Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gandhiji's Ashes Immersed

Several Indians among 2007 Young Innovators Under 35

Each year Technology Review magazine announces the top young
innovators under 35. Each year I read these listing I am amazed at the
quality of work and the research that goes into each innovation.

From TR magazine --
"Since 1999, the editors of Technology Review have honored the young
innovators whose inventions and research we find most exciting; today
that collection is the TR35, a list of technologists and scientists,
all under the age of 35. Their work--spanning medicine, computing,
communications, electronics, nanotechnology, and more--is changing our

Go to this link to find the complete list with bio's and other details --

Eight Indian Americans in 'junior Noble' race

Indian American kids have continued to perform well and impress. Here
are a few more that are making waves --

From MSN India --
"Eight Indian American high school seniors are among forty high school
seniors named finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search
2008. The competition, often called the junior Nobel Prize, is
America's oldest and most prestigious high school science competition.
Each finalist will receive at least $5,000 in scholarships and a new

The finalists will display their research at the National Academy of
Sciences and meet in Washington, D.C. in March for a rigorous judging
process, meetings and interactions with national leaders and leading
scientists. The top winner will receive a $100,000 scholarship from
the Intel Foundation. The finalists' independent research projects
include diverse areas and interesting findings."

For the full report and complete details ---

Jolie-Ash may have common ancestors

Yeah, here is some very important research to spend valuable time on
and to invest valuable resources into!!! Jeeze!!!

A report from MSN --
"Top actors Aishwarya Rai and Angelina Jolie may have common
ancestors. If a research is to be believed all people with blue eyes
can trace their ancestry back to one person who probably lived about
10,000 years ago in the Black Sea region.

Scientists studying the genetics of eye colour at the University of
Copenhagen found that more than 99.5 per cent of blue-eyed people who
volunteered to have their DNA analysed have the same tiny mutation in
the gene that determines the colour of the iris.

Professor Hans Eiberg of the university said he has analysed the DNA
of about 800 people with blue eyes, ranging from fair-skinned,
blond-haired Scandinavians to dark-skinned, blue-eyed people living in
Turkey and Jordan. "All of them, apart from possibly one exception,
had exactly the same DNA sequence in the region of the OCA2 gene. This
to me indicates very strongly that there must have been a single,
common ancestor of all these people," he said.

The study reported in the journal Human Genetics indicates that the
mutation originated in just one person who became the ancestor of all
subsequent people in the world with blue eyes. "From this we can
conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same
ancestor. They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same
spot in their DNA," Professor Eiberg was quoted as saying by The
Independent daily of Britain on Thursday.

Even though the scientists are unable to pinpoint the exact date when
the mutation occurred, evidences suggested it probably arose about
10,000 years ago when there was a rapid expansion of the human
population in Europe as a result of the spread of agriculture from the
Middle East."

Two Million Minutes

There has always been a dialog about the type of education one
receives in countries in India and China, versus the kind of education
in the US. There is now a new documentary that speaks to this effect,
and compares American students with those in India and China.

An excerpt from an article in US News and World Report --
"Two Million Minutes: A Global Examination follows six students
through their senior year of high school in the United States, India,
and China. Brittany Brechbuhl is a 17-year-old who's in the top 3
percent of her graduating class at Carmel High School in Indiana. She
aspires to become a doctor but also wants to join a sorority and
"party." Neil Ahrendt, 18, is another talented Carmel student who is
the senior class president and former quarterback of the football
team. These American teenagers' attitudes toward academics differ
sharply from those of their peers in India and China, who seem more
motivated and focused. Take, for example, 17-year-old Apoorva Uppala,
who attends Saturday tutoring sessions to prepare for her university
entrance exams. She wants to become an engineer, which she calls "the
safest" profession in India. In Shanghai, Jin Ruizhang, 17, preps for
international math tournaments. He is already the top math student at
his school and hopes to get into a prestigious university offering an
advanced math program."

View the trailer here--

Full article at --

The film's website is at --

Why do Indian voters support Bobby Jindal?

A very interesting article from Harvard Crimson by Jessica Sequeira,
who is the Crimson's Editorial Editor --

"Hearing his policies and not his name, Louisiana's recently
inaugurated governor sounds like a traditional Southern conservative.
He has a track record of supporting permanent military presence in
Iraq, legislating against a woman's right to an abortion, allowing
government surveillance without a warrant, upholding tough immigration
enforcement, shooting down gun control laws, and prohibiting human
embryonic stem cell research. Indeed, the main reason Bobby Jindal—the
state's first minority governor since Reconstruction—catapulted to
victory was that he was so utterly indistinguishable from the mostly
white voting base.

Why, then, do so many Indian-Americans support him? After all, Indians
voted for Kerry over Bush in the 2004 election by a four-to-one ratio,
and are overwhelmingly registered as Democrats. Jindal, however, is
all business and no bleeding heart. As Times of India columnist Shashi
Tharoor writes in his scathing piece "Should We Be Proud of Bobby
Jindal?" "Many Indians born in America have tended to sympathize with
other people of color, identifying their lot with other immigrants,
the poor, the underclass… None of this for Bobby." The unpleasant
truth is that he's a desi hero for the wrong reasons—lauded not for
his beliefs but for his race.

This is not to say that Indians in the States don't have their doubts
about Jindal; some do. For many, though, any qualms over Jindal's
neoconservative politics are overcome by pride in his brown skin and
the progress this supposedly signifies. Unfortunately, this perception
is mostly wishful thinking. Unlike the immigrant families I know who
still proudly hang diwali lanterns and shop at the local Bharat
Bazaar, Jindal has done the best he can to assimilate by erasing his
cultural origins. Changing his name as a child from the Punjabi Piyush
to that of his favorite character on The Brady Bunch, converting from
Hinduism to Christianity as a senior in high school (and later asking
his wife to do the same), attending Brown University and Oxford as a
Rhodes Scholar, working as a consultant at McKinsey, and adopting a
flat Louisiana drawl—the only part of "Indian-American" he embodies
lies after the hyphen.

This raises an unsettling question: does a minority have to "act
white" to get elected? As is the case with many politicians, it's hard
to discern Jindal's genuine beliefs from statements designed to cater
to the average Louisiana voter. Although his broad platform promise to
"end corruption in Louisiana" is universally appealing, you can bet
that the more extreme viewpoints he dishes up to white Republicans get
omitted from the soothing "heritage" speeches he gives at
Indian-American fundraising dinners. Jindal has been very successful
indeed at working his innate advantage and tapping the latent ethnic
pride (some would call it racism) felt by other people of his color.

Race-based politics are nothing new, of course—you can trace the
effect of racial issues on government all the way from the civil
rights movement to the debate over Barack Obama's "electability"
raging today. Whether or not the Indian vote actually affected the
election, however (the magnitude of Jindal's victory makes it
unlikely), it's a pity that so many influential members of the Indian
community unquestioningly followed the lead of a man with whom they
shared only superficial similarities.

