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.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On that fateful day...

Lahore always remained a living example of religious harmony where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians lived in absolute peace and calm without a single reported incident of communal clashes. People in Lahore generally were very broad-minded, who believed in Punjabi brotherhood rather than in religious divide. Promoters of Pakistan did not relish it as they saw it as a hinderance in their propaganda that Muslims would not be safe in the Hindu majority India after the independence. Disturbing the peace in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, was a dire necessity for them to demonstrate and prove their point of view that the two communities could never live together in peace. And it was not difficult to mastermind such a disturbance. They knew that even though the vast majority of the Hindus were secular, there still was a section amongst them who had hated Muslims for centuries for being the first invaders in history of the Hindu India. They only had to incite and trap this small section of the Hindus to start communal clashes in the city. They were still working on their strategy when an unfortunate incident provided them the opportunity to push their plans on a platter.

During a hockey match between two major teams, known arch rivals, heated arguments on a disputed goal got out of control and caused a fight between the two teams in which hockey sticks were freely used. Such incidents had happened earlier also, but this time it took an ugly turn as one player was killed in the clash. This was, in all probability, accidental, the hockey stick hitting some sensitive part of the body. However, since the boy who was killed was a Hindu and the one who hit, a Muslim, the incident started the rumor that communal rioting had started in the city with a Muslim student killing a Hindu. And in no time a Muslim student was stabbed to death in another part of the city, leading to a series of vengeful stabbing and arson in the city. Clearly, the extremist elements amongst the Hindus, who vowed to avenge every such killing, had fallen into the carefully laid trap of the fundamentalist Muslims, whose foremost agenda was to somehow shatter to pieces the prevailing peace between Hindus and Muslims in Lahore.

On that fateful day, I was at our Maths-teacher's place, along with some other students, taking last minute coaching prior to the ensuing final exams, when we got the scary news that the city was in the grip of communal violence. Our teacher, though a Hindu, lived in Bhati Gate in the the old city, which was predominantly a Muslim area. Till then it did not matter at all, Muslims living in Hindu areas or vice-versa. But all of a sudden that Saturday it mattered a lot. For the first time we felt that we were insecure, being Hindus, in that Muslim area. Even our teacher, who had been living in that area all his life, got nervous when there was some unusual commotion outside his house. He was not sure how safe it was to escort us out of the area to our respective houses. As we were passing through those most anxious moments of our lives and praying for our safe return to our homes, Bazal, my next door neighbor and best friend, and his brother, an army officer, appeared, like angels came to save our lives. My mother had immediately contacted them on learning about the communal flare-up and sought their help to bring me back home from our teacher's house, whose address she knew. They had arranged police escort to take us all out from the area to our homes safely.

There was an unusual commotion and quietness at the school when we arrived there the next Monday. As soon as we assembled for the Morning Prayer, our Principal gave the shocking news of the tragic death of our Maths-teacher late in the evening on Saturday. The police believed the miscreants had bolted his house from outside before torching it and the teacher was brutally burnt in the house on fire. The school was closed for the day after many teachers paid tributes to their colleague and two minutes silence was observed to mourn the tragic loss, when we all prayed for peace to the departed soul. It was only then that we, the students, who were at our teacher's house that evening, realized that we really were facing a life and death situation last Saturday at his house, and might have met the same fate if we had not been rescued out of the area in time that evening.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Love Story - 1947

The fondest memories of my life in Lahore were the moments spent with Indu, my sister's best friend, who lived next door. With her very sweet, sober and sacrificing nature, Indu had also won my mother's heart and became her most favorite amongst all our friends. In fact, the entire family had taken a fancy for her and loved her a lot. I especially felt that a very special bond was beginning to develop between me and Indu, which made life look more beautiful and exciting. She would always stop by to be with me for a while in my room upstairs, whenever she crossed over to our side of the terrace to see my sister. She would be eager to show me her latest painting, while I would be waiting for her to read my new writing. Day by day, and year by year, as we were growing and coming of age, we loved to spend more and more time together, and missed each other when we did not meet any day. It, therefore, came as a big shock when Indu had to move to Karachi, along with her parents, for a long period, where her father, a very flourishing electrical contractor, had got a big government contract for electrification of the harbor in Karachi that would take at least two years to complete. It was indeed a very painful parting.

The Partition was a very big price India paid to attain independence from the British. At least one million men, women and children were killed and over ten million uprooted on both sides of the border, following the religious divide of the country in 1947. Thanks to my best friend Bazal and his brother Aziz, who was an army officer, we were escorted safely across the border into India. My heart started to sink as we left Lahore, thinking of Indu and her family, who were in Karachi, which also, like Lahore, had become part of Pakistan. I could only pray for them, which I kept doing till we arrived in New Delhi, our destination, where my father had decided to start from scratch, after having lost all he had in Lahore.

