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.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hands Off Swine Flu

More than 70 countries are now reporting cases of human infection with H1N1 flu, commonly called swine flu. Up to half of the population of the U.S. could come down with the swine flu and 90,000 could die this season, according to a dire report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The report, which claims as many as 1.8 million people could end up in the hospital seeking treatment for the H1N1 virus, comes as government officials push drug companies to make a vaccine available next month. The report says that under a worst-case scenario, between 60 and 120 million Americans could get sick with the swine flu and another 30 million could contract the virus but not show symptoms. Between 30,000 and 90,000 could die -- more than twice the annual average of deaths associated with the seasonal flu. The report calls the H1N1 virus a "serious threat to our nation and the world." Most swine flu experts view the numbers as reasonable. The report says the skyrocketing infections will peak on Oct. 15 -- the exact date a vaccine is expected to be delivered. The White House advisors suggest backing up the vaccine date by a full month -- meaning a vaccine and dosage that is still being tested would be used. In the meanwhile, many colleges are taking steps to prepare their students for a significant spread. At universities in Louisiana, Colorado, Tennessee and Texas, sick students are being kept in their rooms, given special surgical masks and told not to kiss.

Swine flu is strangling India. The government in Goa has advised against "non-essential" travel to other Indian states. The states of Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan have asked residents to stay away from Maharashtra. In Bombay, celebrations for Krishna Janmashtami, a popular festival honouring Hinduism's most adored deity, had been cancelled. The health ministry in Delhi has called for "social distancing measures". Schools, colleges, shopping malls and multiplexes across India's major cities have been shut down frequently. Millions of Indians marked the 62nd anniversary of India's freedom from British rule by locking themselves up. According to the headline splashed on the front page of the Times of India, there's "No stopping swine flu". The government is diverting precious resources to control the spread of a virus which, in 90% of cases, is cured without any medication at all. Roche, the Switzerland-based manufacturer of Tamiflu, has been the principal beneficiary of this panic. By July this year, it had made nearly $1bn on sales of Tamiflu. The Indian government alone has stocked up on more than a million Tamiflu capsules. Local pharmaceutical giants want a share of the pie, and are pressing the government to let them manufacture the drug. By the time the drug is widely distributed, the virus will most probably have developed resistance. This is an extraordinary rip-off.

Tamiflu does not kill but prevents H1N1 from further proliferation till the virus limits itself in about 1-2 weeks (its natural cycle). H1N1, like other Influenza A viruses, only infects the upper respiratory tract and proliferates (only) there. The only portals of entry are the nostrils and mouth/ throat. In a global epidemic of this nature, it's almost impossible not coming into contact with H1N1 inspite of all precautions. Contact with H1N1 is not so much of a problem as proliferation is. Most N95 respirators are designed to filter 95% particulate of 0.3µ, while the size of H1N1 virus is about 0.1µ. Hence, dependence on N95 to protect against H1N1 is like protecting against rain with an umbrella made of mosquito net.

While you are still healthy and not showing any symptoms of H1N1 infection, in order to prevent proliferation, aggravation of symptoms and development of secondary infections, some very simple steps – not fully highlighted in most official communications - can be practiced :

1. Frequent hand-washing (well highlighted in all official communications).

2. "Hands-off-the-face" approach. Resist all temptations to touch any
part of face (unless you want to eat, bathe or slap).

3. Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you
don't trust salt). H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the
throat/ nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms.
Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt
water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on
an infected one. Don't underestimate this simple, inexpensive and
powerful preventative method.

4. Similar to 3 above, clean your nostrils at least once every day
with warm salt water. Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra
Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but blowing the
nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds
dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral

5. Boost your natural immunity with foods that are rich in Vitamin C
(Amla and other citrus fruits). If you have to supplement with Vitamin
C tablets, make sure that it also has Zinc to boost absorption.

6. Drink as much of warm liquids as you can. Drinking warm liquids
has the same effect as gargling, but in the reverse direction. They
wash off proliferating viruses from the throat into the stomach where
they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.