Reactions to Jindal by Indians in the homeland have been more negative
than those in the American Diaspora. But the mentality there, as well
as here, is telling. Following the news of Jindal's win, the Times of
India telephoned Bobby's cousin Gulshan. "It's a great honor not just
for our family, but Punjab and the nation as well, [for] the son of
this soil [to] have achieved something really big," he said.
Meanwhile, celebrations were erupting in Jindal's ancestral village of
Khanpura, as locals shared sweets and danced exultantly to bhangra
music. Nobody asked what Jindal stood for. "

Article at --

Simple, powerful mobile tools for developing economies

Tapan Parikh, 33, University of Washington, has been named 2007
Humanitarian of the year by Technology Review magazine.

An excerpt from TR magazine --

"When fishermen from the Indian state of Kerala are done fishing each
day, they have to decide which of an array of ports they should sail
for in order to sell their catch. Traditionally, the fishermen have
made the decision at random--or, to put it more charitably, by
instinct. Then they got mobile phones. That allowed them to call each
port and discover where different fishes were poorly stocked, and
therefore where they would be likely to get the best price for their
goods. That helped the fishermen reap a profit, but it also meant that
instead of one port's being stuck with more fish than could be sold
while other ports ran short, there was a better chance that supply
would be closer to demand at all the ports. The fishermen became more
productive, markets became more efficient, and the Keralan economy as
a whole got stronger.

This story demonstrates an easily forgotten idea: relatively simple
improvements in information and communication technologies can have a
dramatic effect on the way businesses and markets work. That idea is
central to the work of Tapan Parikh, a doctoral student in computer s
cience and the founder of a company called Ekgaon Technologies. Parikh
has created information systems tailored for small-business people in
the developing world--systems with the mobile phone, rather than the
PC, at their core. His goal is to make it easier for these business
owners to manage their own operations in an efficient and transparent
way, and to build connections both with established financial
institutions and with consumers in the developed world. This will help
them--they'll be able to get money to expand their operations and,
ideally, find better prices for what they sell--and it should be a
boon to development as well."

Read the full article at -

What would we do if the Internet failed?

I keep wondering, our dependency on things like the Internet, cell
phones, electricity, etc. has become addictive. What would we do
without them. The other day I forgot my cell phone at home and I felt
like I was cut off from the world. I go into panic mode if I can't
check my email in the morning...

From CNN News --

"Large swathes of Asia, the Middle East and north Africa had their
high-technology services crippled Thursday following a widespread
Internet failure which brought many businesses to a standstill and
left others struggling to cope.

Hi-tech Dubai has been hit hard by an Internet outage apparently
caused by a cut undersea cable.

One major telecommunications provider blamed the outage, which started
Wednesday, on a major undersea cable failure in the Mediterranean.

India's Internet bandwidth has been sliced in half, The Associated
Press reported, leaving its lucrative outsourcing industry trying to
reroute traffic to satellites and other cables through Asia.

Reports say that Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab
Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain are also experiencing severe problems.

Nations that have been spared the chaos include Israel -- whose
traffic uses a different route -- and Lebanon and Iraq. Many Middle
East governments have backup satellite systems in case of cable

An official at Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information
Technology, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was believed
that a boat's anchor may have caused the problems, although this was
unconfirmed, AP reported. He added that it might take up to a week to
repair the fault.

Rajesh Chharia, president of India's Internet Service Providers'
Association, explained that some firms were trying to reroute via
Pacific cables and that companies serving the eastern US and the UK
were worst affected, AP added."

Read the full article at -

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Indian Gang Accused of Stealing Human Kidneys

An excerpt from the abc news article --

"It sounds like the old urban legend of people lured into an apartment
or house and then being robbed of their kidneys.

But in India, it is no legend.

A kidney transplant ring has been busted up in India in which hundreds
of poor people were forced into having their kidneys removed.

The mastermind behind the scam is believed to be Dr. Amit Kumar (also
known as Dr. Santosh Raut), whom Mumbai police have been chasing since
1993, according to the Indian Express newspaper. The doctor had
previously been arrested in Delhi in 2000 for involvement in the
illegal trade of organs.

Officials said that 500 to 600 kidneys were stolen or purchased from
victims in Gurgaon, a high-tech city on the outskirts of New Delhi.
The kidneys were transplanted into the bodies of wealthy Indians or
foreigners. Five foreign tourists, including two Americans, were found
in what police described as a "luxury guest house" owned by the doctor
on Saturday awaiting a kidney. There was a waiting list of some 40
foreigners from at least five countries."

Read the full article at --

Indira Nooyi Speaks From Davos

Monday, January 28, 2008

In India's Huge Marketplace, Advertisers Find Fair Skin Sells

This has always been a fixation with Indians. "Fair" skin has been a
big plus, whether it is for a new born baby or for a woman of
marriageable age. This recent article in the Washington Post has a
very interesting perspective of "fair skin."

Here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article --
The presence of Caucasian models in Indian advertisements has grown in
the past three years, industry analysts say. The trend reflects deep
cultural preferences for fair skin in this predominantly brown-skinned
nation of more than 1 billion people. But analysts say the fondness
for "fair" is also fueled by a globalized economy that has drawn ever
more models from Europe to cities such as Mumbai, India's cultural

"Indians have a longing for that pure, beautiful white skin. It is too
deep-rooted in our psyche," said Enakshi Chakraborty, who heads Eskimo
India, a modeling agency that brings East European models here.
"Advertisers for international as well as Indian brands call me and
say, 'We are looking for a gori [Hindi for white] model with dark
hair.' Some ask, 'Do you have white girls who are Indian-looking?'
They want white girls who suit the Indian palate."

Indians' color fixation is also evident in classified newspaper ads
and on Web sites that help arrange marriages. The descriptive terms
used for skin color run the gamut: "very fair," "fair," "wheat-ish,"
"wheat-ish-medium," "wheat-ish-dark," "dark" and "very dark."

Read the full article at --

Annual Bhangra Contest in Miami

An Annual Bhangra Competition was held in Miami recently.

Excerpt from an article in Miami New Times --

"What do you get when you cross Dancing With the Stars, downtown Miami
and Bollywood? The first-annual Bhangra Competition, that's what.

While salsa may be the dance and music of choice of the Magic City,
the rest of the world has gotten hip to all things Punjab; Bhangra is
the percussion-heavy, high-energy craze that hails from India. On
Saturday night at the Gusman Theater downtown, teams from 10 colleges
from as far away as British Columbia swayed, danced and shimmied to
the music. It was like a Bollywood movie come to life: the women wore
colorful veils and the men wore turbans.

Everyone seemed to be dressed in combinations of pink and purple, blue
and yellow, red and gold. Some danced, while others did backflips and
a few played traditional Indian instruments and sang live. To the new
Bhangra lover (which would be me) the performances seemed a little
frenzied at first, a riot of color and sound. But everyone grinned
while dancing, and it was difficult not to be happy while watching the
groups dance."

