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, April 28, 2009

Dedicated To Mother's Day!

The lives you live as wives, moms and homemakers, while going out to work - where can you, as women, get the greatest fulfillment? Ask my wife, and she will at-once answer, nowhere else than in a warm loving home in a joint family? She was lucky to have been married at a time when joint family was not history, but still struggling to survive the onslaught of the fast moving metro life, which disrupted families. She was doubly fortunate to have her mother-in-law as her best friend. Parents' presence in the house was not only a blessing, but also a big support to us, the working couple. It indeed helped us through many of the tougher times with child raising and childcare needs. Unlike many parents who may suffer through finding babysitters and childcare providers for their small children, we never had any such problem. Our parents were only too willing to watch our little one. In short, my wife had it all – nice fulfilling job, great kid, a comfortable home and much of the credit for it goes to her compatibility with in-laws who lived with her under the same roof. So, any career woman, when ready to marry, would be very lucky if she can join a loving joint family after marriage.

All good things must come to an end. Our only child was hardly four years when for the first time my wife faced the hard realities of coping with the responsibilities of a mother and a career woman, without the help of my parents, who had moved to another city to be with my elder brother. She soon realized that motherhood was not all a bed of roses, especially if you happen to be a career woman. She now had to strive to make it successful, which she succeeded doing wonderfully well. First thing she did was to thank God for having teaching as her career, which was then not as paying as the career in a company. But now as a mother she found it paid off exceedingly well by giving her ample time to raise our child. Incidentally, she saw the sense in so many matrimonial classifieds then, clamoring for brides from teaching profession. Her working hours were best suited to devote the rest of the day after school to bring up our boy and fulfill his needs. Then there were so many vacations – autumn, winter and the long summer – coinciding with our son's school holidays, she never was short of time for our child, although a working woman. So, lucky is the working woman who has a job that complements, not clash, with her home life. There is nothing worse than having a lousy job that leaves you drained at the end of the day and ill-prepared to face your family when you get home.

People are amazed that my wife can be a good mother, a good wife and a good principal at the same time. Indeed, it is not easy for a woman to work as well as manage her family, and this is where support from husband highly matters. I was pretty sure that working women cannot be good mothers, unless they are blessed with a family willing to do their part in insuring her success at home and work. And although the family may feel happy having Mom handle all the cooking, washing, and cleaning, it is an unrealistic expectation when her paycheck is required to keep the bills paid. Just as a working man depends on his wife to allow him time to work and be with his children, so should he return the favor. Household chores should be shared equally by the husband and wife if they both work full time away from home. The choice is clear - we can spend our time whining about the impossibility of the situation or we can work together to make it workable situation for all. With my absolute belief that we as parents would greatly benefit from joining together and sharing the trials and tribulations of parenthood, supporting each other, learning form each other, and lending loving advice and helping hand, I sincerely strived to play my part as a husband who is helpful. Let me elaborate my role by relating to an amusing anecdote: Our son was still in his elementary school when he upset his teacher by being adamant on answering incorrectly, which as per his teacher, was a very simple question of social studies. After she had taught the class the basics of our daily life from a lesson in the book, wherein it was clearly stated that in the family, the father goes out to work and the mother does the household, she asked our son, “Who makes breakfast for you everyday?” To which he replied, “My father makes breakfast for me everyday.” And repeatedly gave the the same answer in spite of being corrected by the teacher. We had to explain to the teacher that this was the only truth he knew. While his mother went to work early in the morning, I fixed breakfast for him and tiffin for the school, saw him off when the school bus came, and then went to office.

In order to get along in the world today, a woman must work, to earn a decent household income. I have always thought my wife is a remarkable woman because she has successfully raised our brilliant boy, kept our house running by supplementing the household income substantially, and remained a respected school principal for 30 years till retirement. She really is a good role model who is worth emulating by aspiring working mothers. Dream big and grab those opportunities that come along. No path to success is strewn with roses. But the going gets lot easy if the loved ones extend a helping hand.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gone Too Soon, My Dearest Brother!

