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Volume VIII • Issue 10

Please note our new
mailing address below:

New Mailing Address:
P.O. BOX 669

EDITORIAL: Landmark Achievement
NEWS DIARY: September News Briefs
SPORTS: Chak De India! Twenty20 Champions
FUNDRAISER: Meeting Garamendi
RELIGION: New BAPS Temple Opens
FINANCE: Banking: HSBC Woos NRIs
MUSIC: 25 Years of Basant Bahar
CINEMA: Krishnokanter Will
CINEMA: Benegal in Berkeley

REMEMBRANCE: Memories of Diwali: Festivities in the ’40s

TRAVEL: Montserrat, Spain
PREVIEW: Arab Film Festival
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Volvo S80 Sedan
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu | Review: Vanaja
TAMIL CINEMA: Cheena Thana 001
RECIPE: Mattar Paneer Masala

USCIS Update:
USCIS New Fees Schedule
Effective July 30, 2007 (PDF)


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

ICC: Landmark Achievement

At a time of great sectarian turbulence around the world, the India Community Center is living, dazzling proof that India’s talk of unity in diversity is more than just talk.

This is no easy task, given the fact that the size of the expatriate Indian community is so large that it is easy to join the seductive linguistic and religious subgroups that abound even here.

Yet the founders and supporters of ICC chose a vision that is refreshingly inclusive. They decided to open a center where all Indians would be able to meet, fraternize and socialize regardless of which state they were from, what language they spoke and what faith they practiced.

It’s a lofty, wonderful concept. What’s even more commendable is that ICC supporters had the gumption, energy, perseverance and commitment to make it happen.

The result is a 40,000 sq. ft. facility that does the community proud.

ICC has proven that the dream of bringing Indian Americans of diverse backgrounds together was not too far fetched. In the past few years, ICC has actually shown that it’s possible.
It gives us particular pleasure that ICC chair Talat Hasan has taken the time to write about ICC and its goals. Hasan, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and noted philanthropist, herself epitomizes many of the loftier goals of ICC so well that it’s hard to think of a more appropriate person to write about ICC in our cover story.

Irom Sharmila Chanu is not exactly a household name for South Asians, but perhaps she should be. This gentle, thirty-something Manipuri activist has been on a hunger strike since 2000.

Sharmila is demanding the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to the army in the state.

For many years, the Indian Army has been trying to quell insurgency in Manipur with an iron hand, but its success has been limited. Insurgent groups have proliferated and life for the common people has been mired in violence and strife.

Our editorial consultant Sandeep Pandey, himself a human rights activist, visited Sharmila in Imphal, Manipur, where she is being incarcerated in a hospital. Surprisingly gentle and calm, Sharmila also displays an iron resolve to continue her protest against Army violence. Sandeep also visited a number of sites where civilians had been indiscriminately killed by the Indian Army.

He has written a moving essay on his trip to Manipur in this month’s issue.

It is hardly a secret that the United States faces a health care crisis. Among the industrialized nations, the U.S. spends a greater percentage of its GDP and gets less for it; the single largest cause of personal bankruptcy is exorbitant medical bills; a huge chunk of the population is without medical insurance.

What is worse, in many cases, minority Americans are both much more likely to have a serious and damaging health condition and significantly less likely to be treated for it.

There is a direct correlation in this country between race, ethnicity, and health coverage. Uninsured people are less likely to receive needed primary care and far more likely to suffer the dire and negative consequences of untreated diseases.

So what is to be done? Kaiser Permanente CEO George C. Halvorson makes a pretty compelling case in an article this month for universal health care and better primary care.

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


Pride of the Community: India Community Center

Indians in the Silicon Valley are known for their spectacular success in high technology. Now they may have surpassed themselves when they opened a 40,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art community center in Milpitas, Calif.
With many dozens of programs, the excellence of the facility is matched by its lofty goals—this is the only Indian American facility of its kind which is non-sectarian, non-regional, and welcomes everybody with open arms. Talat Hasan, chair of the India Community Center, shares some thoughts about the center and its goals in an exclusive article written for Siliconeer.

Executive director Chitra Vivek at the inauguration of India Community Center in Milpitas, Calif.

Is it possible for Indo-Americans to come together as a community, free of religious and regional differences?

When we began to think about the India Community Center nearly five years ago, this was a question looming large in all of our minds. Could the family from Kerala relate to the family from New Delhi? Could the multiple religions of India come together in one facility? What was it that tied India’s rich diversity of languages, food, clothing and customs together?

Five years later, surveying the scenes at ICC’s beautiful new home in Milpitas, I see we have greatly surpassed our early expectations of building a non-sectarian, non-communal community! Our seniors — elderly immigrants from all over India — have created a second family at the center, bonding over yoga and dance, lectures and lunch. Our children attend summer camps and have fun learning about India’s rich heritage and national history. Through our language classes, they learn to communicate with the elderly grandparents in their homes. And people of all ages enjoy our new fitness and wellness center — especially our group exercise classes — without thought to the background of the person sweating alongside them.

(Above, from left): ICC lobby; and Anil Godhwani, one of the founders of ICC.

The mission of ICC is worth repeating here; it is to promote Indian culture and values by providing social, cultural, recreational and community programs, thereby uniting the Indian community, and raising awareness about Indian culture in the local community.

(From top): ICC chair Talat Hasan addressing the audience at the opening of the new ICC facility; and key ICC supporters at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for its 40,000 sq. ft. facility.

What truly amazes me is the amount of support the center has received for this mission of a united Indian community. So many thousands of people have donated time, money, ideas and skills to support ICC’s work!

(Right): Former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam flanked by ICC chair Talat Hasan (l) and ICC supporter Raj Jaswa.

ICC’s Community Partners program is key to our mission of building a united community. The center has created a network of more than 65 non-profit organizations, to offer a rich mix of cultural and community services to the Indian community and beyond.

ICC has partnered with The Indus Entrepreneurs to encourage entrepreneurship; the center has partnered with the America India Foundation to encourage philanthropy; and with the newly formed Indo-American Council to encourage political leadership and civic engagement in our community. On October 6, the Indo-American Council will host its inaugural conference in ICC’s new banquet hall, with a wide range of politicians and activists.

(Above): ICC community advisory council and board.

Our partnerships with other non-profit organizations allow ICC to offer many community services. Every Sunday, volunteer attorneys from the South Asian Bar Association conduct a free legal clinic, specializing in immigration issues and family law. ICC frequently hosts bone marrow drives – critical to finding matches for sick people — through its partnership with the Asian American Donor Program.

(Clockwise from top): The new ICC fitness center; ICC staff; and kids’ play room at ICC.

I am very proud of a new initiative ICC will launch this fall: our partnership with the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin in opening the free Medical Clinic at ICC. We have established this clinic with the hopes of serving many of the growing numbers of uninsured people in the Bay Area. ICC has dedicated a 1,000-sq. ft. space to the clinic and volunteer physicians will staff the clinic three times a week. As with all our classes, programs and services, the clinic will be open to anyone who qualifies to use it, regardless of ethnicity.

(Above, Right): The ICC cafeteria; (Below, left): A physical trainer coaches a young girl; and (Below, right): ICC co-founder Anil Godhwani tries his hand at table tennis with a young ICC member.

As the center — and our community — grows, my hope is that we create more of these types of initiatives, to meet the needs of the many underserved people within our midst.

I am very proud of the community we are building here in the Bay Area, and the lives we have enriched. I am confident we can replicate this model of India Community Centers throughout the United States and — perhaps — even in India.

Cover photo: Entrance to ICC (Shashi Desai/DreamSnaps photo)

‘We Still Have Miles to Go,’ Says ICC Executive Director Chitra Vivek

The newly appointed executive director of the India Community Center – has a vision for the organization. Ten years from now, Vivek envisions branches of ICC offering educational, social, cultural, fitness & wellness programs to the communities throughout the United States. “It’s a whole new way of bringing families together” she adds.

Vivek joined ICC in December, 2006, and was immediately faced with the gargantuan task of moving the center to its new 40,000 square foot, permanent home in Milpitas. ICC opened the doors to its new facility July 1.

“In spite of the daily challenges, I am so proud of what we – our board, our trustees, our staff, our volunteers and our many, many supporters in the community – have accomplished. We still have miles to go, a few donors cannot bear the weight for the community, we need the community to come forward and support the center financially and by becoming members – this is for the community and needs to be supported by the community,” said Vivek

Vivek is a senior business executive with more than 15 years of management experience. She has held several senior management positions at Adaptec with a wide range of responsibilities from corporate strategic planning, business and sales operations to product marketing and account management. Prior to Adaptec, she was with OmniTel. She has received several awards for her excellence and was honoree of the YWCA Tribute to Women and Industry Award in 2004.

