow to them a thousand times for their heroism.”


Stand Up, Speak Out: Fight Against Poverty
Salil Shetty, director of the UN Millennium Campaign, asks if India will stand up against poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations.

(Originally published Oct. 17 in The Mint, a Mumbai newspaper.)

Millions of people in India and across the world will today mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty by attempting to break the Guinness world record of the maximum number of people to Stand Up and Speak Out Against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDGs, 8 basic Goals to fight poverty, illiteracy, disease and gender inequality, were agreed by heads of state of virtually every country in the world, including those of South Asia, at the dawn of the new century and millennium in September 2000 at the UN. 2007 is the mid-point between 2000 and 2015, a good time to ask the hard question — will these Goals be simply another set of broken promises?

The big difference is that for the first time in decades, South Asia and India in particular, are enjoying a period of unparalleled macro economic growth. At the aggregate level, official data shows a significant reduction in income poverty, although debates on poverty statistics have always been a blood sport amongst academicians in India. More children are enrolled in primary schools than ever before, even if there are serious quality issues. On many of the other Goals as well, there has certainly been progress at the national level. But the new found prosperity has brought with it deep and increased inequality.

The emergence of a significant and growing and visible middle class is a relatively new development — today there are over 100 million Indians who have some disposable income (cell phone ownership appears to be a good proxy indicator). Then there are the “incredible Indians” — those microscopic few who have really got a large slice of the newly acquired cake. India has now beaten Japan in the race to have the largest number of $ millionaires amongst all Asian countries. The best of Indian industry today is undoubtedly as good as you can get anywhere in the world. One can’t really blame “foreigners” or cursory followers of global TV news outside India, particularly in the West, for starting to believe that most Indians are software engineers or about to become one.

It is clichéd to say that India lives in the 19th, 20th and 21st century at the same time. But the growing economic inequality poses a new challenge to a society that is plagued by historical challenges of social and political inequality along the lines of caste, tribe, gender, region and religion. So gyms, low calorie foods, jogging tracks and diet advisors to deal with obesity operate uncomfortably alongside the largest number of malnourished people in the world (almost half the women in many parts of India are anaemic and 40% of children malnourished). Some of the best hospitals and medical talent in the world coexist with one of the weakest health systems in the world coping with 2 million infant deaths a year and over 100,000 women dying during pregnancy and childbirth, not to mention the largest number of people suffering from TB anywhere in the world. It should be noted that on many of these indices, it is not just the absolute numbers that are high, which is to be expected given the large population of India, but on many of the health indices like Maternal Mortality Rate, the ratios are also worryingly high.

Just like the health facilities, the contrast between the schools that the elite patronize and the poor have to use is to be seen to be believed. Those who could afford it have always used private doctors and private schools. But this duality now extends to power generators, roads and even security! Whilst one could celebrate this from the point of view that this will reduce the pressure on government facilities in health, education etc, as fewer and fewer people who have voice and influence use the public systems, the level of investment and quality of services offered by the public systems could further deteriorate. The most egregious forms of poverty, hunger, ill-health and illiteracy could concentrate further amongst the poorest regions of the country, the most marginalized social groups including Dalits, adivasis, minorities and women in general.

The social, spatial and structural causes that makes poverty in the bottom third of the population stubborn and impenetrable have deep social roots. At the heart of this are discrimination, prejudice and exclusion based on caste, tribe, gender and religion. Some of this will not change unless people themselves take action to put an end to it.

But as Wada na Todo Abhiyan and other social movements struggling for the rights of the poor and excluded remind us, Government policies and practice at the national, State, district and local level continue to be critical for the over 350 million people living in extreme poverty in India. Increasing public investment in the services that are relevant for the poor is a pre-requisite for India achieving the Millennium Goals. India has amongst the lowest public investment in health in the world as a proportion of national income. Equally, systematically enhancing the livelihoods of the poor is the only way to sustain poverty eradication and the achievement of the Millennium Goals. This requires investments that are targeted towards agriculture, livestock, forestry and other sectors in which the majority of the poor are engaged. Along with the hard investments is the challenge of ensuring that resources actually reach the poor and don’t get siphoned off along the way.

There are many thoughtful Government programs in place now to address many of these issues. As poor and excluded sections of Indian society get more socially and politically organized and media and information becomes more accessible, India should not only achieve but exceed the Millennium Goals. That is the solemn responsibility that we have for the millions of people Standing Up today.

Reprinted with permission from Mint. © HT Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


NEWS DIARY: October Roundup
Bobby (Pssst … it’s Actually Piyush) Jindal Creates History | Nobel Scientist | Long Way to Go | Call for Early Polls | New High

Bobby (Pssst … it’s Actually Piyush) Jindal Creates History

Bobby Jindal kisses his wife Supriya  after a straight win in the Louisiana gubernatorial election.

Republican Bobby Jindal won election as Louisiana governor, setting a string of firsts: Jindal, 36, will be the nation’s youngest sitting governor. The son of Indian immigrants, he will also be the first Indian American governor in U.S. history, and the first nonwhite to hold the job in Louisiana since Reconstruction.

Under Louisiana’s wide-open “jungle primary” format, Jindal had a chance to win the race outright if he could capture more than half the votes in a field of 12 candidates.

He did. With nearly all precincts counted, he held 54 percent of the vote.

The next closest competitor, Democrat Walter J. Boasso, had 18 percent. Independent John Georges had 14 percent; Democrat Foster Campbell had 13 percent.

This time, Jindal’s campaign felt more like a coronation than a contested race.

The rise of Jindal, educated at Brown and Oxford universities, also suggested that Louisianans, who have often elected quirky politicians from the backwoods and bayous, may now be seeking something different.

Jindal has made a few stylistic concessions to suit the electorate: For instance, he goes by Bobby, though his given name is Piyush.

Indian Americans were overwhelmingly in a celebratory mood, most don’t share his staunch conservatism and devout Catholic faith. Critics say he has been remarkably silent about both the post-Katrina recovery mess as well as draconian harassment by law enforcement and immigration authorities of a section of South Asians. They also wonder if Indian Americans have really thought through his commitment to mandatory prayer, teaching of intelligent design and opposition to stem cell research.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Nobel Scientist

Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the U.N. panel on climate change that won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore, celebrating.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations network of scientists headed by an Indian, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al gore this year.

The award was a validation for the United Nations panel, which in its early days was vilified by those who disputed the scientific case for a human role in climate change. In New Delhi, the Indian climatologist who heads the panel, Rajendra K. Pachauri, said that science had won out over skepticism.

While Pachauri modestly said the prize was an acknowledgement to the work of the entire panel’s scientists that he headed, Indians celebrated the Nobel honor with great joy.

Pachauri said that the prize raises the awareness of the value of science in facing the global environmental challenge.

“The message that it sends is that the Nobel Prize committee realized the value of knowledge in tackling the problem of climate change.” He said the award was an acknowledgment of the panel’s “impartial and objective assessment of climate change.”

In its formal citation, the Nobel committee praised the United Nations panel, which is made up of 2,000 scientists and is considered the world’s leading authority on climate change, for creating “an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming.”
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Long Way to Go

A paddy field in Bangladesh

Bangladesh should aim for growth in its agricultural sector of at least 4 percent a year if it is to achieve the objective of halving extreme poverty by 2015, the World Bank said.

“Achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving poverty to 26.5 percent by 2015 will require a growth rate of at least 4.0 percent in agriculture and 7.0 percent in the non-farm sector,” it said in its latest World Development Report.

Growth in the agricultural sector was just 3.18 percent in the fiscal year to June.

Nearly 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 140 million people live in rural areas. Poverty in Bangladesh was primarily a rural phenomenon, the report said, with 53 percent of the rural population classified as poor, comprising about 85 percent of all the country’s poor.

The agricultural and rural sectors have suffered from “neglect and underinvestment over the past 20 years,” the report said.

It said agriculture could offer pathways out of poverty if efforts were made to increase productivity in staple foods.

Pointing out that land was becoming “a scarce commodity” in Bangladesh, the World Bank report said there was a need to review land administration, ownership distribution, rights and titles, and land use policy.

Bangladesh has a long way to go to meet infrastructure needs, such as electricity, which is only available to 15 percent of villages,” the report said.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Call for Early Polls

The United Nations Security Council has urged Nepal to set an early date for Constituent Assembly elections, which have been postponed twice in recent months.

Although no formal or informal statement was issued following a discussion among the Security Council members, its president for October, Ambassador Leslie K. Christian from Ghana, was quoted as saying: “The Council members expressed their deep concern over postponement of elections in Nepal and hoped that things would get back on the right path.”

Member nations have asked Nepal to “look into the possibility of elections before the end of the year,” Christian was quoted by Nepalnews, as saying.

