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Volume VIII • Issue 9
The Hindi Tamasha:
Vishwa Hindi Sammelan
Despite the hoopla, the quadrennial Hindi meet is a pointless government junket full of banal, vacuous speeches, writes Ved Prakash Vatuk.

Language Matters:
Multi-language Hazard Warning

Language can be a critical issue in ensuring environmental justice. Ashfaque Swapan writes about the challenge of notifying the multilingual community in Richmond, Calif., in the event of an air pollution hazard.

Living Legend:
An Evening with Ahmad Faraz

Pakistani poet Ahmad Faraz still possesses that sharpness of wit and streaks of brilliance that has made him a literary force to reckon with, writes Ras Hafiz Siddiqui.

PHOTO GALLERY: India Independence Day Celebrations in U.S. :: San Francisco, New York, New Jersey

PHOTO GALLERY: India Splendor in Los Angeles: Celebrating 60 Years of Independence

EDITORIAL: The Hindi Tamasha
SUBCONTINENT: India’s Pollution Time Bomb
COMMUNITY: Berkeley Food Fest
PERFORMANCE: Unlimited Ability
COMMUNITY: Indian I-Day Festivities
HEALTH: Getting Ready for School
COMMUNITY: Aligarh Endowment
CELEBRATION: ‘India Splendor’ in L.A.
COMMUNITY: Pakistani I-Day Fest
AIR TRAVEL: Desi Food in the Sky
TRAVEL: McCloud, California
PERFORMANCE: Sitar at Stern Grove
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
BUSINESS: News Briefs
AUTO REVIEW: 2007 Lincoln Navigator
BOLLYWOOD: Review: Chak De! India
RECIPE: Apple Delight
HOROSCOPE: September

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

The Hindi Tamasha
Hindi enthusiasts like to talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, as this year’s Vishwa Hindi Sammelan in New York proved once again.

When you think about it, Hindi finds itself in a rather odd situation. Despite shrill cries of establishing the rashtra bhasha, it is by no means clear that the language, at least its evolved literary version, faces a very promising future.

The reason has to do with a paradox. While Hindi chauvinists like to rave and rant about establishing the language, it isn’t clear at all that on a mass level there is enough enthusiasm for Hindi literature. Comparison to other South Asian languages reveals a discomfiting contrast. Novelists and poets in Bengali, Marathi or Malayalam, for example, are avidly read and lionized by those communities, but you would be hard pressed to find Hindi speakers who can name their favorite Hindi writer.

Over the years, the quadrennial sammelan has acquired all the bad attributes of a government junket. Dreadful organizational glitches and vacuous speeches rule the roost and this happened at this year’s sammelan as well. Government honchos, whose connection to Hindi is tenuous at best, called the shots.

With a sharp pen, award-winning poet folklorist Ved Prakash Vatuk skewers the shenanigans of a government junket whose contribution to the promotion of Hindi remains miniscule, and castigates the penchant of Hindi promoters for barking up the wrong tree.

The surest way of guaranteeing a long and lasting future for Hindi lies not in facile sloganeering but in making Hindi a genuine part of the lives of Hindi speakers. Vatuk suggests that Hindi enthusiasts need look no further than their neighboring South Asian expatriate communities. Every year, several thousands of U.S.-based South Asians gather at Telugu, Bengali and Marathi conventions where they celebrate their language and culture in emphatic fashion. It is this deep and committed mass engagement with the language that Hindiwallahs need to instill in Hindi speakers if they hope to secure the future of Hindi, he argues in this month’s cover story.

There’s more to environmental justice than good science, responsible regulation and vigilant monitoring. Take Richmond, California. Numerous low-income minorities live in this diverse San Francisco Bay Area township which is ringed by a number of plants that often give rise to air pollution hazards and emergencies. Yet something as simple as a warning in an emergency can be useless to substantial parts of the community with poor English language skills.

Community activists won a landmark victory when following a fire in 1999, the Contra Costa county decided to introduce a multilingual warning system to cater to those with poor or no English language skills.

But hold the champagne. Eight years after the decision, the county is still to put the multilingual warning system in place. While work is going on to put in place a warning system for the Laotian community in their own language, the project will serve 300 families in a community of 10,000, and nothing as yet is planned for other minorities with English language difficulties. This month’s issue carries a report by Ashfaque Swapan. The report was made possible by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation.

Like many a major poet and author, Pakistan’s Ahmad Faraz is the conscience of his people, and has even gone to jail for speaking up against injustice and oppression by the autocrats that seem to perennially plague that South Asian nation.

A keen sense of moral outrage informs his politics, and some of that finds its way into his poetry as well. But his real claim to fame is his nuanced, exquisitely sensitive Urdu romantic poems.

Ethnically a Pashto-speaking Pathan, Faraz studied Persian and Urdu at Peshawar University. Often compared with Urdu poetry titans like Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, he holds a unique position as one of the greatest living Urdu poets, with a fine but disarmingly simple style of writing which even common people can easily understand and identify with.

When he went to college, his heroes were Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ali Sardar Jafri, the best progressive poets at that time.

His outspoken views on political freedom forced him to go into self-imposed exile for three years during the Zia-ul-Haq era after he was arrested for poems critical of military rule. He was awarded the Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 2004 in recognition of his literary achievements, but he returned the award in 2006 after becoming disenchanted with the government and its policies.

Now 75, the literary titan still retains his sharp intellect and insight, as our correspondent Ras Hafiz Siddiqui found out when he got to spend a memorable evening with Faraz in the San Francisco Bay Area. We carry a report on Faraz in this month’s issue.

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

The Hindi Tamasha: Vishwa Hindi Sammelan

Every four years, the Indian government organizes a world convention on Hindi. This year, it was hosted in New York.
Despite the hoopla, the event itself is a pointless government junket full of banal, vacuous speeches with little to show by way of achievement, while the actual state of Hindi leaves a lot to be desired, writes Ved Prakash Vatuk.

It all began in 1975. Suddenly someone discovered that Hindi is not confined to North India alone but was spoken in other parts of the world, particularly in those parts where Indians were sent by the British Empire as part of indentured labor to help grow sugarcane for the English masters after slavery was abolished in 1838 and the African slaves, once freed, refused to work on plantations. This new slavery, by which innocent peasants/workers from India were tricked into bondage for five years, brought millions of Indians to Fiji, Mauritius, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and other places and their descendants still spoke some form of Hindi. Mauritius was specially cited as a place where Hindi was flourishing and many writers were writing good Hindi novels, plays and poetry. People also discovered suddenly that Hindi was taught in many Western countries at college level. This knowledge inspired some Hindi enthusiasts to organize the first World Hindi Convention. As it happened this thought, too, took deep root in the mind of a non-Hindi speaker, Marathi writer/journalist/publisher Anant Gopal Shevre.

One should remember that the first thesis about or on a Hindi subject was not written in Hindi by an Indian but by a foreigner, Father Kamil Bulke. He refused to write his thesis titled “Ram Katha” in English. So one should not be surprised that the first World Hindi Convention (Vishwa Hindi Sammelan) did not take place in a Hindi-speaking area but in Maharashtra’s Nagpur and it was organized by a Marathi speaker. It was a four-day-long grand affair.

With that sammelan, Hindi suddenly became a world language. Not only that, a new phrase, “World Hindi,” was coined, by which one meant that there is such a thing as universal Hindi.

Soon the sammelan became a government affair. It was dominated by Indian government officials and very clearly evolved a class system. The prime minister, other ministers of the cabinet, Mauritius Prime Minister Sir Navinchandra Ramgoolam, ministers of other countries all became far more important than any prominent Hindi writers and scholars. It did not matter if they could not speak good Hindi or did not really have anything substantive to contribute. Their pronouncements became more valuable — like the mantras of the Vedas. The few foreigners who were invited by the government gave legitimacy to the claim that Hindi indeed was a world language. After all, they were teaching Hindi for 10 or 20 years and could prepare a talk and deliver it in a European accent, which was like honey to the ears of Hindi speakers in India who were exposed for the first time to such an experience. That a foreigner could speak Hindi was a miracle to them. Any European who can speak a sentence or can quote a line or two from a Hindi or Sanskrit epic was immediately given the status of a Shankaracharya. These eminent delegates, on whose shoulders rested the great task of making Hindi a world language, were treated like gods. As for great Indian Hindi scholars/ writers, they became the dalits in their homeland.

In this convention it was declared that Hindi should become one of the official languages of the United Nations.

And this has become the norm ever since for all Hindi sammelans.

Since the first Vishwa Hindi Sammelan was organized in 1975, there have been seven more such melas — all organized by the Indian government with very little input from the Hindi scholars/writers. The last and the eighth was held in New York July 13-15. Several years before, some Hindi organizations tried to hold that convention in the U.S., but at that time the vicious infighting among various groups who approached the Indian government with their request made it impossible. This time the good relations between the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and the Indian Consulate made it feasible to hold this convention in New York.

After attending the two most publicized and well organized conventions — one in Nagpur in 1975 and the other in Delhi in 1983, I had very little desire to attend the convention held in New York. Even though these conventions held abroad are branded “world conventions,” hardly anybody who is not paid their fare by the Indian government attends them from countries other than the host country. Of course, many people have their relatives or children in the countries where the convention is held, and they come to see them. For example, there was only one delegate from Germany, where Hindi is taught in many universities. None of the eminent writers and professor-scholars who have been living in America for decades were informed or invited or consulted. For example, eminent Hindi lyric writer Professor Indu Kant Shukla, the famous Hindi novelist and professor of Hindi at the University of Wisconsin Usha Priyamvada, president of Hindi Sahitya Sammelan Prayag and prominent poet Gulab Khandelwal, and the author of these lines — an award-winning poet — knew nothing about the convention, neither were they consulted at any time.

Only a few New York-based persons were involved, and those, too, nominally, in organizing the event. I came to know about the convention when Susham Bedi from New York asked me to contribute an article for the smarika or souvenir. She asked me to call Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan chief P. Jayaraman. I did. He told me that I have to attend. He told me that he would inform me about it as soon as the program was finalized. After that I never heard from him. I e-mailed him several times. He never answered. When I reached New York, I called him. He sounded very rude and insulting. He said, “I had e-mails from so many people and so many people left me messages on phone, I can’t answer everyone.” I was totally disgusted by his attitude. Later, many people told me how insulting he had been to them. If he or his organization did not have the courtesy or time to answer the queries, why did he take the responsibility to organize? Simply to run after the government ministers and to get close to them to get a padmashri some day? Literally dozens of people told me of a similar experience.

I have attended lots of international conventions but not one of them had been this badly organized. And they were attended by thousands of delegates, not merely 800. Almost 80 percent of the delegates were deeply dissatisfied by the way the convention was organized or run.

Now let us talk about the convention itself. Since this sammelan was held in New York, the Indian consulate managed to hold the inaugural session in the United Nations auditorium and have the inaugural speech delivered by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ky-Moon.

Now Moon had lived in India many years as a representative of his country and had learnt some Hindi. Not only that, his daughter has married an Indian man. So it should not have been a great surprise that he addressed a Hindi gathering in Hindi. But that became the highlight of the convention. The pride of Indian nationhood, Hindi, was brought to the doorstep of the United Nations. Now it is bound to take its place as one of the official languages of the UN. I was amazed how easily our hearts are won. We live by symbolism and not harsh reality.

As far as the tone of the convention was concerned, most of the time it was cliché-ridden. Hindi is the language of love, Hindi unites the world in peace, Hindi is the soul of Bharat, Hindi is the asmita of our samskriti, Hindi is spoken in more than hundred and fifty countries, Hindi is taught in more than 150 universities around the globe. These cliché-ridden slogans were repeated so many times that one begins to wonder if these defenders of Hindi are truly sure about their own case or they are simply shouting their slogan so loudly because they feel that by doing so they can persuade the world community to believe in them. Otherwise which language of India — or the world — divides, is the language of hate, is not spoken around the globe where the speakers of that language have migrated? It’s Hindi. If we compare the reality with slogans we find that many Indian languages are used far more extensively than Hindi by its speakers abroad.

Take the case of Punjabi. Punjabi is the language of not one, but two or even three generations in Canada, America and Britain. Hindi speakers have a hard time even teaching Hindi to their America-born second generation kids. There are literally dozens of weekly papers in Punjabi sold in the U.K., U.S. and Canada, while even three or four quarterly magazines in Hindi are struggling to survive. Thousands of Punjabi families also subscribe to many Punjabi papers published in India.

The fact is simple: No matter how loudly we Hindi speakers shout in these sammelans about the glory of Hindi, as far as our children are concerned we have bestowed English to them as the language of their education and career.

In every annual convention of Marathi, Telugu or Bengali speakers in the U.S., which are attended by several thousand people and which are not sponsored by any government, I have seen that they organize large book exhibitions, where publishers bring thousands of volumes. These books are bought enthusiastically. In New York alone, multiple weekly Bengali tabloid newspapers serve the Bangladeshi community. An annual book fair brings authors from Kolkata and Dhaka and not a cent comes from any government.

Compare that to the so-called government run book exhibition at the eighth Vishwa Hindi Sammelan. Where were the thousands of Hindi publishers there? There were only government publications and they, too, were mostly distributed, not sold. The only exhibition which was not government approved was arranged by Anjana Sandhir: the exhibition of books written by persons living in America. But that was not worthy of being given a prominent place or being inaugurated by the visiting Indian state foreign minister.

Again, of course, the resolution to make Hindi the official language of the UN was passed — for the eighth time in 32 years. For the last three decades we have been organizing seminars on this issue. Hindi leaders must have earned millions of rupees by participating in them, but there hasn’t been any result. We forget that all the official languages of the UN are indeed the official languages in their own countries: French in France, Chinese in China, English in so many English speaking countries, Russian in Russia, Spanish in Spanish speaking countries and Arabic in all Arab nations. These languages are used in day-to-day government work. In these three decades we have never passed a law that Hindi should be the language of India’s Supreme Court, or in Indian government offices. That it should be the language of instruction in high institutions, or Indian embassies or consulates or even of the Indian offices at the United Nations. Anyone can speak in any language at the United Nations and they have done so. But do the officials of the Indian delegation listen to their Hindi lecture or do they have to resort to an English translation? If no one is listening or reading in Hindi then what is the justification of spending billions of rupees just to have the false pride that our language is an official language of the UN?

We have to establish that language in our homes, offices, parliament and the courts first. I remember that once our ex-president Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was addressed in Hindi in Delhi and he was annoyed. Two years ago, at a Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelan in Hyderabad, one delegate spoke in Hindi and Sam Pitroda apologized for that. Have we ever asked the non-Hindi speakers of India what they feel about our slogan?