“Chitra has a reputation for building great teams,” said ICC chair Talat Hasan. “I’m confident of her ability to bring our organization through this current level of expansion.”

Born and raised in Chennai, India, she currently lives in Fremont with her family. She and her husband live with their parents and two children. Her teenage daughter and tween son have given Vivek another vision for ICC: a safe place where teens can hang out with other teens, and perhaps engage in social service. The new ICC has a fully equipped teen lounge.


Modern-day Meerabai: Irom Sharmila’s Battle
Irom Sharmila Chanu is on hunger strike since 2000, demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to the army in the state. Our India editorial consultant Sandeep Pandey met her recently, and writes about the iconic human rights activist from Manipur.

(Left): (Clockwise from left): Iranian rights activist Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi expressing solidarity for Irom Sharmila; Sharmila being tended by nurses; and Sandeep Pandey with Sharmila in Imphal.

I have never felt so humbled before a believer in my life than when I met Irom Sharmila Chanu Sept. 16 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal.

On hunger strike since 2000, Irom Sharmila Chanu is being force-fed through a pipe in her nose on the orders of the state administration. The 36-year-old, an iconic figure in Manipur politics, is continuing perhaps the longest such political protest ever recorded.

Sharmila wants the Indian government to scrap the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to the army in the state.

Manipur, with a population of some 2.3 million, has been administered by the Indian army since 1980 and human rights organizations have been critical of the army’s record.

I was in the Manipur capital along with a group of friends who had gone there to organize a five-day solidarity fast in her support. I was expecting to meet a feebler Sharmila than I had met earlier this year at AIIMS in Delhi briefly. But after initially getting carried away during which all of us wept in the hospital ward — converted into a jail for her — she overcame the grief and presented the picture of a brave lady. Her face was radiant. I was surprised that even after seven years of not taking any food or water through her mouth she had a very good mental and physical balance. During the course of our 45-minute interaction, she got up from the bed to bring out a letter written by her to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi from the closet in the ward.

Because of the rubber tube inserted in her nose, she has to lift her head slightly while talking. It must be quite painful for her to have this tube hanging from her nose all the time but now it has become an integral part of her physical body.

Her act can only be described as superhuman. She is the most courageous and patient person I have met in my life. We read about mythological personalities with superhuman qualities but here is living proof of such a person. Sharmila is a living Devi. I’m not a religious person but I drew tremendous inspiration from her and felt very small in front of her.

Sharmila said that what she was doing was for all human beings. She said it was God’s will that she should undertake this fast, which can only be compared with a tapasya. She is hopeful that truth will be victorious in the end and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act will be repealed. But she regretted that the Manipur chief minister and governor are not giving her an appointment to meet. She also thought that people are complacent and not fighting as vigorously as they should to get this act repealed.

However, she exhibits no sign of weakness in her resolve. Her brother Irom Singhjit Singh, who got the permission of the chief minister and a whole hierarchy of officials, including jail authorities, for us to meet her, didn’t want to spend any separate time with her, in spite of our insistence, as he probably thought that his presence might weaken her resolve. She shared with us a 1,110 line poem that she has written in Meitei.

Later in that evening we visited some massacre sites — Heirangoiphong, Malom, Tera Bazar and the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences — and lit candles to pay our homage to innocent lives abruptly ended by Indian armed forces. Heirangoiphong is the most heartrending site. Fourteen people were killed here, mostly spectators of a volleyball match, including a CRPF personnel, in 1984. But last year the Army, apparently unable to countenance the memorial built in the memory of these 14 people, tried to demolish it. On Nov. 2, 2000, the Malom massacre of 10 ordinary people, bystanders after an explosion, triggered Irom Sharmila’s fast three days later which continues. On another black day in 1995, at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, the Army not killing unarmed civilians,. but also exhibited racial bias by selectively targeting people with mongoloid features.

Today, some doubt that the repeal of AFSPA will bring peace to Manipur. Some ethnic groups in the minority in Manipur, like Kuki and Naga, want AFSPA to remain in place as it provides them security against dominant Meitei insurgent groups. Manipur has about 30 ethnic groups, and there are 25 insurgent groups, some of which are engaged in extortion practices. Some of them have developed a vested interest in continuing the insurgency. They are also engaged in human rights violations just like the armed forces. A Hmar tribal girl was reportedly raped by an insurgent group some time back. These groups frequently disrupt normal economic and developmental activities, causing inconvenience to common citizens. The situation is complicated and there is no easy way out.

However, there can be no denying that violence breeds more violence. The presence of armed forces in an emergency or a special situation is understandable, but its continuous presence has deeply alienated people. The number of insurgent groups has increased during the application of AFSPA in Manipur. Hence AFSPA must be repealed. Meanwhile, like in Kashmir and Nagaland, the central government must begin a process of dialogue with insurgent groups in earnest seeking to accommodate their political demands to the extent possible but respecting their aspirations. It may not be possible for the government to meet some of the demands, especially related to self-determination or autonomy, but a mechanism must be created which will convince the insurgent groups that the possibility of solution according to their wishes exists.

Sharmila’s sacrifice must not go in vain. She has a statue of the legendary Meerabai by the side of her bed in the hospital ward. Sharmila’s deep faith in peaceful methods can only be compared with Meerabai’s immense love for God. The government of India must not dishonor Sharmila’s confidence in democracy and take positive steps towards resolving the current violent crisis in Manipur. All it requires in some political will to act.


NEWS DIARY: September Roundup
This Dessert is Rich, But Are You? | Waterworld | Son Also Rises | No Smooth Sailing | Goodbye, King

This Dessert is Rich, But Are You?

The $14,500 dessert

Not only is this dessert may be a little too rich for you, you’re probably not rich enough for it. A Sri Lankan resort is charging $14,500 for what it calls the world’s most expensive dessert, a fruit infused confection complete with a chocolate sculpture and a gigantic gemstone.

“The Fortress Stilt Fisherman Indulgence” was created to give visitors at The Fortress resort in the coastal city of Galle a one-of-a-kind experience, said the hotel’s public relations manager, Shalini Perera.

The dessert is a gold leaf Italian cassata flavored with Irish cream, served with a mango and pomegranate compote and a champagne sabayon enlighten. The dessert is decorated with a chocolate carving of a fisherman clinging to a stilt, an age old local fishing practice, and an 80 carat aquamarine stone.

The dessert has to be specially ordered, Perera said. Though the hotel has gotten calls about it from as far away as Japan, she said, no one has yet forked over the money to try it.

Good. It means just because there are rich people out there, it doesn’t mean they are dumb enough to indulge their sweet tooth with enough moolah, that spent a little more wisely, could get them a VW Jetta.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|


Bangladeshi kids jump into a river.  A one-meter rise in sea levels would submerge a third of Bangladesh and displace millions.

A one-meter rise in sea levels would submerge a third of Bangladesh and displace millions, the head of the country’s military-backed government has warned.

Fakhruddin Ahmed, speaking at a climate change summit at the United Nations in New York, called on richer nations to help poorer countries tackle global warming.

“Today we are confronted with the difficult reality that the phenomenon of climate change is not a myth and that its impacts are no more a conjecture,” the state-run BSS news agency quoted Fakhruddin saying.

“I speak for Bangladesh and many others who are on the threshold of a climate Armageddon, foretold by increasingly violent and unpredictable weather patterns.”

“A one-meter sea level rise will submerge about one-third of the total area of Bangladesh thereby uprooting 25 to 30 million of our people,” Fakhruddin said.

Low-lying Bangladesh has a population of 144 million, 40 percent of whom live on less than a dollar a day.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Son Also Rises

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi, 37, was  appointed Congress general secretary and inducted into the Congress Working Committee in an indication that the party is preparing for early elections and that the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is being groomed for bigger things.

Party workers welcomed his appointment, bursting crackers and distributing sweets.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi also revamped the Manifesto Committee with the appointment of heavyweights including Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Veerappa Moily, Digvijay Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Arjun Sengupta and P. Chidambaram.

Signalling a generational shift in the party, Sonia set up a new cell, Group to Look into Future Challenges, in which several members of the “young brigade” have found a place. They include Rahul Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Sandeep Dikshit. Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh will be the convener.

Following in his father Rajiv Gandhi’s footsteps, who became general secretary after having been elected to the Lok Sabha in the 1980s, the young Amethi MP is now ready to play a “larger institutional role” in the Congress, a senior leader said. Rahul has been given charge of the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

No Smooth Sailing

Pervez Musharraf

Although the government’s Election Commission and the Supreme Court have given the green light to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's bid for re-election, he is having anything but smooth sailing.

Lawyers and activists angry at his bid to be elected without standing down as army chief have clashed with police, who used batons and tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators in Islamabad and Lahore.