After the meeting, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said: “We expressed our disappointment, like a number of other colleagues, with regard to the postponement of the assembly elections and called on the government to set up a date promptly for the elections taking into account the requirements for free, fair and credible elections to take place.”

Supporting the role of the UN in Nepal, Khalilzad said: “The election is part of a process for normalizing the situation in Nepal.”

Khalilzad urged co-operation from all parties and stakeholders in Nepal.

“Everyone, all parties must do their part in terms of cooperating with their commitments, delivering on their commitments,” he said.

Earlier, the UN Special Envoy on Nepal, Ian Martin, briefed the Security Council on the current situation in Nepal.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

New High

India’s main stock index, the Sensex, hit yet another record high. The surge of 2.3 percent by mid-morning trading came despite plans for legislation to tighten investment rules for unregistered foreigners.

The Sensex gained 431.55 points to 19,202.44 - beating the previous high of 19,198.66, set on 18 October.

In a previous week, the stock market regulator proposed urgent curbs on the flow of foreign funds into shares, in order to stop the market overheating.

This led to a brief slump in the market, but shares soon recovered after India’s finance minister said there was no need for alarm.

The regulator’s recommendation relates to participatory notes — a form of investment used by hedge funds and other foreign investors who are not registered in India.

The proposal is aimed at countering a surge in foreign money that has caused Indian share prices to rise sharply, worrying some policymakers about its potential impact on the broader economy.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Many Faces of Sleuth: Naatak’s Theatre
As Naatak’s Indianized adaptation of Anthony Shaffer’s classic 'Sleuth' went on stage, a movie version hit the cinemas which was different from the original Joseph Mankiewicz film, writes Harish Sunderam Agastya, director of Naatak’s 'Sleuth.'

(Left): Ashish Joshi (l) and Harish Sunderam Agastya in Naatak’s production of Sleuth. [SWAGATO BASUMULLICK photo]

Naatak (www.naatak.com), which I’ve been part of since its founding in 1995, is the Bay Area’s first and perhaps foremost organization dedicated to furthering creative Indian theater in the region. Over the last 12 years, we have brought to Bay Area audiences 24 different theater and film productions in Hindi, English and Tamil. Our most-recent play, our 25th production — an adaptation of the well-known classic — Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer — was staged Oct. 25 and 26 at the Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto, Calif.

Critically acclaimed as one of the greatest stage thrillers ever written, Sleuth is a tale of two men from different walks of life entangled in a dangerous web of gamesmanship, manipulation, deception and death. Originally written in 1970, Sleuth has been very popular in the theater circuit all over the world. It was subsequently made into a movie of the same name in 1972 with Oscar-winning performances from Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

Naatak’s version of Sleuth is quite different from the original play. I have adapted the original script to make it more relevant to our core audience. I chose to keep the play in English, however, because I felt that much of the humor in the play would be lost in translation — one of Sleuth’s scoring points is the witty repartee between the class-conscious Andrew Wyke and the middle-class Milo Tindle. But many aspects of the play did need to be altered to fit an Indian context. In our version of the play, which is set in Mumbai, Andrew Wyke becomes Andrew Furtado, an Anglo-Indian who lives in the upscale Malabar Hill area of the city. Italian-Jew Milo Tindle becomes Maharashtrian Milind Tindlé, born of a love marriage between a Hindu school principal and a Muslim school teacher. The Mumbaikar Tindlé runs a barely profitable Ayurvedic massage clinic in suburban Ghatkopar in contrast to the hair-salon run by his namesake in the original. The iconic laughing sailor that plays a big role in establishing Andrew’s high-handed quirkiness would not transfer over culturally, so I replaced it with a talking chimp named Lalu Prasad after India’s ever-popular but comical and boorish politician of the same name. In my mind, it was the perfect metaphor for the laughing sailor.

Through all of this, we have stayed true to the original script. Indeed the core issues raised by Shaffer in this play transcend all geographical boundaries — greed, jealousy, manipulation, economic disparity and class conflict are as rife in Indian society as they are anywhere else. Andrew’s condescending attitude towards residents of “suburban Ghatkopar,” his derision of “vernacular-medium ghaatis” and his stereotyping of the “dim-witted Pandu Havaldar” are all pointers to this same class inequality and discrimination that Shaffer originally tried to depict in 1970s Britain.

Our Milind is just as much in love with Andrew’s wife as in the original and our Andrew Furtado is just as morbidly jealous as Shaffer’s Andrew Wyke.

At the same time that Naatak’s Sleuth went to stage, a remake of the Sleuth movie was in the theaters. The new Sleuth, starring Michael Caine and Jude Law (in the role played by Caine in the original), is not quite the old film with just a generous dose of the slick, 21st century Hollywood treatment. Instead it is a significant and intentional departure from Shaffer’s Sleuth. Harold Pinter, the Nobel prize-winning playwright, has done the screenplay for the film, supposedly without ever having seen or read the original film or play. The result is a dark, edgy and leaner suspense thriller (it’s a full 45 minutes shorter than the previous film) without any of the comic wit and the romance of the original film. In fact, none of the accoutrements that accompanied the original classic are visible in the remake — no laughing sailor, no clown costume, no goofy puzzle jug. “It’s glass, marble, concrete, steel. Now you’re in Pinter country, and the house has become a character,” Caine explained in an interview at the Toronto Film Festival last month. “A kind of uncomfortable character. It’s not a comfortable house. It has sharp edges. You can cut yourself.”

The Sleuth movie remake also takes the emphasis away from the play’s macro issues — class discrimination and racial prejudice — to unilaterally focus on the micro or interpersonal points of conflict — love, greed and jealousy. And this is no puppy love either. While Shaffer’s characters were never meant to be represented in black or white — they’ve always had shades of grey in them — in the remake, Pinter adds a dab of pink to the mix. In his screenplay adaptation, Pinter, who has frequently introduced a thin veil of homosexuality in his plays, is much more overt with the final climax laden with homoerotic gamesmanship between the two characters. Caine explains, “It’s like a whole new project, and it’s got nothing to do with Olivier or Joe Mankiewicz or Tony Shaffer. I feel like we stole his plot and title and ran away.”

Two different Sleuths both on stage at about the same time — each with a different take on the original. It’s a Sleuth-fest and you get to decide which one’s better.

A recorded Web cast of the play will be available for viewing shortly. Interested readers can visit www.naatak.com for details.

The new Sleuth movie was released in limited theaters on October 12. For show times, please call your local movie theater.


Innovation in Emerging Economies:
Hyderabad Meet
Movers and shakers in China, India and Russia, three of today’s most dynamic economies in the world will gather in Hyderabad to reflect on business and technological innovation and its implications for their bustling economies. The conference is being jointly hosted by the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Tata Consultancy Services. A Siliconeer report.

(Left): The skyline of Shanghai gives some idea of the mind-boggling economic growth going on in the world’s most populous nation.

Senior management decision makers from innovative companies, academics, and key policy figures from China, India, Russia and the U.S. will discuss the global spread of innovation and its potential implications in an upcoming day-long conference Nov. 13 in Hyderabad.

“Innovation in Emerging Economies: China India Russia 2007” is a premier convention that will place in sharp focus the new picture that is emerging of China, India and Russia, as the potential innovation powerhouses that can tip the technology balance in the near future.

With former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam tentatively confirmed to attend, the speakers at the event will include, among others, S. Ramadorai, CEO, Tata Consultancy Services; Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, CEO, Biocon Ltd; Raymond Leung, chairman, TDK China Co., and president, TDK Hong Kong Co., and senior vice president, TDK Corporation ; Tom Campbell, Bank of America Dean, Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley; Prof. Weiying Zhang, dean of Guanghua School of Business, Peking University; Dr. Zhao Chen, Director, Institute of Industrial Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai; Prof. R. Krishnan, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore; Valentin Makarov, president, Russoft Association (the Russian version of Nasscom) and Alexis Sukharev, CEO, Auriga, Inc.

This event is being hosted by the Haas School of Business, the University of California at Berkeley and Tata Consultancy Services.`

For over 100 years, the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, has offered a superb management education to outstanding men and women from around the world. The School is one of the world’s leading producers of new ideas and knowledge for all areas of business, and a launching point for many new businesses.

The Haas School is widely known for its diverse and talented faculty, staff, students and alumni. They have created an innovative academic culture that stresses cooperative teamwork, entrepreneurship, a global point of view, and an emphasis on new ideas and fresh perspectives. The school’s programs benefit significantly from the university’s practice of interdisciplinary research and teaching, and the school’s strong connections to nearby Silicon Valley.

Tata Consultancy Services is Asia’s largest provider of IT services and business solutions. A part of the Tata Group, TCS has over 94,000 of the world’s best trained IT consultants in 47 countries.

