Tilak Rishi's weblog

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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

House Warming Gift!

Nothing in the world makes parents happier than seeing their children make significant progress in life. Within a few years of getting a good career break with a computer giant, our son had a very pleasant surprise for us. Our eyes were moist in those most joyous moments of our lives when he called us to break the news that he had bought a new house and wanted us to come immediately for its formal opening from our hands at the house warming party he had already fixed after a fortnight. Along with the invitation he sent us our tickets for the flight to USA. He also told us not to bring any gift for the house warming, as he had already made up his mind what he wanted from us and would tell us when we arrive there.

The house warming party over and when all the guests were gone, he and our daughter-in-law disclosed what they wanted from us as our most precious gift for the occasion. They earnestly requested us to take early retirement from our respective jobs and join them in the States. This was not the gift we had prepared ourselves to give them. They drove us into the most difficult decision making moment of our life. On the one hand there was too great a temptation to be with our son to let it go, and on the other, we did not want to be amongst those parents who often unknowingly add undue pressure and stress on a young marriage by placing possessive time demands on a son or daughter. At a time when a younger couple is struggling with limited finances, establishing solid relationships, securing a dependable income, and learning to raise children of their own, overbearing parents can add unnecessary stress to a fragile marriage. We firmly believed that parents must do their part to support and strengthen the marriages of their children. Parents should be more concerned with the success and healthy condition of their child's marriage than with their own assumed rights to time with the family.

Keeping in view our above belief, we thought it better to discretely decline our son's request to move to the U.S. to live with him. We pleaded with him pointing to the modern day facilities of cell phones, email, iChat and the rise of social networking like Facebook, which make parents become the extended family over vast distances. Our son was quick to kick out our excuse saying even though technology allows families to keep in touch and share personal milestones more easily, nothing replaces the experience of actually living under the same roof with family. With families dispersed all over, technology helps to bring those families together now more than ever. But it just can't beat a hug or pat on the shoulder.

Our son used all his persuasive power to convince us to come to live with him in USA. His answer to our beliefs was his own firm belief that adult children and their spouses must also realize they have obligations and responsibilities to their elderly parents. This is accomplished through love and respect. As adults, grown children should not only be self-sufficient in meeting their own needs, but they should remove as many of the worries and emotional stresses from their elderly parents as possible. When ageing parents experience failing health, adult children have a responsibility to administer or see that proper care and support is in place. Though nursing homes and elder care facilities may provide helpful and needed resources in caring for invalid parents, institutions should never be looked to as complete solutions to elderly parental care. Love and emotional support expressed through touch and heartfelt conversation is the responsibility of children and family, not employed care providers.

Perhaps, thinking that his point of view might be construed by us as a kind of sacrifice of his privacy and personal life for his parents, which he knew we would not like, he came up with yet another, though entirely, different angle in arguing for us to live with him. If not today, tomorrow he will need us as a great help when he starts his family. Having the support of an extended family can help young parents through many of the tougher times with child raising. Extended families play an important part in assisting with childcare needs. They can come to the rescue when parents cannot see solutions to problems that they face with their children. Many parents suffer through finding babysitters and childcare providers for their small children. When these parents are attached to a strong extended family unit, childcare is rarely a problem. Grandparents are only too willing to watch the little ones. Often, permanent childcare solutions can be found within the extended family that will give dependable care at a large monetary savings to young parents. People who cultivate extended family relationships are at an advantage emotionally and are often more successful in their personal lives. Both children and adults benefit from these relationships during times of great stress. They also reap the rewards when joyous events enter their lives. These are the people who will rejoice and be glad with you, as well as sorrow and grieve with you. You really can't lose.

Indeed, we could not have over emphasized our son's smartness and sincerity on the issue of extended family v/s nuclear family, and at the end of the day, we agreed to give him the gift of his asking for the house warming. We made up our mind to join him by moving to USA.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Words Of Gold

Election days are here again. The time to make many speeches a day for the well-known leaders and the unknown aspirants to leadership. But when was it last when we heard a great compelling speech. Must be long time back. Leave aside extempore speech, leaders no longer have the time or the inclination to even write their speeches, and prefer to depend on their speech-writers to do the job. It is an open secret and very often when a leader gives a great speech, it is the speech writer who is acclaimed by the media. Here is how the White House speechwriters, McGurn, Thiessen and Michel, took a break to offer a glimpse into how the presidential address was put together: “Planning for this year's speech began in earnest in December, and by Christmas the speechwriting shop had an outline ready for Bush, and sent it out to the President. We often met with him twice a day to go over drafts, while also getting input from the rest of the White House staff. Bush started practicing the speech in the White House movie theater daily till the D-day, when the President delivered one of his most applauded State of the Nation addresses.”