Opposition activists had hoped Gen. Musharraf would be barred from running for president, as he has not yet quit his position as head of the armed forces.

But the Supreme Court dismissed a number of legal challenges, and the Electoral Commission approved his candidacy.

Before the commission's announcement, hundreds of lawyers had taken to the streets in cities including the capital, Islamabad, where they gathered in front of the commission's offices.

Opposition activists are expected to mount further legal challenges to Musharraf's candidacy and campaign for the elections to be postponed.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Goodbye, King

Nepal’s largest political party has abandoned its traditional support for the monarch to back the establishment of a republic in the Himalayan kingdom, party leaders have said.

“The general assembly of the party passed the resolution of going for a federal republic in the upcoming constituent assembly elections,” said Arjun Narsingh K.C., senior leader of the Nepali Congress party.

“We have come to a conclusion that monarchy and democracy cannot go together. The resolution has opened doors for the party to campaign for a republican setup for the November polls,” he said.

The decision is a major blow to King Gyanendra and his two century-old dynasty, already under serious pressure from former Maoist rebels who quit the government and have vowed to disrupt the upcoming polls unless the monarchy is immediately abolished.

Formed in 1946, the Nepali Congress has historically supported a constitutional monarchy.

This changed in 2005 when it removed references to constitutional monarchy from party statutes after King Gyanendra sacked the government and took direct control, a move that prompted bloody street protests and a rise in republican sentiment.

Under the terms of last year’s peace deal that ended a decade of civil war and sidelined the king, the future of the monarchy was supposed to have been decided by a constitutional body due to be democratically elected in November.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Universal Coverage Now!
Healthcare is the next major civil rights issue, writes George C. Halvorson.

African American children are 1.4 times as likely to have asthma, significantly less likely to be treated for it, and four times as likely to die from it.
Hispanic Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes, one-third less likely to be treated for it, and 1.5 times as likely to die from it.

American Indian women are 3.5 times more likely to go without prenatal care and currently have an infant mortality rate 1.7 times higher than whites.

The rate of acute hepatitis B (HBV) among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is more than twice as high as the rate among white Americans.

There is a very long list of health and medical conditions where minority Americans are both much more likely to have a serious and damaging health condition and significantly less likely to be treated for it.

Why is that sad reality true? The fact that the United States does not have universal health coverage for all Americans is a major reason for these disparities. There is a direct correlation in this country between race, ethnicity, and health coverage. For starters, 75 percent of the uninsured people of California are minority. Uninsured people are less likely to receive needed primary care and far more likely to suffer the dire and negative consequences of untreated diseases.

This should be a completely unacceptable reality for us all.

We need to take action now to overcome the huge racial and ethnic divide that exists relative to health care. There really are two Americas when it comes to health care — the fully insured, primarily white America, and the disproportionately uninsured minority America. This disparity is not just a problem in California. More than half of the total uninsured people in this entire country are minority. That fact alone should make the need to cover everyone in America a pure ethical imperative. This issue is not about economics — it is about equality. It’s about denied opportunity. It is about health care discrimination. Universal coverage should be the next major civil rights issue for this country to face.

There is, in total, enough money in the overall $2.1 trillion American health care delivery cash flow right now to cover everyone. The uninsured of America do receive care. That care is delivered too late and in the wrong places far too often — but care is received nonetheless when people become really ill. Emergency rooms take the place of primary care clinics for high percentages of uninsured people. Thirty-five percent of uninsured adults with a chronic condition went to an emergency room and were hospitalized for that condition — more than double the percentage of insured people who needed that same care. The cost of that crisis-level emergency room and hospital care doesn’t magically go away just because the people who receive that care are uninsured. Those costs are shifted by the care givers to other payers — to the insured population. Economists estimate that about 10 percent of the total premiums paid today by insured Californians are spent as a “hidden tax” to offset the needed uncompensated care costs of the uninsured.

That 10 percent should be very nearly enough money to cover everyone in California if the program to do that is both well designed and well implemented. We need to turn that cost shift into universal coverage — and do it now rather than later. Damage is being done now that needs to be addressed now.

We have some real opportunities in actual health care delivery reform that we could accomplish if everyone in California had coverage.

A key point to keep in mind when you think about total health care reform is that most health care costs in America result from only a very few chronic health care conditions. Highly visible “acute” care conditions — like cancer — are important areas of care delivery, but they are actually not the main cost drivers. Chronic conditions, like diabetes, congestive heart failure, and asthma, actually drive 75 percent of our health care costs. That is very relevant to the issue of universal health coverage for minorities because all of the data shows that our minority populations have highly disproportionate levels of diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.

That actually gives us an excellent opportunity to truly improve care if everyone has coverage. Each of these very expensive chronic conditions requires and benefit hugely from early interventions and accessible primary care. Up to half of all hospital admissions for asthma could be eliminated with better primary care and patient education. Half of the kidney failures could be prevented. Major answers to health care costs are sitting right in front of us. Universal coverage combined with basic data support tools to help caregivers keep track of each child with asthma could hugely improve care and significantly reduce the cost of care. So it’s fairly obvious that we need both universal coverage and better primary care for everyone. Other industrialized countries already use that strategy and accept that accountability. We have ducked it until now.

It’s time to do the right thing. It’s time to bring all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, or income level to health care coverage — in ways that will both finance care and improve it. If we don’t step up to that challenge now in California when we have a real chance to do it — shame on us all.


Chak De India!
World Twenty20 Champions
It’s fast, furious and intense — and India is now the world champion of the newest form of cricket, Twenty20, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

(Above): India’s players celebrate their victory over Pakistan in the ICC World Twenty20 cricket final match in Johannesburg Sept. 24. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters photo)

It is fast, furious and intense and fits into the country’s new credo of high energy, instant gratification, money and success, especially applicable to the young generation, most targeted by marketers in India.

The Indian subcontinent’s most passionate sport, cricket, has emerged in a fresh avatar fitted into a shorter time frame, accompanied by American style flamboyance and razzmatazz such as dancing cheerleaders, fireworks, fast music and more.

Twenty20 cricket is the quick paced shortened and energized version as opposed to the original slam-bang daylong 50-overs-a-side or the five-day test matches.

The team’s now have to slug it out like boxers or gladiators, going for the big hits, combining technique with raw power, the slog and dollops of luck, all packed into three hours of rapid action.

The uncertainty, with fortunes literally changing by the ball, and non-stop entertainment keeps the audience on the feet through the duration.

Essentially, the change has come about in keeping with dwindling spectator attention span given fast paced-lives combined with the need for that adrenalin rush from sport.

Indeed, over the last few weeks the first world championship and also the first tournament of the kind featuring top teams, in the new format, have proved the skeptics wrong.

It has been a resounding success.

The icing has been an India-Pakistan grand finale played in South Africa that India won after a closely contested match that could have gone either way.

But the winner was also the game of cricket, reinvented and served spiced up to sell-out crowds and TV audiences around the globe.

The matches were choc-a-bloc, TV ratings hit the roof and given the eyeballs, advertisers have gone home happy despite paying broadcasters up to $25,000 for a 10-second slot.

It is estimated that over the next eight years Twenty20 cricket will earn cricket’s governing body International Cricket Council $1.5 billion from television rights alone.

In India, cricket ratings knocked off established soaps, musical contests and reality shows that have dominated recently, especially after the early exit of the Indian team from the world championship of one-day cricket .

The illegal satta gambling market has also been reporting brisk business.

An earlier India-Pakistan league match witnessed frenzied betting to the tune of a reported Rs. 5 billion just in regions around commercial capital Mumbai.

Almost all 20-20 matches were fiercely fought with the result apparent only at the end.

Australia, considered almost invincible into the tournament, was humbled by the lowly rated Zimbabwe in an earlier round.

India was almost knocked out and had the only option of winning by big margins to stay afloat. They managed it quite well.

The new game seems best practiced by the young and fearless. India was without the big three aging stars Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly. The Indian team with an average age of 24 years was among the youngest.

Yuvraj Singh emerged as the new icon, smashing six sixes in an over against England in a do-or-die match, the maximum possible in an over, and that, too, against a frontline pace bowler.

Yuvraj also scored the fastest 50 runs off 12 balls compared to the international record of 20 balls in the thousands of matches played till now.

The intensity of the new game will ensure that Yuvraj’s feat, considered near impossible till very recently, will be replicated and possibly improved in the future, given the number of sixes that have rained in the tournament.

Each game averaged 8-10 sixes compared to 3-4 in the most exciting one-day tournament.

Fans have loved it so that observers now say that 20-20 cricket would end up replacing the one-day format, though the longest Test matches should survive, given the millions of purist followers of the game.

Though cricket is played and followed in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies, England, it is the zealous Indian following and consequent multinational sponsorships that has sustained the economics of the game.