TCS drives Innovation through its globally wired 19 Innovation Labs and the TCS Co-Innovation Network. COIN is a first of its kind of ecosystem, that addresses challenges of the emerging new order of ‘open & collaborative innovations’ to leverages shared synergies across an innovation ecosystem.

More information is available on the Web at: http://imio.haas.berkeley.edu/ChinaIndiaRussia2007


Aggressive Road To Growth?
The Great Indian Rat Race
Whether in reel life or in real life, dizzy growth and rising incomes has instilled an aggressive go-getting streak into Indians, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

(Left): Plush malls like this are springing all over India, drawing its middle class in a growing frenzy of consumerism.

New money, high growth, rising incomes and the attendant proverbial rat race has instilled an aggressive go-getting streak into Indians.

This is being reflected in both reel and real life. However, there is a flip side too. Many observers say that rampant individualism and an obvious selfishness is fostering wild and aberrant behavior in the form of lynching, mob fury, road rage, muggings, roadblocks and destruction of public and private property.

It’s turning out to be a nationwide scourge.

But first, a quick look at entertainment. Today’s gung ho attitude is evident in the following recent Bollywood hits: Rang De Basanti, Lage Raho Munnabhai and Chak De India.

Each has showcased a never-say-die attitude, victory for the underdog, fighting against the odds and need to leave a mark.

In the latest hit Chak De India, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan turns a band of rag-tag girls into a world-beating hockey team, despite the infighting, the attitude problems and cynical slow moving bureaucratic set up that runs the show.

The girls, the real stars of the movie, beat up boys who eve-tease them, almost beat the Indian men’s hockey team and play rough against an equally tough tackling South Korean team in the run-up to becoming world champions Australia.

The earlier hit LRM, starring Sanjay Dutt, was woven around the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi who appears as the conscience of the main protagonist.

However, LRM again is all about winning the girl and at a crunch situation when Sanjay’s character Munnabhai is shoved around by security guards during his supposedly non-violent protest, he gives it right back, with Gandhi taking a backseat.

RDB focused on the lives of a group of college boys trying to take on a corrupt system in their own inimitable and diehard way. The boys were killed in the end, but the message was not lost — a desire to do something and change the system.

All this suggests that Bollywood is a reflection of what Indian society is all about. Going by the recent successes of the movies, it is about making an impact, success and winning.

A few Indians are doing just that: popping up in lists of millionaires and billionaires; Indian firms such as Tata’s, TCS, Infosys, Reliance are taking over big companies across the world and more.

First-generation entrepreneurs now head telecom, software, retail or airline companies.

Tracking rising salaries are an obsession, whether of the CEO or the fresh MBA; stock options have endowed the highly sought software and finance professionals with immense wealth. India has clocked the highest salary increases world wide in the last 3-4 years.

However, there are less savory developments too, which show that the tradition of tolerance and non-violence has been fallen by the wayside along with the License Raj.

The aggression, in many ways is visible also on the streets, quite literally.

In the recent past two people have been killed following minor skirmishes on the roads of Delhi. A property consultant was pulled out of his car by a group of motorcycle borne riders and beaten to death, following a minor brush. A father of two was killed for coming in the way of a motorcyclist.

Another person escaped fortuitously even as he was almost pushed over a fly over following a minor accident. This week a driver assaulted a lady for reversing her car illegally an upmarket Delhi residential colony.

Instances of mob fury are being reported across the country.

In Bihar villagers lynched 10 thieves; in another incident in the state the eyes of three youth were gouged out for trying to steal; in a widely televised incident a minor thief was dragged tied to a motor cycle by a police man even as a mob beat him up mercilessly.

The city of the world famous Taj Mahal, Agra, was in turmoil recently as mobs blocked roads, attacked shops, public and private vehicles, following a truck accident.

In Delhi, a mob beat up and stripped a schoolteacher who, as it has turned out, was falsely implicated by an overzealous television channel for running a prostitution racket.

Recently past, the Gujjars, a big community in the state of Rajasthan, have resorted to rioting and roadblocks, pouring into Delhi as well, in order to make their political demands heard.

More recently Hindu activists have taken to the streets in north India protesting certain comments about Lord Ram, in a government filed court affidavit.

Police estimate over 10,000 road rage incidents, ranging from verbal abuse to physical threats take place in Delhi everyday.

Such is the apprehension in Delhi now, that commuters are never sure when they may be caught in traffic jams that may last for hours. The infrastructure has not kept pace with the rise in number or vehicles and people traveling on the road.

Indeed, flashy lifestyles and glitzy shopping places are creating rising hopes and desires that can also result in frustration.

India is still a country of a majority of have-nots, who now get to see what they do not possess. Even the affluent, caught in a binge of consumerism, don’t have it easy. Recent reports show that the number of Indians suffering from blood pressure and diabetes is rising by leaps and bounds. Stress is a common result of high expectations and lifestyles on the fast lane.

As India experiences dizzying economic growth, the transition is no means easy. Whether it will manage to address the challenges of growth and economic inequality adequately remains to be seen.


A Dialogue of Rhythm: India Jazz Progressions
The majestic grace of Kathak met the effervescent joie de vivre of tap-dancing in a continuation of the growing kinship of two great dancing traditions at a mesmerizing performance in San Francisco. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): Pictured (from left to right): Pandit Chitresh Das, Charlotte Moraga, Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Chloe Arnold. (Right): Pandit Chitresh Das. [All photos by Edward Casati]

Marry the world’s most dazzling rhythm with a maestro’s ambitious imagination, and you get an absolutely unforgettable audio-visual experience: “India Jazz Progressions: A collaborative performance of India’s Kathak Dance and Tap Dance.”

Kathak maestro Chitresh Das’s strategy is a stroke of genius: Instead of making a mess of highly evolved art forms by any attempt at fusion (which an Indian wag once called con-fusion), he hit upon a technique that allowed two different dance forms to keep its purity of form intact while engaging in a fascinating dialogue which had humor, intelligence, skill and heart.

The Chitresh Das Dance Company presented performed Sept. 28-30 at the Cowell Theater in Fort Mason in San Francisco. Performers included Chitresh Das, Emmy Award-winning tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith and fellow tap dancers Chloe Arnold and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards.

Sparks flew a few years ago when Das and Smith brought their joint collaboration “India Jazz Suites.” Das may be 62 while Smith 26, but they share a kinship and affinity that shines through in their joint performances.

(Above): “Shabd,” a Kathak yoga performance.

Now “India Jazz Progressions” has taken the artistic experimental collaboration between Das and Smith to the next level by including their respective companies in a more extensive exploration of the boundaries between their two forms, innovation and tradition, and improvisation and choreography.

“India Jazz Suites,” Das and Smith’s first collaboration has toured to the American Dance Festival in Durham, San Francisco (where it closed the International Kathak Festival), Albany, New Orleans (where they did outreach work) and Lafayette, Louisiana, Chicago, Los Angeles and in January 2007 they toured throughout India. While touring together, Das and Smith developed new ideas to implement into “India Jazz Progressions.”

In “India Jazz Progressions,” Das and Smith reached a new and more challenging level of collaboration by bringing their companies to the artistic process and exploring the boundaries between improvisation and choreography. “India Jazz Progressions” introduced group pieces (as opposed to entirely solo or duet work which was the emphasis in India Jazz Suites) in an expanded, multi-faceted interaction between dancers, musicians, and forms. Some pieces utilized rap and the traditional Indian bols (language of the drum), both of which are improvised. Others employed choreography that brings the two forms together.

(Above): Pictured (left to right): Chloe Arnold and Charlotte Moraga.

Das also premiered selections of his latest work-in-progress Shabd (sound). Shabd was a compelling demonstration of what Das calls “kathak yoga,” where a performer is doing several things at the same time while staying within intricate rhythm patterns.

A child prodigy, Pandit Chitresh Das has become one of the most dynamic and far-reaching artists to emerge from modern India. A prolific artist, his traditional performances, choreography and evolution of Kathak, the classical dance of North India, have influenced the art form world-wide.

Trained from the age of nine by his guru, Pandit Ram Narayan Mishra, Das was schooled in both major Kathak traditions, embodying each in his artistry: the graceful and sensual elements of the Lucknow school combined with the dynamic and powerful rhythms and movements of the Jaipur School.

His performing career was launched in India when he was invited by Pandit Ravi Shankar to perform in the first Rimpa Festival in Benaras. He has since performed throughout India and internationally in many of the most prestigious festivals and venues, including the Lincoln Center, the Olympics, Surya Festival, Chennai, Dover Lane Conference, Kolkata, the National Kathak Festival in New Delhi, the American Dance Festival, for the Maharaja of Jodhpur and many others. In 2004 Pandit Das was featured in a national PBS television program, his performance in a historic court in Kolkata was broadcast on BBC national U.K. television and he is regularly featured on Indian national television.