And indeed, why Hindi alone? Why not Bengali, which is used in every government office of Bangladesh? Or Urdu, the undisputed national language of Pakistan? Why not make all standard literary languages the official languages of the UN? In fact, when we demand that India should have a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, I feel that demand to be undemocratic and imperialistic. I would like Gandhi’s India to demand that the Security Council should be organized on a democratic basis where elections are held every five years and the veto is abolished.

And if we truly want Hindi to be a world language then we should translate literally hundreds of thousands of great literary and scientific works into Hindi.

Most of the delegates came out dissatisfied from this convention, even those who are in the habit of attending every one of them. But the most hurt were the writers/poets who live in the U.S. itself. They thought they would be treated in the same way they are treated in India, where the professional promoters of pravasi Hindi sahitya go out of their way to glorify them. Here, they were not even noticed. So much so that the kavi sammelan was held without their participation and they in protest organized their own outside the hall. Even if most of them would have never been published in any reputed literary magazine, had they stayed in India, they felt hurt that they were not given any recognition here — in their own territory. But then again, the whole show was organized from India by the government that did not give a hoot about what they felt.

The sammelan, like sammelans before, left many questions unanswered. The most important of them was — why should the government spend millions of rupees for this mela? So that the same people can visit foreign countries? Or we can meet some friends we have not seen for years? As far as I am concerned, this is just another show that the government organizes every four years to prove its sincerity to a cause about which it could not care less. So in the end I came out from the convention with a feeling that I wrote down in verse. In Hindi, of course.

“Haat dar haat ham bhatak aaye/ Kuchh khareeda naheen na bik paaye/
Aur mela ujar gayaa yoonhee/ Kuchh diya bhee naheen na kuchh laaye.”

This roughly translates as the following: “And we wandered from shop to shop/ We bought nothing, nor could we sell ourselves/ The mela was over just like that/ We did not give it anything, nor did we bring anything from it.”


Language Matters: Multi-language Hazard Warning
As the U.S. population gets more diverse, language can be a critical issue in ensuring environmental justice. Ashfaque Swapan writes about the challenge of notifying the multilingual community in Richmond, Calif., in the event of an air pollution hazard from the many plants that surround it. This article was made possible by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation.

On Jan. 15 this year in Richmond, Calif., when a fire broke out at a nearby Chevron refinery, for Laotians residents with minimal to nonexistent English skills, it was like déjà vu all over again. Not just the fire, but the fact that no warning phone calls came in any language other than English.

But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

About eight years back, following a fire in the same Chevron refinery, community activists were up in arms about the county’s shoddy early warning system.

The fire at Chevron’s Richmond refinery in March 1999 had sent a plume of black smoke over western Contra Costa County, and hundreds of residents had to go to hospitals with respiratory problems. Residents had said then that sirens in a county warning network were not sounded for 20 minutes after the explosion.

About 7 percent of Richmond’s adult population and 12 percent of San Pablo’s do not speak English, according to the 1990 census. An estimated 10,000 Laotians live in the western Contra Costa county, many in Richmond, which in addition to Laotians, has also Spanish-speaking and Vietnamese communities.

About half of the Laotian residents are either illiterate or speak only their native language, activists said then.

Following public demand, a Contra Costa county Board of Supervisors committee decided to expand the county’s phone warning system to include telephone calls that would warn Laotians and Spanish speakers of disasters in their own languages.

“When we began this project in 1999 working with the Laotian Organizing Project, they thought the best way to help the Laotian community know . . . was to do an automated phone message,” said Michael Kent, hazardous materials ombudsman with the Contra Costa County Health Services.

“This had never been done before. . . and we began this pilot just with the Laotian community . . . with the understanding that there are other minority communities that don’t speak English as their first language, predominantly Spanish, and ultimately we hoped to be able to expand whatever we learned from the Laotian community to those communities.”

Organizations like LOP celebrated a landmark victory, but today, the celebrations seem premature.

On Jan. 15 this year, after the fire broke out at around 5:15 a.m. in the Chevron refinery, automated warning calls went out — still only in English. Even those calls were delayed by an hour, prompting angry complaints.

The automated calls, which go out to homes and businesses near the refinery, are a key part of Contra Costa County’s efforts to notify residents about refinery fires that can affect the air quality.

“There are two issues in there,” said LOP activist Torm Nompraseurt. “First there is a very loud siren to let people know that an incident happened. The second is the call notification calling system so the computer calls different households. So it’s always English first, and after that, it’s different Laotian dialects. That is the regular procedure.

“What happened in January, the English language call (didn’t go) out to the residents until an hour later — that’s one big issue. Second, the Laotian calls didn’t go through. That was another big issue.”

So whatever happened to the Laotian warning calls that were supposed to come? That is still a work in progress, according to Contra Costa county officials.

“We’ve gone through a couple of different versions, we have had some technical problems,” Kent said. “There were problems with the system in January and in fact, we got rid of the vendor who ran the system then and we have a new vendor.”

Eight months after the Jan. 15 fire, the county is in the process of installing a high-tech device in Laotian homes that need it. The device is attached to a landline phone. The way this works is when a warning message goes out in English it electronically tells this device to then put out an alert in that language.

A hazard advisory triggers this box, and a distinctive alert tone results, so a person at home knows that something is happening. The devices have been pre-programmed to ask residents to follow a preventive drill in Laotian.

Two Laotian outreach workers from the county are making home visits and installing these devices in people’s homes based on need.

“Right now we are still in a targeted outreach to the Laotian community, we have funding for 300 boxes,” Kent said.

Meanwhile the Jan. 15 fire has raised new issues. “On the morning of the fire it was blowing toward the bay and the much wealthier — and whiter — Point Richmond area, to which 2,988 calls were made in English,” the alternative weekly East Bay Express noted somewhat accusingly. “None of the phone numbers in the Lao-language database were activated because the Laotian community was considered upwind of the fire.”

Nompraseurt of LOP was more diplomatic. “The wind direction protocol is good but then sometimes the wind direction changes very quickly in five minutes, so what do you do?” he said. “Overall I would say that not only just the Laotian language implementation but overall I think the warning system (is) still not in good hands.”

Kent agreed that calls went out only to Point Richmond, but there was a reason, and in any case, the county has revised its policy since.

“We only called Point Richmond . . ., at the time our policy was (that) we looked at who we think might be impacted, and that’s who we called. We didn’t call people in the other direction of the facility.”

Kent said hazard notification was a fine balancing act. “If you send an advisory to people and advise them to go inside a shelter-in-place, maybe for several hours, instead of going to work . . . and there’s really no danger to them, people will stop listening. We want to make sure our advice is good advice,” he said. “You have a fine line. You want to err on the side of caution, in terms of making sure everybody who is impacted is advised to shelter-in-place, but if you start advising people who have no chance of being impacted, then you lose credibility. We have to keep both those factors in mind.

“Partially in response to the concerns that were raised, what we are going to do now in the future is when we think of a shelter-in-place incident, before we even know which way the wind is blowing we’re going to call anybody within a thousand feet of the incident.”

Kent conceded that the county’s progress in installing a multi-language early warning system left much to be desired, but he stressed that the county’s grassroots education and information program through posters and video that accompanied the program had been a key achievement.

“I think it is obvious that it would have been nice if we had been at this point earlier, but there are lots of reason why it took this long, because it’s a very complicated thing to try to do, and it’s never been done before,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of one-on-one personalized targeted outreach that’s culturally appropriate for the Laotian community and I think that’s very important and very beneficial.”

That said, it is not clear how far 300 devices will go towards satisfying a need of a 10,000-strong Laotian community which tends to be insular and has a high proportion of people who speak little or no English.

Furthermore, the comprehensive multi-language automated emergency calling system that was promised in 1999 seems as distant as ever.

“I don’t know what the next step’s gonna be. We’re going to take it back to the board of supervisors,” Kent said. “We have done some pilot testing in the Spanish speaking communities to see if they are interested, but we don’t know where we’re going with that, and there are other languages obviously spoken in West County, and I can’t tell you at this time what we are gonna do.”


NEWS DIARY: August 2007 Roundup
Twin Bombings Kill 42 in Hyderabad | Pakistan Test Fires Air-launched Cruise Missile | Nuke Deal in Danger | Bangla Eases Curfew | Against the King | Media Protest | Defense Network | Protest over Stores Closure

Twin Bombings Kill 42 in Hyderabad

A victim of a twin blast in Hyderabad, India.

A pair of almost simultaneous bombings blamed on Islamic extremists tore through a popular family restaurant and an outdoor arena on Saturday night, killing at least 42 people in this southern Indian city plagued by Hindu-Muslim tensions.

The restaurant was destroyed by the bomb placed at the entrance. Blood-covered tin plates and broken glasses littered the road outside.

The other blast struck a laser show at an auditorium in Lumbini park, leaving pools of blood and dead bodies between rows of seats punctured by shrapnel. Some seats were hurled 100 feet away.

Officials said that foreign-based Islamic extremists may have been behind the attacks.

“Available information points to the involvement of terrorist organizations based in Bangladesh and Pakistan,” Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, where Hyderabad is located, told reporters after an emergency state Cabinet meeting.

Reddy did not name any groups, but Indian media reports, quoting unnamed security officials, identified the Bangladesh-based Harkatul Jihad Al-Islami. Reddy declined to provide more details. “It is not possible to divulge all this information,” he said.

Harkatul, which is banned in Bangladesh, wants to establish strict Islamic rule in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation governed by secular laws.

The Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry said Dhaka had not been informed of these allegations.

Witnesses described chaotic scenes in the aftermath of the bombings.

“We heard the blast and people started running out past us. Many of them had blood streaming off them,” said P.K. Verghese, the security manager at the laser show. “It was complete chaos. We had to remove the security barriers so people could get out.”

Most of the dead were killed in the Gokul Chat restaurant at Hyderabad’s Kothi market, said K. Jana Reddy, the state home minister.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Pakistan Test Fires Air-launched Cruise Missile

A Pakistani handout picture of cruise missile Babur (Hatf-VII).

Pakistan has successfully test fired a new air-launched cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons, the military said in a statement.

The locally developed Ra’ad (Hatf-8) missile — Ra’ad means thunder in Arabic — has a range of 350 kilometers (217 miles) and uses stealth technology, it said.

The missile “has been designed exclusively for launch from a variety of Pakistan’s air platforms, providing these with a strategic stand-off capability on land and at sea,” it said.

“The Ra’ad can carry all types of warheads and has an accuracy comparable to Pakistan’s longer Babur cruise missile,” the statement said. Pakistan last test fired the Babur, which has a 700-kilometre range, in July.

“The missile has a low detection probability due to stealth design and materials used in its manufacturing,” it said.

President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz congratulated the scientists and engineers involved in designing the new cruise missile, it added.

Pakistan’s defense will continue to be strengthened as an imperative of national security,” the military statement quoted the two leaders as saying.

Pakistan and its nuclear-armed arch rival India have routinely conducted missile tests since the neighboring countries carried out tit-for-tat nuclear detonations in May 1998.

However in 2004 they launched a slow-moving peace process aimed at ending six decades of hostility and resolving their dispute over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, the cause of two of their three wars.

In February, Pakistan signed a historic deal with India to cut the risk of atomic weapons accidents.

The latest test however comes against a backdrop of mounting political opposition to military strongman Musharraf — fuelling international fears about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Nuke Deal in Danger

Activists protesting against the India-US nuclear deal in New Delhi.

A historic nuclear energy deal between India and the United States is hanging in the balance due to political opposition in New Delhi, but could still be saved if it reaches the U.S. Congress early next year, analysts said.

Communist allies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition have demanded the deal be put on hold until their concerns are addressed and have implied they would end their support for the government, triggering fears for the pact.

Both sides are trying to buy time, looking for a face-saving way out of the crisis as neither is considered keen to see the government fall or face polls at the moment.

But having come this far, neither is blinking either.

The deal needs one final approval from the U.S. Congress to go through. But with Washington entering an election year in 2008, the clock is ticking fast, officials and analysts in New Delhi and Washington said.

The communists have demanded India put off negotiations for key global approvals for the deal, required before it can be presented to Congress.

But a delay would imperil the agreement, which would then have to struggle to make it over the din of the U.S. election campaign and tight Congressional schedules.
|Back to NEWS Diary| |TOP|

Bangla Eases Curfew

Police beat an activist during clashes in Dhaka.

Traffic poured onto the streets of Bangladesh’s main cities as the army-backed interim government relaxed a curfew imposed two days ago to quell street violence, allowing people to venture out to buy essentials.

“The law and order situation is fully under control,” the country’s police chief, Nur Mohammad, told Reuters, dismissing fears the curfew relaxation might see a return of the protests, which had begun as a student demonstration on Monday.

A statement from the government said the curfew, which was lifted at 8 a.m. would be reimposed at 10 p.m.

The curfew — which shut down public transport, schools, banks, clinics and pharmacies — was imposed in Dhaka and five other cities after a student-led protest against the presence of troops at a football match at the Dhaka University campus turned violent and spread across the country.

The violence subsided the next day as security forces patrolled the streets and the authorities warned they would take stern action against disorder.

All universities and colleges in the six cities, including the 40,000-student Dhaka University, were closed indefinitely.

Security forces detained two Dhaka University professors, including Anwar Hossain, general secretary of the university’s Teachers Association. The other was professor Harun-ur Rashid, dean of the Social Science Department.

Two other teachers and a top student leader have been arrested, and cases filed against 2,500 students.
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Against the King

King Gyanendra

Nepal’s Maoist leader said the former rebels planned to launch protests to push for the immediate ouster of King Gyanendra before crucial polls set for November.

The former guerrillas, now in government after signing a landmark peace deal last year with mainstream political parties, had agreed to wait until after the polls that will decide whether the country becomes a republic.

But Maoist leader Prachanda said they now want Gyanendra to go right away.

“To push for a republic, it’s imperative to launch protests from inside government, in parliament and on the streets,” Prachanda told business leaders, human rights activists and journalists at a meeting organized by the party.

Nepal is due to go to the polls to vote for a body that will rewrite the country’s constitution and decide on the fate of the 238-year-old monarchy.

Parliament was suspended for two months to allow members to begin campaigning for the constituent assembly elections.

“Monarchist and regressive forces are still active in conspiring against the constituent assembly election,” said Prachanda.

He said the protests by the fiercely republican Maoists would be peaceful.
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Media Protest

Journalists protesting in Colombo.