Cricket is about the only sport that India has managed to perform consistently at the world stage.

Thus the expectations of fans, across social, caste and religions, borders on the frenzied with cricketers routinely raised to the level of demigods or pilloried after almost every match, depending on the result.

(Above): Crowd surrounds the Indian cricket team, traveling atop a roofless double decker bus, during a victory procession after the team’s arrival in Mumbai Sept. 26. (Arko Datta/Reuters photo)

Cricketers and film stars are by far the most adored celebrities in India, minting millions as brand ambassadors of sundry products

Cricketers from diverse backgrounds, also reflect the myriad and often complex structures. Captain M.S. Dhoni grew up in small town Ranchi, while another hero Irfan Pathan studied at a madrassa.

Here, to the great joy of all Indians, was unity in diversity in full glory.


Community & Politics: Meeting Garamendi
Lieutenant Gov. John Garamendi made a trip to the India Community Center and met Indian Americans at a fundraiser in Fremont, Calif. A Siliconeer report.

(Above, left): Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi with community activist and pediatrician Jacob Eapen, who hosted a fundraiser for Garamendi.
(Above, right): Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi (c) with community activists Dalwinder Dhoot and Lahori Ram.

California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi recently met about 60 people at the residence of pediatrician Jacob Eapen for a fundraising dinner reception in his honor before stopping by at the India Community Center in Milpitas, Calif.

After chatting with guests, Garamendi gave an informal speech where he talked about the environment, health and education.

A high-speed railway similar to those in Japan that he had seen over four decades ago is a favorite project of his. California needed those trains, because its airports were going to get clogged pretty soon. A high-speed railway would save 22 million barrels of oil per year, he said.

He called the lack of health care for many low-income people a fundamental national security issue. He pointed out that in the present system, 50 percent of personal bankruptcies were due to exorbitant health costs. The U.S. spent more than other developed countries and got less. He said he has long been a supporter of single payer health care system, and added that Medicare presented an excellent model.

Garamendi also stressed the need for attention to education. Unless the education system came up to speed to train people who had the requisite skills to work in an increasingly complex, technology-intensive and globalized society, California would fall behind, he warned, and tomorrow’s workers would lose jobs, because those jobs would go away to another country.

Earlier, Garamendi went to ICC and was visibly impressed by what he say. He met the top leaders who ran ICC including ICC chair Talat Hasan, Kamil Hasan, ICC president Naren Bakshi, and founders Gopi and Anil Godhwani. Community activist Jeevan Zutshi, a friend of Garamendi, organized Garamendi’s trip.


Joyous Opening: New BAPS Temple in Milpitas, Calif.
Amid chanting of Vedic mantras and showering of flower petals, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of the Swaminarayan sect, opened the new 90,000-sq. ft. temple facility in Milpitas, Calif. of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha on Sept. 8. A photo essay by Shashi Desai.

(Above right): Two young volunteers perform at the inauguration ceremony of the new BAPS temple in Milpitas, Calif.
(Above left, from top, downwards): A idol of BAPS founder Swaminarayan; Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves (l) presents a proclamation to BAPS leader Pramukh Swami; and two children enact a scene during the BAPS center’s inaugural ceremony. (All photos by Shashi Desai/DreamSnaps)


Global Banking: HSBC Woos NRIs
Top executives of HSBC were recently in Fremont, Calif. to open a new branch and make a pitch to NRIs about new exciting services that the HSBC calls ‘seamless banking.’ A Siliconeer report.

(Above): Manasije Mishra of HSBC India talking to Siliconeer as Brian Gregson of HSBC USA looks on.

Suppose you are a graduate student who has just arrived in the U.S. What would it be like if you had a U.S. bank account waiting for you when you came?

Or imagine moving back to Bangalore after many years in Silicon Valley. What if before going to Bangalore, you could set up a banking facility there in a branch of your choice, complete with checkbook, credit and debit cards?

Global banking giant HSBC says that with its global clout and keenness to provide its customers with all the coziness of a local bank, that’s just the sort of banking comfort that you can count on.

HSBC India and HSBC USA have jointly developed facilities that are specially designed for NRIs, HSBC executives told Siliconeer at an exclusive meeting recently at their new offices in Fremont, Calif.

Siliconeer met Manasije Mishra, head of NRI services, HSBC India, and Brian Gregson, HSBC USA senior vice president, and district executive, California region .

“We’ve been working with customers across the world and our customers have been telling us that one of the most difficult things to do is when they move countries, when they migrate or they temporarily relocate in another country,” said Mishra. “It’s very, very hard to set up banking facilities. You arrive in a new country, you don’t have documentation, you don’t have proof of address, you don’t have credit history. It applies to Indians who are relocating to the United States, but equally to Americans or other nationalities who are moving to India.”
Yet, thanks to the “seamless banking service, seamless financial service,” as HSBC calls it, opening an account is as easy as 1-2-3 for those moving to the U.S. from India or vice versa.

For those who have an HSBC account both in the U.S. and in India — and yes, it can be done sitting right in Fremont, Calif., not only can money be transferred free of charge through Internet banking, a U.S.-based customer can do a whole variety of things in India — take a mortgage, pay a phone bill or electricity bill.

Then there is HSBC’s premier service for a bit more well-heeled expats ($100,000 in deposit/ investment required), where customers get the real red-carpet treatment. “What makes us stand out from the NRI point of view is our Premier proposition directed to affluent folks that really benefits people who travel” said Gregson. “If you are a Premier client, you can make transfers between your accounts internationally online free of charge. You can walk into a branch in London, present your Premier card and be treated as a Premier individual.

“If you move from one location to another, your credit would follow you. We can open accounts for you elsewhere. (We can provide information) movie tickets, theater tickets, restaurants.” In addition, HSBC guarantees its premier customers replacement of credit card within 24 hours anywhere in the world.

HSBC also makes it much easier for a U.S.-based NRI to invest in property in India. “Unlike many of our competitors, it doesn’t require you to have any credit history in India. It doesn’t require you to have any income in India, it does not require you to have a guarantor in India. It does not require you to have power of attorney in India,” said Mishra. “We are an international bank. We look at you as an individual, we look at your earning potential, we look at your cash flow in the U.S., and based purely on that, make a lending decision in India to enable you to invest in a property in India.”

“HSBC is a global bank,” said Mishra. “It works in a seamless manner so that it can provide absolutely world-class facilities to its customers both in India and in the United States.”

Gregson echoed Mishra’s contention. “One of the things that we have strived to do is to become, as we say in our tag line, the world’s local bank, and as such, we investigate, what does the local community need, how do we understand those people, how do we develop products that are going to meet the needs of those people and deliver that in a seamless manner.”

HSBC USA has nearly 450 branches throughout the U.S. including about 400 in New York. HSBC India has 47 branches in 26 cities in India serving 2.5 million customers.

Interested readers can get more information by calling (800) 975-4722 or visiting the U.S.-based NRI services Web site at HSBC at: www.hsbc.co.in/1/2/personal/nri-services


Classical Romance: 25 Years of Basant Bahar
Beginning with a modest concert 25 years ago, Basant Bahar has grown into an organization that has brought virtually the who’s who of top Hindustani music exponents to aficionados in the San Francisco Bay Area. A Siliconeer report.

Left: (Top): Hindustani vocalist Ashwini Bhide performing at the 25th year celebrations of Basant Bahar. (Bottom): Founders and past presidents of Basant Bahar with chief guest G.S. Sachdev (3rd from l) at the organization’s 25th year celebrations. [All photos by Harshal Jawale]

Tabla maestro Swapan Chaudhuri, Hindustani vocalist Ashwini Bhide and sarode player Tejendra Majumdar were part of day-long celebration Sept. 8 at the India Community Center in Milpitas, Calif. The occasion: 25 years of Basant Bahar, an organization of Hindustani music aficionados in San Francisco Bay Area.

The organization has a lot to celebrate.

From humble beginnings, Basant Bahar has gone on to host over 225 concerts, hosting performers pretty much a who’s who of Indian classical music, including vocalists Bison Joshi, Jasraj, Rashid Khan and the Gundecha brothers, sitarists Vilayat Khan and Partha Chatterjee, sarod player Amjad Ali Khan, tabla exponents Swapan Chaudhuri and Zakir Hussain, sarangi player Ramesh Mishra and Sultan Khan, and Kathak exponent Birju Maharaj.

“This is a time of rapid globalization and mass communication in which cultures tend to be commoditized and homogenized,” Basant Bahar said in an announcement. “Like fragile ecosystems, unique art forms that do not have a mass following but that provide granularity of cultural experience are in danger of getting wiped out or marginalized. “Indian classical music is one such art form that is in danger of going extinct or losing its special identity if the support structure for its survival is not maintained. The effort to save Indian classical music from such a fate is not a parochial pursuit but an attempt to preserve what is uniquely precious, for the whole world. We bear a collective responsibility for this endeavor.”