Jason Samuels Smith (performer, choreographer, director) has emerged as a multi-talented leader in the art form of tap. He won both an Emmy and American Choreography Award for “Outstanding Choreography” for the Opening number of the 2003 Jerry Lewis/MDA Telethon in a tribute to the late Gregory Hines. He was also awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the City of Los Angeles for creating the First Annual Los Angeles Tap Festival in 2003.


Preschool for Everyone
California state lawmaker Dave Jones has recently authored bill AB71, which would require the state to offer voluntary, effective preschool to all three- and four-year-olds by 2012, writes Amanda Martinez.

(Above): California assemblymember Dave Jones reading a story to preschool kids.
(Below): Kids playing at the preschool facility of the Hiram Johnson Family Education Center in Sacramento, Calif. [Siliconeer photos]

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has officially announced 2008 as the Year of Education and California State Assemblymember Dave Jones is working to ensure that preschool be on the “front-burner” of the governor’s education agenda. He has recently authored bill AB71, which would require the state to offer voluntary, effective preschool to all three- and four-year-olds by 2012.

“It’s critically important that we offer (preschool) to all children. They deserve nothing less,” said Jones while addressing 14 ethnic media television and print outlets at Hiram Johnson Family Education Center in Sacramento on Oct. 12.

Jones presented data showing that children enrolled in preschool programs are more likely to become proficient readers, less likely to need special education, more likely to avoid criminal activity, and graduate high school and college at higher rates.

The second in a series of New America Media news briefings on early childhood education, this press event reinforced NAM’s 2006 parent poll which identified that the majority of Latino, Asian, and African-American parents in California believe that their children need to attend preschool to prepare for kindergarten, and also that there are insufficient numbers of high quality, affordable preschools in their neighborhood.

“This is something that we as ethnic media can address,” says Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media. Parents don’t have information about how to access affordable, high quality preschool, she said. “This (briefing) is an opportunity to find out what preschool is, why it is important and how our communities can access it.”

Prior to the media briefing Jones and the ethnic media took a tour of the Hiram Johnson Family Education Center and observed a bright colored classroom filled with a wide range of learning materials, from learning blocs and puzzles to a working computer station designed specifically for preschoolers. Despite being held inside by the rain, the preschoolers displayed a calm yet enthusiastic demeanor and showed great attentiveness to their teachers.

After the tour, Jones spoke of the important role preschool plays in preparing children for kindergarten. “You can tell (in a kindergarten classroom) which children have had preschool and which have not. The ones who have not start behind and sometimes those kids never catch up.”

Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California and a co-sponsor of the briefing, echoed many of the assemblyman’s concerns. “Preschool is one way to address the readiness gap before it becomes the achievement gap,” she said. “To get (more high quality preschools like the one we’ve seen) here today, we have to invest much more at the state level than we have so far.”

Jones has been pushing for legislation to improve the quality of preschools since he entered the state assembly. While his newly proposed bill AB71 promotes preschool for all, it would prioritize preschool access for low-income three- and four-year-olds in the state. Jones added, “Children who lack access to preschool are disproportionately children of color.”

The ethnic media journalists at the briefing also spoke passionately about this issue.

According to Korea Times reporter Jeongmin Lee, “Many Korean families don’t speak English, but schools only offer brochures in English and Spanish. Many parents turn to Korean churches who have preschools, but there are not enough spots for all the families who want them.”

Roberto Radrigan, editor of Bilingual Weekly, shed light on the needs of the migrant communities in Stockton who make up a majority of his readership. “Stockton Unified School District has the worst achievement because 53 percent of the school district are migrant (farmworkers),” he said. Radrigan explained that children are never in one place long enough to benefit from these types of quality programs. He then asked the preschools and early childhood education advocates to provide information on other platforms besides Web sites, which he described as too difficult for many immigrant parents to use. The Latino immigrant population rely more on TV, radio, and print press to receive information, he explained.

Edgar Calderon of multilingual station KBTV urged the preschool community to make use of ethnic media’s ability to communicate with parents saying, “Use us more effectively to get to the people!”

By the end of the briefing it was clear that the assemblyman, preschool representatives, and advocates were excited to work with ethnic media to build awareness of preschool access.

Joyce Wright, assistant superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education concluded the event by saying, “One of the biggest impacts of today is that we are going to do things differently now.”

This briefing was a joint project of New America Media and Preschool California, made possible with funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.


Power of Giving
: Agami Fundraiser
A close associate of Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus gave a powerful speech to assembled donors for basic education projects in Bangladesh, making an appeal to get engaged, and come up with ideas to make development projects self-sustaining.
A Siliconeer report.

Above: (From left): Keynote speaker Kazi Islam, Agami president Babu Rahman and Agami vice president Mahmud Hassan.

A dash of humor (some of it racy enough to make the audience squirm), a stirring a keynote speech and an impressive account of its activities marked a fundraiser evening for Agami, a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit that supports basic education in Bangladesh. The event was hosted Oct. 19 in Newark, Calif.

With a heart that displayed its broadness in more ways than one, organizers invited non-Bangladeshis as well, and involved second-generation youths in the planning and execution of the event, which paid off well: After it was all over, Agami had raised well over $20,000 in pledges.

After Agami president Babu Rahman’s opening remarks and a rundown of activities by vice president Mahmud Hassan, keynote speaker Kazi Islam, CEO of Grameen Solutions and a close associate of Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi Nobel laureate and self declared banker for the poor, took the stage.

Educated in the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Islam is a veteran corporate executive who has worked for Ford, Jaguar and Mazda in the U.S., England and Japan, and after a final stint for IBM, went back to Bangladesh with a burning desire to do something for Bangladesh.

Islam joined Grameen Solutions as a Chief Executive Officer with more than 12 years of international professional experience. He has served in a diverse range of industries like IT, communication technology, media, energy and utility, automotive and consumer electronics.

Among many leadership roles he served as strategy and change consultant, business outsourcing manager, business process design and implementation consultant, strategy planning manager, project manager, change management leader, lead systems designer, product development engineer, and organization design consultant.

Articulate and passionate, Islam made an appeal to everybody, saying that he was conveying a challenge from Dr Yunus. Donors here should think how to make all the projects they were supporting self-sustaining. Take risks, think out of the box, he said.

Later in the evening two comedians entertained the audience, but working a South Asian audience is no joke.

Naveed Mahbub, an engineering graduate of Bangladesh’s top institution BUET and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor had the first go. He had his funny lines, but the humor was at best sporadic, never a good sign for the stand up comic. The fault is less Mahbub’s than an audience unused and unschooled in the culture of stand-up comedy.

Anand Chulani has experience in mainstream U.S. television, but he misread the discomfort of the staid desi audience as he tried out one risqué joke after another.


Bangla Theatre: Enad’s ‘Ron’
San Francisco Bay Area Bangla theatre group ENAD presents its 10th production, Ron, an original Bangla play with English supertitles that dwells on the struggle that first generation immigrants have to go through. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): A scene from the Enad production Aniket.

Celebrated Bangla theatre group ENAD brings its 10th production, a Bangla play with English supertitles, Dec. 8. (See details below.)

Ron, an original play by Sudipto Bhawmik, is about first-generation immigrants who have to fight multiple battles for their physical and emotional survival.

Ron Mitra, son of an Indian immigrant family, is a member of the U.S. Army National Guard and is currently deployed in Iraq. Ron ‘s parents, Animesh and Shanti, although not happy with Ron’s decision to join the U.S. Army, respect Ron’s wishes.

However, Ron’s deployment to active duty in Iraq is a constant source of tension and anxiety.

At a small get together at Animesh’s place, Surojit Biswas, a writer and journalist from Kolkata, challenges Animesh and his guests about their loyalty, their beliefs and their fundamental moral values. The party rapidly goes into a tailspin with each character exposing their secret wars that they have been fighting all along.

ENAD is an acronym for Ekti Natoker Dol. The dedicated group of drama enthusiasts aim to create an awareness of quality Bangla drama in the Bay Area. All proceeds go to non-profit organizations, and ENAD has previously supported projects in Bangladesh and India.

ENAD will present two performances of Ron Dec. 8 at 3:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto, Calif. Interested readers can visit the ENAD Web site at www.enadonline.org or email info@enadonline.org for more information.


Desi Film Fest: South Asian Film Festival
The 3rd I San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival brings many gems that do not make it to American screens, including some of the best recent works by South Asians with shorts by local filmmakers, art house classics, hard hitting social documentaries and Bollywood blockbusters, writes Ivan Jaigirdar.

At a time when South Asian filmmakers are making a global splash with Rajnesh Domalapalli’s Vanaja and Bollywood alum Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 3rd I presents some of the best South Asian cinema at the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival Nov. 16-18. Come and enjoy shorts by local filmmakers, art house classics, hard hitting social documentaries and Bollywood blockbusters. This year, 3rd I is proud to announce in-person appearances by featured filmmakers Manish Acharya, Rituparno Ghosh, Meena Nanji and several other local filmmakers.

