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.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere...

“Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink” is a line from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” We are like that Ancient Mariner. But unlike the Mariner, we’re not stuck in the middle of the ocean with nothing but salty water. India’s water crisis is predominantly a manmade problem. India’s climate is not particularly dry, nor is it lacking in rivers and groundwater. Extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch and rendered what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution. The choices we make now on how to manage our fresh water resources will make the difference for the long-term health of India's water supply. A prosperous future depends on a secure and reliable water supply. And we don't have it. To be sure, water still flows from taps, but we're draining our reserves like gamblers at the craps table. The evidence is everywhere-though if it is noticed, it is forgotten with the next drenching rain.

No person will ever take water for granted after they've seen "One Water." The emotional impact of this film will transform "we didn't know" into a profound awareness of how precious clean drinking water is to all life, into a new appreciation of the seriousness of the world water crisis, into the stark reality of the daily struggle for clean water and survival. People just want clean water to drink. Is this too much to ask? Heightened awareness often follows a deep emotional experience. "One Water" with it's artful fusion of visual and sound "images," affects people in ways no evening news sound bite or newspaper article can hope to match. The film reaches deep into our psyches to reveal the common humanness that binds us together. Stunning images illustrate the contrast between abundance and scarcity. Water pumped many miles uphill at great expense powering the fountains of desert Las Vegas contrast with the image of women (and their children) trekking miles across their desert, fetching water, carrying their heavy burden on their heads back to their families, keeping them alive. Day after day, millions of women in the underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa repeat this life giving journey, walking an average of three or four miles every day for water.

Water in taps can't last forever. Water is already in short supply. Global warming is already causing unpredictable monsoons. We can no longer see water as a separate resource. We need to be careful about usage of water. Homes had a garden watered by a hand pump. Now gardens have sprinkler systems. It has made watering easy and water gets wasted. It led to going down of the water table and there is no water in the hand pumps now. At the Dharavi slums, you can see long queues for water. While this is happening, people in five star hotels take shower for half an hour. It's purely due to inequitable and unmindful usage of water. We have a situation where rich have water in swimming pools but farmers don't get water to irrigate their lands. With Paani, Shekhar Kapur, attempts to meaningfully intervene on this issue within the space of the celluloid. The acclaimed cinema-maker, remembered for his stunningly realistic Bandit Queen and poignantly innocent Masoom, returns to his craft through a futuristic discourse. Paani is his film in the making. Set in 2035, it portrays a dystopia when water is set to become a unicorn horn -- a non-existent and mythical commodity. How a society struggles as water disappears is the subject of Paani. Kapur narrates a scene, perhaps the most horrifying scene of the proposed movie, where thirsty mob attacks a car to steal water from its radiator.

Water nourishes our bodies and our souls. Our lives are impoverished without the sight, sound, smell, and touch of bubbling brooks, cascading waterfalls, and quiet ponds. The terrifying future depicted in science fiction doomsday novels conspicuously features barren landscapes. Our future needn't be so bleak. Our water crisis should occasion grave concern but not panic. We have solutions available; now we need a national commitment to pursue them. The time has come to address the impending threat of a water crisis which jeopardizes the existence of millions of people around the world. With changes in climatic conditions, and steadily declining rainfall in many areas, the time has come to get to the root cause of the problem and arrive at measures to address the problem. More than the issue of soaring food prices and the rapid depletion of the world's energy resources, it has been observed that a catastrophic water shortage could prove the biggest threat to mankind in coming years. If we value our own futures on this planet, we should sit up and take notice of the many ways we can conserve water and live in a way that does not pose a danger to the delicate natural climatic processes of the earth. We are spoiled. We turn on the tap and out comes a limitless amount of high quality water for less money than we pay for cell phone service or cable television. Because water is so cheap, people don't value it. Yes, conservation must be a major part of the solution.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hum Kaale Hain To Kya Hua....

The color bias is not unique to India as many countries in Asia and the Middle East suffer from the same bias. Creams like Fair & Lovely are doing a rip-roaring business in countries as diverse as Mexico, Malaysia, China, Brazil and Korea. It's as if the whole world has enrolled in a white seminary to chant the virtues of fairness. Color may be just a matter of pigmentation, but cultures everywhere seem to attach a special cachet to whiteness, an almost unconscious belief in its magical power to open doors, to make life better. The measuring rod for a woman's beauty in all these countries is her fair complexion. Medieval Europeans referred to women as “the fair sex”, and then it became the universal reference for women. Virtually all cultures express a marked preference for fair female skin, even those with little or no exposure to European imperialism.

Since the fairness complex is so deeply entrenched in the men's psyche, it is no surprise that it is the rare individual who elects "doesn't matter" when selecting the choice of complexion in a preferred partner. The color bias among men is mostly a sexist issue. There is much greater pressure on women to be fairer, because this is society's and men's notion of beauty. Social and cultural changes need to occur in India and other Asian countries that eliminate the prejudices that are the cause of woman's deprivations. All that can be done is that each community, whether it is African American, African, Middle Eastern, Asian or Indian, work internally on self-love and a self-image that is not based on or defined by fair complexion of the skin.