Bengali Classic: Krishnokanter Will
National Award-winning filmmaker Raja Sen was present in person in Fremont, Calif., at the world premiere of his film Krishnokanter Will, based on the novel by Bankimchandra Chatterjee. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): Promotional poster of “Krishnokanter Will,” a film based on the classic Bengali novel of the same name.
(Below, right): Filmmaker Raja Sen, director of “Krishnokanter Will,” speaking to an audience in Fremont, Calif.

The Bengali film industry, like many other regional language film industries in India, is reeling from the double whammy of the overwhelming appeal of Bollywood and lack of financial and infrastructural clout needed to take on the Hindi film industry.

All credit, then, to Kolkata-based Raja Sen who has taken on the challenge with the release of a film version of a classic Bengali novel by “Vande mataram” author Bankimchandra Chatterjee.

Raja Sen has a commendable track record. His hugely popular telefilms and serials for television, where he has also borrowed heavily from Bengali literature, has a wide following. He has won the National Award twice before.

Krishnokanter Will revolves around the life and times of the eponymous Krishnokanto Ray, a stern patriarch who runs an extended, feudal family. An extramarital romance shakes up the extended family and infuriates Krishnokanto, who is ill and increasingly debilitated.

Sen has lavished much care on the film, and taken great pains to recreate the ambiance of a period film with the props and appropriate sets, no mean achievement give the constraints of a tight budget as well as the lack of proper infrastructure.

At a time when Bengali cinema is still trying to find its feet commercially, that too with mixed success, Sen deserves particular credit for making a sincere attempt to resuscitate Bengali cinema to its old glory.


Benegal in Berkeley: Filmmaker Visits
Dadasaheb Phalke award-winning filmmaker Shyam Benegal was recently present for the screening of three of his films in Berkeley, Calif. An invitee at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, he was here as a guest of the Pacific Film Archive at the University of California at Berkeley. A Siliconeer photo essay.

(Above, right):
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal at a reception hosted in his honor by the Center for South Asia Studies at the University of California at Berkeley with CSAS chair Raka Ray.

(Above, left): (From top, downwards): Anant Nag and Shabana Azmi in “Ankur”; Smita Patil and Amrish Puri in “Bhumika”; and Karisma Kapoor (l), Lillette Dubey and Manoj Bajpai in “Zubeidaa.” The three Shyam Benegal films were screened at the Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley.


Special Essay: DIWALI
Memories of Diwali: Festivities in the ’40s

Memories of Diwali: Festivities in the '40s
Forget television, radios, even electricity. Diwali in a 1940s village in U.P. meant no glittering lights, sweets and of course, no gambling. But all the same, yesteryear’s Diwali celebrations had a warmth and camaraderie that he finds lacking in today’s pomp and glitz, writes Ved Prakash Vatuk.
When I was a child growing up in a small village of Meerut district in Western Uttar Pradesh, there was no electricity there and of course no gadgets of modern times. No one in the village owned a radio or a bicycle. Only my brother graduated from a high school in 1928 (My other brother and I became the next high school graduates in 1948.) We did not celebrate any festival with firecrackers nor with decorations like Christmas lights. But in spite of the lack of all these things, there was one thing in abundance and that was the joy and togetherness of the community. To give one example, we burnt the Holi fire in one place in the village in those days, where all different mandalis or groups singing Holi songs and playing instruments came together dancing from their different mohallas. The unity was such that when my father died eleven days before the festival in 1941, the whole village decided not to celebrate Holi and it was my mother who insisted that the show must go on. Now every section of the village burn their Holi separately.

Diwali was a very special festival for us. I am not going to give here the various mythological reasons for celebrating Diwali. I don’t know if the simple villagers knew the various myths associated with Diwali except perhaps one that said the after achieving victory over Ravana on Dussehra, Rama returned to Ayodhya twenty days later on Diwali which fell on the darkest day on the month of Kartika. The people of Ayodhya greeted him by lighting thousands of lamps and the festival began. And Deepavali or Diwali, or the festival of the rows of lamps, is celebrated ever since.

Diwali was the time when all the people who worked in the cities or far away places came to be with the family. It was like Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. Those who could make it came earlier, because Diwali was the time of five festivals in a row. It began with the thirteenth day of the Kartik month and went for four more days. It was the time when all houses were thoroughly cleaned. The mud houses were decorated with new plaster made of cow dung, soft clay and threshed wheat stalks mixed with water. This mixture was made by using one’s feet and we children took this task with joy. This was also the time when every household tried to acquire a new calendar to hang on their walls. The calendar had a picture of a god like Shiva, Rama or Krishna or of a saint like Meera, Tulsi, or a reformer like Dayanand Saraswati, or a freedom fighter like Bhagat Singh. Since my brother was deeply involved in India’s independence movement, and since my father was one of the prominent founders of the village Arya Samaj, our home was decorated with more than one calendar. My favorites were — Krishna as a child, and/or as a yogiraj, with sudarshan chakra in his hand, Bhagat Singh, Netaji Subhash Bose, Mahatma Gandhi and Dayanand Saraswati. The fact was that our household had more than fifty portraits — all framed — of many revolutionaries and saintly persons. These portraits were lent to other families for decorations, when occasions like marriages occurred. Thus every Diwali we renewed our commitment to the cause of social reform and freedom of the nation.

The other decorating device was bandanvars — long garlands made out of leaves or flowers to be hung on every door. On the proper Diwali day a great number of lamps were given by the village potters to every family, the village oilmen provided freshly squeezed mustard oil. Villagers lit these lamps and exchanged with other families. They placed lamps on all public places such as temples, wells, garbage dumps. They also exchanged meals with each other specially prepared for the festival. In this way no house was left without a row of lamps which were placed on the threshold, windows, roofs and other places. The whole idea was that there should be no home left out. The exchange of lamps had been replaced today by exchange of sweets in the cities. It also has become a more formal and expensive affair. Another thing which has become part of modern day celebration is the fireworks displayed by the young girls and boys. That, too, has become a matter of competition instead of cooperation making many kids of lesser means subdued if not unhappy.

Of course the Goddess Lakshmi was worshipped that night, both at home and in the temples. The doors were kept open whole night and houses kept lit for Lakshmi to enter if she would.

The next day was Gobardhan. This was the day when peasants prayed for their prosperity go means cow/cattle and bardhan means increase. Girls used to weave necklaces for all their cattle, especially for the calves. They were made of peacock feathers. A portrait of Gobardhan mountain was made on the ground. In fact, it looked like a caretaker of cows. All family members sat around it. We, the students, put our books and copies near it, farmers put yokes and other tools of farming. We worshipped them all. Businessmen worshipped their ledger books since this was the day when they started the new business year. This was also the day when sugarcane could be chewed for the first time. Village pundits went to the homes of their yajmans and did poojas. They were given sugarcane for that. Our house was loaded with sugarcanes that evening and we sat wearing shawls and chewing sugarcane for the first time in the year.

Bhaiya Dooj was the most important day for brothers and sisters. In those days brothers went to their sister’s in-laws house with sweets and clothes. Sisters fasted until brothers came. They ate after feeding their brothers. It is my feeling that I have seen no other culture where the bond between brothers and sisters is so deep. The urban culture has changed the custom — now often sisters will come to brothers’ houses to perform tilak ceremony. However, my brother (and I when I am in India on this day) still travel to my sister’s husband’s house to celebrate this day.

I miss the old simple Diwali festival which brought all village people together. Diwali is celebrated today with greater pomp and show but what is on display is not so much love and unity but one’s wealth. Earthen lamps have been replaced by glittering electric decorations, visitations by greeting cards, sugarcane stalks by sweets with fireworks and gambling being additional features. Today Diwali glitters but the hearts of gold seem to have vanished.


Gregorian Serendipity: Montserrat, Spain
Time became irrelevant as the boys’ choir and monks engaged in a musical conversation in Gregorian chants, writes Al Auger after listening at the monastery in Montserrat, Spain.

(Left): The medieval cloister at the Monastery in Montserrat, Spain.

The day turned out to be one of those serendipitous experiences so loved by the creative traveler. My wife and I had driven to the Montserrat Natural Park from Barcelona, some 50 miles east of the dramatic massif of saw-toothed rocks standing guard some 720 meters above the lowlands below. Settled in behind its barrier of stone guardians known as La Trinitat is the “Catalan Miracle,” as the poet Joan Maragall described this spectacular mountain religious retreat.