See the full article at --

Saturday, January 26, 2008

From a car to a truck...

AFP reports that India's Tata Motors mulls US debut with electric
truck: company. Excerpt below --

" India's Tata Motors, which recently unveiled the world's cheapest
car, may make its US debut with a tie-up to sell an electric version
of its popular Ace mini-truck, an official said Thursday.
"We're looking at that opportunity to sell a vehicle on the Ace
platform with an electric motor" in association with a US company, the
senior official said, asking not to be named.
"It's premature to give more details," he added.
India's Hindu Business Line newspaper reported earlier this week that
Tata Motors had signed a contract with Chrysler's electric vehicle
unit Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) to market an electric version of
the Ace for US sale.
US automakers are gearing up to meet tighter fuel emission standards
starting in 2012.
The Ace mini-truck was introduced by Tata Motors, India's top
commercial vehicle maker, into the domestic market three years ago and
became a runaway hit with small businesses. It launched a passenger
variant last year.

Read full article at -

First Jet Airways, now Kingfisher airlines...

I have to admit that I am very excited. If the quality of these
domestic airlines is maintained in their International flights as
well, these airlines will beat the others by a landslide. My last
visit to India I primarily flew Kingfisher, and was I impressed with
their cleanliness, food, quality of service, and especially the
patience with which the staff took care of my tired and jet-lagged 3
year old.

India eNews Reports--

"As Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher Airlines readies to fly to the US from
August 2008, it has decided on Terminal Four of the John F. Kennedy
International Airport in New York to cater to growing business from
the nation's east coast.

The decision follows Kingfisher chairman Vijay Mallya's visit to New
York last week when he inspected two contenders for his flights -- the
JFK International Airport and the Newark Airport in adjacent New
Jersey, officials said.

Global consultancy Accenture is presently working on the merger of Air
Deccan with Kingfisher and also looking into route rationalisation of
international sectors for both airlines, an official explained.

When completed, it will permit Mallya's airline to fly abroad by
fulfilling the government requirement of a carrier having flown for at
least five years in the domestic sector, with a minimum fleet size of
20 aircraft."

Read the full article at --

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Shekar Kapur Spoke to Heath Ledger the Night Before

Desi connection to a major news story.

People Magazine reports --

Photo -- Shekhar Kapur (left) and Heath Ledger on set in 2002

Article from People Magazine --

Director Spoke to Ledger Night Before His Death
By Stephen M. Silverman

Heath Ledger's director on the 2002 adventure movie Four Feathers,
Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, had plans to meet up with his former
star – until tragic fate intervened.

"I last spoke to him the night before he died. I had just arrived in
New York last night, he said he could not see me that night but really
wanted to meet me the next day," Kapur, 62, whose films also include
the two Elizabeth movies starring Cate Blanchett, says in a posting on
his personal Web site.

Adds Kapur: "He made me promise that I would call him in the morning
and wake him up. I tried. Little did I know that his soul had already
left his body."

Lamenting his loss, Kapur writes, "In Heath I have lost a younger
brother He was one the most gentle, the most honest, most caring and
most compassionate persons I had met. And one of the most honest
actors I worked with."

Of Ledger's talent," I often told him that he had the ability to
completely bare his soul in front of the camera, and all I needed to
do was make sure the camera could look into his eyes, and through his
eyes, the audience could clearly look into his soul," says Kapur.

The moviemaker concludes, "Farewell Heath. I always knew you had an
ancient soul. I always said you had a wisdom beyond your years. And
somehow I always knew that your spirit was too restless. Goodbye, my

Read article at --,,20173473,00.html

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cell Phone Banking in India

The Ideas section of this Sunday's Boston Globe, featured a huge two page
article by Jeremy Kahn titled "Third World First". This article is
about rising cell phone banking in India, something that has not even
caught on in the so called "developed countries" This article claims
that, "The rise of cellphone banking in India highlights a new trend:
technology developed in the Third World is flowing back to the First."

Here is an excerpt from the article --
"New Delhi: Bapi Das, seated next to an open sewer in a teeming slum
on the outskirts of this Indian city, combs his hand through his hair,
smooths his moustache, and prepares to enter the global financial

Das, a 42-year-old commercial painter, grins as a worker for a local
micro-finance group frames his face with a digital camera and zooms
in. It is an important moment. His photo will adorn a smart card that,
with help from a mobile phone and a fingerprint reader, will allow Das
to store money electronically, make small cash withdrawals, and send
money to his family on the other side of the country. It is the first
bank account he has ever had.

This might seem like a classic example of the Third World struggling
to catch up with the First. After all, people in the United States and
Europe have been using ATM cards and the Internet for years to perform
the simple banking tasks Das is only now able to do. But look again:
The technology used to bring slum-dwellers like Das their first bank
accounts is so advanced that it isn't available to even the most
tech-savvy Americans - at least not yet.

Soon, however, it may help you purchase groceries, withdraw cash from
an ATM, or ride the T. Already in the past year, Citigroup has taken a
mobile banking system it pioneered in India and brought it to the
United States. And a host of other companies, from Ford to Microsoft,
are following suit: piloting new technologies and ways of doing
business in the developing world, and only then bringing these
products and services to wealthier consumers in more mature markets.

This represents a stunning reversal of the traditional flow of
innovation. Until recently, consumers in the Third World also had to
tolerate third-rate technology. Africa, India, and Latin America were
dumping grounds for antiquated products and services. In a market in
which some people still rode camels, a 50-year-old car engine was good
enough. Innovation remained the exclusive domain of the developed
world. Everyone else got hand-me-downs.

But today, some emerging economies are starting to leapfrog ahead. Why
build a network of telephone wires out to remote areas when you can go
straight to a cutting-edge mobile network at a fraction of the cost?
Why burn fossil fuels for electricity and cooking if cleaner - and in
some cases cheaper - alternatives, like solar and biogas, are
available? Why electrify rural villages with incandescent bulbs if
longer-lasting, environmentally friendly options like LEDs or new
fluorescent bulbs exist? In many cases, it is mature markets like the
United States and Europe, tethered to older systems, that find
themselves playing catch-up."

Read the full article at --

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

India on a roll, or the benefits of celluloid soft power

An commentary by Shashi Tharoor in Lebanon's, The Daily Star

The world has heard much about India's extraordinary transformation in
recent years, and even of its claims to a share of "world leadership."
Some of that is hyperbole, but in one respect, India's strength may be

What makes a country a world leader? Is it population, military
strength, or economic development? By all of these measures, India has
made extraordinary strides. It is on course to overtake China as the
world's most populous country by 2034; it has the world's
fourth-largest army and nuclear weapons; and it is already the world's
fifth-largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity and
continues to climb - though too many of its people remain destitute.

All of these indicators are commonly used to judge a country's global
status. However, something much less tangible, but a good deal more
valuable in the 21st century, may be more important than any of them:
India's "soft power."