You were not 92 years old today, you were 92 years young my dearest brother (Prithvi Rishi), when you left us to live in your heavenly abode. May you rest in peace!

Here's  celebrating you with happy memories of wonderful moments and shining years:

Let me start with those exciting evenings of the bygone era before Partition at the Government College swimming pool in Lahore. After finishing with your daily practice, with unaccountable lengths of the pool, for the State swimming marathon championship, you would be ready to show your matchless power in the friendly water polo matches with your winning shots. It was no surprise to anyone when you won the Punjab state championship for free-style marathon and helped your team take home the trophy for water-polo. You cannot imagine what an inspiration you gave me and to my school friends, who spent the evenings admiring your stamina at the college swimming pool and learning a lot from your skills.

“Milk Does Body Good”, the commercial slogan made popular by the milk lobby in USA since late Nineties, was passionately promoted by you decades earlier during your youth years , and later throughout your life. Remember the milkman who was always so amused seeing you gulp a couple of bottles of the pasteurized milk, before even the bottles made their way to the kitchen? It sure helped you have a body that made your friends envious and aspire others for such a healthy physique. There is no doubt, your healthy habits and hard regimes resulting in your having a robust health kept you ever young, in fact, providing you ample excuse to proclaim you were only forty-nine on your every birthday beyond that age for many years. It also paid off in providing you enough strength to fight and show remarkably fast recovery whenever you confronted serious age related ailment recently. We all have to learn from you how important it is to take necessary steps to safeguard our health well in time, so that we can ward off, as much as possible, the ill effect of old age on our health.

Hats off to you for the exemplary courage and bravery you demonstrated during the Partition when the militants entered our house in Lahore on learning that you and father were still living there. Your presence of mind in enlisting help from our wonderful Muslim friends next door helped you both in miraculous escape by crossing over to their house from the terrace and eventually across the border to India. And thanks again to you, although father had lost everything he had built in Lahore, the financial hardship of the family did not last too long. Your great career break in your friend's lumber company enabled the family to come back to the same lavish style of living as we had in Lahore. There was no looking back thereafter, as year after year, your career-graph kept moving up and up, eventually making you the managing director of the company you devotedly nurtured to become the biggest lumber company in Northern India. I can never forget those happy days in the family, especially your organizing the unforgettable tracking trip for me and my friends, from Simla to Missouri through the forests in the interiors of Himanchal, with excellent arrangements made by your staff throughout at all the forest guest houses on the way. That trip we cherish for ever.

Your amazing spirit in dealing with adverse circumstances came to the fore when twist of fate compelled you to close down your flourishing forest business. As terrorists infiltrated from Pakistan across the border into Kashmir and intensified their operations from the forests, the Kashmir government had no option but to ban all civilian activity in and around the forest areas to fight the terrorists. Your business was the worst hit by this ban as your all lumber work was concentrated in Kashmir forests. Forced to quit Kashmir, with all your investments in lumber business totally lost, on spur of the moment you made the most sensible decision, to move to the U.S. to start afresh from a scratch.

Here in USA, you did not take long to learn that you had arrived in the country where one could begin at the bottom and reach for the sky, with sheer hard work and determination. But to become big here, you have to first forget how big you were back home. Be prepared to accept any work, however small it may be, it will be worth it. Having learnt this basic aspect of the U.S. life, within weeks you were doing jobs that were simply unimaginable, especially for people from your circle in India, who knew you as the king amongst forest lessees – distributing newspapers early morning and doing construction work during the day. Even in the severest of storms your clients never complained of missing their morning newspaper for which the publishers awarded you a trophy that you showed to everyone with pride. You kept making progress at a tremendous speed and realized the American dream in a much shorter time than most others did.