The name Montserrat literally means “sawn-off mountain,” the monumental granite skyscrapers resembling the teeth of a massive saw. We were surprised to find a charming self-contained village with food stores, three hotels, a funicular, museums and the Benedictine Monastery and the basilica. It is the basilica that gives a home to the shrine of the Virgin of Montserrat, the patroness of Catalonia, and dominates the settlement. For over 800 years the original hermitage of Santa Maria, and now the present basilica built in 1592, have drawn pilgrims of the Roman Catholic world.

Reaching the room of the Virgin, high above the altar, is a religious art exhibition in its own right. Entrance is through an alabaster gateway sculpted by E. Monjo in 1954. The gateway highlights biblical scenes associated with the Virgin Mary. Other reliefs and angels full the room with beauty.

It is also the home of Montserrat’s famed Escolania or Boys’ Choir School, the purpose of our visit — and the cause of our lucky blunder. About 50 students live and study in the monastery and are enrolled in the world famed school of music. They also take part in the choir during services and travel all over the world participating in concerts and recordings to raise money for the school and the monastery.

So enthralled were we by the village, fellow visitors and locals we met, we suddenly realized we had missed the 1 p.m. Salve Regina — or prayer to the Virgin Mary — and Virolai (the Montserrat hymn) by the choir school. This is a favorite daily event for the tour buses that climb the breathtaking 17-mile drive from the base of the mountains to the parking lot of the village. Needless to say we both were devastated. Missing the Salve Regina put a definite dampener on our visit.

That feeling was driven away by a wise and generous parking lot attendant. After we explained our dilemma, he said not to worry. “Senor, you have paid your parking, stay in your camper overnight (this was before the present campground was opened) and enjoy the services tomorrow.” He added, though, that if we wanted a real treat we should not miss that night’s Vespers, a ceremony not seen by many outsiders. This is a nightly ritual performed by both the monks and the boys’ choir.

(Right): A choir performs just before the 1:00 p.m. mass in the basilica, a home to the shrine of the Virgin of Montserrat.

At 6:45 p.m. each evening the religious service Vespers, Salve Regina and a recital by the choir school and monks’ choir resonates from the calming interior of the basilica, while the Madonna looks down from her silver perch high above.

Picture a softly lit interior with the robed monks’ choir on your left and the boys in the traditional black and white garb of a church choir on your right. It’s a musical conversation in Gregorian chants; first the deeper, mature voices of the monks fill the room. A scant moment of quiet and the higher, innocent voices of the choir answers.

Time became irrelevant as both of us sat there in rapture as the voices carried back and forth, radiating from the walls and ceiling. It meant little that neither of us understood one sentence of the uniquely musical “conversation.” Suffice it to say that the passion the singers and the music evoked was one of the most thrilling musical experiences we had ever witnessed or heard on our European sojourn.

The Gregorian chant is the foundation of music in the West whether religious or secular. It brought to musical creations the use of melody for the voice and the theory of scales. Gregorian chants are named after Pope Gregory who died 1,400 years ago. While Gregorian chants have been long discarded by the Catholic Church, except for far-flung religious centers such as Montserrat, Santo Domingo de Silos in Basque Spain and esoteric abbeys and seminaries around the world, they have been growing in the secular world. The sermon that followed the chant was delivered in Catalan, that mysterious language of the people of Catalunya. Again, the words meant little, but the lyrical beauty of the words as spoken by the priest were like music. It reinforced my belief that Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular, as the loveliest and most engaging regions in Europe.

The Monastery of Montserrat was founded in the 11th century by Abbot Oliba of Ripoll, called the “father of the whole Catalan fatherland.” Here 80 monks live, pray and take care of the religious and secular community. That even a group of ascetics such as the Montserrat monks in their religious aerie are not immune to the cruelties of civilization is symbolized by the despoiling of Montserrat by Napoleon’s army and, more recently, by the crypt below the basilica. Here lie the remains of 25 monks killed during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

Not only does the monastery harbor the monks and students, but also houses a magnificent library that bolsters Montserrat’s claim as a center of culture and academia. It also underscores the fact that the Barcelona region is among the most literate in Europe.

After our travels, we were happy to concede that Montserrat is certainly one of the world’s lesser known miracles.


Glimpses into the Arab World: Arab Film Festival
The 11th annual Arab Film Festival in San Francisco and Los Angeles presents 60 compelling narrative, documentary and short films that portray life in Arab cities, give voice to youth and explore complex political issues. A Siliconeer preview.

(Left): Scene from “WWW: What a Wonderful World,” a Moroccan black comedy in which the main story line focuses upon a traffic agent, who is a part-time prostitute and a mercenary killer.

The 11th annual Arab Film Festival features an array of films that portray life in Arab cities, that give voice to youth, and that explore complex political issues, according to a press release from organizers. The festival, with its dedication to the richness, depth, and diversity of filmmaking in the Arab world, presents more than 60 compelling narrative, documentary, and short films from and about the Arab World not available anywhere else.

Screenings take place from Oct. 18 to Oct. 28 in San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose. The festival continues from Oct 31 to November 4 in Los Angeles. This is the first year the Arab Film Festival comes to Los Angeles

“Come discover the first Lebanese vampire movie, a stylized neo-noir set in Casablanca, an Iraqi-Norwegian love story, a Jordanian documentary about finding peace through skateboarding, and Egypt¹s latest break-out indie hit,” says the press release.

AFF, one of the most successful and anticipated San Francisco Bay Area film festivals, is the largest exhibitor of exclusively Arab cinema in the United States. The organizers invite film buff to attend the festival for National and West Coast premieres, engaging discussions with visiting filmmakers, family screenings and the first “Noor Awards” ceremony.

More information is available by calling (415) 564-1100 or visiting the AFF Web site at www.aff.org


The Virtual Fortress: 2007 Volvo S80 Sedan
For those who drive daily many miles on windy or heavily congested roads, or for families that drive to their vacations in the mountains or along slippery coastal roads, the 2007 Volvo S80 Sedan is a godsend, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

It’s no secret that Volvos are virtual fortresses on the road, as their reputation for being packed with an inspiring and innovative list of safety features cannot be disputed. You just wonder what else Volvo could come up with above what they’ve invented in the past. And yet they manage to do more.

For 2007, the Volvo S80 sedan has been completely updated. The flagship sedan for Volvo gets a polish on its exterior and interior designs, the addition of several conveniences and more tweaking of safety features.

S80s are available with a choice of two engines: the 3.2-liter V6, or the V8 all-wheel drive version. Our test car was equipped with the 3.2-liter V6, which is no consolation prize. The V6, with its 235-horsepower engine, was certainly responsive enough at acceleration, because it has a larger displacement, making it more powerful than its five-cylinder predecessor. Whether you select the V6 or the V8, both engines have been designed to meet stringent ULEV II emissions standards.

Highlights of the features you’ll find on board Volvo’s 2007 S80s are a new exterior design, premium leather seating and real wood inlays as accents, a power driver’s seat with memory and power passenger seat, front fog lamps, power moonroof, and Dynamic Stability Traction Control.
Standard safety features include a tire pressure monitoring system; unibody construction with an integral high-strength steel passenger safety cage; Volvo’s inflatable curtain side impact head protection system that includes side impact air bags for the driver and front passenger; Volvo’s WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System) for the driver and front passenger headrests; an adaptive steering column; turn signals in the side mirrors, and power foldable rear head rests.

Optional safety features include adaptive cruise control, which provides collision warning with braking support. It uses a radar sensor to measure the distance to vehicles ahead, and automatically adjusts the car’s speed accordingly, throwing hard braking into the mix if it detects an imminent collision. Our test car had this feature on board, as well as the personal car communicator safety feature, which is almost unbelievable in its capabilities to provide extra security. It uses an advanced, pocket-sized control module to send and receive information from the car that could protect you in the event someone has broken in and is “lying in wait.” The PCC can determine if the car is locked or unlocked, if the alarm has been activated and — get this — if there is someone in the car by detecting a heart beat. PCC is a $495 option; Adaptive Cruise Control a $1,495 option.

As if that were not enough, Volvo also equips their S80s with the new Blind Spot Information System, which uses cameras in the outside mirrors to detect if a car is in your blind spot, and relays that information to the driver.

How can you not feel Brinks-like secure on the road with all this on board? Then, it’s all confirmed when you get behind the wheel and experience Volvo’s firm, supportive seats, get on the road and note the car’s absolute command of the road and excellent visibility. Visibility becomes almost unobstructed when the large head rests are folded down when you’re not transporting passengers.

I know people who have incredible commutes, driving many miles on windy or heavily congested roads. I also know families who regularly drive to their vacations in the mountains or along slippery coastal roads. Imagine the peace of mind they’ll take with them if they know the car they’re driving is a virtual fortress.