This year’s presentations include:

South Asian shorts by local filmmakers;

Ashim Ahluwalia’s surreal & singularly original documentary John and Jane - Toll Free, an official selection at the Toronto and Berlin Festivals;

The 1957 Guru Dutt classic, Pyaasa (Eternal Thirst), an emotionally charged indictment of the materialism of our times;

Loins of Punjab Presents, Manish Acharya’s sidesplitting look at a Desi singing contest in a New Jersey town;

Rituparno Ghosh’s Dosar (The Companion). Set in contemporary Kolkata, it traces the infidelities of three couples and is unabashed in its representation of sexuality in India;

Unni (Another Story of an Indian Child) by Cannes award winner Murali Nair. A coming-of-age journey of four mischievous young friends from different social classes;

Sri Lankan director Prasanna Jayakody’s debut, Sankara. Official selection at the Rotterdam and London Festivals, this meditative film is about a Buddhist monk on a reverie of worldly passion;

Anish Ahluwalia’s Kya Tum Ho? (Are You There?). This noir films examines the underbelly of urban isolation in the cyber-age through the intersecting online lives of three alienated individuals.

For more information readers can visit the festival Web site at www.thirdi.org/festival or call (415) 835-4783.


Theatre for Harmony: ‘Sojon Badiyar Ghaat’
Washington, D.C.-based cultural group Dhroopad presents a third performance of its much-applauded theatrical performance of Bangla poet Jasimuddin’s classic dance drama that champions communal harmony. A Siliconeer report.

A scene from ‘Sojon Badiyar Ghaat.

After its triumphant performance Oct. 20, Washington, D.C.-based Bangladeshi cultural group presents its third performance of celebrated folk poet Jasimuddin’s dance drama Sojon Badiyar Ghaat on Nov. 16 to raise funds for flood victims in Bangladesh.

Jasimuddin made an unforgettable impression on Bangla literature after his appearance in the literary scene in the first half of the 20th century. Praised by literary giants of his time including Rabindranath Tagore, Jasimuddin’s poetry took erstwhile Bengal by storm with its keen understanding and sensitivity of the joys and sorrows of rural life.

Sojon Badiyar Ghaat has all those qualities as it narrates a profoundly moving story of village life which combines the pathos of a tragic love story with the acute observation of the harsh reality of rural life where the devious power-hungry elite rule the roost, showing few qualms in manipulating the religious divide to draw a wedge in society and benefit their own narrow ends.

Suffused with a deep humanism, the theme of Sojon Badiyar Ghaat has a strong contemporary resonance in today’s world of strife and sectarian animosity.

Under the able guidance of Anutosh Saha, who wrote the script, composed the music and directed the play, Dhroopad has breathed life into this play with a superb combination of folk music, choreography, stage effects and a committed, skillful performance full of heart. “Amid continuous applause, Dhroopad staged its first play Sojon Badiyar Ghaat,” said a headline of the U.S. Bangla newspaper Khabor.

It is no surprise that after their first sold-out performance brought calls for an encore performance for a Durga Puja celebration this year. Once again, Dhroopad came through, and their triumphant performance this time around had many members of the audience wiping their tears.

The third performance will be held at the Harris Theatre at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Proceeds will benefit victims of recent floods in Bangladesh.

Interested readers can find more details at the Dhroopad Web site at http://dhroopad.org


Little River Inn: Trip to Mendocino
Heading down soporific Interstate 5 to Williams, then shunted on Highway 20 to Ukiah, Al Auger went down 253 to Boonville and north on his way to the stately Little River Inn in Mendocino. And he loved every moment of it, he writes.

(Above): (Top): The beautiful coast of Mendocino County, Calif. (Bottom): The stately Little River Inn in Mendocino, Calif.

Wherever you may be going, getting there can be as important and as much fun as your destination. After hundreds of miles on long, boring stretches of freeway, your pulse will not be racing if your vista is a convoluted stretch of neon promising 99 cent burgers, free car wash with fill up ad nauseum.

How about a cool run through tall redwoods in shadowed beauty? Or goofy little towns like Boonville where they speak a language still a mystery to many enlightened word doctors. Curvaceous roads snaking through mountains overlooking vast canyons and valleys, green and lovely.

This was our adventure as we head down soporific I-5 to Williams where we are shunted on Highway 20 to Ukiah, down 253 to Boonville and North on our way to the stately Little River Inn in Mendocino.

As winter is on the wane and small hints that spring is just around the next bend in the road, the wild and sensuous Mendocino coast is at its apex of glory. The roadside is a riot of color from the wild flowers that carpet the fields. As we near the coast the mood swings are like lovers, the fat clouds scudding across the blue, blue sky. We run out of Highway 128 and head north on Highway 1 where the coast is alive with hard driving waves pounding the rocks and blanketed by an ever-changing sky. Unlike the sun-drenched slumberous beaches of Southern California, the very air seems to move in uncharted paths. Doing nothing but strolling the coastline can be adventurous.

On our first day at Little River we boxed a picnic lunch at the deli across the highway and headed for the cliffs behind the combination gas station/grocery store/deli and post office. Settling in the grass overlooking the crashing waves on the rocks, she opens a book and I begin the frustration of the crossword puzzle. Our lunch gone, we converse about a range of subjects. The hypnotic aura has taken us over and the day is gone before we realize.

(Above): The beautiful seaside in Mendocino offers breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean.

That night we have dinner with co-owner Mel McKinney, a retired trial lawyer, freelance author and car nut. The McKinney family has owned and operated the Inn for over 80 years since its inception. His most recent book, “Where There’s Smoke” is an interesting twist on the Kennedy assassination and Cuban cigars. The Little River Inn has been a regular stopping off point for the California Mille Miglia, an annual event of exotic vintage motorcars. Over succulent sea bass we talk cars and writing through the night.

The next day we must head for the village Mendocino, a short two-mile run, and renew the knowledge that here “quaint” is not just a word, but a real world all its own. The sidewalk traffic of tourists and visitors is just a dribble when compared to the summer months. What we find off the tourist paths is Mendocino is a center for jazz and blues. I spy a sign “Red Rooster,” and I think Howlin’ Wolf has discovered Mendocino. Inside, the walls are filled with some of the most exotic CD’s never to be found anywhere else.

Down the street at the local pub, we meet Dave, the bartender. Dave, it turns out, used to manage Dan Hicks, roomed with Elvin Bishop in hometown Chicago and spent hours with friends Steve Miller and Paul Butterfield. A fellow jazz aficionado, Dave adds another facet to the town. Over our Guinness my friend and I agree the seduction of the Mendocino coast is almost palpable. Its disposition swings in a wide arc of moods, just like people. It can be ferocious, ill-humored, capricious and so beautiful.

This was all made so clear the following day on our visit to Van Damme State Park next door to the Little River Inn. During the summer months, the park’s 74 camping spots are filled, but in mid-March only a couple of spots are taken. At Van Damme, mood is everything as we plunged deep into the Fern Canyon where the trail borders the Little River. A virtual rain forest guarded by a giant redwoods and flora of all sorts.

The weather swings from cool and overcast with everything seen through a gossamer curtain. Then it changes to sunny and the rushing river becomes brilliant reflections, the flora stands out in sharp contrast to the deep darkness behind. Heading out of Fern Canyon we chance upon a state marine biologist who will spend the next four months counting and weighing the Coho salmon and steelhead fish escaping their time in the spawning pools and head for the open sea. There they will spend the next three years maturing in preparation to their return to the Little River and their spawning adventure.

It’s our last day, and as we prepare to leave the weather has changed –again – to steady rain. But as we drive away the sun breaks through and the giant puffy clouds begin moving across the Lindsay-blue skies.

Little River Inn
Located two miles south of Mendocino on Highway 1. Amenities include room service, telephones, TV and VCR, complimentary video library, 9-hole golf course, driving range, putting green and lighted tennis courts. The panoramic bar fronts a garden restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All rooms have ocean views, many with fireplaces and private Jacuzzi, and more. Rates range from $135 - $320; Lower rates November – March.


Festival of Lights: Diwali in Cupertino
The Asian American Business Council of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce celebrated Diwali with sari festooned trees, spectacular lanterns and a colorful rangoli display, writes Christine Giusiana.

(Left from top): A Rangoli design at the Diwali festival in Cupertino, Calif.; and Cupertino Mayor Kris Wang with dancers.

The Asian American Business Council of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce hosted its’ fifth annual celebration of Diwali – Festival of Lights Oct. 13 at Memorial Park, Cupertino. More than 10,000 attendees were welcomed at the entry to the Quinlan center with sari-festooned trees, spectacular lanterns and a colorful Rangoli floor art display designed and produced by Bela Khetan, Varsha Lele and Namrita Yuhanna.