Take Afghanistan, for instance - a major security concern for India,
as it is for the world. But India's greatest asset there doesn't come
out of a military mission: It doesn't have one. It comes from one
simple fact: Don't try to telephone an Afghan at 8:30 in the evening.
That's when the Indian TV soap opera "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi,"
dubbed into Dari, is telecast on Tolo TV, and no one wishes to miss

"Saas" is the most popular television show in Afghan history, with a
90 percent audience penetration. It is considered directly responsible
for a spike in the sale of generator sets and even for absences from
religious functions which clash with its broadcast times. "Saas" has
so thoroughly captured the public imagination in Afghanistan that, in
this deeply conservative Islamic country where family problems are
often literally hidden behind the veil, it's an Indian TV show that
has come to dominate (and sometimes to justify) public discussion of
family issues.

That's soft power, and its particular strength is that it has nothing
to do with government propaganda. The movies of Bollywood, which is
bringing its glitzy entertainment far beyond the Indian diaspora in
the United States and the United Kingdom, offer another example. A
Senegalese friend told me of his illiterate mother who takes a bus to
Dakar every month to watch a Bollywood film. She doesn't understand
the Hindi dialogue and can't read the French subtitles, but she can
still catch the spirit and understand the story, and people like her
look at India with stars in their eyes as a result.

An Indian diplomat in Damascus a few years ago told me that the only
publicly displayed portraits as big as those of then-President Hafez
al-Assad were of the Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

Indian art, classical music and dance have the same effect. So does
the work of Indian fashion designers, now striding across the world's
runways. Indian cuisine, spreading around the world, raises Indian
culture higher in people's reckoning; the way to foreigners' hearts is
through their palates. In the UK today, Indian curry houses employ
more people than the iron and steel, coal and shipbuilding industries

When a bhangra beat is infused into a Western pop record or an Indian
choreographer invents a fusion of kathak and ballet; when Indian women
sweep the Miss World and Miss Universe contests, or when "Monsoon
Wedding" wows the critics and "Lagaan" claims an Oscar nomination;
when Indian writers win the Booker or Pulitzer Prizes, India's soft
power is enhanced.

Likewise, when Americans speak of the IITs - India's technology
institutes - with the same reverence they accord to MIT, and the
"Indianness" of engineers and software developers is taken as
synonymous with mathematical and scientific excellence, India gains in

In the information age, as Joseph Nye, the guru of soft power, argues,
it is not the side with the bigger army, but the side with the better
story, that wins. India is already the "land of the better story." As
a pluralist society with a free and thriving mass media, creative
energies that express themselves in a variety of appealing ways, and a
democratic system that promotes and protects diversity, India has an
extraordinary ability to tell stories that are more persuasive and
attractive than those of its rivals.

And there's the international spin-off of India just being itself.
India's remarkable pluralism was on display after national elections
in May 2004, when a leader with a Roman Catholic background (Sonia
Gandhi) made way for a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) to be sworn in as prime
minister by a Muslim (President Abdul Kalam) - in a country that is 81
percent Hindu. No strutting nationalist chauvinism could ever have
accomplished for India's standing in the world what that one moment
did - all the more so since it was not directed at the world.

There's still much for India to do to ensure that its people are
healthy, well fed, and secure. Progress is being made: The battle
against poverty is slowly (too slowly) being won. But India's greatest
prospects for winning admiration in the 21st century may lie not in
what it does, but simply in what it is.

This commentary can be found at --

Monday, January 21, 2008

Robbery behind Indian student's murder in North Carolina

From SIFY News --

"The only motive behind the killing an Indian doctoral student at an
engineering college in North Carolina could be robbery, campus
authorities suspect. The body of Abhijeet Mahato, 29, an Indian
Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur alumnus doing his second year
Ph.D. at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, Durham, was
found on Friday in a pool of blood at his home in an apartment complex
off campus.

Mahato was a bachelor and lived with a roommate who is not a Duke
student and who has been away travelling in India. Mahato's killing
was reported by friends, including Sandeepa Dey, who is also pursuing
a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Duke. They came by his apartment to check
on him after his phone had stopped responding for a few hours.

The autopsy was completed on Sunday and the body will be flown to
India as desired by his family in Jharkhand's Sereikela Kharsawa
district. They have authorised a family friend - a professor at
Michigan University - who will fly to Durham to do the needful. The
Indian embassy in Washington is flying out on Monday two officers,
Sanjay Sinha and Alok Pandey, to meet the university president,
Richard Broadhed.

They will also meet investigators and render assistance required in
flying the body to India, Rahul Chhabra, embassy spokesperson, told
IANS. The police have not come out with any theory on the motive or
the suspected killers. They are treating the incident as a homicide
and have determined the cause of death to be a gunshot wound.

But Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke, told
IANS: "It appears to be a case of robbery." He ruled out other
possible motives under the circumstances. "A sweet, incredibly
intelligent Mahato had no enemies," he said.

When told that in the absence of a possible motive, the Louisiana
university double murder of Indian doctoral students last month was
suspected to be a hate crime, Moneta said: "There is no basis for
suspecting Mahato's shooting to be a hate crime. There is no prejudice
or history of targeting Indian students here."

The North Carolina incident comes less than two months after two
Indian scholars were shot dead in another US campus. Chandrasekhar
Reddy Komma and Kiran Kumar Allam were killed in the Louisiana State
University (LSU), Baton Rouge. In that case too, the police have yet
to find a motive or arrest any suspects.

There are around 200 Indian students and faculty at Duke, Moneta said.
With over 12,000 graduate and undergraduate students, Duke is one of
the biggest campuses in the US as well as being one of the most
racially and ethnically diverse, with 117 nationalities."

Read the full story --

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In India, Women Leaders Have a Legacy

From NPR -- "As the United States contemplates the possibility of its first female president, we look at India, which in 1992 mandated a place for women in local governments. Esther Duflo of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab found that women there lead differently than men."

Carnatic Music Festival

I'll never forget my winters as a young child attending the Carnatic Music concerts in mid December, in my silk pavadai, all decked up and pretty, holding my grandparents and parents hands and listening to some of the greatest stalwarts of carnatic music, watching some of the best Indian dancers perform, enjoying the best of tamil dramas and theater. The music (or fine art)festival is a cultural phenomenon. The breaks between the concerts and the hot mouthwatering tiffins from the makeshift cafeterias were a divine treat.

NPR did a recent story on this festival. Listen to it at --

An Indian style Uncle Tom's Cabin

An excerpt from an article by Emily Wax in the Washington Post --

It has been called essential reading for every Indian child, a lively
illustrated storybook aimed at raising youthful awareness of the
injustices of the country's caste system, much as "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
exposed the indignities of slavery to white America.

Kancha Ilaiah hopes his book, "Turning the Pot, Tilling the Land:
Dignity of Labour in Our Times," will change the way young people see
farmhands, barbers, leather workers and others whose jobs are viewed
with disgust by upper castes. The social activists who have lauded the
book hope so, too.