Today, when you are enjoying your well earned rest in heaven, having gracefully retired after reaping the fruits of your untiring hard work, you cannot imagine how much we miss you. We will all the time truly feel that you have gone too soon, my dearest brother.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Susan Boyle, the Reshma of Britain

Last weekend, Susan Boyle was just a face in the crowd. This weekend, clips of her singing on Britain's Got Talent have notched up almost 50 million views on YouTube. Her face appears on the front pages of papers in Britain and beyond. Hollywood agents and talk-show bookers are jostling for a few minutes with Susan Boyle. The rise of the 47-year-old spinster from Scotland has been a true global phenomenon.

On Saturday's season premiere of " Britain's Got Talent," from the moment she stepped onstage, was perhaps the most unlikely star, until she started to sing. Boyle, who had some limited previous vocal training and then mostly in church choirs, shrewdly picked "I Dreamed a Dream," a heartbreaking ballad about unfulfilled dreams from the hit musical "Les Misérables." A few bars into the song, as her earthy, pleasing voice took command and soared over the auditorium, the crowd could be heard letting out a collective gasp, then starting to cheer raucously. Her voice confounded all expectations - the judges' eyes bulged, the crowd went wild and Boyle became an instant star. Ever since, the "fairytale" has travelled the globe. It is the story of a talent unearthed. Boyle has shattered prejudices about the connection between age, appearance and talent. She has proved that you don't have to be young and glamorous to be talented, and recognized as such. The YouTube millions have cheered on the underdog, and seen in her the possibilities for their own hopes and dreams.

Boyle's story resembles that of Reshma, the mesmerizing folk singer of Pakistan, who blazed a fiery trail in the firmament of Pakistan’s music galaxy. Born in Bikaner (Rajasthan) and raised in Pakistan, Reshma’s voice has a distinctive, rustic Rajasthani touch. Reshma’s gift for singing was discovered during one of her frequent performances at the shrines. Much of her childhood was spent performing at shrines of saints in Sindh. It was at such a performance when Salim Gilani, Director in Pakistan's radio station, heard her and asked her to perform on radio. The wheels of her illustrious career were thus set in motion, and soon Reshma had become a household name. Immortalizing songs such as Oh rabba do dinan da meil, thay phir lambhi judai. the songstress touched millions with the haunting melody of her songs. Reshma’s voice is that of Mother Earth, coming from deep, deep within the bowels of our consciousness, echoing hauntingly through the cold, dark, empty void of the universe. It is a voice unlike any other. Truly it is the voice of the desert - unending in its breadth and unrelenting in its depth, making listeners believe not only in passion, but experience all its manifestations – the torture of waiting for a beloved, the ecstasy of union, the sharp pain of betrayal, the sadness of loss.

Both performers are classic underdogs, non-threatening people who, in pursuing long-held dreams, managed to triumph over easily understood disadvantages. They both did not have any formal education and training in music, however they sang from their heart in churches and shrines before they were discovered for the world of music. And when it happened, the world stopped to hear them. They both have a voice that comes from the heart and the one that always touches the heart. Their voice possesses that rare quality that is often aspired to, but attained by only a chosen few – what one might almost call the sublime catharsis of the soul.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The God's Gift!

In one of our annual vacations after our wedding, Sanovar was our dream destination, a very beautiful village in the interiors of Himanchal, about sixty miles beyond Simla. After spending a day in Simla, we started our journey to Sanovar on horses, as the motor-able road ended at Kufri, ten miles from Simla. Most part of the journey was along a river that reminded us of the River of No Return. We covered the journey in two days, spending a night on the way in a forest guesthouse, where the waterfall, hitting the stones in the river, produced the perfect beat of the Sound of Music. It was a breathtaking sight when we reached Sanovar. Higher mountains surrounded the small village at a hight of ten thousand feet. The natives of the tiny village had added color to the place, with their multi-colored dresses and cute hutment. Their Chieftain's log house had a charm of its own, with beautiful flowers blooming all around. He himself was also a very pleasant person with an impressive personality that commanded respect and reverence of the entire community. He welcomed us to the village on our arrival at the forest guesthouse on the outskirts of the village. And the next day he accompanied us on our walk on trails in the forest, on the way telling us tales revolving life in the mystery land on the mountains. The story that engaged our attention most related to “Chur Peak”, the highest peak in the area at a height of 14,000ft.