Over 60 booths throughout the venue were festively decorated with traditional lamps, saris and balloons. The one-day fair offered a cultural kaleidoscope of activities and performances.

Diwali event chair Mahesh Nihalani said the fifth year succeeded in increasing attendance for families from Cupertino and the surrounding West Valley region. “Each year we continue to grow,” he said. “This ever popular event continues to please our community and those who surround Cupertino.”

Attendees could get a “mehendi” design on their palms, learn their future with a visit to the fortune teller, or attend the bazaar with ethnic Indian apparel, art, jewelry, children’s books, and of course indulge themselves with mouthwatering delicacies at the food court.

The Kids Zone had a big traffic of youngsters throughout the day, with a petting zoo, pony rides, bounce houses, face painting, coloring contest, and a wonderful magic show that entertained children of all ages.

Entertainment included performances from the Aloha dance performed by the seniors of Cupertino, Middle Eastern belly dance, Persian dance and Chinese folk dance as well as Bollywood dance and the traditional Kuchipudi dance.

The purpose of this event was to bring all the communities together to celebrate intercultural understanding and promote economic prosperity.

Chamber board president Scott Stauffer lit the ceremonial lamp Attendees included Cupertino Mayor Kris Wang and many county and state officials.

Interested readers can get more information at the Cupertino Chamber Web site at www.cupertino-chamber.org.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
Eid Celebrations in the Sacramento Area | Khan Opens Hillary Clinton Rally | Diwali at San Mateo | Sikhs Pleased | Give Back a Smile | Tea Time Meeting | HAF Reception | Tenth Anniversary

Eid Celebrations in the Sacramento Area

Ladies in a festive mood at an Eid Milan in Roseville, Calif.

Eid-ul-Fitr was celebrated with a great deal of enthusiasm in Sacramento , Calif., as thousands congregated at various area mosques to celebrate the end of Ramadan Oct. 13. A couple of masjids did celebrate Eid a day earlier on Friday, but we are glad to report that this time nobody (that we are aware of) took the main holiday into the following day.

I caught up with the festivities at the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims facility, where close to 1,000 people gathered to say their prayers led by Imam Abdel Azeez. The young Imam in his khutbah highlighted the peaceful message that Islam brings to the world. The SALAM congregation celebrated a diverse Muslim brotherhood as Pakistanis, African Americans, Indians Vietnamese Muslims, Arabs, Persians, Hispanic Muslims and local Caucasian converts mingled and greeted each other on their completion of Ramadan fasting.

Some of the men, women and especially the children came out in their best attire as colorful ethnic clothing lit up the SALAM premises for the daylight festival that followed prayers. 

Many small and large Eid parties were held in the region. The Islamic Society of Placer County, under the auspices of Roseville mosque, held a nice little gathering at a park in nearby Rocklin, Calif.. The Roseville mosque effort is in its infancy and invites participation from all Muslims in the area. Call Bilal Adenwala at (916) 224-7615 to participate in mosque activities.

The largest Eid Milan gathering was put together by Pakistanis at Hagen Park in Rancho Cordova  Oct. 21. A truly “for the kids effort,” it drew several hundred people who enjoyed a wonderful time in the park, experiencing the Sacramento area’s fine weather.

This year Muslim Eid and Hindu Diwali celebrations happened to fall almost at the same time. So a Happy Diwali and Eid Mubarak to all South Asian readers!

- Ras Hafiz Siddiqi


Khan Opens Hillary Clinton Rally

Noted San Francisco Bay Area-based sitarist Habib Khan, seen above with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., was recently invited to open a political rally for Clinton in Oakland, Calif., according to a press release.

Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for president, is running a formidable campaign to become the nation’s first female president, with all polls showing a huge lead over other Democratic hopefuls like Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards. Polls also show that she leads possible Republican candidates.

Diwali at San Mateo

Bollywood singer Sukhwinder Singh (c) with other performers. (Som Sharma photo)

Bollywood playback singers Sukhwinder Singh and Labh Janjua headlined a huge Diwali celebration Oct. 13 attended by over 7,000 people, according t organizers Indian American Community Services Association.

As children ran around and adults chatted in the cavernous San Mateo County Expo Center a number of booths sold food, apparel, DVDs as well as subsrcriptions to satellite television.

IACSA, which has been around for five years, was hosting the event for the fourth time. 

This year is the first time we are doing it indoors. In previous years the event was hosted at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. But the weather was affecting it. This year organizers brought it indoor and a little up north to bring in a more people from San Francisco and other counties.

Organizers said the biggest reason for their success was the fact that they sold tickets at $10 a pop which covered the mela and the concert with Sukhwinder Singh and Labh Janjua.

Sikhs Pleased

Sikhs have welcomed the steps taken by the TSA authorities to correct the policy of indiscriminate screening of turbans at the airports, according to a press release from Silver Spring, Md.-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education. 

SCORE was reacting to a U.S. Transportation Security Administration announcement of an adjustment of its screening policies for headwear which included Turbans.

According to the new guidelines by TSA, airport screeners will no longer "pat down" people wearing religious head coverings and travelers will have the choice to go through alternative security measures. Officials said such alternatives might include walking through a machine that detects explosive chemicals. Or wearers could agree to pat down their own turban, and then have their hands swabbed with a cloth that is tested for chemical residue.

SCORE chairman Dr. Rajwant Singh said, “This is a welcome change. The Sikh community is fully committed to work with government to ensure the safety of all Americans and at the same time making sure that the religious rights of all citizens are protected.” Dr. Singh also welcomed that TSA has promised that it will provide all its field employees with mandatory cultural awareness training about Sikh observances.

Give Back a Smile

Dalvir Pannu DDS with volunteers for the Give Back A Smile program

Local American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry dentist Dalvir Pannu DDS and volunteers joined hands in the AACD’s Give Back A Smile program to heal the effects of domestic violence by providing free consultation and dental treatment to restore the smiles of survivors of domestic violence. 

“Through the Give Back A Smile program, AACD members like me assist survivors by treating their dental injuries that were sustained from domestic violence, so that they may reclaim their smiles, their self-esteem and, ultimately, their lives,” commented Pannu DDS of Northern California. Pannu Dental Care has three locations in San Jose, Fremont, and Cupertino.

Domestic violence survivors who have suffered dental injuries from abuse from a former intimate partner or spouse can contact GBAS toll-free at: (800) 773-GBAS (4227)

Survivors must make an appointment with a counselor, domestic violence advocate, social worker or therapist to complete the advocate section of the GBAS application. 

GBAS conducts the initial review of the application however the dentist has the final say as to the eligibility of the applicant. 

If eligible, the AACD connects the survivor with a local GBAS volunteer like Pannu who provides treatment at no charge to the recipient. 

Tea Time Meeting

At the tea reception (l-r) Bhuvan Lall, Subhash Chandra, filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra  and Bob Friedman.

Zee TV chief Subhash Chandra Goyal met with a number of Indian American activists at the home of B.K. Modi in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Oct. 14, according to a press release. Chandra is one of the prominent business leaders of India and is the CEO of Zee TV and its affiliate companies.

Zee-TV is a media and entertainment giant in Indian business. Subhash Chandra guides the board into new ventures and developments in this highly competitive market.

Chandra is very passionate about eradicating illiteracy in India and was the chief guest at this event. He is the chairman of the board for Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of India and makes an active effort to regularly visit Ekal schools.

Chandra, 56, is chairman of Zee Entertainment Enterprises and promoter of Essel Group of Companies. His businesses include television networks and film entertainment, cable systems, satellite communications, theme parks, flexible packaging, family entertainment centers and online gaming.

HAF Reception

United States lawmakers and influential Hindu Americans shared the dais at the annual Capitol Hill reception hosted in Washington, D.C. recently by the Hindu American Foundation, according to an HAF press release. For the fourth consecutive year, leaders of the foundation and nearly 150 supporters gathered under the rotunda of the United States Capitol building capping a day of face-to-face meetings on the Hill discussing issues of concern to Hindu Americans.

At the reception, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was honored with the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism and addressed the attendees on his commitment to religious diversity and his deep appreciation for India and Hinduism's pluralistic traditions.

"It is an honor to be recognized alongside committed activists dedicated to promoting religious tolerance and human rights," said Sen. Brown in his address. "While religious liberty is a fundamental right in the U.S., Hindus in many countries face discrimination, forced conversions, and disenfranchisement. I will continue to work with the Hindu American Foundation on these vital issues." Also recognized with the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism was Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. who was presented with the award in his Senate office.

Tenth Anniversary

Vision New America, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization that promotes civic education and leadership, is holding its 10th anniversary Nov. 1 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the India Community Center, Milpitas.