"Turning the Pot" is the first Indian children's book to openly
challenge the 3,000-year-old caste system, which ranks professions
from scholars to shoemakers in a rigid hierarchy and is reinforced by
some interpretations of Hindu theology.

"This book is a weapon for India's millions of low-caste children who
are fighting for respect, just as African Americans did and do in the
U.S.," said Ilaiah, who also wrote the best-selling anti-caste book
"Why I Am Not a Hindu." "How do you change ancient prejudices in any
society? You do it through repositioning caste at childhood. If young
children are taught respect over a bedtime story or in class, that
could help enormously."

Read the full article at -

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indian Doctors Transform Rural Maryland

From an article in the Washingto Post by Jenna Johnson --

St. Mary's County was once a place where no doctor wanted to settle.
In the 1970s, the county hospital used decades-old equipment,
struggled to make payroll and had no full-time specialists -- not even
an obstetrician, although more than 600 babies were born there each

Then came Vinod K. and Ila Shah, Bombay-educated and D.C.-trained
husband-and-wife doctors who were eager to open a practice in the
rural area. They had heard about St. Mary's from Vinod's younger
brother and were enticed by the potential impact that even a small
practice could have there.

"It was just like miracle workers walked in," said Richard Martin, 92,
who was then head of the hospital. "I told them, 'You are the answer
to my prayers.' "

The couple was soon joined by Vinod's younger brother, Umed K. Shah, a
gastroenterologist. Next came two family friends. A few years later,
another brother arrived, cardiologist Anil K. Shah, with his wife,
Beena Shah, a neurologist.

In time, Vinod and Ila Shah recruited more friends and family,
including the rest of Vinod's eight siblings, each of whom is a doctor
or is married to one. They built the largest private specialty
practice in Southern Maryland, Shah Associates, which has treated
about 90,000 of St. Mary's 110,000 residents.

Read the complete article at --

11-year-old Indian fights racism in US

From Times Now --
An 11-year-old Indian American girl in New York is fighting an
antiquated law that keeps her out of the school of her choice because
she is not the right skin color. Her family is now fighting the racist
law in court, and it could well turn out to be a landmark victory for
the entire community.

"We feel vindicated"

In 2007, 11-year-old Nikita Rau was denied admission to one of the
most elite schools in New York City - Mark Twain Intermediate School
for the Gifted and Talented - not because her grades were not good
enough, but because she was the wrong colour of skin.

Nikita's shocked parents decided to file a class action lawsuit
challenging the race-based quota that had kept her out. And within
hours, the first sign of success: NY's School Chancellor announcing he
would request the Federal Court to end the quota.

Nikita's father Dr Anand Rau told Reuters, "Children should be judged
on the content of their character not on the colour of their skin. So
I think it was a vindication."

This the first step in the fight against racism for this Indian
American family in New York, in a country they say is the melting pot
of cultures.

The Mark Twain school for the gifted where Nikita wanted to study
music follows an antiquated quota system based on race in which 60% of
seats are set aside for white students, with 40% left for minorities.
The system dates back to 1974, and was designed to combat racial
segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.

The Raus see this first sign of a climbdown by the authorities as an
indicator of the growing assertiveness of Indian Americans in the

"I think it's about time...the same way Chinese Americans have, the
same way millions and thousands of immigrants have who came before us
who have asserted themselves. And I can quote Bobby Jindal, who is now
Governor of Louisiana. I think that's the way to go, we have to assert
our rights," says Dr Rau.

It could still be a long fight for the Raus, and for the Indian
American community at large, but the first signs are encouraging.

Nikita cannot get admission to Mark Twain till the quota is actually
lifted by the federal court - a process that could take long.
Eventually, she might not even choose to change her current school but
for her parents, the fight to challenge a discriminatory quota system
has been worth the time and the struggle.

Article at --

Caste System and Reservations - Boon or Bane?

What does caste have to do with education? One would simply assume
education needs to be purely merit based, for those who deserve it,
from an intellectual standpoint. I am one of those, that have never
and probaly never will understand why anyone should study or not
study, because of what caste or communit they belong to.

Excerpt from an interesting article in the Washington Post written by
Emily Wax--
"Not so long ago, in the back of a tin-roofed restaurant, Ramu, a
teenage dishwasher, spent his nights chained to a radiator. That's how
his employer kept him from running away.

Ramu wanted to flee because his boss, who was from a higher, more
privileged caste, constantly berated him for showing an interest in
learning to read. The boss believed Ramu had to get used to a life of
cleaning up after other people because as a Dalit, a member of India's
lowest and most shunned caste, he could never amount to anything.

Then a foreigner who ran a private school and home for Dalit children
noticed Ramu. He enrolled him in classes. Ramu is now a star pupil
with a voracious and ever-changing appetite for activities including
yoga, photography and film directing.

"In my childhood, I was so desperate for learning," said Ramu, a
gregarious 19-year-old with thick brown hair. "There are so many jobs
other than dishwashing that I hoped to experience.""

Read the full article at-

A No-no for the environment

Online Matchmaking - We Just Clicked

Time Magazine has published a feature on matchmaking. Featured prominently in the article is Here is an excerpt from the article --

"India has a long history of and cultural comfort with matchmaking; as many as 90% of weddings are arranged, says Patricia Oberoi, a Delhi-based sociologist. There are 60 million singles ages 20 to 34, and 71% believe arranged marriages are more successful than "love" marriages. But with so many moving to cities or even abroad--up to a third of the population, according to the latest census--the Internet is proving preferable to the services of the village nayan. So-called matrimonial sites first appeared 10 years ago and today make up half the world's matchmaking sites. Like U.S. sites, they offer free viewing but charge about $40 to subscribe for three months. BharatMatrimony, a leading site, claims 10 million members and, in its 10 years, a million marriages. Another, named Shaadi, boasts 800,000 matches. Industry growth in India could be even more explosive than in China; users have doubled every year. Sales are growing 50% annually and reached $30 million in 2006. "Online matrimony has become a mainstream activity, like checking e-mail," says Uday Zokarkar, business head of BharatMatrimony.
Partly because India's matrimonial sites have already succeeded in wooing the nation, Western companies have hesitated at the door. "India is a very different business, and we just haven't got there yet," says Match's Enraght-Moony. For instance, sites there make matches on the basis of factors unfamiliar to outsiders, including caste, language and "character"--a euphemism for chastity. About 15% of profiles are filled in not by the prospective bride or groom but by their parents. And now Indian sites are challenging Western matchmaking companies on their own turf. Shaadi CEO Vibhas Mehta says 30% of its business comes from the U.S., Europe, Australia and the Middle East. Perhaps love needs no translation after all."

Read the full article at --,9171,1704691,00.html

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reuters reports on Indian PM in China

Gandhi's ashes to rest at sea???

From the Boston Globe --
"Some of the final ashes of Mohandas K. Gandhi, India's freedom hero
and peace apostle, also known as Mahatma, will be scattered over the
Arabian Sea after his family objected to a museum's plans to display

Gandhi was shot dead by a Hindu hardliner in 1948 and after his
cremation several urns containing his ashes were dispatched to his
followers across the country to be displayed at memorials.

