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, October 27, 2009

Turban Triumphs in USA

“Washington, Oct 21 (IANS) In what is seen as a landmark civil rights victory for the Sikh community, the US government has allowed Sikhs to serve as federal security officers while keeping their turbans and beards. The reversal of a ban comes after a discrimination case filed by a Sikh security officer who was told that he could not keep his turban and beard on the job, Sikh Coalition, a community advocacy group said Tuesday. The lawsuit settlement and change in policy are a major civil rights victory for the Sikh community. It marks the first time that a federal law enforcement agency has changed policy to accommodate the Sikh articles of faith, it said.”

The news spread like recent wild fire of Southern California in over 500,000 strong Sikh community in U.S.A., and there was spontaneous jubilation amongst them, justifiable too. This triumph of the turban has come after a prolonged struggle by the community to establish and advance themselves in this country, half the globe away from their great love - Punjab, the land of their origin. Prejudice and stereotyping were a part of the Sikh experience ever since the earliest immigrants from India arrived over a century ago in USA , who were all from Punjab with majority of them from this adventurous and courageous community.

In 1849, the British annexed the Punjab region into the rest of its colonial holdings in India. The subsequent land reform laws disenfranchised many Punjabis, and younger sons were encouraged to find work abroad. Their destinations ranged from British territories in Africa to the Caribbean to Hong Kong and Singapore to Canada. Many made their way to Vancouver, Canada. They found employment in the burgeoning lumber industry, and, as subjects of the British Commonwealth, they were able to travel freely. But as their numbers grew, discrimination against them by Canadian workers of European descent also grew. Indeed, European Canadian worker protests became so strong that, eventually, ships carrying Indians to Vancouver were barred from landing. These workers found their way further south, into the northwestern United States, where an economic boom was in the works. When the first Indian immigrants arrived in California's fertile Central Valley more than a century ago, they were reminded of the plains in their homeland, the Punjab. Their farming skills, their willingness to work, and their drive to get ahead ensured their rise in status from humble migrant laborers who picked fruit in the hot sun to significant landowners who today control much of the agriculture in California. However, like the Indian immigrants in Canada, they too received an acrimonious reception from workers of European descent not wanting to compete against them for jobs.

The California Alien Land Law of 1913, revised in 1920, prevented immigrants from owning and leasing their own land, making it a difficult struggle for those who made their living as farmers. Barred from owning land due to anti-Asian laws, many married Mexican women and forged a fusion culture that flourished in California's Yuba City and Imperial Valley. A small "Mexican-Punjabi" community formed in California when early male Punjabi immigrants married Hispanic women. Many of the men were unable to retrieve their family members from India, and thus were forced to seek new relationships in the United States. The two cultures experienced different rights under the law. Punjabi men were unable to legally own land. The Mexican women, however, could own land, as they were unrestricted by discriminatory laws targeted at Asian immigrants. Later, they also put land in their children's names, who were American citizens. This helped them to legally own land holdings and push their economic progress, particularly in Yuba City and areas around it in Northern California, but troubled time for the turbaned immigrants from Punjab was far from over in some other parts of their adopted country.

Immigrants from India continued to face resistance from European and American laborers who were in competition with them for jobs and who feared they would be willing to work for lower wages. This resistance assumed tangible form in racist organizations such as the Asian Exclusion League. The group was responsible for violent incidents in Canada and the U.S., such as the "Anti-Sikh" riot in 1907 at Bellingham, Washington. On the night of September 4, 1907, a mob of between 400 and 500 white men attacked Bellingham's Punjabi colonies. Many of them were beaten. Some escaped from their quarters in their night clothes. Several sought refuge on the tide flats. Others were driven toward the city limits or jailed. During the course of the disturbance, the indignation of the crowd was fanned to action by speakers who addressed impromptu audiences on the street corners and incited citizens to "help drive out the cheap labor." Unfortunately, the Bellingham riot was mirrored by similar assaults in California during the months that followed in Marysville, Stege, Live Oak, and other communities where the immigrants had settled.

These incidents, however, didn't reflect the attitude of the whole community. As the immigrants continued to work hard and achieve success some of their neighbors began to accept them. A retrospective account in the Daily Astorian gives an idea of how Indian workers were viewed in Astoria, one Oregon mill town. "We thought they were terrible coming with their turbans. We were afraid of them at first. But then we realized, they have to make a living same as the rest of us. We are foreigners too. And they never undercut wages -- they wouldn't work for less than the other employees. And most of the Astoria community considered the Sikhs vastly interesting and peaceable." There were cracks in the great white wall, which eventually went down with the emergence of some highly honored and successful Sikh immigrants.

Early in the 20th century, Indian students began coming to the United States to study engineering, medicine, agriculture, and manufacturing. The students represented all parts of the subcontinent, particularly Punjab. Most Indian students chose institutions on the Pacific Coast -- the University of Washington, agricultural colleges in Oregon, Stanford, and, above all, the University of California, Berkeley. The University of California was really the best for them on this coast. Tuition was only $15 a year and living expenses about $250. Opportunities were plentiful in Berkeley for self-support. During the summer months students could make $125 a month as agricultural laborers. The students found many sources of support. The Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan had purchased a hostel where Indian students could stay rent-free.