All these are simple ways to prevent, within means of most households,
and certainly much less painful than to wait in long queues outside
public hospitals.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

America's Health Care

America is now engaged in a great debate about the future of health care. And over the past few weeks, much of the media attention has been focused on the loudest voices of the few opponents of the reforms, leaving unheard and unseen the hundreds who supported it at the Town Hall style meetings of President Obama, Senators and House Representatives. An increasingly intense battle over health care legislation in Congress will now shift to states across the country as lawmakers begin returning home for a month-long recess and again the media's cameras and reporters are most likely to remain conspicuous by their absence in covering the voices of the millions upon millions of Americans who quietly struggle every day with a system that often works better for the health-insurance companies than it does for them. In the meanwhile, insurance lobby prepares to flood the airwaves with millions of dollars to spread myths in their effort to block the reforms. It will be a pity if the opponents of the reforms, supported by money-starved media, succeed in their anti-people action to block the much needed historic health-insurance reform bill when it comes up for vote in the House after the recess.

Some 47 million U.S. Residents have no health insurance, and the numbers keep growing. Working families are experiencing double-digit increases in the costs of health insurance, more out-of-pocket costs for doctor visits and skyrocketing prices for prescriptions, forcing many to delay getting needed medical care or worse—to decline coverage for themselves or their families because of cost. Health care costs are rising at five times the rate of inflation. America’ most successful public health insurance program, Medicare, is increasingly under attack at a time when the lack of access to health care is already a crisis. Most Americans ages 65 and older rely on Medicare, which serves more than 40 million beneficiaries in the United States. Instead of strengthening and modernizing Medicare to include a comprehensive, affordable prescription drug benefit for all seniors, the Bush administration in late 2003 strong-armed through Congress a Medicare prescription drug bill that moves Medicare toward privatization. Americans pay more for health care each year but get less coverage and fewer services for the premiums they pay. Many Americans are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of care goes up while others face losing insurance as businesses struggle to cover employees.

In contrast to the health care system in the United States, considered the wealthiest country in the world, most developed countries already have a national health scheme with the norm to ensure health coverage for all their nationals. Even the under developed countries who can ill afford big budgets for free universal health care for all, have the first priority to provide it to their people. India sets an example in free health care for the developing countries worldwide to follow. Primary health centers are the cornerstone of the rural health care system. These facilities are part of a tiered health care system that funnels more difficult cases into urban hospitals while attempting to provide routine medical care to the vast majority in the countryside. Primary health centers and subcenters rely on trained paramedics to meet most of their needs. Side by side of the government run healthcare programs, there are hospitals run by private sector and charitable institutions, with a tiered pricing structure that charges wealthier patients more (for example, for fancy meals or air-conditioned rooms), letting the facilities provide free care for the poorest.

India has originated as one of the most important hubs for medical tourism. A nice blend of top-class medical expertise at attractive prices is helping more and more Indian corporate hospitals to lure foreign patients, including patients from developed nations such as the UK and the US, for high end surgeries like Cardiac ByPass Surgery or a Knee/Hip Replacement. Not just cost savings or the high standard of medical care facility, but also the waiting time is much lower for any treatment in India than in any other country. While you might have to wait for several months to get a surgical operation done in the US, in India things can be arranged within a week. As Washington searches for ways to tame the country's escalating health care costs, more insurers are offering networks of surgeons and dentists in India, where costs can be as much as 80% less than in America. Until recently, most Americans traveling abroad for cheaper non-emergency medical care were either uninsured or wealthy. But the profile of medical tourists is changing. Now, they are more likely to be people covered by private insurers, which are looking to keep costs from spiraling out of control. More and more people in USA are coming to know that there could be a hospital in India that can be as good as any hospital anywhere in the world or in the United States.

President Obama debunks the myths around health reform. He focuses his address on the stark moral and historical turning point at which the nation finds itself. The President’s 2010 Budget lays the groundwork for reform of the American health care system, most notably by setting aside a deficit-neutral reserve fund of $635 billion over 10 years to help finance reform of the health care system to bring down costs, expand coverage, and improve quality. Health insurance is fundamentally about peace of mind. If you have good insurance, you don’t have to worry about an accident or sudden illness. You know that whatever happens, you and your family will be taken care of. It is a historic opportunity being provided by President Obama to the people of America to have affordable access to health care, don't make it to slip away for the monetary gains of the health-insurance groups or for the politicians who care more for them than the people.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Security American Style!