One of those urns was handed over last year to a museum dedicated to
Gandhi by an Indian business family that had preserved it for almost
60 years.

The Mani Bhawan Gandhi Sangralaya had plans to display the urn along
with Gandhi's personal belongings, but his descendants intervened,
asking the museum to consider scattering the ashes at sea.

"In deference to the wishes of the family the ashes will be scattered
over the Arabian Sea on January 30, which is his 60th death
anniversary," museum official Dhirubhai Mehta said."

Read the full article at --

A new kind of dream home!!!

Remember the Jalneti that your grandparents used, it's back!

Anything yoga related has been succesfully adopted as a pop-culture
"thing", now it is the turn of the "jala neti". Last I remember seeing
one was at my grandfathers old home in Kerala, one that belonged to my
great grandfather I believe. Wish I had saved that one! Here is an
article about it from the New York Times --

"GABY HAKMAN worked as a chef in professional kitchens in Miami for
nearly 20 years, standing in the vacuum of powerful venting fans,
inhaling smoke. But she had even bigger nasal challenges ahead. "I
work as a personal chef now, which is a lot less toxic, but I also
moved to New York City, and because of the city's pollutants and dry
heat I developed painfully dry sinuses," Ms. Hakman said.

Seeking the advice of a masseuse and acupuncturist, Jana Warchalowski,
Ms. Hakman was urged to try something she didn't even want to think
about. "Jana said she had two words for me: neti pot," Ms. Hakman
said. "I'd heard about it before. I just kept thinking, 'No way,
that's gross.'"

But this fall, Ms. Hakman relented. "I went out and bought a pretty
little ceramic neti pot from Whole Foods," she said. "I've used it
every day since. Now, I can breathe again. It's even gotten rid of the
bags under my eyes."

Originally part of a millennia-old Indian yogic tradition, the
practice of nasal irrigation — jala neti — is performed with a small
pot that looks like a cross between Aladdin's lamp and your
grandmother's gravy boat. The neti pot made its way into this country
in the early 1970s as a yoga meditation device, but even as yoga
became mainstream, the neti pot remained on the fringes of alternative

That is, until now. Due to a confluence of influences, the neti pot is
having what can only be termed a moment, sold in drugstores, health
food stores, even at Wal-Mart and Walgreens.

The practice gained wide exposure last spring when it was introduced
on Oprah Winfrey's show by a frequent guest, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a
cardiothoracic surgeon and an author of health books. Dr. Oz explained
that bathing the sinus cavities in a warm saline solution can reduce
symptoms of allergies, cold, flu and other nasal problems."

Read the full article at --

The Other Nano

An editorial in the New York Times --

What do a ’73 Volkswagen Bug, a navigation system on a new Jaguar and a brand new Nano sedan have in common? Two things: they cost about $2,500 and involve the Indian entrepreneur Ratan Tata.

Mr. Tata is chairman of the Tata Group and currently the leading bidder to buy Jaguar from the Ford Motor Company. Last Thursday, he unveiled the world’s cheapest car — a cute five-door hatchback called Nano that’s powered by two cylinders in back, capable of running at 75 miles an hour and costing about $2,500. Mr. Tata hopes to sell a million Nanos a year in India and to expand to other developing countries. He claims the car meets European emission standards and gets a hybridlike 50 miles to the gallon.

Given the gas-guzzling behemoths that so many of us in the West feel entitled to, it would seem hypocritical to begrudge people in poor countries an affordable car. Much like the hypocrisy of the dealers who have resisted Tata’s bid for Jaguar on the grounds that Indian ownership would erode the brand’s prestige.

The sad fact is that the world has changed since Americans celebrated the egalitarian breakthrough of the Ford Model T. We know now that gas-driven automobiles do terrible damage to the environment, and the notion of loosing millions upon millions of new carbon emitters on our planet is not something to celebrate.

So while we admire Mr. Tata’s business and engineering acumen in creating the Nano, we ardently wish that he would focus his talents elsewhere: creating transportation that is both affordable and doesn’t emit ever more greenhouse gases. That would be something for the whole world to celebrate and buy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jindal Sworn in as Governor of Troubled Louisiana

An excerpt from an MSNBC article --
"Bobby Jindal, the 36-year-old son of Indian immigrants, was sworn in
as the state's governor today. A two-term Republican congressman, he
takes over from Democrat Kathleen Blanco, who was at the helm when the
storm hit and was blamed both for her handling of floods' immediate
aftermath and for the slow pace of the state's recovery."

Read the full article at --

More on this at SAJAForum--

South Asian girls sizzle in US swimsuit calendar

From an article in CNN-IBN Live --

"The Indian- American community tends to be fairly conservative in nature. So, when Sexy South Asian girl’s calendar came out in 2007, it was a first for the community. The calendar sold about 22,000 copies.

Now, the 2008 version of the calendar is out but it's creators decided on a new name for the 2008 version.

Ten out of 12 models featured in the’s Swimsuit Calendar 2008 are Indian-Americans with one each from Pakistan ad the Caribbean.

The shoot took a week and the location was at the upscale resort area of the Hamptons in New York state.

As for the changes that the calendar underwent, CEO, Desiclub. Com says, “It's a marketing strategy basically and it's also reputation. You have to be very careful about the wording that you use. And with the word 'sexy' in our title last year, the word 'sexy' automatically draws a certain type of attention. We want to keep it streamlined and classy. So we figured we should definitely title it something that's more mainstream.”

For the 2007 calendar, about 20 girls applied to be part of the project but in 2008, the number rose fivefold.

Of the models included, some said "no" initially due to their apprehensions about appearing in swimsuits but then changed their minds."

Full article at --

Calendar at --

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Next Generation Foundation Featured In The Boston Globe

An interesting article in the Boston Globe about Indian Americans
funding schools back in India --

"Some foreign-born residents of Boston's suburbs send their
hard-earned paychecks home. Others earn a degree, sample American
life, and move on.

The Indian expatriates who make up the Next Generation Foundation do
both. Taking cues from American values of charity and equality that
they say they have observed in the United States, members of the group
have banded together to build a school in India, one they say will
help orphans overcome caste prejudices and other hurdles to economic

Read the full story at --


India turns to prostitutes to help beat trafficking

Reuters reports --

"Authorities in eastern India have teamed up with prostitutes as the
officials accelerate a drive against the trafficking of girls into the

It is a rare display of official approval for the efforts of
prostitutes in West Bengal's Sonagachhi area, one of Asia's largest
red-light districts.

In the past year alone a prostitutes' organization has rescued more
than 550 women and girls from brothels and from traffickers, the
state's social welfare department officials said."