“The name Chur Peak came from king Chur who once upon a time ruled the entire area on these mountains. He did not have a son to continue his dynasty and felt distressed, especially as he grew older and older. Time was running out for him and the queen to have a child. When they had almost given up hope, the queen dreamt that they climbed to the peak and were struck by the sight; Lord Shiva was sitting there in meditation. They too sat at his feet in prayer. When Lord Shiva opened his eyes, he was pleased to see the king and the queen praying on the peak and blessed them to have a beautiful boy. In the morning she narrated her dream to the king, who immediately decided to climb up to the peak with the queen, even if it was too difficult for their age. With their determination and the elaborate arrangements made for the climb, they arrived at their destination but were disappointed on not finding Lord Shiva there. However, they still sat on the peak and prayed to Lord Shiva for a son. Within a year of the climb, the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. There were huge celebrations and the king also ordered construction of a Shiva temple on the peak. Since then the temple has been attracting thousands of childless couples from far and near, who climb to the peak to pray for a child. Many couples come back to climb the peak again, this time to thank Lord Shiva on having been blessed with a child after they had prayed at the peak.”

We had been married for four years but did not have a child. We had been yearning for one. We thought our trip to Sanovar was a godsend opportunity to pray at the temple on Chur Peak. Next day we started on our climb early in the morning, taking the trails leading to the temple. By mid day we were on top of the world. That was how we felt looking down from the peak. Lord Shiva's statue built, made in stone, stood majestically on the mountaintop. It looked like the Lord was keeping a watch on his creation from Chur Peak. We both prayed to Lord Shiva to bless us with a child, as he had blessed king Chur and his queen, and thousands of devotees who climbed the peak after them. And Lord Shiva blessed us too. Jeet, my wife, was pregnant within weeks after our prayers on the peak. When we looked at the baby boy Jeet gave birth to, we had absolutely no doubt that he truly was a gift of Lord Shiva. As he grew up, his godly qualities of kindness, compassion and caring were quite obvious, and all the more strengthened our belief that Alok, as we named him, truly was God's gift.

Alok was brilliant in studies, but second only to the best boy in the class. Jeet once told him that if he worked a little harder he could easily stand first in the class. His reply was, “I know Mom, but that would make Rohit feel miserable as he is so used to standing first.” Jeet could only wonder at his compassion that motivated him to sacrifice anything to make others happy. As Alok was kind to others, God was kind to him. When he wished to go to USA for higher studies after his school graduation, it was almost impossible to achieve this ambition. The government would not grant permission to send remittances in foreign currency for studies abroad because of very stringent foreign exchange rules. Nothing short of a miracle could help Alok cross this hurdle. And there it was. Jeet had a chance meeting with a Member of Parliament, who happened to be very close to the Finance Minister. He went out of the way to help us get the government permission to send our son's fees in foreign exchange to the University of San Francisco, for his tuition and hostel fees. And Alok left for the United States at the age of seventeen.

Today, Alok is amongst top computer technologists in Silicon Valley and we are happy to have joined him here after our retirement in our respective jobs. The way he cares for us always reminds us of Chur Peak where we were blessed to have him born as the God's Gift.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Learn Delhi Learn!

Team Sulekha's blog on Public Etiquette instantly transported me from California to New Delhi, my beloved city back home in India. We loved our Delhi as it was, without ever minding its down side relating to public etiquette so random there, and no move on its part to repeal, which my friend Gopal Soni sarcastically calls, The 10 Laws of Delh:

1. If my side of the road has a traffic jam, then I can start driving on the wrong side of the road, and all incoming cars will be re-routed via Meerut .

2. If there is a queue of many people, no one will notice me sneaking into the front as long as I am looking the other way.