A media rights group urged Sri Lanka to ease emergency laws that curtail freedom of expression and warned of worsening conditions in one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.

Working conditions have deteriorated in the Tamil-populated northern district of Jaffna since fighting erupted there between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels, the Free Media Movement said in a statement.

“At least seven media workers including two reporters have been killed since May 2006,” the statement said, adding that one journalist was missing and the offices of three media outlets had been physically attacked.

“Murders, kidnappings, threats and censorship have made Jaffna one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists to work,” the FMM said, referring to the government-controlled peninsula.

Dozens of reporters have also fled or abandoned their work due to a climate of fear, the rights group said.

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has also led to abductions and extra-judicial killings, rights groups say.

At least 835 civilians were kidnapped in Jaffna district between December 2005 and May 2007, according to Sri Lanka’s independent Human Rights Commission.
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Defense Network

Trade, bilateral relations and other economic issues figured prominently in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India.

But underlying his talks with Indian leaders will be the changing geo-strategic map of Asia and the desire of some countries — with Japan a prominent player — to forge a new network of relationships; if not to contain China, then at the very least to create a counter-weight to the region’s rising giant.

Over recent years long-standing allies like Japan, the United States, and Australia have been renewing their defense ties.

Japan’s military posture has undergone some subtle but significant changes.

Japan’s armed forces have shrugged off at least some of the restrictions imposed by their constitutional commitment to a solely defensive role.

This more muscular Japan, prompted in large part by concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, is also entertaining the idea of broader defense relationships.

Last May, on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Manila, officials from Australia, Japan and the U.S. met for the first time with India at the table, to pursue a broad strategic dialogue.
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Protest over Stores Closure

Industrialists are up in arms in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after 30 Western-style supermarket stores were ordered to shut down.

Chief Minister Mayawati ordered the closure of the shops citing reasons of law and order.

The stores are owned by the industrial group Reliance which opened 10 shops in the state capital Lucknow two days ago.

The opening saw protest demonstrations, and some of the stores were ransacked by a group of local traders.

Until the committee gives a green signal, Reliance Fresh stores will remain shut said Chief Minister Mayawati. A worried Mayawati ordered the shutdown, saying she feared large-scale violence over the issue.

The opening of 20 other Reliance stores in the city of Varanasi has also been put on hold while the government reviews policy.
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Living Legend: An Evening with Ahmad Faraz
Ahmad Faraz, the greatest living Urdu poet, is over 75. So what? He still possesses that sharpness of wit and streaks of brilliance that has made him a literary force to reckon with, Ras Hafiz Siddiqui discovered after meeting him recently.

(Left): Legendary Urdu poet Ahmad Faraz with Pakistani ghazal exponent Ghulam Ali (r). [Ras Hafiz Siddiqui photo]

What do you say when you meet a poet widely considered to be the greatest living craftsman of the Urdu language today? When you meet Ahmad Faraz, you can pretty much say whatever you want. You do not need to be intimidated in his presence as we, who have had a chance to interact with him over the years, still continue to discover. What you see is what you get. There is a disarming honesty in this amazing Pathan who scaled the loftiest literary heights of Urdu poetry long before many of his current fans were born.

Now 75, poet may be humbled by age, but he still possesses a sharpness of wit and shows streaks of brilliance.

Seeing him after several years, I was glad to see that he looked well. Still secular to the core, but somewhat touched by the beliefs of his people, he was not any gentler in his criticism of his old adversaries in general (pardon the pun).

We started talking about the current judicial crisis in Pakistan, (which has since subsided after President Pervez Musharraf caved in). Faraz was quick to criticize crore commanders (millionaire commanders in uniform) whose rule has brought instability and division. Faraz has been the voice of democratic forces in Pakistan for decades, promoting peace between India and Pakistan long before it became popular. His “Mohasara” (Encircled-Siege), written against the regime of General Ziaul Haq, is widely considered to be his best political writing. Others argue that it is a poem which was a biting critique of military action in erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In either case, I asked him whether his passion of the Mohasara period is still alive today. He smiled and said: “Yes,” since the siege has not lifted, neither had his passion diminished. Since things don’t change much in Pakistan, “my poetry never gets old,” he said. When I defended the progressive outlook of the current regime, he smiled and said that the military still needs to go back to the barracks (he used a different locution in Urdu which doesn’t translate well).

We talked about Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a topic which local poet Farooq Taraz initiated. Since Taraz knows how many of us feel about having never met the late Faiz, he asked Faraz to tell us about his experiences with the other great poet from Pakistan. Faraz said that one of the finest qualities Faiz sahib possessed was that he was able to keep his cool despite provocation. Giving the example of a poet (to remain unnamed here) who wrote extensively against Faiz, Faraz reflected on the time when he was entrusted with the task of putting together a list of the best writers in Pakistan. Faraz said that he shared the list with Faiz for verification (since he was certainly on it) and the poet asked him why that particular writer who had written against Faiz was missing from this list. Faraz said some impolite words about that writer (he was much younger then), but Faiz himself put that writer’s name on that list with his own hands. Such was the character of Faiz, who has on occasion been described by Faraz himself as one of the greatest Urdu writers since Ghalib and Iqbal.

We moved to the subject of love which more than anything else has given Faraz a permanent niche in modern Urdu-Hindi. Who can forget “Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhane ke liye aa/ Aa phir se mujhe chhod ke jaane ke liye aa” (Even if there is anguish, come still, to torment my heart/ Come, even if to leave me again) immortalized by the voice of Mehdi Hassan? Or his “Ab ke hum bichhade to shaayad kabhi khwabon mein mile/ Jis tarah suukhe hue phool kitaabon mein mile” (If we part this time, we may meet in a dream/ Like dried flowers found in the pages of old books).

While we were on the subject, ghazal singer extraordinaire Ghulam Ali walked in to greet Faraz and the rest of us. And at almost the same time we were joined by San Francisco Bay Area-based local poet Noshi Gilani, thus completing a talented circle around Faraz this evening.

I asked him who he had in mind when he wrote “Dekhte Hain”(Let Me Gaze), now a classic of modern romance in South Asia. He said that Indian acting great Dilip Kumar once asked him the same question. Here is a line from this work: “Suna hai hashr hain us ki gazal si aankhen/ Suna hai us ko hiran dasht bhar ke dekhte hain,” (We have heard that she has eyes like those of a gazelle/ We have heard that even the deer look at her with longing). But still Faraz, (with a wink and a smile) was not giving me a straight answer and said that the ending verses from the same poem reveal the truth: “Kahaniyan hi sahi, sab mubaalage hi sahi/ Agar woh khwaab hai taabir karke dekhte hain” (Maybe they are just stories and exaggerated ones at that? If they are just dreams, let us bring them into reality)

Writing in English about who many consider the finest living Urdu poet remains a difficult task. All I can say is that the flavor, the smell and the essence of the language is indeed almost impossible to translate but we have to continue to inform the world about the richness of our cultural heritage. Ahmad Faraz is one of the best writers (writing in any language) walking on the planet today. Many may not agree with his political views but there remains an underlying truth to what he says. So I take my leave with his words: “Is se pehle ke bewafaa ho jaayen/ Kyon na ai dost hum juda ho jaayen” (Before we become unfaithful to each other/ Why don’t we just part ways, my friend).

Ahmad Faraz’s latest collection of poems has just recently been published. Called “Aey Ishq-e Junoon Paesha,” it is bound to generate interest amongst his many fans.


Downside of Growth: India’s Pollution Time Bomb
India, on a high growth and income path, is also sitting on a pollution time bomb unless urgent remedial action is taken, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

(Left): Traffic jams, shoddy vehicles and poor fuel make India’s metropolitan streets, like this Delhi street, an environmental nightmare.

Concerned about pollution levels in the city in the run up to the Olympics, Beijing has decided to remove 1 million cars from its roads.

Observers in India say that the country, on a high growth and income path, is also sitting on a pollution time bomb unless urgent remedial action is taken that includes promotion of renewable energy and running automobiles on alternative, greener fuels such as compressed natural gas, bio-diesel and ethanol.

Dependence on Coal. Despite the talk of nuclear, renewable and gas, it is also true that carbon emitting coal will remain the main source of thermal power in India for some time to come.

Coal is one of the most important and abundantly found fossil fuels in India and accounts for more than half of the total power generation. With hard coal reserves of about 206 billion tons, India has the third largest reserves in the world and is the fourth biggest producer.

Presently, half of India’s overall energy capacity of 130 GW is coal-based and the rest split between hydro, gas, diesel, nuclear and renewable. This ratio could well change if the government plans of 20 percent energy from alternate sources by 2020 is successful, but it’s still a long way off.

Currently mining exploits the 64 billion tons of proven reserves situated within a depth of 300 meters. Indian coal has a high ash content (15-45 percent) and low calorific value. With the present rate of around 0.8 million tons of average daily coal extraction in the country, the reserves are likely to last over a 100 years and beyond. India produced 360 million tons of coal in 2006-07.

The coal sector has become profitable after prices were decontrolled in 2000. India’s thermal power sector accounts for 78 percent of raw coal use. The steel industry accounts for more than 6 percent and cement more than 3 percent.

Vehicular Pollution. Automobiles are an immediate health concern.

India’s sales of cars are slated to double to 2 million by 2010 from the current one million and further to 3.5 million by 2015. Two-wheelers number over 7 million presently and the number of these is also rising rapidly.

Two stroke engines in two wheelers and auto rickshaws are estimated to be the prime contributors of carbon monoxide.

Vehicular pollution is due to a mix of poor technology, bad quality of fuel, poorly maintained vehicles and poor traffic management.

Going by the example of the exponential growth in usage of cheap cell phones, the social spread of cars in India will broaden like never before, with the cheapest entry-level models slated to hit Indian roads in the near future.

The race for the world’s cheapest car has been kick-started by Tata Motors which plans to launch a Rs. 100,000 ($2,500) car next year.

Partners Renault/Nissan and Mahindra have announced that it will also launch a sub-$3,000-model. It is estimated that by 2010, more than 100 million households will be able to afford a $2,000-3,000 car.

It is expected that a quarter of the buyers of the cheap car will be from two-wheeler users.

Though India stands currently at an abysmal 7 cars per thousand people, compared to 477 in the U.S. and 373 in the U.K., inadequate road infrastructure, commercial vehicles running on subsidized diesel and the rush of two wheelers already cause massive traffic jams, with idle engines spewing more harmful gases.

A car caught in congestion can release up to four times more noxious gases. According to official estimates, of the total air pollution load from various sources, vehicular pollution contributes to a big 64 percent in Delhi, 52 percent in Mumbai and 30 percent in Kolkata.

According to a World Bank study, some cities in South India have recorded a decline in pollution levels with fewer premature deaths due to air-pollution related diseases.

But this could be due to improved medical facilities as the daily exposure levels to air pollution in these cities have only risen.

Reports say that 57 percent of the Indian cities being monitored today have critical pollution levels that are more than 1.5 times the normal standards.

The main pollutants that impact health adversely are oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, respirable particulate matter and hydrocarbons. Around 50 to 60 percent of the Indian urban poor live in slums, and they are the worst hit by such excessive air pollution.

There have been efforts to address the situation, but hydrocarbon driven vehicles are still an overwhelming proportion due to CNG still being scarce. However, the real impact will be with gas.

Looking at Solutions. The successful switching to CNG buses in New Delhi has resulted in a drop in carbon monoxide levels by 80 percent. For a compact vehicle, petrol costs amount to Rs 3.2/kilometre. In comparison, CNG costs Rs 1.7/km.

The use of CNG is not practical in places situated far away from gas pipelines.

However, the situation should ease considerably with Reliance Industries Limited scheduled to begin production by June from the rich Krishna Godavari basin. RIL plans to produce 80 million cubic feet of gas a day from the field, equivalent to half the country’s daily demand.

RIL is mulling a proposal to form a 50:50 joint venture with Indian Oil Corp and Gas Authority of India Limited to set up a national gas grid.

The government estimates that almost all commercial vehicles in the country would switch over to CNG, which is a cheaper alternative to gasoline. India imports 70 percent of its crude-oil requirements and is able to meet only half of its gas demand of 170 million standard cubic meters per day. The shortfall is imported as liquefied natural gas.

All the three major compact carmakers in India have launched versions that run on CNG. Nissan recently opened up a tech center in Japan dedicated to developing green technologies. Tata is upgrading to six cylinder engines to meet international emission standards, apart from making CNG buses.

The high crude oil prices are a blessing in disguise as it makes alternate fuels viable. India’s biofuel drive has political acceptance, as it is felt that growing of jathropha, the main biofuel weed crop, as well as others will result in higher farm incomes.

While biodiesel has been exempted from excise duty, a National Biofuel Development Board to oversee biofuel policy is being planned.

Recently, New Delhi launched the 5 percent Ethanol Blended Petrol program in the south Indian state Andhra Pradesh.

According to a longer-term strategy, India’s Renewable Energy Ministry wants at least a million hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2020. New Delhi has chalked out a national hydrogen roadmap.

India’s current capacity of renewable energy is about 10 Giga Watt, which the government wants to raise to 80 GW in the next 25 years. Currently, wind energy contributes the maximum, about 7 GW.

Wind power installations in India are growing at nearly 50 percent, with the country now ranked fourth worldwide in terms of capacity.


Culinary Excursion: Berkeley Food Fest
Visitors savored the aromas and tastes of worldwide cuisine at the recent international food festival in Berkeley, Calif. A Siliconeer report.

(Top): A Thai food stall at the Berkeley International Food Festival held June 24.
(Bottom): Two Latina enthusiasts extol the pleasures of Mexican cuisine. (Som Sharma/Digital iVision photos)

The cuisines of India, Spain, Pakistan, Thailand, Jamaica, Hawaii, Mexico and Central America were highlighted at the second annual Berkeley International Food Festival, which showcased West Berkeley’s International Market District restaurants, specialty markets and unique shops, and also featured related cultural activities.

The festivities took place in the area running several blocks in each direction from the intersection of University and San Pablo Avenues in Berkeley. West Berkeley has long been a gateway community welcoming immigrants from other countries and from other parts of the United States. It has also historically been a low-income community.

“The goal of the Berkeley International Food Festival is one of economic development,” organizers said in an announcement. “The festival strives to spread the word about the uniqueness of this West Berkeley neighborhood with many of its stores being family owned and operated. In these days of ‘big box’ stores and grocery chains, small businesses, like those in West Berkeley’s International Market District, have a tough road.”

