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, September 25, 2009

Afghanistan - Practice What You Preach!

As America grows weary of the war in Afghanistan, Obama administration must be looking at its goals and giving a renewed thought to why they are there. The national mood on the Afghanistan war has soured fast, and it’s not hard to see why. American combat deaths are exceeding by the day, the recent Afghan election was tainted by accusations of intimidation and fraud, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen says the security environment there is “deteriorating.” Antiwar groups are starting to talk about “another Vietnam.” The questions and concerns being raised are legitimate. The initial attack removed the Taliban from power, but Taliban forces have since regained some strength. The war has been less successful in achieving the goal of restricting al-Qaeda's movement than anticipated. Since 2006, Afghanistan has seen threats to its stability from increased Taliban-led insurgent activity, record-high levels of illegal drug production, and a fragile government with limited control outside of Kabul. Clearly, the mission is far from succeeding so far.

The idea of permanent U.S. military bases vexes many people in Afghanistan, which has a long history of resisting foreign invaders. A few examples of such resistance in recent history should be enough for President Barack Obama to learn his lessons for any actions in future:

During the 1800s, British armies from India outright invaded Afghanistan in attempts to install puppet governments amenable to British economic interests. The British seized most of the major cities in Afghanistan with little resistance, but their heavy handed rule soon resulted in a popular uprising by the people which resulted in the massacre of the entire British army of 15,000, save one.

The Soviet Union invaded in 1979. They were able to occupy and hold all of the major cities, just as the British imperialists had been able to the century before, but they were unable to subjugate the countryside. Soviet causalities began to mount dramatically, and in 1989 the Soviets withdrew, leaving the puppet government to fend for itself. It wasn’t until 1992 that Mujahadeen fighters were able to topple the remnants of the government – ending the Soviet attempt to bring revolution to the people of Afghanistan at the point of a gun.

In May 2005, riots and protests that had started over a false report in Newsweek of U.S. interrogators desecrating the Koran and turned into the biggest anti-U.S. protests in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion included demands that the Kabul government reject U.S. intentions to create a permanent military presence in Afghanistan. The deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians caused directly and indirectly by the U.S. and NATO bombing campaigns is also a major underlying focus of the protests.

The U.S. will never have victory in Afghanistan unless it occupies it forever. People will never accept the American democratic/Christian way of life. They would probably never prefer foreign dominance over Taliban presence, and may even think that the Americans are fighting the Afghan people to keep them from owning their own country. For eight years, we've heard leaders in USA talk about setting conditions for a democratic central government in a country — really a bunch of tribes and clans — that's never had such a thing in 2,000 years and seemingly doesn't want one now.

The security of America cannot be equated with the war in Afghanistan. The same argument was made in Vietnam, and it clearly was not true. America does need security, but the Al Qeida groups do not need a whole country like Afghanistan to launch attacks across the globe. The stated goal is to deny any future sanctuary to al Qaida in Afghanistan - but al Qaida isn't based in Afghanistan any more and hasn't been for years. There are several other wild places where al-Qaeda might also set up shop, such as Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, the Philippines or Uzbekistan, besides, of course, Pakistan from where they are presently operating. Ironically, the U.S. Senate this week approved legislation to triple aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for the next five years as part of a plan to fight terrorism, despite the fact that Pakistan's record of diverting international financial assistance to military purposes is well known. Just a few days back former President of Pakistan Parvez Musharraf had admitted to misuse of the aids.

The U.S. clearly cannot afford to wage protracted warfare with multiple brigades of American ground forces simply to deny al-Qaeda access to every possible safe haven. The immediate thing would be for the United States government to end its bombing, withdraw its troops, and respect the Afghan peoples' right to self-determination. As for its security, there is no better way for U.S. than to secure its borders, safeguard its airports and ever remain vigilant inside the country against any attempts to create violence by home grown terrorists of any origin. Isn't this the exact advice U.S. gave to India when it was confronted by terrorists coming from Pakistan soil and even sponsored by it. What is good for India vs Pakistan should be good for the U.S. vs Afghanistan. What is your say on it President Obama? Shouldn't you try to practice what you preach.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Matter Of Faith