3. If a traffic light is not working, four cars from different directions can easily pass through one another.

4. If I indicate which way I am going to turn my vehicle, it is an information security leak.

5. The more I lean out of my car or bus, and the harder I spit, the stronger the roads become.

6. If I get a call on my mobile phone, the film automatically goes into pause mode.

7. When I'm on the road to marriage, all the roads in the city belong to me.

8.When I double-park my car, the road automatically widens so that the traffic is not affected.

9. When I park and block someone else's car I am giving him a chance to pause, relax, chill and take a few moments off from his rushed day

10. There are only 5 important persons in this city -Me, I, Myself, Main , Mainu.

When I moved to California I found the Californians over concerned with the following basic norms of public etiquette, which we in Delhi would have found very flimsy to worry about:

1. Rules for navigating a crowded sidewalk or hallway are the same as the ones for the road. You walk on the right and pass on the left. And people shouldn't walk more than two abreast. Blocking the path of others gets on nerves - a couple walking in front of you on a narrow path, talking to each other as they go and choose not to see - when someone is right behind them waiting for them to make a little room so that they can get past.

2. A young man walking with a young woman should be careful that his manner in no way draws attention to her or to himself. Too devoted a manner is always conspicuous, and so is loud talking. All people in the streets, or anywhere in public, should be careful not to talk too loud.

3. To claim a parking spot when everyone's clamoring for the next open one, use your blinker to show you've claimed a spot. Never park in the disabled spot. These zones are reserved for people less able than you to use, and you really shouldn’t jump in there just because it’s a foot closer than the other space.

4. The number one annoyance while watching a movie is the amount of people that talk during a film at the cinema. The second annoyance is, of course, mobile/cell phones. There are advertisements at the start of the movie asking you to switch these devices off. Don't bolt from your seat as soon as 'The End' sign appears on the screen. Exit one row at a time. Pretend you're leaving a church after a wedding.

5. At some cash registers (in fast-food restaurants, grocery stores, and drugstores), if it's not clear whether customers should form separate lines at each register or stand in a single line, go with the flow―even if the flow feels like chaos. Don't bother trying to whip the rest of the crowd into shape.

6. It's impolite to read over a person's shoulder. People have to have their own space. Leaning into someone's personal space is inappropriate.

7. Public Display of Affection (PDA) should be avoided as far as possible. It may be alright when you meet someone or say goodbye. However, there are certain public displays of affection that people can’t stand, and these tend to be the new couples who are still in the exciting part of their relationship.

8. It seems that a lot of people are not well-versed when it comes to public toilet etiquette. If the door says OCCUPIED then no need to TRY TO FORCE IT OPEN. And once you DO find an empty stall then for the love of God PLEASE CLOSE THE DOOR! WASH YOUR HANDS. It takes less than two minutes to drop a bit of soap on your hands, run them under the tap and dry them…and best of all - it’s free!

9. Because public pools are open to all, personal hygiene and a consideration for others should be top priorities. Shower before entering the pool.

10. Litter dropping is strictly prohibited with heavy penalty imposed. It annoys when people leave empty bottles on public transport as they get off, and it annoys even more when you are walking down the street and see someone cast aside a piece of paper - usually from some junk food they are eating - even though they are walking towards, or have just walked past, a trash can.

The bottom-line of Public Etiquette is - consideration for the rights and feelings of others is not merely a rule for behavior in public but the very foundation upon which social life is built. The first rule of etiquette is never do anything that is unpleasant to others. In a rapidly shrinking world where we can fly halfway around the world in less than half the day, it is time for Delhi to adhere to the unwritten laws of public etiquette universally acceptable. Learn Delhi learn!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Strange To Each Other

Here is a glimpse of two totally different worlds within America, which may seem unbelievably strange to the outside world.

Amish Country

The Amish community is a mysterious world within modern America, a place frozen in another time. The Amish live without automobiles or electricity. Education ends at the eighth grade and life largely centers on farming, family and faith.