From day one of my enrollment, BD became my best friend in the college. He belonged to a farming family that owned big farmland on the outskirts of Delhi, who had been paid handsome amount of compensation by the government for acquiring their land for rehabilitation of refugees from Pakistan. This made BD one of the most affluent students in the college, the only one then to come to college in a car, and the most popular for generous spending on fellow students for their treats. No wonder, he won the presidential poll in the college union elections overwhelmingly. The victory in the college elections made BD ambitious to stand for the presidential seat of the Delhi University Students Union. The girls' college, where entry of boys was totally prohibited, opened its gates to boys once in a year only, to facilitate campaigning for the university elections. Well equipped with the publicity material, BD and I entered the gates of Indraprastha college for the first time, with a mission to win over majority of the votes from the college. We headed straight for the college union office to seek support of the office bearers in our campaigning. As we entered the open door, I could not believe my eyes when I saw Indu standing there, talking to some other students. At first startled, she screamed with joy finding me in front of her, and instantly gave me a very warm and long hug. It had never happened before in their very conservative college, a girl giving a hug to a boy in the college campus, but Indu could not restrain her spontaneous reaction to my sudden appearance after the fateful Partition and its aftermath, even if it must have caused shock to her companions.
“Oh my God, what a surprise! It's so wonderful to be together again!!” She screamed with joy, still clinging to me.

In the four years gap, she had grown into a great looking girl, adding a lot of grace to her beautiful body. I introduced her to BD who was standing speechless at our surprise reunion, and she introduced us to the other three girls, who were all office holders in their college union along with Indu, who was the president. After being greatly relieved to know that all in our both families were safe and fine, I came to the crucial topic that brought us to her college. She assured BD that since no student from her college was contesting for the seat of president in the university elections, she would easily enlist their support for him. BD was overjoyed and was only too happy to give us a ride to my place when Indu expressed her desire to meet my family without any delay. BD eventually won the election.

After graduating from our different colleges, Indu and I studied together in Delhi University for our post graduation. We met everyday and loved to spend most of our free time together. After we had left the university on completing our post graduation courses, and joined our respective professions, she as a senior teacher in Delhi schools and I as an executive in corporate sector, we still managed to meet almost every evening. We had fallen in love, far more deeply than ever before. For our families and friends we were an inseparable couple. It, therefore, was no surprise for anyone when many years of our courtship culminated into a happy marriage, with no twists and troubles in our love story. Today in California, on the verge of celebrating 50 golden years of our wedding, we still sometimes feel our story has just begun, when I look forward to see Indu's new watercolor painting and she waits for my latest blog, like it all began in Lahore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blind Love

National Association for the Blind (NAB) is the primary Non Government Service Organization for the blind in India. Founded in Mumbai in 1952 with the motto “Tamso Ma Jyotigamaya” (From darkness lead unto light) that emerged as its guiding principle, the NAB, through its 18 State Branches in different parts of the country, its 7 institutions and over a dozen activities, provides services such as support for integrated education, braille production, talking book library, home for aged blind, special program for multiple disabled persons, prevention of blindness, vocational training, technology development & training, industrial employment, and orientation & mobility training all over India.

My wife and I devoted much of our spare time to volunteer service to the blind at the NAB in New Delhi. I published a souvenir to raise funds for building hostel of the school for the blind, through advertisements from big business houses, while my wife helped by organizing runs in Delhi schools in aid of the blind. I also assisted the voluntary organization in its expansion to the rural areas of Delhi by starting training programs in varied vocations right in the villages where the blind lived. On weekends and holidays my wife would accompany me to oversee the training arrangements and make suggestions based on her experience in running such programs in schools. In one of our visits to a training camp in a village, we spotted a blind boy, singing devotional songs in the compound of the village temple.

“What a melodious voice this young man has. If groomed by a professional musician, he can be a great singer,” my wife said while walking towards him.
“You sing beautifully. Where did you learn to sing?” She asked Bhola, the blind young man.
“Just by listening to professional singers who performed at the temple during festivals. I spend whole day singing at the temple, and this gives me a good practice. Sometimes they allow me to sing with them on the stage too,” he said with some pride.