The new generation has been accepting of people of different colors and races, because we have been more in touch with people outside our own color and race. The fairness fad persists among the older generation. You will never see any youngsters or college graduates using any of that kind of stuff on their face to make it look fairer. Indian youth seem far less prejudiced and started to realize that it's more than just what's on the outside. It's more about the personality than what you see on the outside that defines the person, not your color. Nowadays people value what they have and as a nation, we have the best skin. Attitudes are changing in the Indian American community at least. It's no longer an issue that people focus on much anymore. They have so many different colors and cultures in America that everyone sort of blends in just by being different. They understand better that the vast diversity in our skin colors is just one of the visual aspects of our heritage. And there’s so much wonder woven into our heritage to fret over skin color!

Theoretically everybody agrees that not complexion, but charm is the most desirable quality of beauty. Men must also accept the truth that a healthy, smooth and glowing skin makes a woman stunningly attractive despite her dark skin complexion. A dark skin develops signs of aging rather late and dark women are luckier than the fair ones because dark skin is less prone to pimples, shadows, wrinkles and blotches. In fact, women of darker complexion are the envy of many a white skinned women in the West. The most common reason why a deep, dark tan is wanted by many white women is that the bronzed effect instills a high sense of beauty in the person that has it. So, feel free to bask in the sun and be proud of your glow! Celebrate the diverse collective beauty of dark complexion and define and promote your own beauty standard — one that is an authentic reflection of your indomitable spirit. Remember, some of the most beautiful models, including Naomi Campbell, Lyia Kebede, Sessilee Lopez and Jordan Dunn are black. Some of our own beauty queens of Bollywood, including Kajol, Bipasha Basu, Rani Mukerji and Priyanka Chopra, do not boast of fair complexion but still are counted amongst the top stars of Hindi cinema. Even Lata Mungeshkar, the melody queen, may not be fair complexioned, yet revered in the Indian sub-continent like no other artiste has ever been. In fact, V. Shantaram, the legendary pioneer of Hindi cinema, made the movie Teen Batti Char Raasta, it is believed, based on the life of Lata Mungeshkar. The leading lady in the film is initially rejected in matrimonial alliance because of being dark complexioned, but later sought after when she rose to the top in her fame for her singing. It is not color that makes you beautiful, but your charisma and the way you represent yourself. Still more important than having fair skin, what a beautiful heart you have. Here we are reminded of the heart rendering song of Mohd. Rafi, picturized on the one and only Mehmud in the film Gumnaam - “Hum kaale hain to kya hua dilwale hain...”.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Family Time, Then and Now


My father was a very busy person, with hardly any time for us during the day. But his absence was well compensated by our mother's omnipresent company and great devotion every minute of our growing years. However, on his part in parenting us, our father made it a priority to be with the family at dinner time every day without fail. In fact, he had made it mandatory for everyone in the family to be together at the dinner table. Mealtime at night was a ritual in our family which must not be missed by anyone. Apart from the family members, anyone around the dinner table was family, most often a friend of one or the other sibling. Father would generally jump-start the family conversation by asking questions like, "What did you like most about your day?" or "What was the best part of your day?" He would suggest slow down and savor the food, not so much to inculcate a healthy habit, as to give more time to enjoy mealtime conversation before clean up began. Indeed, this used to be the best quality time for the family in a day, the important elements being family cohesion and family communication. The atmosphere was essentially kept fun-filled, non-confrontational and stress-free by focusing on fun topics. Interestingly, Sunday evenings were an exception to the rule when there were no mealtime family meetings. Every one was free to come at anytime, or even eat out. It was an evening off for the cook as well as for our mother from the kitchen duty. We looked forward to the weekly off to go to watch a movie or to freak out with friends. Parents would take the opportunity to make social calls on friends and relations. The basic idea was family flexibility.

With school holidays underway, our family's annual summer travel ritual began. The family would head for the hills, most of the time for Srinagar, Kashmir, where our uncle was settled. This was a great way for the family to have some of that special time together, and a great way to get away too. Whether it was around the dinner table, or enjoying our vacations on the hills, we really had a wonderful family-time together.


When the time for us came to devote quality time to our children, the times had changed. Amid the hits to families' budget in the new economic order, at-home moms were already marching to work, to make both ends meet. Although most parents felt hurting to their pride to talk about it, the economic downturn and ever increasing inflation was forcing many to defer dreams of striking a better work-life balance. Amongst working parents, we were slightly better placed, with my wife working less hours and more vacations in her school job than most other women who worked 9-5 in offices. She would come back from work almost the same time our son returned from school, and could devote rest of the day to him, even though it was at times too tiring.