They have simply chosen to maintain their traditional beliefs and customs, continuing a lifestyle uncomplicated by the ways of the modern-day world. The Amish are averse to any technology which they feel weakens the family structure. The conveniences that the rest of us take for granted such as electricity, television, automobiles, telephones and tractors are considered to be a temptation that could cause vanity, create inequality, or lead the Amish away from their close-knit community and, as such, are not encouraged or accepted. Most Amish cultivate their fields with horse-drawn machinery, live in houses without electricity, and get around in horse-drawn buggies.

You may associate the Amish with their clothing style. It comes off to many as a sure way to distinguish them from the rest of the world. The males will typically wear self-made attire which includes black hats, dark suits, straight cut coats without lapels, plain pants with suspenders, solid colored shirts, and black shoes with socks. The women will traditionally wear bonnets, long dresses with shawls over their shoulders and black shoes with stockings. Amish women are forbidden to wear any type of jewelry and are encouraged to keep a clean and plain look. It is frowned upon for any woman in the community to cut or trim her hair.

The family is the most important social unit in the Amish culture. Large families with seven to ten children are common. Typically the father is considered the head of the Amish household. Schooling concentrates on the basic reading, writing, along with vocational training, with farming and homemaking skills considered an important part of an Amish child's upbringing. German is spoken in the home, though English is also taught in school. Amish marry Amish - no intermarriage is allowed. Divorce is not permitted and separation is very rare. The most forgiving people on the planet, their forgiveness is all about giving up: giving up the right to revenge and giving up feelings of resentment, bitterness and hatred … and treating the offender as a fellow human being. The essence of Amish daily life is ‘giving up’: giving up self to the group and to God. And, forgiveness is not an individual matter, but rather a collective act done by the community. It’s not uncommon for the Amish to pray the Lord's Prayer eight times a day and 10 times on Sundays. They pay particular attention to the key line: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Polygamists' Compound

Imagine a secret, religious compound-- a place where men have multiple wives. The narrow dirt road cuts away from a padlocked metal gate with a "No Trespassing" sign and an infrared security camera. Hidden from the prying eyes of a judgmental world, immense log cabins and meeting halls rise above the West Texas brush. In their shadows, women in floor-length dresses till soil in a garden the size of a football field as their husbands build a retreat for church members who believe "plural marriage" is the only way to eternal salvation. Take an in-depth look into the largest polygamist community in West Texas. It’s a mystery jutting into the desert landscape building by building. The only sneak peak is from above. There is a 62,000 square foot temple, a football field sized garden, a peach orchard, a cement factory and several houses up to 22,000 square feet.

The mysterious "polys" – as the locals like to call their new polygamist neighbors – are the women in floor-length gingham dresses and braided hair occasionally driving pickups down Main Street. The group has worked on its private community with an efficiency that has earned the grudging admiration of even the most skeptical of the townspeople. For now, local authorities are defending the group's right to live the religion, and Texas doesn't outlaw the "spiritual" marriages practiced by men with several wives – unions in the eyes of their church but not the law.

Today, "fundamentalist Mormons" in Utah and nearby states practice polygamy. Manti is deep in polygamy country. A survey showed that 60,000 American families live under polygamy with one father and more than one wife. For most people, the word polygamy conjures up images of child brides dressed straight out of the 1800s. Yet the isolated, cult-like communities only tell half the story. The other side shows extravagant homes in typical suburban neighborhoods filled with willing wives and dozens of children. Manti’s Quorum of Twelve, as it is called, is part of the excommunicated members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. The dozen men have more than forty wives among them. These ladies are not plain-looking religious fanatics dressed in plain old time dresses, but beautiful women, many with college degrees, who don’t mind sharing their husbands. Excommunicated by the Mormon Church, they see themselves as loyal followers of Warren Smith, who in 1843 announced a revelation from God saying polygamy was a crucial key to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. "We are proud of our Mormon heritage. Plural marriage is only one of the tenets of our religion," said the statement from the group. Church members believe that men must have at least three wives to get to heaven's highest plane.

Americans in general want to live and let live and believe everyone is different. And as Americans, they often seem strange to each other.