Seeing the potential in his singing, my wife suggested that she could arrange to train him under her school music teacher, who was also a radio artist and might help him in his audition for singing on the radio.
“It is a terrific idea. I can arrange his stay in the blind school hostel where he can take lessons from your music teacher.” I greeted her suggestion with great enthusiasm.

Bhola's parents were too poor to look after their blind son and had practically abandoned him, to live at the mercy of others, at the temple. They were only too happy to see their son taken to the city to live in the hostel for the blind, where he would get food and all other amenities free of cost. The music teacher, whom my wife had given his first break when he had just come from a small town looking for a job, was very happy to have Bhola as his pupil. On the suggestion of the blind school administrator, the winner of the “Best Volunteer of the Year” national award, the music teacher also agreed to train a blind student of the school, who too was a good singer. They both learnt fast and within a short period passed the audition test of the national radio and TV. After their very first opportunity to perform together on the TV, they received offer from a renowned music studio, to make an album of their devotional duos. Their first album was immensely liked by lovers of devotional songs, and then onwards, there was no looking back. They both became a popular singing pair and star attraction at religious gatherings and 'Jagratas”.

Thanks to my wife's match making skills, and blind school administrator's blessings, Bhola and Veena, his blind singing partner, apart from their successful singing career, were soon leading a happy married life. They had truly experienced Blind Love, the basic and the most beautiful form of love.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Priceless Bangles

At the JFK International airport in New York, we had to wait for our flight for almost the whole day, arriving at nine in the morning, for a flight to New Delhi at seven in the evening. This was the most economical option for us on our last day of the trip to the U.S., when we had already exhausted whatever little foreign exchange that was allowed by our government for travels abroad. After sitting for sometime in the airport lobby we realized the time literally stopped if you kept looking at the clock, so we started to look around. As soon as we did that, the time started flying with every flight that took off from the airport. It was interesting to watch passengers arriving to take their planes, some in such a hurry as if testing their great athletic fitness by running to reach the flight gates, and some others like us, who found airport lounge a fine place to pass their time in leisure. The young girl sitting next to us seemed to be of the second type. She was already there when we came and had been consuming cigarette after cigarette since then. My wife initiated a conversation with her, while I wondered how she took so long to do that.
“Are you also waiting to take a flight?”
“No, I'm waiting for my boy friend. I arrived earlier from Rome and he was expected to receive me at the airport.”
“You had gone there on vacation?”
“No, I'm coming here on vacation. I'm from Italy and studying in Rome. My boy friend is American and lives in New York. We met when he came to Rome last year as a tourist. This year he invited me to spend my holidays with him in New York....” And she went on and on, talking about her boy friend, about herself, and all their plans in life together. While she was talking, she also went on admiringly touching and looking at my wife's Bengal-crafted bangles.
“I love the bangles you are wearing.” She said after exhausting all the information she had stored about herself. And my wife responded instantly by removing both the bangles she was wearing in one hand.
“Take them, these are for you.”

As my wife was giving her the bangles, another woman who was watching them, came over.
“Are you selling these bangles?”
“Oh no, just giving as a gift. You like to have?”
“I would love to, but not without paying the price.”
“These are not expensive at all. Please accept these as a present.” And she started to remove bangles from her other hand.
“These are beautiful bangles and look quite expensive. I cannot take them unless you accept to take the cost. Anyway, I am in a hurry to see off someone, and would be back with you soon.” And she rushed to another lady who was entering the lobby. At the same time the other girl's boy friend had come and she left thanking my wife for the wonderful gift.

After a while, the other woman came back.
“Now I have all the time to talk to you. Your beautiful silk suit says you are from India.”
“Yes, we are. And you?”
“I am from Italy. I have visited India many times. I love your country. What time is your flight?”
“At seven in the evening.”
“Then why are you so early at the airport?”
My wife told her about our visit to the U.S., sending our son to University of San Francisco, and spending all our dollars on the trip without saving for a day's trip to see New York city. As soon as my wife completed the last sentence, the woman immediately took out a hundred dollar bill from her bag and wanted to give her.
“Since you have not seen New York and you still have plenty of time, go and see at least some parts of the city.”
When she did not accept it in spite of her insisting, the lady said let that be towards cost of the bangles, which in the meanwhile my wife had given her as gift.
“Ok, take it as a loan, and return it when I visit India next time.”
“No, we really don't need the money. But do meet us and stay with us when you visit New Delhi.”

They gave each other their addresses, and promising to see us in India she left, but not without leaving the hundred-dollar bill on my wife's lap.
“I will need it when I am in India. And thanks for the priceless bangles.”

Traveling is a great experience. You come across people, meet them momentarily, and remember some for ever. We could never forget the Italian lady, even long after our first visit to USA.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Indian candies? No problem, ..."!