In this age of the internet, the leaders now have a huge choice to chose their speech for a particular occasion from hundreds of speeches offered on the net. There is no dearth of websites advertising their business of speech writing, e.g. - “......com has been writing speeches since 1994 with over 150000 satisfied customers”! Another website claims: “The next time you're up for public speaking, do you want to just speak, or do you want to give a great speech? I'd like to do the same for you, turning your general ideas into words of gold. I'm here to help you look good when you step before your next audience to speak.” And so on. These speeches by professional writers may have the right language, but the soul is lacking. A speech that does not come from the heart, cannot touch the heart. That is why most leaders today fail to lead their followers for long; they don't speak from heart. Speeches made by great leaders in history attain immortality as they themselves have. Here are a few picked from the recent past, which never fade with time:

Jawaharlal Nehru – Tryst with destiny speech (Midnight Aug. 14, 1947)

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?...............”

John F. Kenndy – Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 1961)

“......Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation" -- a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?......And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country............”

Martin Luther King Jr. - I have a dream speech (Aug. 28, 1963

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today......”

There are many more eminent leaders in history who were also great orators, but the blog cannot be concluded without mentioning present times' foremost orator, former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has millions of admirers, most of whom may have become his fans and followers because of his superb eloquence and masterly command over language. The audience loves the element of surprise in his inimitable style of speech making – pause after a pause – and then follows a thunderous applause when the words come that invariably become the famous quotable quotes of all times.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Free Fall For Dancing Girls

Over the centuries there have been all sorts of prostitutes, from simple whores who provided sexual services (veshya) to temple dancers who to a certain extent prostituted themselves (devdasis) to highly respected courtesans. But never have they been this bad as we see them in red-light areas of different cities in India today. Here are a few faces of the oldest profession in the world to show how ugly and pathetic it is today compared to the times gone by.

Heera Mandi. For centuries these two words have conjured up images of the forbidden mysterious world of the courtesan. The narrow alleys of Lahore’s walled city was once the traditional playground of the scions of Punjab’s powerful feudal families. Lured by the sound of the ghungroos, the haunting love-songs and the legendary beauties behind the trellised curtained balconies of Heera Mandi, there were many who left their hearts at the feet of the dancing girls of Lahore. Heera Mandi nurtured some outstanding performing artistes, including the famous Noorjehan, Khurshid, Shamshad Begum, Mumtaz Shanti and many others. Most of the early film actresses of pre-Partition Lahore cinema came from the kothas of Heera Mandi. The art of music in Punjab was confined to the streets of the courtesans with Heera Mandi taking the lead as the largest settlement in the cultural capital of the state in undivided Punjab. Today, only the lowest tier in the courtesan hierarchy live and dance in Heera Mandi. The celebrated dancing girls and their powerful patrons have long moved on to up-market residential areas, taking with them the romance and allure that cloaked the sleazy, squalid reality of Heera Mand. In the midst of unimaginable squalor and despair are moments of heartbreaking compassion, humanity, that inimitable brand of earthy Lahori humour and the generosity of spirit that color the cruel cycle of life in Lahore’s ancient pleasure district.

LUCKNOW: As Mughal rule in Delhi declined, the Nawabs of Avadh came into their own. Many courtesans moved from Delhi and surrounding areas to Lucknow, and Urdu poets and the seat of Urdu poetry went with them, to Lucknow. Like in Umrao Jaan and Pakeezah, the courtesan of Lucknow has been variously depicted in films and reams have been written which somehow have created the image of courtesan as the purveyor of sexual pleasures and entertainment. The opulent and ostentatious living of the courtesan was an embodiment of a culture, culinary and artistic talents coupled with a flourish of feminine beguile. The best mahals of Qaiserbagh, with carpets, hookahs, silver paan boxes, crystal lamps, and the Vermeer-like mirrors, belonged to these courtesans. Under the patronage of medieval rulers and Nawabs, a class of dancing girls and courtesans emerged to entertain the palaces and courts. Kathak dance assumed the form of courtly entertainment and attained new heights of popularity and glory. They established the famous Parikhaana (abode of fairies) in which hundreds of beautiful and talented girls were taught music and dancing by expert-teachers engaged by the royal patron. These girls were known as Paris (fairies) with names such as Sultan pari, Mahrukh pari and so on. However, when Lucknow was taken over by the British after the 1857-war of Independence, the British divested them of their earnings and forced them into the abysmal ghettoized life of red-light areas which ultimately resulted in the birth of the tawaif or prostitute with all it’s negative connotations and exploitations, from her previous avtar as a courtesan of erstwhile Lucknow.