US officials have become incessantly batty over security in their country post 9/11, sometimes it takes the level of almost paranoia. Today, airport security seems to be one of the many forms of state sponsored torture, which includes the likes of CIA and FBI. The only difference being that airport security is meant to torture/molest regular (non-terrorist) foreigners, as if to discourage them from coming to the United States. Here are some of the recently reported examples of airport security checks which speak volumes on how the airport security officials in USA are just too wary of foreigners, especially if you are non-white, more particularly a Muslim:

A rude shock angered millions of Indians on Independence Day as Shah Rukh Khan was detained at the Newark airport by a quite obviously racist official. “ I never experienced this kind of treatment anywhere in the world. It was embarrassing... I've never been asked such questions... The security of any country is important but caste, religion or race shouldn't come in the way of security measures. You may call me a mega star, a celebrity, but basically I'm just a normal guy. But I'm lucky that I have access to friends in the (Indian) consulate whom I could call up. But there are hundreds of others who don't have this facility," Shah Rukh Khan pointed out.

Britain's first Muslim minister, Shahid Malik, says he is "deeply disappointed" that he was detained by airport security officials in America. The international development minister was stopped and searched at Washington DC's Dulles airport. He said the same thing happened to him at JFK airport in New York last year. On that occasion he had been a keynote speaker at an event organized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), alongside the FBI and Muslim organizations, to talk about tackling extremism and defeating terrorism. Mr Malik said he had received numerous apologies and assurances from the US authorities after that incident. But he was again searched and detained by DHS officials on Sunday. Mr Malik said two other Muslims were also detained. "I am deeply disappointed," he said.

Nine Muslims, eight of them US-born citizens, were ordered off a US flight on New Year's Day after two passengers overheard what airline officials described as suspicious remarks. The group, including three children, were removed as they boarded an AirTran flight from Washington to Florida, where they planned to attend a religious retreat. One of the nine, Kashif Irfan, an anaesthetist, said his brother and his wife were discussing the safest place to sit in an airplane. After other passengers informed the crew of the remarks, the pilot decided to abort the flight. All 104 passengers were cleared by the FBI, but AirTran refused to take the Muslims, who were forced to pay for a ticket with another carrier. A spokesman for the airline defended the decision. "People made comments they shouldn't have made on the airplane," Tad Hutcheson said. "Other people heard them, misconstrued them. It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance. It escalated, it got out of hand and everyone took precautions."

Experience of an American journalist in Washington DC: “ I was literally pushed in a paranoia way by a female guard into a 3 sided GLASS BOX in front of all passengers passing, standing there like a lame duck for 5 min. Then finally someone special came with a VOICE and TONE that was so INTIMIDATING right away. NO hello, please would you, SIMPLY with PRISON WARD tone made me step forward and raise my arms horizontally. I was holding my ticket and passport, he insisted on me holding my hand OPEN, but rebuffed when I wanted to lay them down etc ..so how to hold them open. This went on for another 5min in front of every one who passed. I was wearing very classic black slacks and one long sleeve T shirt, so anything would show. He went on and on insisting me to keep my arms horizontally out. Meanwhile he took my passport away and had it checked again somewhere else. Finally he made me open my front of pants ( all in front of passengers passing by) and insisted in seeing something inside. Now it was OK, it was the safety hook in my pants and he simply walked away saying HAVE A NICE FLIGHT. I felt so violated like a mugging.”

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it will begin using body scanners in place of metal detectors for airport screening. Within a few months, the airport security screeners at San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City will use body scanners. The new scanners require passengers to stand in the machine and raise their arms. The scanners use micro short-wave radio signals to penetrate clothing and reveal both metallic and non-metallic objects. Privacy advocates fear that the images are too revealing of personal body parts. The "whole-body imaging”, the airport security technology that performs "a virtual strip search" produces "naked" pictures of passengers, CNN has learned. "People shouldn't be humiliated by their government in the name of security, nor should they trust that the images will always be kept private. Screeners could make a fortune off naked virtual images of celebrities, the Privacy advocates speculated.

Airport security never ceases to amaze, every time you think things are getting a little wacky, you are shown something new that makes everything you saw in the past suddenly seem logical. Urinals at the Southwest airlines terminal at Houston's Hobby airport have a sign warning peeing passengers that: "Automatic infrared flush sensors also provide video monitoring for security purposes".

You can’t expect Indian politeness, patience and courage everywhere. Where else would you find people living under a constant threat of terrorist bombings and yet going out of the way to make air travel most scare-free of security checks, certainly nowhere near the security American style.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Mother Of All Revolutions

Come Independence Day, detractors of the ruling party make it an annual ritual to mock whatever is happening in the country. For them there is nothing but negativity to talk about. May I ask them to please pause a while before you condemn India's administration for every ill in the land. Open your eyes to the great Indian revolutions since independence, which have stunned the world whose eyes have remained wide open since then. This may help them not to lose hope in India's capacity for collective action to overcome any hardship, and, perhaps, to get rid of much of their morale sapping pessimism.