The purpose of the event is to celebrate the organization’s 10 years of involvement in the community and to graduate their summer intern class.  This year’s keynote speaker will be former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.

In addition to keynote speaker Mineta, the event will include a silent auction, live performances, and dancing.  State Assembly Member Alberto Torrico, Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr, San Jose City Council Member Madison Nguyen, San Jose City Council Member Kansen Chu, and Campbell City Council Member Evan Low will be in attendance along with many other community leaders.

VNA originated in 1996 to encourage young people to learn about the government and public service starting with the Asian Pacific American youth.  VNA currently offers over sixty summer internships in offices of elected officials, government agencies, and policy related organizations. For more information on VNA’s 10th Anniversary Fall Gala and Graduation or other VNA programs, call Liliana Li at (408) 260-0116.

Commuter Bliss: 2007 Acura TL Type-S
With a more powerful engine and a re-tuned suspension than the regular version, the Acura TL Type-S version makes long-distance daily commuting a breeze, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

It has been some time since I’ve had to commute regularly into San Francisco, but I recently had to make a trip into the Bay Area during rush hour. Trips at these times give me a renewed appreciation for the ability to work either at or near home. Accidents, ladders on the road, overturned big rigs and long waits at toll plazas add to years to your life and pile on the frustration. My hat is off you long distance commuters.

But, then, if you’re doing it right, you’re probably commuting in a very comfortable car, perhaps one with a nice sound system or, if you’re very smart, satellite radio.

That’s what you’ll get with an Acura TL. But, if you’re a commuter who wants even more in your ride, then check out the 2007 TL-S. For this model year, Acura re-introduces the Type-S after a three-year break. The Type-S versions are a more performance-oriented version of the TL. This mid-sized luxury sedan that boasts a more powerful engine and a re-tuned suspension. These TL models also have new exterior styling and interior trim accents to play up the performance theme.

Of course, you don’t need to have all that muscle; there are Acura TL models without the performance extras. Both the TL and the TL Type-S do, however, offer top-of-the-line technology, such as the Acura/ELS surround premium sound system, the Acura satellite-linked navigation system that also features a real-time traffic link; and hands-free bluetooth technology, so you can synchronize cell phone address books with the car. Hey, if you’re spending all that time in the car commuting, you’re also probably spending a lot of time on the phone.

Also new for 2007 is a newly designed five-speed automatic transmission, an enhanced suspension and VTEC-enhanced powertrain.

The exterior design receives subtle changes for 2007, particularly around the front grille, bumper, headlights and fog lights. The Type-S receives a black chrome trim, wider sills and wheels with 10 spokes.

On the interior, you’ll find a three-spoke steering wheel, new gauges with a metallic look, and red ambient lighting in the Type-S models. Sporty seats are covered in leather, and firm in their support.

While there is plenty of room for front seat passengers, and the rear seat has seat belts for five, I’m not sure the rear middle position will be a popular place to sit with the kids. The middle seat’s space is compromised by the sporty design of the outboard seat cushions, and a stiff armrest in the back cushion forces you to sit forward. I think the only one who would be happy sitting in this middle spot would be the baby in an infant seat.

The Acura TL has a long list of standard features that rank high on the “luxury” list. They include a six-disc DVD-audio system, leather seating, power seats, a one-touch start system on models with automatic transmissions. The only option is the satellite-linked navigation system.

Safety technology includes front and side air bags, standard side curtain air bags, and computer-modeled crush zones, all of which helped the vehicle earn a five-star rating in government crash tests, and a good rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s offset frontal crash tests.

On the road, you’ll find the ride is quiet, the car handles very well and performance is excellent. If you’re frequently on and off freeway ramps, there will be no hesitation here when you need that quick acceleration. Seats are firmly comfortable, which should be good news to commuters with aching backs.

The trunk lid opens up and away to reveal a very good sized trunk, which could easily accommodate those monstrously sized backpacks kids carry these days.

The Acura TL is a comfortable, well-appointed sedan packed with many standard and enhanced safety features, which should give parents — and commuters — plenty of peace of mind.

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


Only in Bollywood: One Song, Many, Many Stars | No Politics | New York Honor | Aussie Award | Abraham Inspires Dhoni

Only in Bollywood: One Song, Many, Many Stars

Some of the 31 stars in a scene in “Om Shanti Om.”

You know the old joke about how many people it takes to screw a bulb. Well, here’s a Bollywood version: How many stars does it take to shoot a filmi song? If you are thinking just the hero and the heroine, think again.

In Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om, she has managed to stuff 31 stars into one song. I kid you not.

Doesn’t she think this was a bit of an overkill. Clearly not, because she tried to get in 34.

Well, the film has created quite  a buzz, and given Farah’s skills as a choreographer, those who love their Bollywood film deep-fried in masala likely won’t be disappointed.

Bollywood’s penchant for excess is alive and well, it seems. Even in Bollywood’s world dream world of maudlin sentiment, slapstick humor or extravagant song-and-dance sequences where in a flash film stars travel all over the world, Farah has managed to create an example that will be hard to beat for a time.

No Politics

Shah Rukh Khan in “Om Shanti Om”

He’s selfish, materialistic, capitalistic and too good looking. That’s why Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan can’t join politics.

Hey, don’t get mad with us. We didn’t say it. The King Khan did.

Addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit Oct. 13, the actor also described politics as “one of the most self-sacrificing kind of jobs” and apologized on behalf of the film industry for having “caricatured” politicians in movies.

Well, I don’t know about that. You take one look at the mendacious bunch of self-servers ruling the roost in India, and self-sacrifice will not be the first thing that comes to mind. Or even the last thing.

In his words, Shah Rukh said he was “too selfish, too materialistic and capitalistic kind of a person to join politics. Second, I am too good looking.” Except for the second part, we think he would fit right in.

However, Shah Rukh went on praising, especially the young leaders. He said he was sorry that politicians have been caricatured in films.

“I apologize on behalf of the whole film industry that over the years we have caricatured politicians to be bad guys. I don’t think that’s true. And especially the younger guys who are joining politics,” he said.

New York Honor

(Right): Mira Nair

Well, we’ve always had mixed feeling about her. While we thought Monsoon Wedding  was great, as was Salaam Bombay, we were less sure about her other films, and we found Kama Sutra to be pretty dubious.

All the same, we are delighted to know India-born filmmaker Mira Nair, who rose to fame when her debut movie Salaam Bombay was nominated for Oscar, will be honored with at the 17th annual Gotham Awards in New York this month for her contributions to independent cinema.

She will receive a Gotham Awards Tribute Nov. 27 at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios.

Besides making movies on themes which most commercial filmmakers shun, the citation notes, Nair founded in 2003 a film laboratory Maisha dedicated to support visionary screen writers and directors in East and South East Asia.

Nair’s company, Mirabai Films, is currently producing a series of four films to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic in India.

Her latest film The Namesake has also brought her honors.

Receiving the tribute  along with Nair is the Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who became first Spaniard to be nominated for an Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of the Cuban poet and dissident Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls.”

The Gotham Awards recognize the work of independent filmmakers who work with small budgets but produce high quality movies. 

Badhai ho, Mira.

Aussie Award

A scene from “Chak De India.”

Bollywood blockbuster Chak De India, shot in scenic locations of Sydney and Melbourne, has won the best film award at the fifth Australian Indian Film Festival. Chak De India, directed by Shimit Amin, was filmed around Sydney and Melbourne, featuring about 90 Australian hockey players and more than 9,000 locals as extras.

The movie was inspired by the Indian women’s hockey team’s win at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. Actor Akshaye Khanna won the best performance award for his portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi’s son Harilal in Feroz Khan’s Gandhi My Father, a media report said.

The film was recently accepted for competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival and is also in line for the best screenplay award at the inaugural Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The awards were announced Oct. 19 night at a gala ceremony at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The 10-day-long extravaganza, dubbed as the largest foreign film festival in Australia, opened with the screening of Gandhi My Father, and featured some of the finest films from India.

Abraham Inspires Dhoni

Ace cricketer M.S. Dhoni’s tresses have been a rage in the country and beyond. After a large number of Indian men followed his example and left their hair long and flowing, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf also took a shine to them.

Well the tresses are gone. It is all the result of a conspiracy hatched by his hair stylist Sapna Bhavnani. Even before Mahi had landed in the country after winning the T-20 World Cup, she said, “I want him to change his hairstyle. I will ask him to cut his hair short like John Abraham.”

And she made it happen. In the august presence of the Bollywood hunk himself, Mahi got his hair sheared. Sapna is quite proud of her achievement. She says, “Initially, I was a little hesitant about cutting his hair short. But Dhoni was very sure that he wanted short hair and a new look. The cut is short, smart and casual.”

John was also present throughout.