The Berkeley International Food Festival was a brightly defined promenade, fanning out from the intersection. Visitors had access to eateries and food markets along the promenade for restaurant specials, cooking demonstrations, exotic food products and the utensils needed to prepare them, and the sampling of dozens of international foods. Staged entertainment, specialty food booths, community tables and amusements, such as henna painting, also featured.

The festival featured ten entertainment spots with the main attraction being the Kitchen on Fire cooking stage, hosted by celebrity chef MikeC, from the prestigious north Berkeley cooking school called Kitchen on Fire. At the large, elevated cooking stage in the parking lot east of Everett & Jones, festival goers watched guest chefs, including Olivier Said, Soni Bhatia and Fredrico Felix, Thanu Chaichana and Kevin Hogan, prepare dishes from around the world, and then sample them. In these cooking demonstrations, the chefs will use ingredients sold in the various specialty markets located in West Berkeley’s International Market District. Freight & Salvage Coffee House — the Freight, as it is affectionately called by locals — hosted the Berkeley International Folk Festival from 1:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. (after the Food Festival closing) with no admission charge. This took place on Addison Street east of San Pablo Avenue both in front of and inside the coffee house.

The festival celebrates West Berkeley’s International Market District as a distinct gateway - an International Market District with a concentration of culinary traditions that is unique to Berkeley, a city known the world over for its culinary sensibilities. Seven city blocks host a unique concentration of more than two dozen ethnic grocery stores and restaurants — one of the densest, ethnically diverse concentrations anywhere in the region.


Unlimited Ability: Disabled Actors Show their Stuff
Wheelchairs or crutches were no handicaps for disabled performers from India who dazzled the audience with their dramatic skills at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): A wheelchair (right) or crutches (left) cannot stand in the way of a spellbinding performance presented by disabled actors from India recently at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple here. (All photos: Sharif Ahmed/Siliconeer).

Eight disabled performers belonging to the Unlimited Ability company fully justified their billing as they presented a two-hour-long performance to a spellbound audience at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple July 27, undeterred by handicaps like crutches and wheelchairs.

The show made its U.S. West Coast debut in Sunnyvale, Calif., later presenting performances in Norwalk in Southern California and Phoenix, Ariz.

The show featured performers in elaborate costumes presenting scenes from the story of Durga in the Hindu Puranas, the Ramayana, and the Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabharata as well as scenes depicting the baptism and temptations of Jesus and the miracles he performed when he healed the blind and raised Lazarus from the dead.

In addition, performers presented several martial arts demonstrations, with wheelchair bound warriors facing off against opponents in wheelchairs or on foot. These performances were inspired by Thang, a dangerous form of martial art that originated in the ancient kingdom of Manipur in India’s northeastern region.

Founded in New Delhi by choreographer Sallauddin Pasha 25 years ago, the Unlimited Ability company is the first professional dance-theater company in India to train and employ handicapped people and use innovative choreographed works and public performances to integrate the arts with career opportunities and training.

Since its founding, the company has presented more that 100 different productions and to date has registered approximately 15,000 artists throughout India whose talents are showcased through professional venues.

The eight performers were equal to 50, Pasha said jocularly, adding that each actor played anywhere from eight to ten characters.

The Unlimited Ability U.S. tour is presented by Georgy Bhalla’s New Jersey-based Catch the Rhythms production company, which plans to raise funds from future Unlimited Ability performances to construct the first disabled-friendly auditorium in New Delhi.

The facility, which will cater largely to audiences in wheelchairs, is still in the planning stage. Pasha said that the company was working with architects and determining the cost. Such an auditorium will be a first of its kind in India.

Despite a mammoth 17-million-strong disabled community, India is not a disabled-friendly country, Pasha laments. Pasha calls the Unlimited Ability performances a revolution in India. He said the company carries a great message of dignity, equality, inclusivity of education and employment for the persons of disability.


Jai Hind!: Indian Independence Day Festivities in U.S.
(Click Here for Photo Gallery)
Indian Americans marked India’s 60th Independence Day with a variety of festivities all over the U.S. A Siliconeer photo essay.

(Top): Priyanka Chopra and Sunita Williams with community activists at the India Day Parade in New York; and a float by the Rajasthan Association of North America at the Fremont Independence Day parade. (Click Here for Photo Gallery)

(From top): Fremont, Calif. community activist Romesh Japra; Special guest Amrita Rao at the parade in Fremont; Consulate officials pose for a group photo after an Independence Day event hosted by the San Francisco Consulate General.
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Preparing Your Child: Getting Ready for School
As the new school year gets closer, parents need to give thought to ensure that the transition is a smooth one. Deborah Gould, M.D., offers some tips.

As the days of summer grow shorter and the new school year looms closer, it’s time to consider what will be needed to make the transition a smooth one.

Often children are excited about seeing their old friends but apprehensive about a new school, new teacher, increased homework and fitting in. A few weeks prior to the first day of school, parents should have an idea of:
  • What the child’s daily schedule will be.

  • What requirements are for books, lunch, gym and clothing.

  • What route will the child take to and from school, and what safety concerns need to be addressed (crosswalks, traffic lights, bicycle safety, skateboard safety, etc.)

If the child will be taking a school bus, reviewing when and where to meet the bus, basic bus safety rules, as well as proper behavior on the bus.

Parents should begin to make their daily routine of waking and going to sleep, mimic the times that the child will have once school starts.

Parents should talk about their expectations with regard to homework, TV/computer game time, and extra-curricular activities. Review all the positive accomplishments from the year before and talk about all the interesting things they will learn in the year to come!

If your child will be playing sports, be sure that they have medical clearance from their physician.

Some children have illnesses that require them to have their medication at school. Most school districts require authorization for administration of this medication from the child’s physician. Be sure to bring both the authorization and the medication to school the first day!
Be sure that your child knows what the after school routine should be, where they should go, how they should get there and by what time. Be sure to have a plan if they have a “sick day” and ensure the school has all the correct contact information for you.

Remember, during the school year, your kids spend more time with their teachers during waking hours than with you during the week. Keep in touch with the teachers so that any concerns or kudos with your child’s academic performance or social adjustments can be supported at home.


Giving Back: Aligarh Endowmentt
A detailed business plan for the Aligarh Education Endowment Fund was presented at the sixth annual convention of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni in Cleveland, Ohio, writes Shaheer Khan.

(Above, left): Office bearers of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations. (Right): Ram Jethmalani

A detailed business plan for the Aligarh Education Endowment Fund was presented by the writer at a session of the sixth annual convention of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations held July 27-28 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The purpose of the AEEF is to provide assistance to, and seek funds for underprivileged communities in India for upgrading their educational standards and infrastructure (www.aeef.net).

AMU alumnus Professor Asad Ahmed presented his dream project, Aligarh Institute of Science, which he envisions to setup in or around Aligarh with the help of other supporting academics.

Hosted by the AMU Alumni Association of Cleveland, the convention drew attendees from across the United States and Canada.

After an alumni reunion and dinner July 27, the official proceedings of the convention kicked off the next day.

Outgoing FAAA president Hasan Kamal highlighted the accomplishments in the previous year that included the establishment of computers with free internet service in girl’s hostels at Aligarh Muslim University, donation of books to the AMU library and a donation to Aligarh Muslim University’s polio eradication program. Last year AMU received the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award in recognition of the community service and polio-eradication program. Incoming president Qamar Khan shared the future goals of the federation.
The proceedings concluded with elections for new office bearers. The names of all office bearers of the federation along with their contact details are listed on federation’s Web site (www.aligs.org).

In the evening banquet, chief guest Ram Jethmalani, an MP and a former law minister spoke.
“I have no objection to Moslems looking back and trying to recapture their lost glory,” he said. “But what was it that made Islam glorious? In just one sentence let me answer this question: It was the Moslems intellectual curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge; certainly not rule over others by war.” Later, Pakistan-based Bengali singer Alamgeer presented songs until the wee hours.


Birthday Bash: ‘India Splendor’ in L.A.

India’s 60th anniversary of independence was celebrated in style in Los Angeles Aug. 15-17, highlighting India’s arts, business, culture and spirituality to American audiences. A Siliconeer report. (Click here for Photo Gallery)

(Clockwise from top left):
Dean of UCLA film department Dr. Robert Rosen (l), honoring Bollywood film star Rishi Kapoor at the India Splendor festivities in Los Angeles (Photo: Sammer Yagnik/Creations by Sam); Indian film star and MCorp Global brand ambassador Katrina Kaif with Bhupendra Kumar Modi, chairman of MCorp Global; Aishwarya Rai was one of the top Bollywood attractions at the India Splendor festivities; and Hollywood star Jacqueline Bisset at the opening night reception of India Splendor. (Photos: Rebecca Sapp/Wireimage)

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For a moment, you could be forgiven if you thought you were in Mumbai rather than Los Angeles, so thick with Bollywood film stars was India’s 60th Independence anniversary bash in Los Angeles.

Organizers Mglobal Trust, in association with UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, International Creative Management and ArtWallah flew in a slew of Bollywood stars including Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan, Gulshan Grover, Pooja Batra and Celina Jaitley to increase the wattage of tinsel glamour. Writer Jaideep Sahni who wrote Chak De India and filmmakers Shimit Amin, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Mani Ratnam were available for question and answer sessions.

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India Splendor was celebrated over six days from Aug. 10-15 and was attended by over 5,000 people, organizers said. Mcorp Global brand ambassador Katrina Kaif was the guest of honor on the opening night of India Splendor Aug. 10t. The events of were held at the Sam Goldwyn Theatre of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Royce Hall and Billy Wilder Theatre at the Hammer Museum.

The festival featured screening of a number of latest Bollywood films including the world premiere of Chak De India starring Shah Rukh Khan.

Other highlights included a spiritual discourse by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living, who has a global following of more than 20 million. There was also a Fashion Show extravaganza by acclaimed Indian designer, Suneet Verma.

“Our vision has been to bring all the facets of Indian culture, including our booming film industry, to the U.S. in jointly celebrating this momentous mark in history,” said Bhupendra Kumar Modi, chairman of Indian MCorp Global.

“Indian cinema is an important force, and we are pleased to help lead an exchange of ideas and artistic expression between filmmakers from Mumbai to Los Angeles,” added ICM chairman-chief exec Jeffrey Berg.

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India-born tennis star and veteran Hollywood film producer Ashok Amritraj was the cultural ambassador for India Splendor.

(Clockwise from top): Fashion designer Suneet Varma (c) and models at the Suneet Varma fashion show during India Splendor; Seen here at The Hammer in Westwood at the screening of “Guru” (l-r) dean of UCLA film department Dr. Robert Rosen, Bollywood stars Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and writer/director Mani Ratnam; and Buzz Aldrin, an astronaut of the historic Apollo 11 mission and the second man to set foot on the moon, attended the India Splendor festivities. (All photos: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage)

Other highlights including a special tribute to Indian film legend, Raj Kapoor and the 25th anniversary screening of Richard Attenborough’s biopic Gandhi.

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“India Splendor will be the first consequential effort of its kind, undertaken by two foremost Indian and American institutions working in partnership, to bring together film industry leaders and key decision-makers from Mumbai and Los Angeles,” organizers had said in an earlier announcement. “Our objective is to catalyze longer-term creative and business connections between these two international capitals of cinema that together produce more popular entertainment than the rest of the world combined.”

Organizers paid tribute to spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Infosys mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy, music conductor Zubin Mehta and Indian film makers Mani Ratnam and Vidhu Vinod Chopra with the first “Global Indian Splendor Awards.” Hollywood actress Maggie Grace, known for her performance in the acclaimed series Lost, awarded writer Vikram Chandra, whose book “Red Earth and Pouring Rain” has won him critical acclaim. Other personalities who were awarded on the occasion were Swami Chidanand Saraswati; Rajendra S. Pawar, chairman, NIIT, for his work with developing human resource potential; Raju Vegesna, Silicon Valley entrepreneur; Vallabh R. Bhanshali, founder and chairman, Enam Consultants; Vivek C. Burman, chairman, Dabur; Renuka Ramnath, managing director & CEO, ICICI Venture Funds Management Company Limited; P.N.C. Menon, chairman, Sobha Group and Kishore Lulla, chairman, Eros International. Mark Gifford, son of human rights activist and London’s first non-white woman Liberal Councilor Zerbanoo Gifford was present to receive the award on behalf of his mother.

The closing night of India Splendor Aug. 15 evening was hosted by Kabir Bedi and stars who performed live on the occasion were Bipasha Basu, dancing to her super-hit song “Beedi” along with Los Angeles-based Indian dance group Bollywood Steps. A performance by sitar player Nishat Khan and Sonu Nigam’s music were other attractions.

(Click here for Photo Gallery)
A fashion show by Suneet Verma, one of India ‘s top fashion designers, presented a fashion show with an entourage of Indian models and clothes that reflected his East-West sensibility. An Art workshops presented the work of four Indian painters, S. Harshwardhana, Shamshad Husain, Bose Krishmanachari and C. Jagdish, who created special works of art during the event.

The next edition of India Splendor is scheduled to be held Aug. 15–17 in Los Angeles. Bhuvan Lall, director of India Splendor and president of Mcorp Global announced, “We have been overwhelmed and humbled by the tremendous response by the citizens of Southern California to the first India Splendor event this year and have decided to have a sequel next year.”


Dil Dil Pakistan: Independence Day Celebrations
The Pakistan Associations of San Francisco and Sacramento hosted large gatherings of Pakistani-Americans in Northern California to mark the South Asian nation’s Independence Day, with people coming from as far as Reno, Nevada came to participate, writes Ras Hafiz Siddiqui.

(Top): A dancing celebration of Pakistan’s Independence Day in San Francisco. (Top, right): Pakistan Consul General Ibne Abbas addressing Pakistani Americans in Davis, Calif. (Bottom, right): Mumbai-based singer Runa Rizvi.

The Pakistan Associations of San Francisco and Sacramento hosted large gatherings of Pakistani-Americans in Northern California Aug. 19 and Aug. 25 respectively to celebrate Pakistan’s 60th Independence Day at the Civic Center in San Francisco and the Mondavi Center in Davis.

An estimated 6,000 people of Pakistani origin and friends from other South Asian countries gathered in San Francisco and close to 2,000 people joined festivities in Davis at events which included speeches, a great deal of song and dance, food and a robust exhibition of ethnic pride. Booths in San Francisco included The Hidaya Foundation, working to raise funds for flood relief; OPEN, which encourages entrepreneurship; and APPNA (Pakistani Physicians) along with the FBI (recruitment).