Read the full article at --

India's Andaman islands hit by 6.0 quake

Reuters reports that --

"A magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck India's remote Andaman islands on Monday, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said.The quake was centred 47 km (29.2 miles) from Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman islands, the USGS said on its Web site. The depth was given as 47 km. (Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Jerry Norton) "

India's Well of Death

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, First Man to Climb Mt.Everest, Dies at 88

From the New York TImes --

"Sir Edmund Hillary, the lanky New Zealand mountaineer and explorer
who with Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa guide, won worldwide acclaim in
1953 by becoming the first to scale the 29,035-foot summit of Mount
Everest, the world's tallest peak, has died, New Zealand Prime
Minister Helen Clark announced Friday in Wellington.

He was 88."

Read the full story at --

Some great photos at the National Geographic --

Gender Politics?

An excellent Op-Ed piece by Gloria Steine,co-founder of the Women's
Media Center, in the Jan *th issue of the New York Times, throws light
on gender politics and how one tends to see it. Read on ...

Women Are Never Front-Runners

THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community
organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little
girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother
and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is
considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years,
and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be
elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there,
do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most
powerful nation on earth?

If you answered no to either question, you're not alone. Gender is
probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the
question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White
House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women
and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the
average democracy.

That's why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of
making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before
women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have
ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom,
before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family
members in the latter).

If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named,
say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been
cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have
used Mr. Obama's public style — or Bill Clinton's either — without
being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.

So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?
The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is
still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that
affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects
"only" the female half of the human race; because children are still
raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to
feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful
woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more "masculine" for so
long that some white men find their presence to be
masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren't too many of them); and
because there is still no "right" way to be a woman in public power
without being considered a you-know-what.

Read the full piece at --

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

How Eerie is this?

Talk about an eerie coincidence. This was a Pakistan International Airlines ad that ran in a French newspaper in 1979.
Thanks to for bringing this up.

Ford to Expand in India, Planning a Small Car and an Engine Plant

In the wake of the $2,500 car from Tata Motors, the Tata Nano, Ford
has it's own announcement to make. this from teh New York Times, Jan
8, 2008 --

Ford Motor plans to more than double its investment in India to
produce a small car for the fast-growing local market and to build an
engine manufacturing plant there.

The company is expected to announce on Tuesday that it will increase
spending in India by $500 million, raising its total investment to
$875 million, as it focuses on making the country a regional hub for
small-car manufacturing. Car sales in India are growing by more than
20 percent a year, compared with 3 percent globally, and first-time
buyers there are eager for cheap compact cars.

Several local and international automakers have recently announced
plans to make a small car specifically for India, inspired in part by
Tata Motors' impending introduction of a $2,500 car.

Read the full article at --

The $2500 Car!

From the New York Times, dated Jan 8th, 2008

MUMBAI, India — What does it take to build the world’s cheapest car?

For Tata Motors of India, which will introduce its ultra-cheap car on Thursday, the better question was, what could it take out?

The company has kept its new vehicle under wraps, but interviews with suppliers and others involved in its construction reveal some of its cost-cutting engineering secrets — including a hollowed out steering-wheel shaft, a trunk with space for a briefcase and a rear-mounted engine not much more powerful than a high-end riding mower.

The upside is a car expected to retail for as little as the equivalent of $2,500, or about the price of the optional DVD player on the Lexus LX 470 sport utility vehicle.

The downside is a car that would most likely fail emission and safety standards on any Western road, and, perhaps, in India in a few years, when the country imposes tougher environmental standards.

But Tata is not looking to ply California’s highways. Instead, the company wants to provide four-wheel transportation for the first time to people accustomed to getting around on two, including hundreds of millions of Indians and others in the developing world.

Even so, the “People’s Car” (a nickname, since Tata has kept the real name under wraps, too) may ultimately affect what many people drive around the world, since it is part of a broader trend among carmakers to try to build less expensive cars.

Read the full article at

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Very Profound Quote From Picasso


There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.

- Pablo Picasso

Outsourced Wombs

An article by Judith Warner in the New York Times opinion section is highly thought provoking --

Outsourced Wombs
Tags: India, surrogate motherhood
The voice was commanding, slightly disdainful and officious.

“The legal issues in the United States are complicated, having to do with that the surrogate mother still has legal rights to that child until they sign over their parental rights at the time of the delivery. Of course, and there’s the factor of costs. For some couples in the United States surrogacy can reach up to $80,000.”

This was “Julie,” an American thirtysomething who’d come to India to pay a poor village woman to bear her baby. She went on:

“You have no idea if your surrogate mother is smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs. You don’t know what she’s doing. You have a third-party agency as a mediator between the two of you, but there’s no one policing her in the sense that you don’t know what’s going on.”

Would you want this woman owning your womb?

The Indian surrogate mothers quoted along with Julie in a report on American Public Media’s “Marketplace” on NPR last week didn’t much appear troubled by that kind of thought. After all, the money they were earning for their services — $6,000 to $10,000 – might have been a pittance compared to what surrogates in the United States might earn, but it was still, for their families, the equivalent of 10 to 15 years of normal income.

They couldn’t hear Julie speaking in her awful, entitled tone. And if they had, would they have cared? “From the money I earn as a surrogate mother, I can buy a house,” said Nandani Patel, via a translator. “It’s not possible for my husband to earn more as he’s not educated and only earns $50 a month.”

We, however, can hear the imperious tone, so much more audible in radio than in the troubling print reports that have surfaced lately on Indian surrogate mothers’ “wombs for rent.” And we should care about how things sound.

Because what’s going on in India – where surrogacy is estimated now to be a $445-million-a-year business — feels like a step toward the kind of insane dehumanization that filled the dystopic fantasies of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale.” (One “medical tourism” website,, refers to the Indian surrogate mother as a mere “host.”) Images of pregnant women lying in rows, or sitting lined up, belly after belly, for medical exams look like industrial outsourcing pushed to a nightmarish extreme.

Surrogate mothers are seen at Kaival Hospital in Anand, India, in 2006. Photo: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki
I say “feels like” and “look like” because I can’t quite bring myself to the point of saying “is.” And in this, I think, I am right in the mainstream of American thought on the topic of surrogate motherhood.

Read the full essay at --

PS: I Love You, but it's time to move on...

I had the opportunity to see this movie today. I walked in expecting to come away after a couple of hours of mindless entertainment, watching this chick-flick, boy was I surprised! This was one of the most thought provoking movies I have seen in recent times. I never thought I was philosophical but, this movie makes me think about life in general and how important it is to balance different things in order to maintain personal sanity and stay mentally fit...

We obsess and worry about, the most mundane and irrelevant things in life, and lose focus of the more important issues that need atention. If you get a chance go see this movie, I highly recommend it! You can also read the book, behind this movie, "PS: I Love You" by Cecelia Ahern

See the movie website at -

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Reversal of Fortune Isolates India's Brahmins

Reversal of Fortune Isolates India's Brahmins
(Tariq Engineer contributed to this article.)