To add to parents' anxiety and additional labour for mothers particularly, youngsters barely have time to talk before hunkering down with homework. On the whole, students now come home with more schoolwork than ever before--and at a younger age. Most of us remember homework, if we remember it at all, as one of the minor annoyances of growing up. Sure, we dreaded the multiplication tables and those algebraic equations. But let's admit it: who even bothered with the stuff until after the requisite hours had been spent playing or swimming. The homework crunch is heard loudest in the country's better middle-class school districts, where teachers deliver enough academic rigor to get students into top secondary schools and colleges. Now there's a blow-back: the sheer quantity of nightly homework and the difficulty of the assignments can turn ordinary weeknights into four-hour library-research excursions, leave kids in tears and parents with migraines, and generally transform the placid refuge of home life into a tense war zone. The pain caused by homework isn't just emotional. While kids grow more frazzled, parents are increasingly torn. Just how involved should they be? Should they complain to teachers about the heavy workload or be thankful that their kids are being pushed toward higher achievement? It's ironic that politicians talk so much about family values, when you can't have any family time anymore because the kids are so busy keeping their nose to the grindstone.

There is definitely a decline in family time, and it coincides with a rise in internet use and the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in particular. It's not how much time we give to the children now, but how much time they have for us from the time they spend online. Folks are finding less time to spend with those closest to them, and are spending more time pecking at a keyboard and stare at a glowing square. It can't be a good thing that families are spending less face-to-face time together. Ultimately it leads to less cohesive and less communicative families. We, the parents sailing in the same boat, don't want to paint the Internet as the devil here, but this does make us step back from our desks and think; we could all stand to unplug for a few more minutes each day. The Internet does have seemingly endless troves of information, but there are some things that only parents can teach their children.

All said, whatever the individual circumstances, there are no rules about how to create Family Time – but create we must, as there is no greater gift we can give each other and to children, than our time and attention. On our part, we have always tried our best to follow our parents' footsteps, a must mealtime get-together every day, and heading to the hills almost every year during summer holidays.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Doctors Are Divine

I hold doctors in deep reverence and see them as divine. The opinion I formed from my early years and hold on to till date, has its basis in the fact that our family has been specially fortunate to have always found doctors who deserved to be worshiped for their great proficiency and godly personality, especially these two, whom I wish to pay my belated tribute on Doctor's Day:

Dr. Ghoshal, Jorbagh, New Delhi.

Early fifties, we were still new to New Delhi, trying to settle here after having left Lahore in the aftermath of Partition. I was in my final year of college graduation when I got seriously sick. Since the final exams were not far away, my father wanted to consult the best possible doctor he could afford then, having started from a scratch in the new city. A family friend, who knew the place well, suggested he would try to get Dr. Ghoshal, his family doctor, who was a doctor of exceptional merit, yet affordable. The spirit with which he attended me was amazing. And the way he treated my typhoid that lead to my recovery in record time was simply superb. Since then Dr. Ghoshal remained our family doctor whose very visit was enough to give us confidence that any kind of ailment would be cured in no time. But ever since he saved my father's leg, which was severely infected, avoiding amputation that any other doctor would have found unavoidable, Dr. Ghoshal is always seen by the family as an angel doctor.

Dr. K. S. Arora, Alwar (Rajasthan)

During construction of the house in Alwar, where I had my last job in India, my wife suffered some allergies and infection from dust and cement that took us to Dr. Arora's clinic in the neighborhood for consultation. Dr. Arora, who had taken retirement from his very prestigious position of head of the general hospital to do his own private practice, was definitely the busiest doctor in Alwar. There was always a crowd of patients at his clinic waiting for their turn. After waiting for a while when our turn came, it did not take us long to realize that the long wait was worth it. Dr. Arora, we found from our very first meeting, was not only the most capable doctor in Alwar, but also a very pleasant and humane person, who would forego his fees from several patients who seemed to him to be poor. We made instant rapport with him to the extent that he told us whenever we wanted his help, we need not wait at his clinic but just call him and he would visit us at home for no extra fees. This is the best that the busiest doctor in the town could do for anyone. His treatment proved very affective and we did not have to call him for quite a while, till there was a reason that was not even remotely related to his medical profession.

Alwar, the city we had adopted to spend the rest of our life after retirement, we soon found was too sleepy to have any life. We started to seriously consider selling the house and buying one in or near Delhi. We thought of Dr. Arora, who had casually mentioned his plans to enlarge his clinic by buying a bigger place in the vicinity. We called him to inform about our intentions to sell our house to which he responded that he had recently bought the plot adjoining his house but ready to help us find a buyer, and came to see our house. Dr. Arora was impressed by the house, but not by our answer when he asked us why we wanted to sell it.

“If lack of company is the only reason to sell your house, then don't sell it. I will send you company.” The doctor seemed genuinely helpful when he said this. Very next day the doctor's friend came, he too a doctor, accompanied by another friend, a businessman. For the first time since coming to Alwar, we enjoyed real good company and conversation, and were motivated to change our mind to move to Delhi. Thanks to Dr. Arora, we continued to live happily thereafter in Alwar in the company of his friends and their families. Of course, Dr. Arora also became our best friend, besides providing the most professional medical help whenever we needed. Indeed, another angel doctor!