Ever since we had sent our son to USA for studies on his passing senior secondary, the main topic of conversation with our friends would be how our son was doing in the U.S. Some of them were skeptical of our step. They thought that we had made a big mistake in sending our only so far away, and at such a young age. They expressed concern that he might not be able to withstand the cultural explosion he would confront in the U.S., where drugs, drinking and dating started in schools. One couple even gave example of their nephew, who went to USA and never heard of from there. We were upset by such comments but did not regret sending our son to USA, as we were quite confident that we had taken the right decision for his future, and had full faith in his ability to face any challenges there. Still, some of the fears our friends expressed stuck in our minds and made us concerned about them. We decided that we make a trip to the U.S. and visit his university to see for ourselves the atmosphere and the environment in which he was pursuing his higher studies.

It was our first trip abroad. Since Los Angles was our first airport of disembarkment in the U.S., we had to go through the custom check there, even though our ultimate destination was San Francisco. Four big bags and two hand bags between two of us, traveling on tourist visa, looked too much luggage and therefore, too tempting for the custom staff to let it pass without checking the stuff inside. They asked us to open our bags. We looked at each other with a little nervousness, which was noticed by the custom personnel, a young man and a woman, who smiled and seemed pleased on the prospect of a prize catch by them.
“You seem nervous, is there any stuff that needed a declaration or attracted custom duty?” asked the lady custom officer addressing my wife.
“No, there is no such thing in the bags. Our only worry was how would we close the bags once they were opened, as it was a real tough job to close the over packed bags.” She answered.
“Don't worry, we shall help you close the bags after our inspection,” the officer replied reassuringly.

Opening of the bags became an anti climax for the custom officers. The bags were packed with all kinds of items of daily use, but not one to put us in any trouble. The officers were amused to see dozens of bath soaps, tooth pastes, and other toiletries packed along with shirts, under wears, vests, socks, shoes, and on top of them a tennis racket.
“You carried all these toiletries and cosmetics from India, when these are all the items tourists carry from here to their countries,” the officer commented lightly.
“We knew these were available in all varieties and best quality here, but we do not have dollars to pay for their purchase, nor our son has, who is a student here and for whom we have brought all this stuff. Our government allows very little foreign exchange for traveling abroad.” My wife tried to explain, which the officers hardly understood, especially not being allowed to bring dollars from our country.
“And what is there in these beautiful boxes?”
“Indian candies for our son. We can leave them here if we are not allowed to carry these.”
“Indian candies? No problem, let him enjoy.”

I wondered at my wife's presence of mind in calling Indian sweets as candies and getting away with them. I was pretty sure they would not have permitted Indian sweets, as they did not allow any eatables into the U.S. When the ordeal of inspection was over, the custom officers did help us in repacking and closing our bags, which would have been unbelievable back home. Throughout the checking, the officers remained cheerful and remarkably cool, and made us feel the same way. We were happy to have come to a very welcoming country, with very friendly and pleasant people.

Our most important engagement in the U.S. was to visit University of San Francisco, and meet the Dean, for which our son had already taken appointment for us. As we settled down to talk to the Dean, he complimented us for sending our son so far away from home for higher studies. He very emphatically brushed aside our doubts about students taking to bad habits in American universities.
“Students from all over the world come to the U.S. for higher studies because here they have the finest facilities, excellent environment and the first class faculty available anywhere in the world. Since the education is expensive, especially so for foreign students from developing countries who have to pay exorbitant price in their own country's currency to arrange foreign exchange for fees, only very serious students enroll. It helps the universities to have an environment that is ideal for serious studies.”

Our meeting with the Dean that went on for more than an hour was, indeed, the most rewarding experience of our trip. We were not only relieved of all our worries that had arisen out of the fears expressed by our friends, but were also overwhelmed by the news, which the Dean delivered us as a parting present.
“I'm happy to inform you in advance that your son is eligible for merit scholarship for the full tuition fees for the second year, on the basis of his grades in the first two terms. The official announcement will be made sometimes next week.”

All our doubts dispelled, we were fully satisfied to see our son in good hands at the university. It helped us enjoy the rest of our trip to its fullest, giving us great memories to cherish for ever. The one that kept us always amused was our encounter with the customs on landing at LA - “Indian candies? No problem, ...”!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Trained To Walk On Eggshells!