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


Badshah of Bollywood Cheers Dhoni’s Boys | Airport Hungama | Lovebirds? | Not So Fast | Nepalis Dance

Badshah of Bollywood Cheers Dhoni’s Boys

Shah Rukh cheers on the Indian team at the Twenty20 final in Johannesburg.

Guess who turned up in the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg for Twenty20 Final? The Badshah of Bollywood, no less. For Shah Rukh Khan, it must have seemed like reel life and real life were getting a bit mixed up. His Chak De India! a stirring tale about a sporting triumph, has just been screening across cinemas in India, and what do you know? You have a real-live World Cup final with a nailbiting finish, and that, too, between arch rivals India and Pakistan.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” he told CNN IBN’s Sanjeeb Mukherjea. “I am lucky that I could participate in the history-making piece of sportsmanship that the team has shown and I congratulate the team. I am so happy that I could make it and we won, especially against a well-deserving opponent like Pakistan, which also played wonderfully.”

When asked whether his Chak De India! had added a new fighting spirit in Indian sports, he replied with disarming modesty: “I keep telling everyone that the movie does not inspire people. Real heroes like the Indian cricket team which just won the World T20 Championship inspire people.

“I am glad that this film of mine came when we are doing so well in football, cricket and hockey. All I would like to say is thank you for giving us more chances to make more movies on real heroes like the Indian cricket team.”
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Airport Hungama

Shilpa Shetty

For Shilpa Shetty, fame and woes seem to go hand in hand. One day, she was a also-ran starlet, next day a valiant fighter against racism in the somewhat cheesy reality show on Channel Four in Britain.

After a light peck on her cheek by Hollywood star Richard Gere created a big brouhaha, cases against her got filed all over the country because of alleged (delicious Indian euphemism, this) “immodest behavior.”

A court in Alwar district of Rajasthan issued a “look-out notice” for Shilpa at various airports through the police. The notice said that the actress shouldn’t be allowed to leave the country till the Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty case was over. The Supreme Court, thank God, did the sensible thing and quashed the stupid order, and the actress was given permission to travel abroad. 

But guess what? Apparently it takes a while for news to travel to Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. How else can you explain the bizarre experience of Shilpa at the airport Sept. 26?

Here she was, all set to travel to Germany for her West End musical “Miss Bollywood,” set to premiere in Berlin. But immigration officials at the Mumbai airport refuse to let her board her plane.

An officious boor  called P. Deshmukh comes to her and says — I kid you not — they haven’t heard of any Supreme Court order, and so can’t go anywhere. What’s more, the guy is rude.

No surprise there. Long-suffering travelers know that the immigration folks at Mumbai airport combine the compassion of Genghis Khan with the charm of Frankenstein.

Now, heaven knows we have never been blind admirers of Shilpa, but nobody deserves to be treated the way she was, and the behavior of the Mumbai immigration folks is a disgrace. Shame on you, guys!
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Kareena and Saif  in “Line of Control.”

Officially her boyfriend maybe Shahid Kapoor, but a little bird tells us that Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan get along very well. I mean very, very well. You get the idea, right?

Recently the lovebirds were spotted in a Mumbai Chinese restaurant with Dino Morea and Amrita Arora, but Dino and Amrita might as well have been in Mars, so mast were the  Saif and Kareena in each other.

Kareena seemed to be distressed and Saif was consoling her. He was often complimenting and hugging her.

With Kareena maintaining a stoic silence over her relationship with Shahid who is currently filming in Toronto, and rumors flying about that Kareena and Saif are extremely fond of each other (hint, hint). Poor Shahid, you gotta feel sorry for that guy.
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Not So Fast

Preity Zinta with Ness Wadia

Quick question: If luck had smiled upon you and you happened to have as your girlfriend somebody as gorgeous as say, Preity Zinta, would you marry her?

Talk about a no-brainer.  If you are male and straight, that’s probably one of the easiest questions to answer, right? Well, you know what, that doesn’t seem to be the case for Ness Wadia, the flamboyant son of industrialist Nusli Wadia.

“I have no plans to marry,” the flamboyant son told reporters on the sidelines of the national executive meet of FICCI in Kolkata. Ness Wadia is a joint managing director of Bombay Dyeing.

Preity seems to be bearing this with patience, but the same cannot be said of the masala press, which is waiting with bated breath for news of wedding bells.. Here’s a recent example of a gushing report: “Preity–n-Ness is the biggest thing that’s happened to Bollywood and the business world since Tina-n-Anil Ambani and the couple sure knows how to stay in the limelight. Preity is a health freak and so is her beau Ness.

“The two love birds have found the perfect way to spend time together and what could be more romantic than a workout at the gym. Preity and Ness both have a common trainer who is sure making the couple fit for each other.

“Besides sweating it out at the gym, the couple also shares a common passion for sports; the two enjoy playing outdoor sports and love watching sports on TV as well.”
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Nepalis Dance
Nepal and the Nepali-speaking diaspora worldwide erupted in joy after their newest icon, Indian policeman Prashant Tamang, vanquished his closest competitor Amit Paul to lift the third Indian Idol title in Sony Television channel’s hugely popular reality show.

Soon after midnight, as Bollywood actor John Abraham declared Prashant the winner of the coveted Rs.10 million contract and a sleek Maruti Suzuki SX4 car in New Delhi, ecstatic fans in Kathmandu started bursting crackers while crowds danced on the streets, screaming the 24-year-old’s name again and again in delight.

As the results were announced and the Darjeeling boy’s mother put the Nepali dhaka topi – that is part of the Nepali national dress – on her son’s head, Nepal went wild with pride and joy.

Despite the lateness of the hour, spontaneous processions marched on the streets of Kathmandu in Thamel, the tourist hub, near the royal palace, Boudhanath, where the Tibetan diaspora lives, in Pulchowk, near an engineering campus, and in Pokhara town and other areas as well.

The victory marks the culmination of a sustained campaign for Prashant in which Nepal played a considerable part.

Various organizations and individuals in Nepal had been raising funds to send SMS votes to help the boy from Tungsung village win. Determined teams went to Darjeeling on the eve of the grand finale to vote for him from there after Nepal Telecom said its SMS service could not be used to send votes.
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Seminal Film on Women: Vanaja
- By Ras Hafiz Siddiqui
(Rating **** Superior)

It all started off as a Columbia University master’s degree project. But by the time former Silicon Valley computer engineer Rajnesh Domalpalli was done with making his Telugu language film Vanaja and had subsequently shown it to the critics, it created quite a stir in the U.S. amongst the mainstream connoisseurs of fine filmmaking. After watching a screening, I found that there is certainly good reason for all the attention the film is getting.

Made on a shoestring budget (in this case almost a shoeless budget if there is such a term) this movie exposes and traverses the class/status divide and other distinctions. It also examines the often troublesome relationship between the sexes. The limited choices made or available while living in poverty also come into play. And last but not least Vanaja brings out the strength of women, especially one motherless young girl and her dream of becoming a great dancer who in the process of learning dance also learns a great deal more about life.

When all is said and done Vanaja moves your heart. The lack of a viewer’s Telugu language skills here is no barrier (subtitles are all one needs) because this movie will appeal to all, especially South Asians. But a cautionary note for family viewership: The subject matter is certainly of a mature nature (and there is brief male nudity).

(Above): Scene from Vanaja

Vanaja’s story is directly related to her pursuit of learning the art of Kuchipudi, a classical dance form of South India which carries some similarities with Bharatnatyam, Kathak and Odissi that some of us are more familiar with. Kuchipudi, through the main character in this movie, is the main focus of this story. Vanaja starts from being a novice and evolves into a serious performer. But it is her journey through life that accompanies her maturity as a dancer that is the strength of this movie.

The film starts on the set of a dance/theatre performance as Vanaja (Mamatha Bhukya) and her friend Lacchi (Bhavani Renukunta), two giggly teenage girls, watch a theatrical performance opened by former Kuchipudi dance great Rama Devi (Urmila Dammannagari) also known as Zamindarni/“Landlady.” During the event, one of the performers (Padma) loses her ankle bell (ghungroo) which Vanaja is lucky enough to retrieve. The two teens take the bell back to its owner who also happens to be a sooth-sayer. She gives Vanaja a free consultation and on reading her palm, “predicts” that she will one day be a great dancer. She also requests the teen to keep the bell that she came to return.

Vanaja feels the need of her absent mother as the rapidly diminishing fortunes of her fisherman father Somayya (Ramachandriah Marikanti) lead to the loss of his livelihood (to trawlers and moneylenders) and he turns to alcohol which he can no longer afford. Her father also suggests that she start working and she agrees on the condition that it is at the Landlady’s house. The job interview is hilarious, where her qualifications include ability read and write in Telugu and English plus the fact that she can milk goats too. The Landlady remembers her fighting with boys and asks her whether she is the same girl? Vanaja is a bad liar who makes the Landlady laugh. But she gets her the job of doing various tasks around the house including tending to chickens.