Family, friends, religion, food and music combined in San Francisco along with a tinge of politics as one guest speaker called for continued support for democracy in Pakistan. The Davis event had a similar appeal but no food. Felicitations to Pakistani-Americans for being an important part of our Golden State came from local and state dignitaries at both events.

Organizers certainly deserve kudos for putting these celebrations together, but in the end it was the Pakistani-Americans themselves who came from all over the Northern California area who really deserve full credit for making these days a great deal of fun for all. The ladies and the kids in their colorful ethnic attire were the best representatives of their country of origin amidst the green and white flags of Pakistan which flew high along with the Star and Stripes.


Desi Food in the Sky: Cathay Pacific’s Flight Kitchen
A Hong Kong airline assures desi passengers that they don’t have to fly an Indian airline to get Indian food. A Siliconeer report.
(Left, top): A chef stir-fries vegetables in Cathay Pacific’s state-of-the-art flight kitchen in Hong Kong. The kitchen prepares 80,000 meals every day. (Photo: Cathay Pacific).
(Bottom): Cathay Pacific offers mouth-watering desi vegetarian meals on some of its flights.

Desi travelers no longer need worry about bad airline food. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways now offers a wide array of meals for passengers with several choices to South Asian travelers.

The airline offers an extensive selection of in-flight dining options, including vegetarian meals, religious meals, children’s meals and even meals that cater to specific medical needs. Among these, the following choices will appeal to South Asian palates:
  • Indian Vegetarian — An Indian-style spicy vegetarian meal that contains no meat or seafood but does include limited dairy products. Ordered by Hindus, the majority of whom cannot eat meat or fish.

  • Strict Indian Vegetarian — This meal does not contain any meat, fish, egg, dairy products, game, seafood or root vegetables such as ginger, garlic, onion or potato.

  • Muslim Meal — This meal contains no pork, bacon, ham or alcohol. All poultry and meats are slaughtered and cooked according to Halal rules.

    Hindu Meal — An Indian-style meal containing no beef, veal or pork but including lamb, domestic fowl, other meats, fish or milk products. This meal is ordered by a very small minority of Hindus who can eat meat or fish.

Headquartered in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Airways offers daily non-stop service to Hong Kong and beyond from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Vancouver; daily direct service from Toronto; daily non-stop service between New York and Vancouver; and dedicated cargo service to Hong Kong.


Scenic Splendor: McCloud, California
Throughout Shasta, Siskiyou, Trinity Counties and the surrounding country in Northern California are so many waterfalls you could spend a month hunting them out and not repeat, writes our travel writer Al Auger.

(Above): The Lower McCloud Falls, one of the three McCloud Falls on the McCloud River which are among the best known and most visited in the region.

Mother Nature must have a special place in her heart for the beauty and serenity of waterfalls. Why else would she make America a cornucopia of falls from the dramatic to the quiet, rolling over rocks to the joy of a swimming hole. Just mention the word and your first thought is Yosemite, the crown jewel of waterfalls. But Mom gave special attention to Northern California elsewhere, too.

Throughout Shasta, Siskiyou, Trinity Counties and the surrounding country are so many falls you could spend a month hunting them out and not repeat. There is the drama of the Burney Falls, the better known King Creek Falls in Lassen Volcanic National Park and the picturesque Hatchet Creek Falls with its hidden swimming hole. But the best known and most visited are the three McCloud falls, upper, middle and lower, on the McCloud River. At first glance it’s difficult to believe the tiny burg of McCloud has much more to offer than the magnificence of the falls.

(Top): Downtown McCloud, a dying timber city in California which is being lovingly restored; and (Bottom) the beautiful Lassen Volcanic National Park is not far from McCloud.

The falls are a stepladder from the lower to the upper with the middle falls, so lovely you feel you need to go no further. All three falls can be reached by car, but the hike, beginning at the lower falls, makes the trip something special and personal. A picnic lunch, camera and an appropriate partner puts you in a misty heaven. Both the Lower and Middle Fall have wonderful swimming pools at the end of their descent.

Just five miles back on Highway 89 is the village of McCloud, once a major timber town.
In 1897, the town of McCloud was established by George W. Scott and William VanArsdale, founders of the McCloud River Railroad Company. The two men also purchased many of the small failed mills. Thus began the lumber company town of McCloud.

(Top): Downtown McCloud, a dying timber city in California which is being lovingly restored; and (Bottom) the beautiful Lassen Volcanic National Park is not far from McCloud.

In the 1990s the town was fast becoming just another victim of the disappearing logging business. McCloud, which sits comfortably in the shadow of the world renowned Mt. Shasta, was staring at the bleak prospect of oblivion. However, there has been a resuscitation with the creation of Shasta Sunset Dinner Train, known in every nook and cranny of America. For the sportsman McCloud is famous for its rainbow trout fishing. After a day of hiking the Three Falls or a romantic three-hour dinner on the lovingly restored dinner train or a day of casting in the McCloud River you find rest and restoration at the completely refurbished historic McCloud Bed and Breakfast Hotel.

Each car of the Sunset Dinner Train has been restored to its glory days by skilled craftsmen and artisans. Every detail from its heyday has been retained to echo its Victorian history. The highly recommended meals, changed each month, are served in a scenario of sophistication and grace. You will find on the seductive menu such tasty entrees as mushroom pesto salmon and roasted rack of lamb. It’s a three-hour trip, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. rolling through some of the lush forests and scenic beauty of the North State. The company also offers daily excursion trips 4 p.m.-5 p.m.

After enjoying the sumptuous meal and verdant scenery it’s time to retire to the palpable comfort of the McCloud Hotel. Upon entry you find a lobby that is warm and welcoming. You can relax with a good book from their large library, indulge yourself with a game of Chinese Checkers or just sit back and enjoy your favorite beverage. Depending on the season, as you sit around the crackling fireplace there will be a soft background of music. In the morning waking in any of the thoughtfully furnished rooms you will look forward to a gourmet breakfast filled with succulent choices. The four-diamond rated McCloud is a Nationally Registered Historical Landmark.

The historic town of McCloud offers the family a bagful of outdoor recreation activities ranging from world-class trout fishing, a short trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, numerous streams and lakes and the Heritage Junction Museum. McCloud’s downtown area is a Nationally Registered Historic District.

Once you have settled into the mood of McCloud, you can’t help slowing down and taking a longer and deeper look at the many interesting artifacts that surround you. One of the most intriguing strolls is to go behind the downtown and take a look at the cottages that date back to McCloud’s rich history as a timber producer and logging trains. Don’t forget your camera.


Sitar at Stern Grove: Anoushka Shankar
Grammy-nominated sitarist Anoushka Shankar and percussionist/songwriter Karsh Kale performed at the Stern Grove open air festival July 22 in San Francisco. The Non-Stop Bhangra Collective opened the show along with Bhangra dancers of Dholrhythms Dance Troupe. A Siliconeer photo essay by Sharif Ahmed.

(Top): Sitarist Anoushka Shankar performing at Stern Grove in San Francisco.
(Below): Bhangra dancers add a dash of color during an inaugural performance.


COMMUNITY: News in Brief
California Senate Opens with Hindu Prayer | Music Festival to Raise $10,000 for Children | Silver Medal for Sahit Menon | Math Medal for Namrata Garg | School in Jalandhar | United Friends of India | Tenth Anniversary | Rath Yatra in Nevada

California Senate Opens with Hindu Prayer

(Right): Rajan Zed offering a Hindu prayer at the California Senate.

The California State Senate was presented with its first ever Hindu opening prayer Aug. 27  when Reno, Nevada-based Hindu priest Rajan Zed recited Sanskrit mantras followed by English translation, according to a press release from Zed.

Starting with “Om,” he read from the Rig-Veda. He also quoted from the Brahadaranyakopnisad, Taittiriya Upanisad, and Bhagavad-Gita. He ended the prayer with last mantra of Rig-Veda, “samani va akutih,” before concluding with “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.” which he then translated as “Peace, Peace, Peace be unto all.”

Before starting the prayer, he sprinkled Gangajal on the podium.

The full text of the prayer will be recorded in the Daily Journal of the Senate, which is a permanent public record.

Reverend Canon James D. Richardson, chaplain of the California State Senate, introduced Zed while Don Perata, Senate President pro Tem; state Sen. Christine Kehoe (San Jose) and state Sen. Elaine Alquist (San Diego) personally welcomed him.

One of the paragraphs of this Hindu prayer read in Sanskrit was “Asato ma sad gamaya, Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, Mrityor mamrtam gamaya.” (Lead me from the unreal to the real, Lead me from darkness to light, Lead me from death to immortality.)

Zed was accompanied by his community volunteer wife Shipa Zed; son Navgeet Zed, recipient of Nevada Peacemaker of the Year award; and a group of other supporters, including Jassi Cheema, Paradhyeya Das and Chaitanya Dasi, many of whom came out of town.

“This day of August 27, 2007, is an esteemed day for all Californians and momentous day for us when opening prayers from ancient Hindu scriptures are being read in this majestic hall of democracy,” Zed remarked.

Music Festival to Raise $10,000 for Children

Sitarist Habib Khan (c)

Sitarist Habib Khan, founder of the Habib Khan Saraswati Temple and Gurukul,  and students of his school have come together to raise over $10,000 to donate to Feed The Children, a non profit that aids hungry children in India. The money donated will purchase over 17,000 meals to be given to starving and malnourished children in India

Khan wanted to send food to India as he feels that just as music heals and unites nations hunger infects and destroys a nation.

Habib Khan met with Donna Ramirez and Susanna Silvas of Global Fusion who were putting together their first music festival. Liking the idea of creating a platform where music is enjoyed for the sake of music with no religious or economic boundaries he agreed to become one of the featured performers at the Let The Children Play Music Festival; a benefit event in whose proceeds would be donated to Feed The Children and the Deborah and Carlos Santana’s Milagro Foundation.   The event is happening  Sept. 29th in Guadalupe River Park in Discovery Meadow, in downtown San Jose, Calif. 

The single-day event will feature three stages of live music spanning a full musical spectrum including Jazz, Latin, World, Blues, and Rock artists from all over the world.  Tickets are on sale now at Ticketweb.com.

More information on Habib Khan is available on the Web at  www.habibkahn.com

For more information about the Let The Children Play Music Festival, readers can visit the Web  at www.LTCPlive.com, call Rob Ayala at (408) 386-1978 or send an email to rob@ltcplive.com.

Silver Medal for Sahit Menon

Sahit Menon (fourth from l)

In the last junior track meet of the season, Sahit Menon, 10, won a silver medal in his age group at the all-expenses paid invitational Hershey North American Finals at Hershey, Pa., held Aug. 3-5. The famous Hershey’s chocolate and candy company invites only eight finalists per age group per event. A total of 560 athletes (ages 9-14) make it to the finals out of nearly 450,000 participants after numerous qualification meets throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Sahit Menon (also a Division1 soccer player for Ballistic United) blazed in for the silver medal in a photo-finish, getting second in the 400 Meter race in the 9-10 year old age group, a fraction of a second from being the champion.  “It was so cool to get a high-five from Carl Lewis when I crossed the finish line,” he said.

Hershey’s finalists spent the weekend with Olympic legends like Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Bruce Jenner, Rafer Johnson as well as current Team USA stars, also visiting the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory and amusement park before race day.

Menon also qualified for the 2007 USATF Junior Olympics held late July, making top 20 in U.S. (15th and 16th overall) in 400 meter and 100 meter races. He is coached by Pleasanton’s Kevin McCarthy.

Math Medal for Namrata Garg

(Right): Namrata Garg

Namrata Garg, a 6th grader from Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino, Calif., took the 3rd honor in the individual segment in the 2007 Primary Mathematics World contest held in Hong Kong recently, according to a press release.

Ewa Garg and Yick Cheung, directors of San Francisco Bay Area-based math tutorial center MathEdge, led two teams consisting of eight students from the Bay Area ranging from 6th to 7th grade. The two teams, Silicon Valley USA and California-East Bay, were invited to compete in the Eleventh Po Leung Kuk Primary Mathematics World Contest held July 13-18 in Hong Kong.

Competing in the 11th PMWC were forty-five teams of about 200 students from various countries across the globe such as Mexico, Australia, Bulgaria, China, India, Japan, South Africa, etc. The participation in this contest was by invitation only.

Representing  team Silicon Valley USA were Karen Lu, Namrata Garg, Spencer Yee and Jeffrey Zhang.

Students Jiatong He, Philip Liang, Aaron Zhou and Alvin Zhou comprised team California East Bay.

The two teams won a total of eight awards, three from the team competition and five from the individual competition

The sum of the team’s individual scores has made California East Bay team the 2nd place winner and Silicon Valley USA team the 3rd place winner (just losing tiebreak to team California East Bay) for the Po Leung Cup.

In the individual competition, Philip Liang took the 2nd honor.  Students Karen Lu, Namrata Garg, Jiatong He and Spencer Yee took the 3rd honor.

School in Jalandhar

Tina Sugandh

Manav Sehyog Society USA has announced its third annual event Sept. 7 at the India Community Center, according to a press release. The objective is to raise funds to construct facilities for grades 10 and 11 plus several activity rooms and science labs at the MSS School, located in the Shahpur village, on the outskirts of Jalandhar, Punjab, India.

Tabla exponent Tina Sugandh will perform live from her latest hit album by Sony records.  The evening will also feature dinner, live auction and dancing to round out the evening.

Parents of over 600 students are grateful today because of the donations given to the MSS School.  The school has been funded by the nonprofit MSS USA spearheaded by Paul Gupta of Saratoga, Calif.  Due to the support of several hundred contributing donors cross the world, this state of the art school has made a significant impact on the education and confidence levels of the students coming from over 30 surrounding villages. 

Paul Gupta’s idea of starting a school in Shahpur, near Jalandhar was initiated in 2002. A joint venture was worked out with Manav Sehyog Society-India, a Jalandhar based non-government, non-profit organization to complete this project. MSS-India has a 34-year history of social services in Jalandhar, Punjab, providing health care facilities and basic education to the slum children along with financial scholarships to students with limited financial resources.

The MSS School opened in 2003 with 104 students, from kindergarten to the 5th grade. Today, the school has 604 students through the 9th grade. Future plans include expansion to the 12th grade and become affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education, Delhi. This affiliation ensures a high standard of education recognized at national level, thus making it easy for the village students to participate in nationally sponsored academic contests and ultimately compete for admission into famous, national level institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Management.

More information is available on the Web at www.manavsehyogschool.org.