Tanjore: Although ancient texts like Vedas, Upanishads do not mention Devadasis (servants of God), institutionalized worship of idols in temples during early centuries of led to the practice of dedicating women to temples. Their main job was to dance and sing as also playing musical instruments. In the course of history the so called “temple women” were both honored and exploited in the name of God. At one time, they were regarded as honorable professionals, and are responsible for development of many of India’s performing fine-arts. Dedicating dancing girls to temples in the service of God was not peculiar to India. Many ancient civilizations, like those of Babylon, Cyprus, Phoenicia, Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Syria employed young girls to propitiate their deities in their respective temples. In the temple of Corinth, we are told, hundreds of prostitutes lived in the precincts of the temple and the main income of the shrine was from the income of these courtesans. Contemporary norms found no stigma if rich clientele associated themselves with such women, who in their spare time entertained the rich and wealthy. India was no exception. By the time Hiuen Tsang came to India (7th century) Devadasi system was firmly established. He had noticed a large number of them in the great Tanjore temple built by Rajaraja Chola (10th century). The system of devdasis was officially abolished by the Government but as with many other religious and customary traditions, it survives in some temples in South India.

Kamthipura: For the dancing girls of Lahore, Lucknow and temples of Tanjore, it was, indeed, a free fall to land up in Kamthipura, Mumbai's oldest and Asia's largest red-light district. The area was set up by the British for their troops, which acted as their official "comfort zone". This small region boasted the most exotic consorts. When the British left India, the Indian sex workers took over. Every vile desire a man could dream of was for sale and child virgins were the region’s most noted delicacies. Today, it is said that there are so many brothels in the area, that there is no space for the sex workers to sit in. They hang around in the streets, solicit customers and then rent a free bed. Now these streets are just playgrounds for human traffickers and mafia. The police, the brothel keeper, and pimps share the major part of the earnings of the prostitutes and the rest of it that percolates down to the prostitutes is a mere pittance. It is alleged that the police accepts the hospitality, money and free use of the girls. The police helps the brothel keeper even by bringing back the ones who have run away. With the extreme poverty and societal prejudice toward women, thousands of girls are bought and sold in every state of India. The lenient law enforcement system has allowed for the flourishing trade. Once the girl is sold to a brothel keeper, she becomes a virtual slave of the industry. She is beaten, threatened, caged, verbally abused and forced to have sex with many men every day.

Our society has not only turned a blind eye to minor girls being enticed into prostitution but also is directly responsible for the continuance in growth of child prostitution. First the demand for virgin prostitutes, and secondly it abets child prostitution by failing to provide adequate facilities for orphan and destitute children. Unless so called respectable sections of the society rise in revolt against exploitation, the future of younger generation looks bleak. We have to forget the idea of once a prostitute, for ever a prostitute and think how can a child help what has been done to her by an unthinking adult? We have to overlook their past and rehabilitate them. The society can certainly endeavor to achieve what SITA (Suppression of Immoral Trafficking Act) could not.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Educating India

India is the Largest democracy in the world, the 6th largest country in the world and one of the most ancient and living civilizations. India has an ancient tradition of education. The world's first university was established in Takshila in 700 B.C. Indian mathematicians introduced the zero, the decimal system and the method of multiplication. Indian astronomers were tracking the heavens as far back as 3,100 B.C. Education is still highly regarded in India.

Higher Education in India is one of the most developed in the entire world. There has in fact been considerable improvement in the higher education scenario of India in both quantitative and qualitative terms. In technical education, the IITs, and in management, the IIMs have already marked their names among the top higher educational institutes of the world. Moreover, the Jawaharlal University and Delhi University are also regarded as top higher educational institutes for doing postgraduates courses and research in science, humanities and social sciences. As a result, students from various parts of the world are coming today for higher education in India.

India is today one of the fastest developing countries of the world with the annual growth rate going above 9%. In order to sustain that rate of growth, there is need to increase the number of institutes and also the quality of higher education in India. Therefore the Prime Minister of India has announced the establishment of 8 IITs, seven Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and five Indian Institutes of Science, Education and Research (IISERs) and 30 Central Universities in his speech to the nation on the 60th Independence Day. The outlay for education during the 11th Five Year Plan, which runs from the current fiscal to 2012-13, represents a four-fold increase over the previous plan and stands at Rs 2500 billion.