A very famous Guru-Ma, having a huge following in India and abroad, had come to Delhi for the first time at the request of her devotees. After reading a beautiful write up on her in the newspaper, my wife wanted to see her personally. We both went to attend her discourse, being held at the Modern School auditorium in New Delhi. Although we went early to have better seats near the dais, we were very much disappointed to find that the auditorium was already full and no further admissions were allowed. Even the lawn outside the auditorium, where they had installed a TV, was also almost filled up with devotees, and we got seats toward the end of the lawn from where we could not even get a good view of the TV screen.
“I had wished to see Guru-Ma but not like this. On TV we could have seen her while sitting at home, watching news coverage of her discourse.”
Soon after, we saw a female volunteer of foreign origin coming towards our direction from the distant corner of the compound.
“If she comes nearer, I'm going to request her for seats inside the auditorium,” she said still having some hope to have Guru-Ma's 'darshan' from within the auditorium.
The volunteer, crossing through the entire lawn came straight to her and said, “There is a seat for you inside the auditorium, please come with me.”
“Seats inside for us?” My wife asked disbelieving her ears.
“Only for you,” she answered and led her through the lawn into the auditorium. I could hardly trust my eyes watching the discourse on the TV, set up in the lawn, when I spotted my wife sitting right in front of Guru-Ma in the very first row, generally reserved for VIPs and other prominent persons.

Since that astonishing incident, unbelievable yet absolutely true, we both have developed unusual belief, respect and reverence for religious and spiritual swamis, yogis, gurus and god-men, although we are not active followers of any particular one. We are no longer surprised at the phenomenal popularity of some of these exotic spiritual mentors in India and abroad, especially in the United States where they have enthralled Americans like no one could ever imagine. Since the sixties a virtual wave of Indian gurus has washed upon the shores of North America. And seemingly gullible Americans have proven over and over again that they are only too willing to welcome these “god-men” and a few “god-women” too. The list of such spiritual gurus keeps growing:

There was Swami Satchidananda (now deceased), Guru Sri Chinmoy (still carrying on in Queens New York), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (perhaps the richest guru on earth), Guru Maharaji (a boy wonder), Swami Prabhupada (deceased founder of “Krishna Consciousness”), Sai Baba, Swami Muktananda (deceased founder of Siddha), Yogi Bhajan of 3HO, Swami Rama and let’s not forget Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who was deported before he died. A new female “guru” is breaking into the American hearts named “Chalanda Sai Ma.” She is apparently a former pupil of Sai Baba and others, but is now touring solo.

Of course the United States appears to have plenty of homegrown Gurus, which includes an assortment of psychics, faith healers, mediums and even snake handlers. Still, despite easily accessible homegrown holy men, there seems to be something about flowing saffron robes, mantras and exotic India that excites the imagination of many within the US spiritual environment. Many “god-men” seem to know how to tap into the U.S. self improvement market, and make the best of it.

The historic success of Indian gurus in the US seems to have inspired a growing list of American wannabes that have taken on Indian names and titles. Frank Jones from Brooklyn is now “god-man Adi Da,” Fred Lenz was called “Zen Master Rama,” a former New York housewife Joyce Green calls herself “Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati,” Mike Shoemaker became “Swami Chetananada” and Donald Waters became “Swami Kriyananda,” just to name a few.

In India many families are great believers in some god-man or the other. Every second day there’s a grand procession and a yatra happening somewhere with lakhs of devotees thronging for darshan of a god-man or something associated with him. TV is the god-man's biggest ally. The religious channels have been a god sent for the god-men, getting them entry into each and every household. Even mainstream channels have more than a fair share of god-man content. You no longer can ignore them as you invariably run into them every time you flick TV channels. Most of the god-men are quite captivating, with their flowing beards, special suits and forceful voices. The key selling point of the god-men is their talk about things that make sense to many. Stories that had their foundation in magic and ‘chamatkars’ always appeal to people. The stories are remarkably simple and straightforward that really could improve people's lives. Some of these god-men also teach exercises and relaxation techniques that are very effective. The god-men seem to have mastered the art of making a miracle mixture of religion and reality that promises to take care of real life worries like stress, loss and failure. They would invariably end with the god-man blessing the devotee and saving the day. It is, therefore, no surprise that the number of followers of these god-men just keeps rising. They have full faith that only a certain guru or god-man can tell them the right path or fix their lives. They must have experienced some good from that faith or waiting for that good to happen. You may disagree with them, but for them it is a matter of faith.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Great Cities With Green Solutions