United Friends of India

On the eve of India’s 60th birthday, United Way International Aug. 14 announced the launch of United Way Friends of India program.  Any individual who shows a significant interest to the promotion of voluntary charitable giving or service, and has a deep interest in the welfare of the citizens of India is invited to join the program. Individuals can go to UWI website: http://www.uwint.org/gppweb/friends/friends_home.aspx and sign up to participate.

With a grant of $250,000 from Barry Griswell, CEO of Principal Financial Group, UWI is to generate resources in North America from non-resident Indians, businesses and other sources to add more United Ways across India.   Cities of Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, Chennai, Hubli-Dharwad, Hyderabad, Cochin, Goa, New Delhi and Pune have been identified to begin this work.  UWI is seeking the partnership of individuals at all levels to give of their time, their talent or their treasure toward the goal of expansion of United Ways across India, and become involved in the United Way Friends of India program.
“This program provides a meaningful way for all North Americans, including non-resident Indians, and North American business and societal leaders to participate in the expansion of United Ways in India and to serve as supporters and volunteers in the initiative.” remarked Griswell.

UWI set up United Way India Fund to invite and encourage multinational corporations, non-resident Indians and all individuals interested in the welfare of Indian citizens, to contribute to the Fund.  All contributions are tax deductible.  To-date, the United Way India Fund has received funds from The Deshpande Foundation, LG, Murthy Law Firm, Principal Financial Group and The Sunil and Nita Wadhwani Foundation. Wadhwani is CEO and co-founder of iGATE Corporation.

Two United Ways exist presently in India: United Way of Baroda (www.unitedwayofbaroda.org) and United Way Mumbai (www.unitedwaymumbai.org). These locations have achieved extraordinary volunteer leadership and a record of sustainable improvements in the communities they serve.

Tenth Anniversary

The New York, N.Y.-based Indo-American Arts Council is celebrating its 10th year anniversary, according to a press release. Spearheaded by co-founder and executive director Aroon Shivdasani, the IAAC arrived in the New York cultural scene and established a unique multi-disciplinary focus in Indian arts and culture. With a large community of members and corporate contributors as well as a vast array of public programs, the IAAC has many accomplishments to its credit. It holds the largest South Asian Film Festival outside of India.

IAAC’s signature events involve prominent South Asians such as Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor, Mira Nair, Shabana Azmi, Mallika Sarabhai, M.F. Husain, Javed Akhtar, Kal Penn, Padma Lakshmi and Deepa Mehta. Coinciding with India ‘s 60th year anniversary of freedom, the 10th anniversary of the IAAC represents an opportunity to look back at its achievements and to expand its longstanding commitment to the arts and culture of India.

Rath Yatra in Nevada

There will be a Krishna Camp and Rath Yatra (chariot procession) at the weeklong Burning Man festival starting Aug. 27 in the Nevada desert where tickets per person cost $350.

About 40 thousand participants gather annually to create Black Rock City in Nevada desert, about 127 miles from Reno, dedicated to self-expression, self-reliance, and art as the center of community, and leave one week later, having left no trace.

An American couple will get married in the traditional Hindu style at Krishna Camp, where a temporary full-fledged Jagannath Temple with life-size deities have been set-up and where the visitors can offer incense to Jagannath. Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Vishnu.

Annabelle Younger, one of the coordinators of the Krishna Camp, says that devotees of Krishna from around the world have helped set-up this camp, costing about $20,000, which will house over thirty people. The Rath Yatra chariot for Jagannath has been transported from Vancouver in Canada to this site, traveling over 1,000 miles and costing over $2,000 in transportation.

Rath Yatra will be held on all seven days of the festival, beginning on Balaram Jayanti (birth anniversary) and ending on Janmashtami (Krishna’s birthday). About 1,000 people are expected to participate in the actual procession everyday, which will be watched en route by about 35,000 people, when it goes around the temporary Black Rock City, traveling about two miles.

BUSINESS: News in Brief
Tech CU Opens New Branch in Newark, Calif. | Sony TV Launches on Comcast in California | JET AIRWAYS: New Air Service | SAHARA: New Era | MAKE MY TRIP: Travel Packages | Yatra Selects Elephant

Tech CU Opens New Branch in Newark, Calif.

Technology Credit Union has announced the opening Aug. 20 of its new full-service financial center in the East Bay located in Newark, Calif., according to a press release from the company.

Tech CU has three East Bay financial centers which are located in Dublin, Fremont and now Newark, and its membership is open to anyone living, working, going to school or worshipping in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. Its other 7 locations are located in San Jose (two), Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Mountain View, Milpitas and Santa Clara. A third location in San Jose is planned to open by year-end.

To celebrate the opening, Tech CU is currently offering an exclusive certificate rate special that is available exclusively at the Newark location — 6.00% APY for 6 months, requiring only $1,000 to open.

“A large segment of our membership works in Silicon Valley but lives in the East Bay,” said Kenneth Burns, president and CEO of Tech CU, “and so to meet their needs, it makes sense for us to increasingly grow our branch network in that area.”

Members along with the Newark community responded enthusiastically to the opening of Tech CU’s newest location, with over 40 individuals joining the credit union on opening day, depositing $500,000 into new accounts.

As part of its ongoing celebration throughout September and October, the credit union is also sponsoring several community and promotional events, including Tech CU Grand Opening Celebration & Sweepstakes, Tech CU’s Class of 2008 Scholarship Fund and the Community Beautification Project.

Interested readers can call the Tech CU center in Newark at (510) 742-1551 for more information.

Sony TV Launches on Comcast in California

Comcast announced Aug. 8 the launch of Sony Entertainment Television Asia channel that offer viewers South Asian programming 24 -hours-a-day to Comcast customers across Central and Northern California.

SET Asia has become a household name for entertainment, bringing distinct and unique programs for every member of the family, from dramas, movies, reality shows, comedies, soaps, talk shows and game shows including: Indian Idol singing contest; Boogie Woogie, a dance competition show; Love Story; Khwaish; Virrudh and Kaajjal and Bollywood hit movies.

“Sony is part of Comcast’s ongoing commitment to our customers to bring value by connecting them to the people, places and programming that are important in their lives,” said Natalie Rouse, director of national ethnic marketing for Comcast. “By expanding our already diverse programming, the South Asian community will have many favorite programs available 24-hours-a-day, only on Comcast.”

The Sony Channel is now available to Comcast customers throughout Central and Northern California (except Arbuckle, Hayward, Los Banos, Milpitas, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Sunnyvale, and Williams). Sony is available on Channel 249, Zee TV on channel 246, and TV Asia on channel 247.

Since its launch on the Indian subcontinent in 1995, Sony Entertainment Television has succeeded in India and established European, North American and African feeds known as SET Asia. SET and SET Asia are now available in over 100 countries. The channels offer entertainment programs 24 hours a day, including, soap operas, dramas, sitcoms, concerts, movies, and game shows.

Comcast corporation is the nation’s leading provider of cable, entertainment and communications products and services with 24.1 million cable customers, 12.4 million high-speed Internet customers, and 3.5 million voice customers.

JET AIRWAYS: New Air Service

Jet Airways inaugurated transatlantic service Aug. 5 with the introduction of daily flights between New York and Mumbai, according to a press release from the airline. Jet Airways is the largest non-state-run airline in India. The airline is currently undergoing a $3.7 billion expansion — increasing its fleet by 20 new wide-bodied Boeing 777 and Airbus 330 jets, with 10 Boeing 787 Dreamliners on order.

“Even the most jaded travelers are impressed by the level of service, comfort and overall excellence on Jet Airways — a carrier considered at the forefront of shaping the world’s airline industry,” the release added. “No detail is overlooked — (including) private First Class suites with sliding double doors, to the world’s largest first class beds (83”) with an 8 point massage system, one of the longest and widest Premiere (Business) Class seats, ergonomically designed economy class seats, and a state of the art In- Flight Panasonic eX2 Entertainment system.

Flights will operate between New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport and Mumbai International Airport on new Boeing 777-300ER wide-bodied jets.

Jet Airways will commence service from Delhi to Toronto Sept. 5, also via Brussels. Jet Airways intends to build a major hub at Brussels in order to connect Indian and North American cities. In addition to flights to Brussels from Mumbai and Delhi, direct flights between Brussels and Chennai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad will eventually enable travelers to connect seamlessly from five Indian gateways to six North American airports (Newark, JFK, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco). In Asia, Shanghai and Hong Kong are due to come on line in 2008, as are Johannesburg and Nairobi.

Announcing the New York launch, Naresh Goyal, the founder and chairman of Jet Airways, said, “Just as Jet Airways created unprecedented standards of efficiency and service on flights in India, we are proud to be launching transatlantic service and bringing the spirit of the New India, into one of the world’s most important markets. Our goal is to be recognized as one of the world’s top five airlines by 2010.”

Founded in 1993, Jet Airways currently operates flights to 50 cities — including more than 40 in India, as well as to London, Sri Lanka, Nepal and South East Asia.

More information is available on the Web at www.jetairways.com.


The flagship venture of Sahara Infrastructure & Housing — Sahara City Homes, is a chain of well-planned, self-sufficient and high-quality chain of townships to be developed in 217 cities all over India, according to a Sahara Pariwar press release.

“The townships were conceptualized with a vision to provide a dream lifestyle to the common man,” the release said. “Sahara City Homes epitomizes quality, style, comfort and international lifestyle. The construction activities of Sahara City Homes are in full swing in the cities of Lucknow, Indore and Nagpur and the plan is to commence with the construction work in 29 cities by March 31, 2008,” the release added.

The launch of the first township in India started with Lucknow. Sahara City Homes Lucknow was initiated with the laying of a gold brick at the first floor of the construction block by Subroto Roy, chairman of Sahara India Pariwar. A total of 30 blocks are under construction. These 30 blocks will house 1,620 residential units.

The product mix embodies a combination of high-rise and mid-rise apartments, independent row houses, independent semi-detached houses, penthouses and independent bungalows in the category of 1 to 5 bedrooms.

These houses give a clear view of the surroundings with residents experiencing an environment free from noise and air pollution.

Residents at Sahara City Homes can enjoy uninterrupted drinking water supply facilitated through boosters; high speed, efficient lifts and ensures non-stop movement.

Lush green environment, well-lit wide metal led roads, water bodies, integrated landscaping and special light effects in townships are further features.

MAKE MY TRIP: Travel Packages

Internet-based travel firm MakeMyTrip has launched 11 new packages to help both Americans and NRI tourists to explore the more exotic side of their country for a change, according to a press release.

“We have been in this business for seven years and understand the needs and travel needs of Indian diaspora and Americans searching for mysticism,” said MakeMyTrip founder and CEO Deep Kalra. “Our 11 new packages will help them see a side of India they have heard of but never thought they could really experience

MakeMyTrip.com offers Indian American tourists traveling to India a one-stop-solution to all their traveling needs. A traveler just needs to sign up for services at MakeMyTrip.com, and their overseas tickets, inter-state traveling, hotel bookings and all other needs are taken care of. “From the moment they get their ticket they will have the peace of mind of our best-in-class 24/7 U.S. customer service units who will help them along the way,” added Kalra.

These 11 new packages offer a range of holiday styles from the leisurely Golden Triangle tour to the rejuvenating Ayurveda package. The other popular packages include Wild India Holiday package, Buddhist Trail, Incredible India journey, Indian Odyssey, Jewish Trail, Royal Rajputana Holiday Exotic Goa, Explore India Holiday and God’s Own Country holiday package.

MakeMyTrip.com was launched in 2000 to cater to the niche U.S.-to-India travel market. MakeMyTrip.com has 3.5 percent share of this $1 billion NRI market.

With over 100,000 customers and 130,000 registered users in the U.S., MakeMyTrip has a renewal rate of 30 percent, the release added. NRIs can book tickets to India online or call our Travel consultants who are available 24x7 on U.S. toll free 1 (800) INDIA-10. Outside of India, MakeMyTrip offices are located in New York and Sydney.

Within a year of its launch MakeMyTrip acquired over 350,000 customers and sells over 3,000 flight tickets, 200 hotel room nights and over 50 holiday packages every day. The site attracts over 1.2 million unique visitors every month according to WebSideStory, HBx Analytics, an independent traffic-monitoring agency.

Yatra Selects Elephant

Yatra.com, one of India’s leading Internet travel services companies, has selected Elephant Advertising (a wholly owned subsidiary of CineMaya Media Group) as the agency of record for the North America market to aid the successful site expand its service offerings in the West, according to a press release. Yatra.com introduces its new service in North America for Non-Resident Indians and travelers to India. Elephant Advertising will develop and lead the campaign.

With over 2.4 million Indians in the United States, the U.S.-India travel sector has become one of the fastest growing in the travel industry with almost every major airline in the world offering either direct or one-stop flights to most major cities in India. This summer has seen a flux of activity as India’s largest private carrier Jet Airways launched its New Jersey-Brussels-Mumbai route, and India’s flagship national carrier Air-India launched a non-stop service from Newark to Mumbai on its new fleet of aircraft. With the Indian diaspora increasingly migrating and traveling, Yatra.com aims to offer solutions for international travel to India and domestic travel within India to Non-Resident Indian and world travelers.

“Indians are avid travelers for business and personal reasons. With the expanding ties and immigration to the United States, and India being ranked highly amongst the world’s top travel destinations, it makes perfect sense for Yatra.com to tap this growing consumer base and serve the Indian and world travelers on an international level. We have chosen to work with Elephant Advertising, which has an extensive track record for launching new brands seeking to market services to the Indian Diaspora in North America.” said Dhruv Shringi, co-founder of Yatra.com.

China BPO to Overtake India: NASSCOM Report | Juniper to Invest $70 Million in India | INFOSYS: Minimal Impact | 8 Million More | NOKIA: No. 2 Market | MICROSOFT: Millionth Customer | WIPRO: Office in Egypt | MTNL: Cheaper Calls to U.S.

China BPO to Overtake India: NASSCOM Report

China could overtake India as the most preferred outsourcing destination in the next 3-5 years on the back of an educated workforce coupled with strong government emphasis on IT-BPO sector, according to a study.

“The IT-BPO industry in China is still in its early phase of evolution but it has the potential to develop a large IT-BPO industry,” the study on “Tracing China’s IT Software Services Industry Evolution” by industry body NASSCOM said.

The software and services revenues in China is estimated to grow at 22 percent to reach $28 billion by 2010 including domestic market at over $20 billion, the study said. China has recorded $12.3 billion of revenues in this sector in 2006.

India’s IT software and services revenues are likely to reach $50 billion in 2007-08, according to NASSCOM. The current industry landscape in China bears some resemblance to earlier years of Indian IT-BPO industry but systemic weaknesses and comparatively evolved demand and competitive environments are some of the challenges.