The main reason, as we are aware, is that she wants to work here so the Landlady can teach her how to dance.

There are two other important relationships that Vanaja develops at the house. The first is with the cook Radhamma (Krishnamma Gundimalla) who becomes a sympathizer, reluctant confidante and advisor. Their relationship starts off as a turf battle because Radhamma is the closest person to the Landlady in the household or her inner circle. It later develops into a lot more. The other person she has a relationship with is with the Landlady’s son Shekhar (Karan Singh playing this role is the only actor in this film who was not previously completely unknown). Shekhar has come back from America to take his place in the local political scene and society. He is also a part of the plot of this movie that gives it a unique twist that just has to be discussed.

The uniqueness of this film is that all the female characters in it are depicted as strong and as survivors. On the other hand the male characters here are deeply flawed. Shekhar and the postal worker Ram Babu (played by Krishna Garlapati) who are vying for Vanaja can never seem to decide between affection and lust as their motivation. Vanaja’s father Somayya uses her salary savings to buy alcohol and is shown as a generally weak person who does not really know what to do with his daughter. It seems like Vanaja is about female survival (almost like a serious Vagina Monologues) in which females do their best to carry on in spite of having problem creating and weak males around.

From the time of Vanaja’s winning her wish to become a student of the Landlady by losing a board game on purpose to the incredible intensity of her final dance in the movie she goes through many trials and tribulations. Things take a very serious turn when she is forced into a physical relationship with Shekhar. The comical opening changes to deep seriousness as Vanaja learns about power, status and what women sometimes have to cope with. That includes, among other things, faking being blessed by a pregnant elephant to get help.

Without giving away the climactic ending of the film, suffice it to say that the passion of Vanaja is captured during her final dance in which lead actress Mamatha Bhukya gives her role a superb adult intensity. There is no Bollywood glamour in this movie, just serious acting. But everything works in this film, and one can hazard an explanation that either writer-director Rajnesh Domalpalli is one of the luckiest first filmmakers around or a true contender for future international movie fame. Vanaja is one of the best seminal effort at making serious films about women that South Asia has encountered in the past few years.


Zany Comedy: Cheena Thana 001

The plot of this zany comedy is loosely drawn along the lines of Peter Seller’s The Pink Panther series, unless you prefer the facile film industry euphemism “inspiration” (hint, hint). For inspiration, let it be added, the director generously draws from more than one source, because the film is actually a remake of the Malayalam film CID Moosa.

Here’s how the story goes. Thamizh, an aspiring cop, is destined to a great deal of aspiring indeed, because he simple doesn’t have the basic intelligence to enter the police force even after several attempts. The fact is that he is a bumbling buffoon who has a peculiar talent for messing up pretty much everything he touches.

Buffoon or not, though, he is no quitter. So he opens his own detective agency. Now Lady Luck steps in to give the poor fellow (both the hero and the director) a hand. (Ah, where would comedy capers be without Lady Luck?) With a dash of luck, Thamizh manages to save the life of the governor many a time from the hands of assassins. Not just that, he and his team, in their own bungling way, finally manage to trace out the culprits and the brain behind the plan.

What makes his success remarkable (or ridiculously implausible, if you choose to be a killjoy and actually decide to apply logic in this film) is that he takes up formidable adversaries. Pitted against him is the unscrupulous cop Gowri Shankar, who is hand-in-glove with Baba, a terrorist, who is the brain behind the plan. They try to thwart his plan every step of the way, but to no avail.

Actors Prasanna and Riyaz seem to have a whale of a time as they go through the comic antics. Vadivelu makes the most of his role, which is bad news for viewers, because after a while his antics simply get old and tedious. Caught in this mad melee is Shiela who cuts a pretty figure as Thamizh’s lady love. She has little else to do.

No logic, says one of the captions that flash on the screen as the movie opens. Now that’s truth in advertising for you. Be warned: it’s not just logic, but your total sensibility that you have to leave behind before you sit to watch this film.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Savory Entrée: Mattar Paneer Masala

Here’s a delicious desi entrée from award-winning chef Sanjay Patel.

  • Green peas, 1 cup
  • Sugar, a pinch
  • Paneer, 1 cup, cubed
  • Cooking oil, 1+1 teaspoon
  • Ghee, 1+1 teaspoon
  • Cinnamon, 1 inch stick, broken into halves
  • Cloves, 3 pieces
  • Cardamom, 2 cloves
  • Cumin seeds, 1-1/2 teaspoon, whole
  • Black peppercorns, 8-10, whole
  • Onions, 2, medium size, finely sliced
  • Red chilli powder, ½ teaspoon or to taste
  • Coriander powder, 1 teaspoon
  • Turmeric powder, ½ teaspoon
  • Ginger, ½-inch piece, finely chopped and crushed
  • Garlic, 3 cloves, finely chopped and crushed
  • Green chillies, 3, medium size, medium hot, sliced into halves
  • Tomatoes, 2, medium size, finely chopped
  • Yogurt/Curd, 1/2 cup
  • Garam masala powder, 1 teaspoon
  • Cilantro leaves, chopped for garnishing
  • Lemon juice, 1 teaspoon
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon or adjusted to taste


Boil the green peas with a cupful of water and a pinch of sugar. Cook till tender and keep aside. Heat a pan and pour in the first part of ghee and oil. When smoking hot, deep fry the paneer pieces in oil until light golden color, remove from heat and keep aside. In the same oil when very hot, add cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, cumin seeds, and finally onions. Sauté until the onions are golden brown here and there. Add the coriander powder, red chilli powder, and turmeric powder. Sauté for a minute taking care not to burn the dry masala powders. Remove from fire, allow it to cool, and then grind the onion mixture to a smooth and thick paste. Heat the remaining ghee and oil. Add ginger, garlic, and green chillies. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add the ground onion paste and sauté for a minute. Add the tomatoes and sauté until the oil separates from it. Add the yogurt, cooked peas, paneer pieces and salt. Allow it to simmer for 10 minutes. Add the garam masala mixture a minute before removing mattar paneer masala from the heat. Garnish with coriander leaves, lemon juice, and a dollop of salted butter on top.

Serve hot with chapattis, pooris, bread or plain white rice.


HOROSCOPE: October By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): You may start a new venture in partnership with an interesting person. Sun in sixth will crush the opposition and help you overcome any illness. Expenses will be under control and bank balance will grow. People in business will get new clients. You will attend a social event.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): Things will be favorable in career and you will be in line for a big promotion. Your performance will be appreciated by boss. You may dispose off some profit making stocks. Suddenly you will develop a taste for spicy food. You will be spending money on children.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): You will be fully charged and finish most of the paperwork. You will make travel plans. You may have to file some important papers again after some amendments. You will be working on a great business plan and seek like-minded partners. You will call an old friend.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Do not let unnecessary issues cause distraction from what is important. You will be working on a major career change. You may go out of your way to help a needy person. Expenses will stay under control. You will be going on an important trip. You may also win money in lottery.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): Have fun but stay within legal parameters. You will find suitable match for a marriageable child. Meetings with other business associates will go well and a compromise will be reached. Speculation will be profitable and it will be better to take profit and wait. You will give finishing touches to an important appeal.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You will arrange a small get together at your place. A new business associates will seek clarification. You will receive a big check in the mail. You will be traveling to distant places in for business. People in high tech industry will benefit from favorable planets. You will contact an old friend.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): You will do very well as far as money matters are concerned. You will make a fine choice about career all by yourself. You will be tempted to invest in a property. You will be working on a project different from what you are doing now. You will notice an error in accounting and save some money.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Boss has you under his radar and is monitorig your performance, ready to make his recommendations. You will contribute time to charity. A project you have been working on, will open new doors to make more money. You will be invited to a big party. A plan to relocate will need to be postponed.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): You will gain fame in business and social circles. A meeting will government officials will be fruitful. You will regain self-confidence quickly. Spouse may not keep well for a few more days. You will be performing religious activities. You will finalize travel plans for a family member.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): You will be working behind the scenes on a big project. Someone younger to you will be helpful and very lucky for you. You may finally get money resulting from an insurance claim. Opponents will not succeed. Spouse will be stressed for no serious reason. You will spend money on kids.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): You will continue to march towards your professional goals. Troublemakers at work will be moved to another location. You may purchase a luxury vehicle this month. Value of your stocks will appreciate considerably. You will benefit from someone who is short and almost bald.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will spend time with politicians. Spouse will complain and ask you to spend more time with family. Change of job is almost inevitable. Some of you will be assigned a very prestigious project. You will make final payment on a credit card debt or loan. An experienced ally will provide valuable guidance.

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


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