Driving a car is the most polluting act an average citizen commits. Cars have two opposite personalities. One is friendly and attractive the other is destructive and can be lethal. The desire to own a car is linked to pleasure, sexuality, convenience and freedom. Men lust for big, prestigious cars the way they lust for women and women desire men with big, prestigious cars. In major cities and large towns throughout the world, motor vehicles cause a wide range of air pollution problems. Fossil fuel combustion, particularly as it occurs in motor vehicles, has been identified as the LARGEST contributor to air pollution in the WORLD. Exhaust from all combustion engines combine to produce local adverse effects on the health of car users and all innocent bystanders. Cities have become islands of toxic chemicals from the unrestrained use of vehicles burning fossil fuels. The adverse health effects of car exhaust are pervasive and difficult to measure. Pollution by cars causes lung cancer, respiratory problems, urban smog, and acid rain.

The Mayor of Paris has launch a novel scheme for fighting congestion and pollution: self-service cars. He aims to start with 2,000 electric-powered vehicles that subscribers can drive off without booking at dozens of sites 24 hours a day and then leave anywhere in the city. It is intended to complement the highly successful bicycle scheme that he opened last July with 5,000 rental stations around the city. The non-polluting cars, which will cost a few euros per hour to use, depending on mileage, will enable Parisians to carry passengers and loads on short trips without the bother and expense of hiring or running their own vehicles, says the mayor. The only worry is that Parisians could drop their new-found cycling habit. He has already turned Paris into the biggest bike-friendly city in Europe, with the 20,000 machines having already been used for 11 million trips so far. The mayor, who gets around Paris in a tiny electric-powered car, has already promoted a car-sharing scheme.

China’s efforts to curb air pollution by restricting driving within Beijing city limits was quite a success, so government officials sought to extend the benefits by continuing the traffic limits. The Chinese government has taken to offering up to $3,600 to give up heavily polluting vehicles, and even giving drivers more money to purchase cleaner cars. The amount of compensation given to drivers giving up heavily polluted vehicles depends on the size, type and age of the vehicle – and payment will be prorated, so the sooner they give up the offending car, the more money they get. It’s a commendable plan, especially since it will likely raise demand for cleaner cars, giving China’s auto industry a greater incentive to build them. It’s nice to see that after years of very little action – and ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions – China is doing something real to address the problem of air pollution in Beijing.

In New Delhi comes a smart de-congestion plan - a mega carpool that harnesses the latest in technology. The Delhi government plans to launch the Pan City Mega Carpool Scheme before the Commonwealth Games 2010. The Delhi government has proposed to enroll thousands of car owners, subject to verification of their credentials, into a single mega carpool and issue the members secure, smart identity cards as well. The cars of all members will be fitted with a special hardware device comprising of a card reader, global positioning system (GPS) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). The device can read the smart card based photo identity card of a member, sense the location of the car and transmit this data digitally to a central agency. The rider is only required to tap the smart ID card at the beginning as well as the end of the ride and all the information regarding the driver and the rider would be sent to the central server. A member of the carpool scheme may give a ride to any of the enrolled members who have a common or along-the-way travel destination. The scheme plans to reduce traffic congestion and vehicular pollution by 50 percent or more. Mega Car Pool is more than a car pool system. It is an alternative transport mode which can give you immense comfort and ease in traveling and reduce travel cost and time significantly. Mega Car Pool is your best solution to end killing road congestion and endless parking problem.

What Can we do? Drive Less. Both local and global pollution would be reduced if each car-driving person pledged to use their car 30% less starting immediately. This is a responsible, individual contribution to a global problem. At least 30% of vehicle is optional - either recreational or lazy driving when walking, cycling or public transit would be a better choice. The use of cars must be re-defined. Car use has to be considered a privilege, not a right. Recreational driving can be reduced immediately. In the immediate future reduced car use is the best solution. But changing car-users' habits doesn't seem likely any time soon, as the failure of carpool lanes in USA makes clear. Commuters can drive in this lane only if there are at least two people in the vehicle. But these lanes don't always succeed in encouraging carpooling. Basically, it didn't. It strikes as really crazy. They are willing to sit there, stuck hopelessly in traffic, for the 'luxury' of being the only person in their vehicle. All this has to change if we want to save this planet from pollution. We have to curb our craving for big cars and curtail our driving time to only essential need to drive. And one more thing, let us all salute Paris, Beijing and New Delhi, which have come up with their own unique solutions to the problem created by car pollution. These are truly great cities with green solutions.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Poles Apart

The White House posted Obama's remarks on its Web site at midday Monday. He's scheduled to deliver the talk from Wakefield High School in suburban Arlington, Va., Tuesday. In a speech that drew fire even before he delivered it, President Barack Obama is telling the nation's schoolchildren he "expects great things from each of you."..."At the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world," Obama said.