Workplace sexual harassment is often hard to identify—and even harder to manage. It comes in many forms, occurs at every level, and is often unnoticed and unadvised until it leads to more devastating consequences. By and large, it includes any of the following forms:

* physical contact which is unwanted
* unwelcome remarks about a person's age, dress, appearance, race or marital status
* jokes, offensive language, gossip, slander, sectarian songs and letters
* posters, graffiti, obscene gestures, flags, bunting and emblems
* coercion for sexual favors

Eighteen years ago in USA, Anita Hill's testimony at the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made sexual harassment a household term. Hill's testimony that Thomas had made inappropriate sexual advances in the workplace triggered a nationwide trend toward sexual harassment prevention training. Today, millions of Americans have completed courses in the do's and don'ts of workplace behavior. And in California, the training -- which now also addresses discrimination based on age, disability, race, religion and national origin -- has been required for all supervisors since 2005.Though it may be too soon to gauge the absolute success of the training, experts say it is one reason that sexual harassment claims have declined in every type of workplace.

The purpose of training is for employers to resolve problems through their own complaint procedures and policies, which helps to preserve a positive working relationship. In 90 percent of these cases, when the violators are clearly told the behavior is not tolerated, it will stop. But when that message is not communicated, that's when the thing escalates. An environment where harassment is not acceptable helps to build trust, and the increase in trust means you can keep and attract better employees. You have more productivity, higher profits. The gain is far greater than the cost.

Organizations walk a fine line between ensuring employee productivity and interfering in the private affairs of their employees. Decision makers in most organizations recognize that some form of managerial intervention is required when a workplace romance presents a serious threat to the conduct of work or group morale. With both of these concerns in mind, provide training for supervisors and managers about how to discreetly address overt sexual behavior in the workplace. You will also want the supervisors comfortable coaching the dating couple if the relationship results in lowered morale and productivity for themselves or coworkers. An employer’s first responsibility is to put in place a robust and well communicated policy that clearly articulates the organization's commitment to promoting dignity and respect at work and a zero tolerance approach to both harassment and bullying. Employers need to take action to prevent harassment, support the reporting of all incidents no matter how minor, respond promptly and ensure the corporate policy is followed correctly. Harassment and bullying thrive in a workplace culture where it is ignored rather than challenged. A well-designed policy statement is essential in addressing harassment. Policy statements should be agreed with union or employee representatives. A policy does not automatically change attitudes and behaviors. All corporate communication tools should reflect a zero tolerance of bullying and harassment and managers should have clear targets for ensuring that this is not a factor in their teams.

Achieving high levels of performance from people at work is essential in today’s competitive market place. Organizations should treat any form of harassment or bullying seriously not just because of the legal implications, but because it can lead to under-performance at work. Eliminating all forms of harassment and bullying makes good business sense. A workplace environment which is free from hostility enables people to contribute more effectively to organizational success and to achieve higher levels of job satisfaction. People cannot make their best contribution when under fear of harassment, bullying or abuse.

An organization's public image can be badly damaged when incidents of harassment occur, particularly when they attract media attention. This can affect relationships between an employer, their current and future employees, as well as their customers. Organizations must address the human or systemic failures that may foster a climate where bullying is acceptable. The conflict which harassment creates should not be underestimated. Employees can be subject to high levels of stress which can reduce engagement and may lead to higher labour turnover, increased sickness absence and less productive and effective teams. Developing and implementing preventive policies and procedures creates a climate of greater confidence in being able to challenge harassment. The right policies and procedures enable employers to tackle individual complaints quickly and effectively. An organization's goal should be to develop a culture in which harassment is known to be unacceptable and where individuals are confident enough to bring complaints without fear of ridicule or reprisal. Everybody needs to feel responsible for challenging all forms of harassment and for upholding personal dignity.

In addition to the training, another reason for the decline is the heightened awareness of the cost of sexual harassment cases. In USA, the average harassment jury award is $1 million. People rail against the legal system, but with sexual harassment, it has been an extraordinary deterrent. When employers saw the $3 million final verdict in the Baker & McKenzie case, it changed how business was done. That 1994 case took place in the Palo Alto office of one of the world's largest law firms, Baker & McKenzie. A jury awarded a record $7 million verdict (later reduced to $3 million) to a woman who claimed to have been repeatedly sexually harassed and humiliated by her boss. The case threw a floodlight on the importance of training all employees, including top management and high-performance rainmakers. If that judgment conveys its intended meaning, law firms and other enterprises across the country will bolt from their complacency and rectify the mistreatment of women in the workplace. Though some people feel constrained by the more cautious atmosphere in the workplace. They complain about walking on eggshells and fearing a lawsuit if they so much as compliment a coworker. But this is what the training is all about.