India has significant advantages in building a large, high quality higher education system. It has a large higher education sector – the third largest in the world in student numbers after China and the United States. It uses English as a primary language of higher education and research. It has a number of high quality institutions that can form the basis of a world-class higher education system. The governance of the Indian Higher education sector is changing. Like the Indian economy underwent a liberalizing in the 1990s, the education system is gradually being opened up for change and decentralization. In particular, the federal and state governments are gradually giving higher education institutions more decision and spending power. This represents a move away from detailed government control over spending, teaching, and curriculum decisions, which required frequent approval from federal or state government officials.

We have the third largest higher secondary education system in the world with 25 Central Universities, 231 state universities, five institutions established through state legislation, 100 deemed universities, 31 Institutes of National Importance as on 31st December2007. In 2005-06, the total enrollment of students in all courses(professional and non-professional) and levels in regular stream was 11.04 million. States control the school system, though the central government provides financial assistance and planning. Primary school is free and officially compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14, after which students must pay for education. For women, education is free up to the undergraduate level.

Schooling in India is considered amongst the best in the world. What better proof can be there than provided by the present elementary education scenario in Japan. Despite an improved economy, Japan is suffering a crisis of confidence these days about its ability to compete with its emerging Asian rivals, China and India. One result has been a growing craze for Indian education in this fad-obsessed nation. The Indian boomlet reflects the insecurity many Japanese feel about schools in their country, facilities that once turned out students who consistently ranked at the top of international tests. But now many are looking for lessons from India, a country seen by many in Japan as the world's ascendant education superpower. Bookstores are filled with titles like "Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills" and "The Unknown Secrets of the Indians." Newspapers carry reports of Indian children memorizing multiplication tables far beyond nine times nine, the standard for young elementary students in Japan. And the few Indian international schools in Japan are reporting a surge in applications from Japanese families. Indian education is a frequent topic in public forums, from talk shows to conferences on education. Popular books claim to reveal the Indian secrets for multiplying and dividing multiple-digit numbers.

As for the American education system, it has one major flaw: it's nicknamed 'edutainment'. Many teachers find themselves having to think of ways to constantly entertain their students and keep them motivated. It becomes a task of performing in the class instead of teaching. The U.S. Administration has now awaken to the need to follow the Indian teaching techniques in their schools in order to make American students compete with international students, especially in their learning of maths – nine times nine!

Friday, November 07, 2008

“God Save India!”

India today is on the verge of national disintegration as never before. Communalism, casteism and provincialism are found in their ugliest form ever. Things are getting worse and will reach a point of no return, sooner than later, unless we take some big and bold decisions immediately.

In the parliamentary system of democracy that we borrowed from the British before they quit India, every Member of Parliament plays an important part in the formation (or fall!) of the government. The honorable MP, whether independent or belonging to a political party, before even contesting the election, looks at his constituents on communal and caste lines to calculate his chances at the hustings. His party also considers his communal and caste backing before allotting him the party ticket, side tracking his standing on the national issues. Thus, the Parliament, apparently made up of members of political parties following different national ideologies, is in fact a House whose foundation is filled with communal and caste-ridden elements. None of the Members of this august House is capable of taking a stand against communalism and casteism as each one of them has taken the help of communal/caste elements to enter the House. nor can the Government be sincere on the issue, which depends on the MPs for its existence. The idea is not to blame our worthy Members of Parliament for the mess we find ourselves in. If they have to win, they have to play the communal/caste card. This is the system. They cannot help it. It is the system that we must change. Unless and until the executive head of the country is elected on a national level with the entire country as his constituency, we can never create a strong, secular and united India.

What do we do to bring about the change? Not much wisdom is needed to answer the question. From the simple farmer in the villages to the smart operator in the cities, we are a nation of born politicians and veteran watchers of the political scene at the Center and the States. When the scene becomes intolerably boring, we are capable of bringing about a change that has made the mightiest of the mighty leaders run for their political survival. So, it's time to come together and use our collective strength to save the Country from going down the drain. We must warn our leaders to set aside their ideological differences and come together to crush the divisive forces indulging in hate crimes in the name of narrow patriotism for their state, caste or community. Then take the next step, eradicate the route cause of all divisions by collective wisdom in improving or making drastic changes in the system. If the elected leaders do not do it now, they do not get elected next elections. That's it.

The only other alternative is to simply ignore whatever the situation and not to worry about it. Hopefully, the work will go on in the government as usual. Whatever the political scenario, God willing, nothing could ever stop the nation from making progress. Relevant to the context, it is said that when the Soviet leader Brezhnev returned after visiting India, he became a believer in God. He was convinced that God must have been running the government in India as the politicians were all the time busy pulling each other down. Presently, the anecdote is all the more pertinent because now even the Indians from one state cannot stand their fellow citizens from another state and still the nation goes on as usual. The least we can do is to remind God every day to continue running the country by making this as our morning greeting: “God Save India!”