Right now a huge hue and cry is being made by media and many parents of President Obama's speech to school children today. Some conservatives have urged schools and parents to boycott the address. At the behest of local political leaders many schools might not allow the students to hear the president's address. It cannot be imagined a parent who would not want the leader(s) of the country to provide such encouragement to their children. If these leaders truly had faith in what they profess to believe, if they really had the courage of their convictions, they would be happy to let the children hear the president speak. President Barack Obama wants to address children to encourage them to work hard and stay in school. Is this subversive? Is this a danger to society? Other presidents have done it. It is simply insecure cowardice. That is a very sad thing too. It's sad because it betrays a rank insecurity in the ability of students to think for themselves.

In contrast to all the controversy in the U.S. on President Obama's address to the school children, in India we can proudly look back on our own first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru's love for children and vice versa. Chacha Nehru, as the children fondly referred to him, was fond of both children and roses. In fact he often compared the two, saying that children were like the buds in a garden. They should be carefully and lovingly nurtured, as they were the future of the nation and the citizens of tomorrow. He felt that children are the real strength of a country and the very foundation of society. He was the ‘beloved’ of all the children who gave him the endearing name of ‘Chacha Nehru’. As a tribute to this great man and his love for the children, his birthday, November 14, is celebrated all over India as ‘CHILDREN’S DAY’. I still cherish how children, who had come to Delhi in response to an invitation by the Prime Minister, heartily enjoyed a reception given by him at the lawns of his residence, Teen Murti. Mr. Nehru who came to meet them in the evening after a strenuous four-hour meeting to select Congress candidates, was instantly refreshed seeing the little ones who sat in neat rows enjoying fruit drink and sweets. He went round, and made each of his little visitors feel completely at home, patting, caressing, saying kind words, making pleasant simple conversation and cracking jokes. When their host wanted to know what was the most wonderful thing they had seen in Delhi, back came their answer in a piped chorus, ``Chacha Nehru.''

Pandit Nehru was fond of writing letters. Here is Nehru's letter to children, which is relevant even today for children world over, especially for not only the children but also for parents and politicians in the U.S., who are protesting President Obama's address to school children:

Dear Children,

I like being with children and talking to them and, even more, playing with them. If you were with me, I would love to talk to you about this beautiful world of ours, about flowers, trees, birds, animals, stars, mountains, glaciers and all the other beautiful things that surround us in the world. We have all this beauty all around us and yet we, who are grown-ups, often forget about it and lose ourselves in our arguments or in our quarrels. We sit in our offices and imagine that we are doing very important work.

I hope you will be more sensible and open your eyes and ears to this beauty and life that surrounds you. Can you recognize the flowers by their names and the birds by their singing? How easy it is to make friends with them and with everything in nature, if you go to them affectionately and with friendship.

Grown-ups have a strange way of putting themselves in compartments and groups. They build barriers... of religion, caste, colour, party, nation, province, language, customs and of rich and poor. Thus they live in prisons of their own making. Fortunately, children do not know much about these barriers, which separate. They play and work with each other and it is only when they grow up that they begin to learn about these barriers from their elders. I hope you will take a long time in growing up...

You know we had a very great man amongst us. He was called Mahatma Gandhi. But we used to call him affectionately Bapuji. He was wise, but he did not show off his wisdom. He was simple and childlike in many ways and he loved children... he taught us to face the world cheerfully and with laughter.

Our country is a very big country and there is a great deal to be done by all of us. If each one of us does his or her little bit, then all this mounts up and the country prospers and goes ahead fast.

I have tried to talk to you in this letter as if you were sitting near me, and I have written more than I intended.

Jawaharlal Nehru
December 3, 1949

Indeed, in the context of leaders' interaction with children of their country, U.S. and India are poles apart.