Dalip Singh Saund earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley. Over the next 20 years of his life, he worked in agriculture and became a successful businessman too. He was the first Asian American to be elected to the US Congress. He was elected in 1956 from 29th Congressional district comprised of Riverside and Imperial Counties of California and reelected twice. While contesting in 1964 for his fourth term in the U.S. Congress, he suffered a stroke and became incapacitated. However, he did set a precedent for many Asians to follow in the U.S. Congress. He remains a beacon of hope and an example for many Indian Americans to succeed him.

“One day, just three days before the election, a prominent citizen who was opposing me bitterly saw me one morning in the town restaurant. There must have been some fifty people in there having their breakfast when he came up to me and said in a loud voice: "Doc, tell us, if you're elected, will you furnish the turbans or will we have to buy them ourselves in order to come to your court?" "My friend," I answered, "you know me for a tolerant man. I don't care what a man has on top of his head. All I'm interested in is what he's got inside of it." All the customers had a good laugh at that and the story became the talk of the town during the next few days. -- Dalip Singh Saund on his 1952 campaign for judge in Westmorland.

Fifty years ago, Didar Singh Bains came to America with $8 in his pocket with the belief that money grows on trees. He was right. Bains was a young "jat" - A Sikh farmer from Punjab, where farming is next to godliness. Driving tractors and irrigating orchards for 75 cents an hour, he did the work of four men, and soon bought his first peach orchard. He bought another, then another, and by 1978, had become the largest peach grower in California. By 1980, Bains owned 12,000 acres in California and Canada.

Sikhs have been a part of the American populace for more than 130 years. When everything was going great for them came September 11, 2001. In the wake of 9/11 attacks, there was an upsurge in anti-Sikh discrimination across the United States, including a number of incidents that involved physical attacks on Sikh individuals who were wearing turbans. They were blamed for something they had nothing to do with. But rather than getting mad at the people instigating hatred against them, the educated amongst the community felt it was their obligation to help common Americans understand their cultural traditions. They wrote articles, gave speeches and sent e-mails. They raised seed money for a documentary film, Mistaken Identity: Sikhs in America, that has been screened at film festivals, police departments, schools and colleges. The newspapers aided the outreach effort by running informative articles. The result was the attacks on turban wearing Sikhs stopped, eventually leading to the decision of the U.S. administration to reverse the ban on Sikhs wearing turbans in the federal security services. The decision is seen and celebrated by Sikhs as the day “Turban Triumphs in USA”.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Outsourcing Surrogate Pregnancy

Mention surrogate mother, and the mind goes back to the high-profile Baby M case in the U.S., the first of its kind, in which the surrogate was the baby's biological mother and unsuccessfully sought custody after the birth. Or to the controversial but bold Bollywood movie of its time, in which Preity Zinta playing the surrogate mother to the child of the married couple, Salman Khan and Rani Mukherjee, gives up custody of her child, though very reluctantly, to create happy ending for the film. For many years, surrogate pregnancy was a somewhat immoral method by which intended parents could attempt to have a child. The surrogate mother was always the biological mother, pregnant from another person, but with the intention of relinquishing the child to be raised by the biological father and his spouse. Much has changed since then the way surrogacy is practiced now. In gestational surrogacy, commonly used instead of the traditional, the surrogate becomes pregnant via embryo transfer with a child of which she is not the biological mother. It is no longer considered unethical or immoral, as extramarital relationship between the surrogate mother and the biological father is not involved. As such, the practice is now not only legal and widely accepted, it has become a big commercial opportunity for the agencies involved in it. Indian women earn more than they otherwise could, and infertile couples get a genetically related child. The clinics in India feel that this vital service they are providing is a ‘win-win’ situation for both the parties, ” we are facilitating each one of them to achieve what none of them could achieve on their own.” More importantly, staying detached from the genetic parents, helps surrogate mothers give up their babies and get on with their lives - and maybe with the next surrogacy.

These days U.S. outsources everything to India. So why not pregnancy? Especially when a growing number of Indian women are willing to carry an American child. By some estimates, Indian surrogacy is already a $445-million-a-year business. Commercial surrogacy was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby). Surrogate mothers in India, under commercial surrogacy programs are usually cared for with amongst the best highly advanced medical, nutritional, and overall care available in the field anywhere in the world. Having English speaking doctors available in India is another reason for people choosing to go with this option. This makes people feel far more comfortable with the doctor understanding them and the concerns that they may be having.

In Anand, a city in the western state of Gujarat where the practice was pioneered in India, surrogate mothers are pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Britain and elsewhere. Most of them live together in a hostel attached to the clinic there. The Akanksha clinic is at the forefront of India's booming trade in so-called reproductive tourism — foreigners coming to the country for infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. The clinic's main draw, however, is its success using local women to have foreigners' babies. The business has taken off beyond anything it imagined. At any given time, it has about 150 foreign couples on its waiting list, and every week three new women apply to be surrogated, including clients from Taiwan, Japan, the U.S., Europe, and Australia.