NASSCOM also suggested a collaborative partnership between Indian and Chinese companies.

NASSCOM president Kiran Karnik said that the Indian expertise in IT sector combined with manufacturing dominance of China could be one of the possibilities for a partnership.

Indian IT-BPO exports are mainly serving the U.S. and the U.K. markets, which together account for over 80 percent of the total exports.

On the other hand, China’s key export market areas are Japan and Korea, where it has certain inherent linguistic/cultural advantages, the survey noted. 

Juniper to Invest $70 Million in India

Networking major Juniper Networks plans to invest $70 million in R&D in India by the end of 2008. The company, which already has a R&D center in Bangalore also hopes to add another 600 people to its 800-strong R&D team.

Juniper Networks India and SAARC MD Nagendra Venkaswamy said, “We are in the process of investing $70 million on R&D till end of next year. It will basically involve hiking headcount, setting up proof of concept labs and testing labs for customers in Bangalore.’’ The company is also looking at ramping up its sales teams in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.

The total investment made by the company till end-2006 in India is about $120 million.

Meanwhile, the company has seen a big client win from securities trading house Sharekhan. “We have partnered with Wipro Infotech to implement Juniper’s DX3280 product for them. It boosts performance of their net-based trading site while being strong on security,’’ said Venkaswamy. This is the company’s second win in the financial trading space.

In 2007, Juniper has already had over 200 small and big clients (about 25) wins in India and SAARC region. Some of them include Grameen Phone in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka Telecom for core networking. Apart from this, the proposed State Wide Area Networks (State WANs) is becoming a focus area for the company.

Having recently won a multi-million dollar tender along with Hewlett Packard (total deal size for both companies was $12 million) for the Himachal Pradesh State Wide Area Network, Juniper has also bid for the Punjab and Bihar State WANs.

INFOSYS: Minimal Impact

The outsourcing unit of Infosys Technologies has only a minimal exposure to the U.S. subprime mortgage sector and the troubles do not affect the company’s guidance, an official said.

Demand for outsourcing had so far remained robust, and any economic slowdown could actually increase demand for outsourcing because of the pressure to cut costs, Ritesh Idnani, vice president of Infosys BPO, the software-service exporter’s business process outsourcing arm, told Reuters.

“Our exposure to the (subprime) sector is minimal,” Idnani said.

“We work with companies which are very broad-based. We work with banks for whom mortgage is just one part of their product portfolio.”

“Because of that the exposure is really minimal, and it does not affect the guidance we have already provided,” said New Jersey-based Idnani, who heads worldwide sales and marketing for Infosys BPO.

He said U.S. demand for outsourcing remained robust, and said that any economic slowdown would increase demand.

“If things are not necessarily going very well in any particular economy, it would put pressure on the companies to manage their cost structure ... it would in fact fuel the demand for outsourcing.”

Infosys BPO accounted for 5.2 percent of Infosys group revenue in the fiscal year that ended on March 31.

It earns 59 percent of its revenue from the United States and 40 percent from Europe. Banking, financial services and insurance accounts for 27 to 28 percent of the BPO unit’s revenue, while telecoms and manufacturing have respective shares of 37 percent and 24 percent.

In July, Infosys signed a $250 million outsourcing contract with Royal Philips Electronics and bought three of the Dutch firm’s back-office centers to build its European presence, and Idnani say he was constantly looking at term sheets and evaluating other deals.

8 Million More

Indian wireless telecoms operators added a record 8.06 million subscribers in July, lifting the user base to nearly 193 million, according to data from the country’s telecoms regulator.

Wireless phone subscribers in July were 64 percent higher than a year earlier, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said.

India, which has added about 28 million wireless users in four months to July, is the world’s fastest growing market for mobile services. Analysts forecast the wireless user base will top 500 million in five years, as just over 20 percent of India’s 1.1 billion population own a telephone.

Nokia, the world’s top cell phone maker, said earlier this week India had overtaken the United States to become its second-largest market by sales after China.

Including fixed-line phones, total telephone subscribers grew 47 percent from a year earlier to 232.9 million, the regulator said.

Bharti Airtel, which had a mobile subscriber base of 44.8 million at the end of July, is India’s top mobile services firm, followed by Reliance Communications Ltd.

Other leading players include Vodafone-controlled Vodafone Essar and state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

NOKIA: No. 2 Market

Nokia, the world’s top cell phone maker, said that India overtook the United States in the second quarter as its second biggest market after China.

Nokia, based in Espoo, Finland, accounts for more than half the handsets sold in India, the world’s fastest-growing wireless market. The nation has 190 million users, including the record 7.34 million added in June, faster than China’s 7.05 million.

Globally Nokia sold 100.8 million phones in April-June and according to research firm Gartner had a market share of 36.9 percent.

MICROSOFT: Millionth Customer

Microsoft hardware has announced its growth plans for India and set a target of crossing the millionth customer mark in India in 2007.

“Today the company reaches out to customers across India through a network of over 9,500 dealers and retailers in 93 cities, and is expecting to reach 100 cities soon. The company has set itself an aggressive target of crossing the millionth customer mark in India in 2007,” it said.

The company this year also plans to increase focus in the fast-growing gaming peripherals category, which, according to industry estimates is expected to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate of 72 percent for the next four years. This strategy is in line with the growing interest among the gaming community in India for specialized peripherals to enhance their overall gaming experience.

WIPRO: Office in Egypt

Wipro Infotech will be setting up its shop in Egypt. The company signed a MoU with Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to set up a global development center in Cairo’s Smart Village.

The capacity of the new center is for 200 people and can be expanded to cater to 300 people.

The center is expected to start operations in about a month’s time. Wipro will provide software development, integration and consulting services from this center, targeting IT export services for the Middle East and global markets.

Wipro Middle East and Asia Pacific region head Rajat Mathur said, “Wipro has always been focused on Middle East as a region and localization in this region is one of the key strategies for growth this year. This development center, besides strengthening Wipro’s dominance in the region, would also give a thrust to Wipro’s Global Delivery Model.”

Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamal said, “Wipro’s setting up of a global development center will give a further impetus to Egypt as an IT export destination.’’ Wipro started its operations in Middle East in 2001.

Currently, it has a strong customer base across the Middle East with operations spread across Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Some of Wipro’s customers in the region include Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority, Metal, Dubai eGovernment, Qatar Petroleum, Bahraini Saudi Bank, Future Communications Company, Kuwait, Doha Bank, PetroRabigh, SASREF and Saudi Polyolefins Company.

MTNL: Cheaper Calls to U.S.

The prophecy which global telecom majors have feared for long, that voice will one day become free, is now on the horizon. The use of Internet for voice calls is helping crash tariff boundaries to unimaginable lows.

MTNL has become the first traditional voice provider to announce Voice over Internet Protocol services in Delhi, offering international calls to its broadband subscribers at Rs 1/minute.VoIP services do not require either a computer or an Internet connection, just an adaptor or an IP phone.

High-end Luxury: 2007 Lincoln Navigator
The Lincoln Navigator offers it’s finicky buyers a lot of boxes to check, and then some, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

Lincoln packs a lot of luxury items into its sport utility vehicle, the Navigator. But, for 2007, there’s even more on board. Would you expect anything less from a Lincoln, and a high-end luxury vehicle at that? Once you’ve become accustomed to bells and whistles, there’s no going back. Designers have to create features that will move consumers from “wow” to “Wow!”

For 2007, Lincoln’s Navigator has a refreshed look, all-new seating arrangements, a new frame to improve ride and handling, and an even larger model if previous versions weren’t already long enough. The Navigator L is almost 15 inches longer than its siblings and adds another 25 cubic feet of cargo space. At first blush, you might ask who would need an even longer Navigator, but if you’re a parent of a growing teen, you’ve answered your own question.

Much emphasis has been placed on the 2007 Lincoln’s smooth new design, which is accented by a large chrome grille and tapered surfaces. The exterior design also includes a chrome strip that runs down the length of the SUV and available 20-inch chrome wheels. But, one neat design element isn’t readily apparent until you open one of the vehicle’s doors. At that time, the power-folding running boards fold out and provide a neat step up into the vehicle. With the doors closed, they fold back under and are incorporated into the sleek lines. It’s an eye-catching trick that has one tiny drawback at first: if you’re standing too close and not expecting the running boards to be there, you can get banged on the ankles. That should only happen once, however.

Lincoln knows their consumers well. They’re a “check-every-box buyer,” says Raj Nair, executive director for Lincoln. “If there’s an option, they want it. Today’s luxury buyer isn’t satisfied with just leather seats and wood trim.”

So, within the Navigator are such fine details as chrome trim on the shifter, a bezeled instrument panel cluster, Dark Ebony or Anigre wood trim that has been “bookmatched” so the grains are precisely aligned, and even a coin tray cover that has been laser-cut from the center console wood trim, for a perfectly matched wood grain.

Other top-of-the-line creature comforts include power tilt steering wheel, heated and cooled seats, and third row seats that power-fold.

While the elegant touches are nice, I’m checking for family practicality, and the Navigator’s seating is versatile. There is seating for eight here, which is terrific for families who want to bring all the friends. The second row of seats can fold in a 40/20/40 configuration, or you can select captain’s seating for the second row. The third row folds in a 60/40 split, and folds flat to create 103.5 cubic feet of cargo space when both the second and third rows are down.

Both the second and third rows can be cooled or heated by an even more efficient dual-zone climate control.

The Navigator also has a power rear gate, which can be activated from the key fob. Now, when your arms are filled with bags and packages, this is a very nice convenience.

As with many luxury vehicles, there is an entertainment system available. The Navigator’s, however features a 600-watt THX Certified Premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and 14 speakers. A power amplifier has also been mounted into the center of the vehicle for enhanced sound clarity and quality. So, if the sound system is cranked up, you’re going to see those mirrors vibrate. SIRIUS satellite radio is available, as is MP3 adaptability.

On the road, the Navigator’s 5.4-liter V8 engine is powerful and the ride is — as promised — quiet and smooth. Visibility to the front and sides is good, but impacted to the rear because of large head rests. A park-assist warning system lets you know if you’re backing up too closely to obstacles, however.

The Lincoln Navigator offers it’s check-every-box buyers a lot of boxes to check, and then some.

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


Prisoner No.343 of Jodhpur Central Jail | Sanjay Prepares for Long Battle | Date with Aish | Reality Check | Phone Games | Digital Delight | First Love | Hope for Pak

Prisoner No.343 of Jodhpur Central Jail

Salman surrounded by cops at a Jodhpur court

This could almost be a scene from a Bollywood tearjerker. Katrina comes to meet loverboy Salman Khan in jail, that unending font of pathos for Bollywood potboilers. Roll drums, play a sad tune on the violin.

Trouble is, this is real life, not reel life.

The many misdemeanors of Bollywood’s enfant terrible have apparently caught up with him. The celebrity prisoner, hero of countless films and a style icon, has been sentenced to five years in prison for hunting an endangered deer nine years ago in Rajasthan. Salman surrendered himself to Rajasthan Police following an arrest warrant.

Jail authorities had given special permission to Salman's brother Arbaz Khan, his sister Alvira and model-turned-actor and close friend (wink, wink) Katrina to meet Salman.

Outside the prison, police had a difficult time controlling the enthusiastic fans who wanted to have a glimpse of the stars.

Salman had dal and two chapattis for lunch after his first night in prison. He also washed his utensils himself and drank water from an earthen pot, reported the Indo Asian News Service.

For breakfast, he had gur (jaggery), channa (roasted gram) and tea, while the dinner the night before consisted of four rotis and a vegetable dish, prison sources told IANS.

How the mighty fall. Salman has been convicted of poaching a chinkara deer at the Ghoda farm near Jodhpur on the night of Sep 28, 1998, while filming Sooraj Barjatya's blockbuster Hum Saath Saath Hain.

However, while it is true that he has not always conducted himself with the degree of probity expected, spare a thought for this Bollywood star who also has a soft side, which many grateful friends, colleagues and supporters acknowledge with affection.
| Return to Bollywood | TOP |

Sanjay Prepares for Long Battle

Sanjay Dutt after release from prison.

As one Bollywood star sits in a jail in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, another one is trying his damnedest to stay out after a spell as a guest of the Indian government.

After 23 days in prison, Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt, sentenced to six years of imprisonment in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, Aug. 23 walked free from a Pune jail on an interim bail.

“I am in the process of fighting a long battle, please pray for me,” said Dutt, who was released Aug. 23 morning from Yeravada Jail in Pune where he was serving the six-year prison term given to him in the 1993 serial blasts case.

On reaching home, Dutt was emotionally greeted by his sisters Priya and Namrata, brothers-in-law Kumar Gaurav and Owen Roncon and friends like state Minister Baba Siddiqui and film producer Bunty Walia.

After a brief religious ritual, Dutt, sporting a beard, entered his building where he met his companion Manyaata.

In a statement issued later, Dutt said he would use the brief period he is on bail to work on the case with his lawyers.

Speaking about his supporters in Pune, the actor said, “I was overwhelmed by your love. I could hear you while I was inside the jail and your love kept me strong.”

Dutt also expressed his gratitude towards the film industry and his family for “their unending love and support.”

His sister and Congress Member of Parliament Priya Dutt also issued a statement saying the family was thankful for the temporary relief that they had received and that she was “relieved” to have her brother back home.

“We thank everyone for their support and prayers,” she said.
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Date with Aish

Aishwarya in “Guru.”

Hurry, you’ve only six weeks to get a date with Aishwarya Rai in New York! If you plan to be in the Big Apple within that time period, set aside some time to meet Bollywood beauty Aishwarya Rai in Times Square.

Not the real Aish, silly. She has better things to do.

But you can do the next best thing and pop inside Madame Tussaud’s in New York City and gawp at the Bollywood star to your heart’s content.

The former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Aug. 15 became the first Indian celebrity to have her wax model displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Museum in historic Times Square.

Within minutes of unveiling of her life-like model dressed in an intricately patterned red sari, her fans in New York began flocking the museum to admire the waxwork.

The unveiling of the model, borrowed by the New York Madame Tussaud’s from its parent museum in London, coincided with the India’s 60th Independence Day celebration and will be on display for six weeks before being sent back.

In the museum, Rai is in the company of several other celebrities including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Besides Rai, the only Indian film personalities immortalized at Madame Tussaud’s in London are her father-in-law Amitabh Bachchan, super star Shah Rukh Khan and Tamil superstar Rajnikant. Other Indian attractions at the museum are Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

But Rai became the first Indian celebrity to be displayed in New York.