Old School Entertainer: Laaga Chunari Mein Daag
(Rating ** Mediocre)

Ladies, forgive this sexist sounding simile, but it’s so appropriate that I can’t help using it to describe Pradeep Sarkar’s latest Bollywood masala film: This film reminds me of a dumb blonde — gorgeous to look at, absolutely fantastic eye candy, but dumb as a door knob.

All of Pradeep Sarkar’s slick filmmaking skills — acquired after years of polished ad films — cannot revive the film any more than all the world’s top doctors can resuscitate a dead duck. Despite a beautiful look and excellent production values, the film is ultimately ruined by its outdated premises that belong at least a couple of decades back.

The warning signs were already there in his overhyped Parineeta. It’s true the film was a big hit, but the fact is that it many Bengali connoisseurs cast a jaundiced eye on it the way the film mauled the original novel by Saratchandra Chatterjee’s novel. To be fair to Sarkar, Bollywood’s commitment to literature is nothing to write home about. It’s much ballyhooed earlier film based on a Saratchandra novel, Devdas was hardly a stickler for accuracy. In the case of Parineeta, Sarkar had changed the ages of protagonists and moved the action not to contemporary India but in an imaginary retro Kolkata more an imaginary confection that anything else.

But then, Sarkar is primarily an ad film maker, and creating illusion (for his client’s products) is his stock in trade. Which works fine in Bollywood, too, which is for the most part in the business of manufacturing illusions as well. Where else would the hapless hero single-handedly take on a bunch of goons or win the beautiful heroine who happens to be the daughter of the tycoon to boot?

However, even a fantasy demands a strong story line, and in Parineeta, Sarkar was bailed out by one of the most popular novelists in India. While critics have scoffed at his penchant for maudlin sentiment, his ability as a storyteller is unquestioned.

This time around, Sarkar has no Saratchandra to bail him out, and it shows. In fact, in values and sensibility, his film lives in the regressive 20th century era of Saratchandra.

Let’s take a quick look at the story of this weep-fest.

Loosely based on the Mumtaz-starrer Aaina, Badki (Rani Mukerji) and Chhutki (Konkona Sen Sharma) are two happy-go-lucky girls growing up in Benares with a morose mother (Jaya Bachchan) sitting in a mammoth haveli and stitching clothes while the father (Anupam Kher) coughs ominously in the background.

Enemies lurk close by, mainly in the form of a villainous uncle with designs on the haveli, and his son, a mustachioed lout.

Once upon a time the family was rich, but those days are no more. Today, while mother sobs and sews, and father fumes futilely at clerks, neither of them can consider rent out rooms, or even giving in to the creepy uncle’s demands. There’s the question of izzat, you know. Instead off goes Badki to big bad Mumbai, to figure out some way to help her family. Her father, a dyed-in-the-wool sexist, has not doubt she won’t amount to much.

Here’s where the film stumbles. Sarkar clings to the dated cliché of the big bad metropolis, and Badki do ends up in the world’s oldest profession through an absurd series of sequences.

Given this silly premise one has to say that it’s a credit to the filmmaker that he is still able to spins a compelling tale of the strong emotional ties that bind a middle-class Indian family. The audience on an emotional roller coaster, and there is another hoary old chestnut drawn from the treasury of Bollywood films when the two unconnected leading men turn out to be brothers .

The dialogues (Rekha Nigam) are excellent and the acting is quite good, even though the characters are typecast.

Abhishek Bachchan is average in his 15-minute role. If there is a single reason for seeing this film, it is to watch the wondrous evolution of Konkona Sen Sharma. She started somewhat diffidently in offbeat Bollywood films, but in this film she demonstrates she is no slouch in mainstream cinema either. With a burst of spontaneity and an utterly believable expressive passion, she rules this film and announces to the world her arrival in Hindi cinema.

Sadly, for all its good points, the film remains less than the sum of its parts. In an age of the emancipated desi woman of Dor or Chak De! India and Fanaa, this film is fatally weighed down by the regressive values and worldview of a happily bygone era.


Lackluster, Slipshod: Piragu
It’s a case of good intentions gone haywire here. A lackluster script and slipshod narration reveal the amateurishness of a debutant director who seems not quite able to translate his ideas on to the screen. So the message of reform of criminal elements, which the director likens to the surrender and reform of some of the dacoits of the Chambal Valley, goes unnoticed. And the climax scene, that could have been a highlight of the film, gets wasted.

The story begins when Satya, an aspiring film director, comes to Chennai to try his luck. After a few scenes, the script diverges totally and it’s now the underworld the director takes us to. The gang wars between two rivals, the hero getting caught between them, the rivals teaming up to eliminate their common enemy, and the hero outwitting them — all give a sense of deja vu. The closing scene is a bit different, with all the rowdy elements converging at one place. But the message of reform is conveyed in a very ineffective way, the unintended humor not making it any better.

Keerti and Sunita play the hero’s village sweetheart and his city friend respectively. The two heroines look similar and with neither leaving a mark.

Vadivelu plays the caretaker of a graveyard. All his antics are confined to the place, and the director tries to add a dash of philosophical thought, but it all falls flat.

The saving grace of the film is Hamsavirdhan (son of yesteryear hero Ravichandran), who bravely strides on through all the inadequacies of the script and his lackluster role. It’s unfortunate that the hero with nearly half-a-dozen films to his credit has yet to get a decent film or a strong character that would do justice to his looks and obvious talent.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Sweet Treat: Gujia

Here’s a delicious desi sweet treat from the kitchen of U.K.-trained chef Sanjay Patel.

  • 500 gm maida (flour)
  • 1 kg khoya
  • 3 tbsp kishmish (raisins)
  • 200 gm almonds (cut into thin strips)
  • 6 tbsp cooking oil. ( keep some more aside for deep frying)
  • 200 ml water
  • 500 gm sugar.


Mix the six tablespoons of oil with the maida. Now add some water as required and knead into soft dough. Set aside and cover with a damp cloth.

Fry khoya in a deep-frying pan to a light brown color. Add sugar, almonds and raisins into the khoya and mix well. Remove from the fire and let it cool.

Roll out the kneaded dough into a small and thick chapati. Fill half the chapati with the khoya mixture, fold and seal the round, twisting the edges inwards.

Deep-fry these gujias to a deep golden brown color on slow flame. Take them out with a sieve type ladle and drain the oil completely.


HOROSCOPE: November By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): There will be more stability in career from now on. Plans will finally be in place towards the end of month. Spouse will need proper diet and some vitamins to maintain good health. You will buy some beautiful items for the house and visit an old friend.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): You will be thinking of some unorthodox methods to escape a situation. Mars in second can take you deeper into debts.. You may be tempted to grab an out of state opportunity. You must take a second opinion before signing any major contract. You will start relishing hot and spicy food.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Do not rush to conclusions and be patient. There will be stability in career soon and you may start a new venture in partnership. You may withdraw a legal case for the time being. Money will come but at a slow speed. You will be exploring an out of state opportunity. You will be invited to a big party.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): You will have big concerns about career and some of you will be trying different avenues desperately. Expenses will not leave you alone either and you may put off purchase of necessary items for a later time. Money will go towards a future trip. You will try to arrange a get together.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): You will be seriously looking for ways to get out of an emotional roller coaster ride you have been going through for quite some time. Advice from an experienced person could make things easy. You will also finalize a long distance trip. Business will improve slowly. You will spend time with politicians.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): Put every thing aside and take a break from your busy schedule. Try to enjoy life with family and friends. You may start the process to file an important appeal with a government agency. A solution to you problem is just around the corner. You will partner with an interesting personality.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): You will feel like gambling or taking big risks, maybe that is the only way out to turn the tables. Expenses will stay under control and soon you will be moving into positive territory. You will enjoy life with family and close friends. You will be offered a new and profitable deal by your business partners.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Hard work and patience will pay off soon. You will hear the news that will benefit you in terms of money for a long time to come. An old health problem will flare up again but you will be able to avert a minor surgery. Many people will take advantage of your good advice and skill.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will join a short term program or study useful material on your own. A new associate will share your work and it will be a big relief. You may go out of your way and buy expensive gifts. An idea of taking a trip will continue to occupy your mind. You will meet few old friends.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): You will feel lucky as things start moving in the right direction. You should let the past go and stop thinking about people who are ungrateful and selfish. You will be invited to a big gathering and meet few important and famous people. You may win some money in a lottery or gambling.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will spend money on your home. Some one you know for long will offer to start a new venture in partnership. Trip may bring results after a while. You will receive valuable gifts from in-laws. Some one in the family will need extra medical attention for a few days.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will meet an interesting person. You will become more optimistic as things keep moving in right directions. Soon there will be positive changes at work. You will be invited to an interesting party. Try your hand at lottery as planets favor money through speculation.

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


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