The Green Revolution

The story of how what came to be called the Green Revolution began is an exciting one. The story's moral is that hope is always buried within tragedy. The Great Famine of 1943-44 has no equal. Heavily taxed and left to themselves and the monsoons, India's farmers began the forties with falling, failing crops. When India attained independence from the British in 1947, India lost some of its most fertile lands to the Partition. Total food production hung around about 50 million tones. Food reserves were nil. India was just about meeting its deficit with imports. India was a massive importer, the tonnage peaking at 10 million in 1966. India was desperate for a breakthrough.

It was then that India made the most dramatic discovery ever in agricultural science. A small field at Pusa, later known as Indian Agricultural Institute, was seeded with the miracle dwarf seeds and the results were unbelievable. It was what India had been waiting for. It was a milestone to cherish. The Green Revolution was independent India's greatest achievement and its most successful revolutionaries were India's political leadership, bureaucrats, scientists and of course the farmers. Of the ones that are easily named are C. Subramaniam, B. P. Pal and M.S.Swaminathan. They managed to stand up and falsify many prophesies of doom. India was the greatest success story of the Green Revolution. India's food-grains production has hovered around a fifth of a billion tones mark in recent years. More than self-sufficient, India frequently exports its surpluses. India has emerged from famine ridden colonial times, as a famine free Republic. From famine to plenty, from humiliation to dignity, the Green Revolution was, indeed, the most rewarding revolution in the history of independent India.

The White Revolution

Operation flood, also referred to as “White Revolution”, is a gigantic project propounded by Government of India for developing dairy industry in the country. The United Nations has commended India's "White Revolution," saying a sharp increase in the production of milk has achieved twin goals of raising incomes of rural poor families and nutrition status of the people. The report forecasts that India's dairy production will triple by 2020. With government policies that facilitate rural credit and provide essential support services to promote milk production, the White Revolution will continue to play a significant role in reducing poverty and hunger. Gujarat-based Amul (Anand Milk Union Limited) was the engine behind the success of Operation Flood and in turn became the biggest company based on the cooperative approach. Verghese Kurien (chairman of NDDB at that time), gave the professional management skills and necessary thrust to the cooperative, and is considered the architect of India's 'White Revolution'. His work has been recognized by the award of a Padma Bhushan, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Carnegie-Wateler World Peace Prize, and the World Food Prize.

The IT Revolution

The Indian IT services industry began to develop when the government opened the country to the forces of globalization, ending regulation at home and lowering barriers to foreign investment, in the early 1990s. The 21st century has given the Indian IT industry a brand image that has universal value and recognition. This image is based on the ability of Indian IT professionals to provide global solutions, business strategies, investment markets ands cost effective technologies. Within the country, the focus of Indian policy makers has been on world class value added services, product development and connectivity, as India moves into the next orbit of growth where knowledge sharing is inevitable. India views Information Technology as a catalyst for change, a change that encourages people to use IT tools for self-sufficiency and empowerment. India’s spectacular Information Technology revolution has taken the world by storm. The industry has grown by more than 50% annually in the last decade. IT revenues are on track to rise to US$ 87 billion by 2008 of which US$ 50 billion would be exports. At present Indian software is exported to more than 150 countries, and accounts for one fifth of global software development. With 100 million Internet connections within a couple of years, India's IT juggernaut rolls on.

The above three great revolutions of free India give us hope, confidence and cause for celebration of their successful culmination. They also inspire us to initiate the Blue Revolution, the water equivalent of the green revolution that primarily refers to the management of water resources that can steer humanity to achieve drinking water and crop irrigation security. The challenge of ensuring adequate water availability is big. But it is well within our means provided we take it up on a mission mode. Let us all blow the bugle on this Independence Day to start the Blue Revolution by resolving not to waste a single drop of water in our homes, offices and anywhere we consume water. If we take this wow with all sincerity and seriousness, we will see that by the next Independence Day, drop by drop, we shall be able to save substantial amount of water to have solved half the water problem, and motivate the government machinery to come into action to solve the other half. It will then be the time to celebrate free India's fourth revolution, the Blue Revolution, may be, the mother of all revolutions.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mile Sur Mera Tumhara

August 15, 1988, the 40th year of our Independence Day celebrations. We are all waiting to watch on TV Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort. The telephone rings. It is my sister calling from Mumbai (then Bombay).