Rai’s waxwork was unveiled in London in 2004, timed with the release of her first international film, Bride and Prejudice, directed by London-based Gurinder Chadha. She was present during the unveiling in London.

Director of marketing of the New York Museum Rosemary Preta said the coming of Rai’s waxwork to New York fulfills the longstanding demand of her fans.
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Reality Check

Who does Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty think she is? A real star? Not so fast, honey.

If truth be told, she can’t be blamed. Her newfound celebrity has followed her success in a cheesy British reality television show, and she has been feted here, there and everywhere, and even being given an honorary doctorate for her contribution to Hindi cinema, by a British university. Puh-leeze. Shilpa’s contribution to Hindi cinema must be one of the best kept secrets in the world.

All of this must have gone to the poor girl’s head, if recent reports are to be believed. Apparently after being offered a leading role in the British romantic comedy Quick, Slip Me A Bride, she started acting like a real star, i.e., a spoiled brat.

Producer of the $8 million film, Renu Patel, fumes, “Shilpa agreed to film with us. Now we have been forced to go ahead without her because she wanted $700, 000 and insisted half of this had to be paid before she even shot any scene.

“To make things worse, she then tried to insist we delayed the film until next summer to give her time to pursue a music project instead.”

Well, if she had hoped the producers would be only too happy to please her, she was in for a rude shock.

The producers did the sensible thing: They dumped her.

One hopes Shilpa has gotten the message. Get real, Cinderella. It’s midnight, and the party is over.
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Phone Games

Bipasha in “Dhoom 2.”

Pity yourself if you aren’t living in India. Supermodel turned Bollywood heartthrob Bipasha Basu will soon appear on mobile phones across India — the world's fastest growing cell phone market and also one of the biggest — in a game where the actress, or rather a tiny animated version of the actress, leaps around the screen as an expert jet ski rider.

This is just another game for mobile phones, one of thousands that can be downloaded, but it is also an indicator of the intimate and growing relationship that the Indian movie industry and its stars have with the country's cell phone operators.

Basu's game, “Bipasha Basu Jet Ski Champ,” is made by Jump Games. The company will also feature the actress in a bowling game and a science fiction game in which she portrays a princess entrusted with saving the planet from numerous galactic predators.

“Through these games, my fans will get to see the athletic, adventurous and skillful side of me,” Basu said in a statement when the agreement was announced. "I am a sports fan, and today it's a conscious effort to choose my films and related work accordingly, to bring out my sporty, exploratory persona."

What sport the drooling fans will actually be thinking about when they see the hot Jism star on their mobile phones, however, we dare not speculate.
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Digital Delight

Raj Kapoor

The golden hits of legendary showman Raj Kapoor such as Bobby, Prem Rog and Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram are all set to be digitalized after RK Studios announced its partnership with UFO Moviez, a pioneer in digital cinema solutions.

RK Studios will throw open its original film prints library to the solutions provider to be converted into the digital widescreen format.

Instead of projectors and lights, the digitally-enabled theatre will receive the audio-video digital stream directly from the satellite and play the movie on the widescreen inside the hall.

Commenting on the decision to go digital, Raj Kapoor’s son and the torchbearer of RK Studios, Randhir Kapoor, said, “The films have a limited shelf life and the print quality deteriorates with the passage of time and repeated screening.”

Various single-screen theatres and multiplexes have urged the Kapoors to permit them to screen the all-time romantic and social hits created by the legendary showman.

“We thought it is appropriate to have them released in digital prints to preserve these much-loved films for eternity,” Kapoor said, adding that some films will be digitalized to start with and then the entire library will be made available for the conversion.

Randhir Kapoor, who also has many romantic-comedies such as Ponga Pandit to his credit, said he could not think of a better way of ensuring perpetuity of the films than letting UFO digitalize them.

“It is not the income that we will earn from these movies but the sheer pleasure and joy of making classics available to the audiences in a good format,” Kapoor said.
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First Love

Naseeruddin Shah

Much honored Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah’s versatility may have traversed many paths to create a distinct identity both for himself as an actor and for Indian cinema, but it is the stage — his first love — that always beckons him.

For more than three decades he strode with ease in both parallel and mainstream cinema, narrowing the distinction between the two, winning awards and accolades with aplomb. But his heart was always in the theatre.

Shah now wants to devote his maximum energies to theatre, though acting in films will continue, but not with the same degree of priority.

He, along with his friend Benjamin Gilani, had set up the theatre group Motley in 1979 with just four actors, doing plays in English with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot being their first production.

“Initially, we did plays only in English because to us English is as Indian as any other Indian language. However, later when we wanted to do plays in Hindi we found that there very few good plays in the language with playwrights unwilling to write for the stage,” Shah said.

In Hindi, the theatre died out with the advent of the talkies with all good playwrights turning into scriptwriters and there was a sudden vacuum with no original playwrights.

On the other hand, the genre of Hindi and Urdu literature like short stories was very rich and so “we decided to adapt stories for the theatre,” Shah said.

Ismat Apa Ke Naam, an adaptation of three of noted Urdu littérateur Ismat Chughtai’s stories, was one of the first Hindustani plays of Motley and was staged here recently along with another presentation of several stories compiled together as Kathasagar by Shah’s group.

Shah, whose acting skills have won world-wide accolades, says an actor is like a representative or messenger of the writer and director.
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Hope for Pak

Pakistan’s ailing film industry is on the revival path — thanks to Bollywood. For the first time in many years, the Pakistani film industry is seeing an influx of ready-to-screen Bollywood movies which are really doing good business in theatres across the nation. For example, the latest Bollywood movie Awarapan produced by Mumbai-based Mahesh Bhatt has become a rage in Pakistan where it has grossed more than Rs. 80 million so far since its release last month.

“The Bollywood releases are luring back movie buffs in Pakistan. This is the best moment for this industry in years,” Pakistan Cinema Management Association chairman Qaiser Sanaullah said recently. “No doubt, the industry is bouncing back. There are a number of Bollywood blockbusters in the pipeline.”

Another Bollywood movie which is likely to hit the silver screens in Pakistan is Vinod Khanna-starrer God Father. Lollywood (Lahore film industry) star Meera is also in the cast of the movie to be released on Eid-ul-Fitr.

In fact, it is only last year that the Pakistani government had lifted a 40-year-old ban on Indian films by permitting the public screening of Sohni Mahiwal, a classic 1984 Bollywood movie based on a popular Punjabi love legend, and another movie of the 1970s — Mughal-e-Azam.

The development came after the Censor Board here had deleted the words “Indian artist” and “Indian director” from the guidelines, which had prevented the release of Bollywood films in Pakistan.

Pakistan had introduced the ban on screening of Indian films immediately after the Indo-Pak War in 1965..”
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Uplifting Sports Saga: Chak De! India
(Rating ***1/2 Superior)

One has to concede that sports-based films are formulaic — there’s always an underdog, with an incredibly tough and impossible-to-beat opponent, yet the underdog manages to overcome all sorts of hurdles and finally triumph, no matter how strong the opponent.

Since Chak De! India is a film about sports, it should come as no surprise if I tell you that I have just recounted the plot of the film.

Then what’s the point of watching the film? Well, people flock to see sports-based films for the same reason they avidly turn to the sports page of the newspaper — they may know the result, but they still want to relive the tension and glory by revisiting the sports event.

The film is a welcome respite from the standard mix of dancing-around-the-tree romantic duets, hammy villainy and a dash of mayhem that is the stock-in-trade of Bollywood potboilers. Shah Rukh Khan, whose “acting” is often a figment of the indulgent viewer’s fond imagination, manages to impress with his histrionic ability.

Kabir (Shah Rukh Khan, who else?), India’s most successful hockey centre forward of all time, screws up during a crucial penalty and a dark cloud of suspicion descends on him — did he “throw” the hockey match with Pakistan because he happens to be Muslim?

Bitter and sad, Khan bids adieu to hockey. Seven years later, Kabir is raring to go. He hasn’t been on a field since, and is eager to redeem himself.

Of course, he can’t play anymore, so he decides to coach. He takes under his wing the Indian women’s hockey team, of which nothing at all is expected.

What follows next are again predictable issues and situations — dissent, pressure, defiance, infighting, lack of self-belief, public skepticism, and finally the steely will to overcome it.

Kabir has his work cut out as he faces indiscipline, attitude and a complete lack of team spirit. By nothing deters him as he overcomes their shortcomings and inculcates a vital quality – a self belief and a hunger for victory.

Before you know it, the girls are in the World Cup hockey tournament. No prizes for guessing who wins.

Sound a bit far-fetched? Tell me which sports film does not? From Lagaan to Rocky, sports on film almost invariably cut corners with logic, but who cares?

Full credit to filmmaker Shimit Amin and screenplay writer Jaideep Sahni for crafting a gripping tale and turning it into such an absorbing audio-visual spectacle that the average viewer is too busy rooting for the Indian team to notice the holes in the story.

The acting of the entire ensemble adds to the film’s value, notwithstanding its minor flaws. As the film takes pot shots at many of India’s foibles — the obsession of cricket to the exclusion of everything else, a tendency towards self-destructive infighting — `it also has some marvelously uplifting moments, like the Team India hockey members giving a bunch of eve-teasers a sound thrashing and of course the actual hockey scenes.

In the end, sports are about the primal human drama of the victory of good over evil. Simplistic? You bet. But done with skill and intelligence, a sports film can tell an exceptionally wholesome and uplifting tale. Just look at Apne or the more famous Lagaan. This film is head and shoulders above those two.


Film Sans Logic: Arya

The film opens with the brutal murder of a medical student, her throat slashed by Kasi, a gangster. Kasi’s sister Dipika had failed to secure a seat in the medical college. And this was Kasi’s way of warning the dean of the college and a minister, who are shocked eye-witnesses to the murder. Yet another gangster-film, you would think. But what follows is far from serious.

The headstrong, arrogant Dipika rules the college with the lecturers and the students at her beck and call. But not Arya, a final-year student. As expected, she falls for him. The fond brother formally approaches Arya with a proposal for marriage, which the latter disdainfully rejects, pointing out the difference in their social status. “It’s too late for you to be a doctor, but we sure can turn him into a rowdy,” advises Kasi’s helpful sister. A piece of advice which Kasi follows, sending his goons to provoke Arya to take to violence. But Arya sidesteps all his traps, and it’s Kasi who finally finds himself at the receiving end.

The sudden volte face of the corrupt cops who had sided with Kasi all along is anything but convincing. But in a film of this genre, logic is the first casualty.

The actors seem to enjoy playing their roles. Madhavan revels in his, and if his physique alternates between the beefy and the toned, blame it on the long time the film took to get completed. Prakashraj makes the most of Kasi, while Bhavna plays the spoilt brat to the hilt.

It’s a film sans any logic or sensibility. What keeps it going is its racy pace, which breezes through all manner of bizarre situations and takes it to a finale, where everything is all wrapped up in a neat smart knot. If you miss this film, you haven’t missed much.

— Malini Mannath/Chennai Online


Delicious Dessert: Apple Delight

Here’s a delicious apple dessert with a desi touch from the kitchen of Sudha Gupta.

  • 10 apples, small
  • For the syrup:
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of yellow food color
  • ½ tsp cardamom powder
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • For the filling:
  • 1 cup powder milk
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • Pinch of saffron
  • ½ tsp cardamom powder
  • 1 tsp chopped pistachio

Peel off the apples, pinch the whole apple with the help of fork. Heat a pan. Add water and sugar for the syrup. Bring it to a boil. Add apples and stir for 5 minutes. Add yellow color, saffron and cardamom powder. Stir till apples are cooked and the color changes.

For the filling:
Heat a pan. Add whipping cream and milk. Thicken to a consistency of mawa or khoya, add sugar so that filling has the consistency of dough. Add cardamom powder.
Take each apple and scoop out seeds and some contents from inside to create hollow space inside. Stuff with filling. Decorate with saffron and pistachio.

- Sudha Gupta lives in Elk Grove, Calif.


HOROSCOPE: September By Pandit Parashar

ARIES (March 21 to April 20): Try to be diplomatic and trust no one. Career-related issues will cause stress with no visible solution. Stay focused and do not change your goals, victory is not too far. You will spend more time communicating. An old friend will invite you to a big party.

TAURUS (April 21 to May 20): You will overcome several hurdles as you win a over a highly competitive situation. An important contract will be finalized and mailed back. Sell those profit-making stocks for the time being and wait. Spouse will be full of brilliant ideas and support your ideas completely as well.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): Keep working on your plans. Success is just around the corner. People in business will do better and sales will improve suddenly. You will shed some pounds with proper diet control. You will purchase expensive items for your home and eat out frequently.

CANCER (June 21 to July 22): Hard work and patience will work wonders for you. You will have one of the finest opportunities to make big money. You will be in touch with a government office for some clarification. Addition of a new member in the family will bring excitement. You will be seriously searching for the right property.

LEO (July 23 to August 22): You will achieve success with little efforts. You may dispose off an old vehicle and replace it with a luxury model. You may decide to purchase investment property. Spouse will have a different opinion but will agree eventually. You will be taking a short pleasure trip with family.

VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): You will hear several encouraging news and hit a gold mine. Obstacles will get out of your way. A business trip will bring more than expected. People connected with communications industry will benefit the most due to favorable planets. Money will be spent on luxury items.

LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Expect some good changes in career. Things will become more relaxing and those self-employed will get new business. You may dispose off some stocks for a decent profit. You may make a mathematical error and send check in the wrong amount. You will attend few parties.

SCORPIO (October 23 to November 22): Planets support a big move in career. It is the right time to make the switch. A trip will start an interesting relationship. Long-awaited response from a government agency will come in positive. You be in the market for a property for yourself. Speculations will be profitable.

SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 22): Only patience and diplomacy can lead you out of this awkward situation. It will be better to settle issues rather than taking legal course. You may try to cut down on caffeine or nicotine. You may have super natural experience or dreams. You will be spending more time with children.

CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): You will become more diplomatic as you overhaul your approach. You have refund coming in mail. Speculation and lottery will be beneficial. Decision in legal matters will be favorable. A big family reunion will take place.

AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): Concentration of planets provides the sudden boost. You will have tremendous amount of energy. People creating hurdles will disappear. Some of you may start a new project in association with very intelligent people. You may be looking for a replacement for your old car.

PISCES (February 19 to March 20): You will be temporarily separated from someone close. Things will start picking up as far as the money matters are concerned. Investing in property will be a great idea. You will attend an interesting party and meet important people. Children will make great plans.

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


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