CHENNAI, India -- Brahmins, as Hinduism's priestly and scholarly caste,
have traditionally occupied a place of privilege in India. Brahmins have
been advisers to Maharajas, Mughals and military rulers. Under British
rule, they served as administrators, a position they kept after Indian
independence in 1947.

But in today's India, high-caste privileges are dwindling, and with the
government giving extensive preferences to the lower-caste majority, many
Brahmins are feeling left out of the economy's rapid expansion.

R. Parameswaran has suffered that reversal of fortune. The 29-year-old
starts every day with a prayer to the Hindu god Shiva, marking his
forehead with red and white powder to let the world know he is a Brahmin.
In his home village, his caste's mark brought him respect, but since he
moved to Chennai, a sprawling high-tech city in the southern state of
Tamil Nadu, in the late 1990s, he has found his status a liability.

In Tamil Nadu, nearly 70% of government jobs and public-college slots are
reserved for people from lower castes and other historically disadvantaged
groups. Although he says he graduated near the top of his high-school
class and had strong test scores, Mr. Parameswaran couldn't get into any
of the state engineering colleges. His family had to borrow from friends
to send him to a second-rate private college.

He now teaches English at a small vocational school. On a salary of $100 a
month, Mr. Parameswaran can't afford an apartment, so he sleeps in the
classroom at night. "I am suffering," says the intense young man, using
the exaggerated enunciation of an English teacher. "Unfortunately, I was
born as a Brahmin."

Although the role of Brahmins has never been synonymous with accumulating
wealth, many are affluent enough to educate their children in the better
private schools. On average, members of the caste, who make up about 5% of
India's population of 1.1 billion, are better educated and better paid
than the rest of Indian people.

The term Brahmin has come to be used globally to describe those at the top
of the heap with an attitude to match, as in Boston Brahmins. Yet close to
half of Brahmin households earn less than $100 a month, according to the
Center for a Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi think tank. For
these Brahmins, the array of state-mandated preferences for other groups
present a high hurdle.

The reverse discrimination is rooted in Indian history and politics. For
decades, Brahmins were resented for their dominance of the government,
economy and culture. Indeed, political parties in Tamil Nadu sprang from
anti-Brahmin feelings. "If you see a Brahmin and a snake, kill the Brahmin
first" was an old slogan.

A national constitution adopted in 1950 reserved more than 20% of
government jobs for lower castes. In 1990, an additional 27% were set
aside for what were called "other backward castes." Some states set higher
quotas, including Tamil Nadu, which reserves 69% of government jobs for
lower castes and other needy groups.

The ugliest Brahmin bashing in India ended years ago, but Mr. Parameswaran
says that in college in the late 1990s, he still faced ridicule as a
Brahmin. He says one student tried to break his sacred thread, a simple
circle of twine Brahmins wear under their clothes.

After college, he had an internship in a state-owned chemical company, but
says he was told he wouldn't be hired, as there were openings only for
lower-caste applicants. He says he took exams to join national railways,
state banks and other government agencies, such as the immigration
department, but found most posts closed to all Brahmins except the most

From his makeshift home where he sleeps with a blanket on a desk most
nights, Mr. Parameswaran still applies for government jobs. He pulls out
his latest application form and shows a visitor where he always gets
stuck: the three squares where he has to write the abbreviation indicating
his caste. "I want government work," he says, shaking the application,
"but they have no jobs for Brahmins."

Mr. Parameswaran has tried to adapt to the lessening of caste distinctions
taking place in many parts of India today, especially in cities. The
changes are less in villages such as the one where he grew up some 200
miles away. There, his grandfather, who is 101 years old, still won't wear
Western clothes and won't eat outside of his home for fear of mixing with
lower castes. Mr. Parameswaran's father has a job with the state telephone
company and is more liberal. He dresses in shirts and pants, doesn't mind
eating at restaurants and doesn't expect lower-caste neighbors to take off
their sandals in his presence. Mr. Parameswaran has had good friends from
lower castes all his life, many of whom have used their communities to
grab good government jobs, he says. He won't eat meat but has no qualms
sharing a meal with people of any caste or creed. His 22-year-old sister,
R. Dharmambal, is even more liberal, he says. "She will take
non-vegetarian food," he exclaims, using the common Indian term for eating

Mr. Parameswaran often visits the sister in the Brahmin enclave of
Mylapore. On a recent day there, dozens of shirtless priests in the
traditional Brahmin uniform of a white dhoti and partially shaved head
were standing around at a Hindu-scriptures school, hoping for work. For as
little as 100 rupees, about $2.50, they offered to perform complicated
rituals and blessings required when any Hindu has a baby, a wedding or a
new home. "My sons can't support me, so I have to survive by performing
Hindu rituals," says K. Narayana, an 81-year-old scholar. "If we had been
from another community, we would have had better opportunities."

Nearby stands the Kapaleeshwara Temple, with towering gates of colorful
carvings from Hindu mythology. It is one of the most important places for
worship for followers of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. The temple
used to be surrounded by rows of simple single-story homes, each with its
own courtyard and well so the Brahmin families wouldn't have to share
water with other castes. Most houses have been replaced by concrete
apartment blocks and small stores.

At the temple's back gate, Brahmins beg for spare change or look for odd
jobs as cooks or even bearers of bodies to funeral pyres, normally a
lower-caste pursuit. "

I see so many Brahmins begging" in Mylapore, Mr. Parameswaran says. "It's
very difficult to see. It makes me totally upset."


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Idle Worship, Or The Non-Resident's Role Play

A recent opinion piece by Ramachandra Guha in Outlook magazine about NRI's makes for very interesting reading. I certainly agree with him on many counts. Titled "Idle Worship, Or The Non-Resident's Role Play," he says "Come winter, and Indians will genuflect before the visiting hordes of NRIs"

Here is how the piece begins --

"A new festival has been added to the Indian ritual calendar. Like Dussehra and Diwali, it is a winter festival, but unlike them the gods it honours are living beings, who appear before us in flesh and blood instead of being frozen into stone. This relatively new addition to our lives is called NRI puja. It takes place in December, a time when thousands of Non-Resident Indians briefly become Resident Non-Indians.

As a middle-class, English-speaking South Indian, I am always part of these festivities myself. For half my family serve as deities; the other half as worshippers.

Among visiting gods, Salman the creator, Amartya the preserver and Sir Vidia the destroyer are most prominent.
Whether I like it or not, I am placed by default in the second class. Fortunately, whatever personal apprehensions I have about participating in this annual puja are overcome by the force of professional obligation. As an Indian who chose to live in India, I might affect scorn for the migrants, but as a social scientist I must take cognisance of a phenonemon whose social significance grows with every passing year.

The first thing to note about this puja is that it has space only for a certain kind of NRI. Those who live with Arabs in the Gulf or with Fijians in the South Pacific do not qualify; still less those who have made their home with humans of African descent in the Caribbean. To be worthy of worship, an NRI must live with people whose skin pigmentation is, in the Tamil phrase, paal maadri, literally, the colour of milk."

Read the full article at --