“Are you watching the Red Fort function? Keep watching after the speech, there is a big surprise awaiting.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“A surprise.” And she hangs up.

The Prime Minister arrives, unfurls the flag and starts addressing the nation. It must have been a great speech, as this is always the finest hour for any Prime Minister, but we hardly hear what he speaks. Our entire attention is concentrated on that call from my sister, and we are eagerly waiting for the speech to end. Rajiv Gandhi, who normally did not like delivering long speeches, appeared to go on and on with his great address. At last the three times Jai Hind call and the crowd at the Red Fort responding as enthusiastically. That was the moment when most people started to move away from their sets, but for us it was the time to get glued to the TV as never before during the address. And then starts the telecast for the first time of the great video song ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumahra’, symbolizing the cultural and linguistic diversity of India and the unity in that diversity. The song which contains beautiful video from the cultures and geographies across the country. The song which every Indian is familiar with. The song whose music is as diverse as the country itself. Starts with a slow rendering by the great Hindustani vocalist Pandit Bhim Sen Joshi, picks up speed and moves across all languages, cultures and musical variations. Beautiful composition to which all major artists of the late 80s, cutting across Indian languages, have donated their voices to, a song in which all major Indian movie stars of the time across languages and states have participated in. The song ends up fading in an amazing harmony with the final notes of the national anthem of India. And then the big surprise for the family, when the credits come. The video is produced by Kailash Surendranath and Arti Gupta, son and daughter-in-law of my sister who called that morning.

The national integration video was intended to instill a sense of pride and promote unity amongst Indians, highlighting the different linguistic communities and societies that live in India. It quickly captivated millions in India, gaining and maintaining near-anthem status ever since. But it is very sad that the message of unity that the song conveys is conspicuous by its absence from the minds and actions of many leaders and the people at large. Yes, my Independence Day sentiments are full of agony and ecstasy. Agony at what the petty politicians of petty parties are doing today to undo what their own forbears did. There are Kashmiris who are trying to undo the Kashmir of Sheikh Abdullah and dance to the tune of those who still swear by “divide and rule”. Agony at some state parties taking pride in instigating their followers to throw out people of other states settled there, treating it as their own 'Quit India' movement. Agony at what those vote and political powers pursuers are doing by bringing back the caste politics under false pretenses.

Ecstasy, of course, being lucky to be born at a time which brought me from the age of slavery to the age of freedom. Since 1948, when I came to Delhi from my native place Punjab, wounded and suffering a great political trauma of the Partition, I was in Delhi as witness and participant in a history which is my personal treasure and heritage. The ramparts of the Delhi Red Fort, since 1947, have always reminded me of those who brought India freedom and guided it on its date with destiny. I can never forget Nehru's famous words, “When the world slept, India awoke to its date with destiny.” Nehru dreamt of an economically prosperous India. He wanted a place in the sun for women and children. Lal Bahadur Shastri, who gave India two great slogans, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” and did what he said, I remember today. Indira Gandhi, the Iron Lady, kept India together in the face of many internal and external threats. She defeated the invading neighbour in the 1971 war that resulted in the creation of Independent Bangladesh. She guarded her country like a tigress. Morarji Desai, Chaudhary Charan Singh, Chander Shekhar, V.P.Singh and Inder Kumar Gujral guided this country through many difficulties in their own way. Rajiv Gandhi laid foundation for the IT revolution that prepared India to enter 21st century as a leading IT giant in the world. He put forth a bold vision of a new India, a modern India, ready to burst into the world stage, full of energy, enterprise and dynamism. Atal Bihari Vajpayee brought glory to the country by throwing out infiltrators from Kargil. Narsimha Rao ushered in the era of economic reforms with Manmohan Singh, the financial wizard, as his Finance Minister, who continues to take India to the top on the economic ladder as Prime Minister. His vision is not just of economic growth, but also of a growth which would improve the life of the common man.

Our country is witnessing unprecedented economic growth at this point in time. The whole world is eagerly watching the manner in which India is making rapid economic progress. Let us consolidate our gains and not waste them fighting amongst ourselves. The two evils, political and social separatism are the greatest enemies of Indian independence. Let us resist these enemies of people, with all our might. Lets stay united and undivided in all the diversity that is natural to this great nation. More than ever before, we must value the message of national unity imbibed in the beautiful video 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara'.