The government is actively promoting India as a medical tourism destination. India now has about 350 facilities that offer surrogacy as a part of a broader array of infertility-treatment services. Last year about 1,000 pregnancy attempts using surrogates were made at these clinics. This year, it is estimated the figure will jump to 1,500. Since 2005, the practice of surrogacy has been operating under guidelines established by the Indian Council of Medical Research, a government body. But a new law is in the works that aims to regulate the surrogacy industry by standardizing such things as contract terms and surrogate compensation. To avoid potential legal disputes, it will also govern what parental information is given on birth certificates. What's more, the new law, which could be introduced in Parliament as early as December, would require clinics to register surrogacy cases and report their outcomes. At the end of the day, we're going to have statistics, which is very important, partly because of the implications for India's burgeoning medical-tourism industry.

Surrogate pregnancy is a rising trend that will most likely only gain in popularity. While there are many positive things to be said about outsourcing pregnancy, there are also other issues to be considered. The most difficult issues to face when considering outsourcing surrogate pregnancy are and will continue to be the ethical ones. While surrogacy can be viewed as a paid job, it may still be unethical to think of the mental and physical strain of childbirth as a simple rental of a human body. Some would argue that outsourcing pregnancy is exploitation at it its worst. On the other hand, surrogacy is the only option for some childless couples. With the exorbitant costs of in vitro fertilization and other treatment methods in the U.S., India seems like a dream come true for some couples. Both sides do benefit, and as long as standards are in place, the best option for the childless couples in the U.S. continues to remain outsourcing surrogate pregnancy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moonstruck to Moon Struck!

Ever since the earliest memories of our childhood, we have always been moonstruck. Nobody knows when moon became our 'Chanda Mama', but this is one loving uncle we all have in common. It all started with Moms singing this song to cox their kids to eat. :

chandaa maama door ke, puye pakaayen boor ke
aap khaayen thaali mein, munne ko den pyaali mein
pyaali gayi toot munnaa gayaa rooth
laayenge nayi pyaaliyaan bajaa bajaa ke taaliyaan
munne ko manaayenge ham doodh malaayi khaayenge....

Or when mothers sang one or the other Chanda Mama lullaby to put their children to sleep:

Nanhi kali sone chali hawa dhire aanaa
Neend bhare pankh liye jhula jhulana
Chand kiran si gudia naazon ki hai pali
Aaj agar chandania ana meri gali
Gun gun gun geet koi haule haule ganaa

As we grew up, cutting through the ages, innumerable number of those 'Moon' melodies from Bollywood movies gained immortality in our hearts, including some of these most favorites:

Chaudhvi ka chaand ho, ya aaftab ho
jo bhi ho khuda ki kasam, lajavaab ho

Dum bhar jo udhar muh phere, O Chanda
Mein unse pyar kar lungi, batein hazaar kar lungi

Ruk ja raat theher ja re chanda, beete na Milan ki bela
aaj chandni ki nagri mein, armaano ka mela

Khoya khoya chaand, khula aasmaan
aankhon mein sari raat jayegi, tumko bhi kaise neend aayegi

Chaand jaise mukhde pe bindiya sitara,
nahin bhulega meri jaan, ye najara , vo banjara

Ye raat ye chaandni fir kahan,
sun ja dil ki dastaan

Yeh Chaand Sa Raushan Chehra
Taareef Karoon Kya Us Ki

Mysterious, mystical, magical, the moon has been a symbol of faith, love and remembrance over centuries. The Moon is one of the heavenly bodies that has always cast its magic spell on our lives, making us the most Moonstruck nation. The Moon gives knowledge of time with its waxing and waning, closely connected with spiritual knowledge. Most Indian festivals are based on the lunar almanac, a sacred device to encourage people to become attuned to the natural tides in the universe at their great highs, and to share the joy and spiritual blessings with others in the community. India is a land of festivals, and no month passes by without a festival being celebrated. All these national festivals and many more celebrated locally in different parts of the country are based on sighting of the Moon in its particular waxing or waning position: Makar Sakranthi, Pongal, Vasant Panchami, Maha Shivratri, Holi, Ram Naumi, Baisakhi, Budh Poornima, Mahavir Jayanti, Raksha Bandhan, Janma Ashthmi, Ganesh Chaturthi, Onam, Durga Puja, Vijaya Dashmi, Karwa Chauth, Deepavali, Gurpoorav and the biggest Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr.

Then came the time when the two super powers became moonstruck. The Cold War-inspired space race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. led to an acceleration of interest in the Moon. Unmanned probes, both flyby and impact/lander missions, were sent almost as soon as launcher capabilities would allow. The Soviet Union's Luna program was the first to reach the Moon with unmanned spacecraft. The first man-made object to escape Earth's gravity and pass near the Moon was Luna 1, the first man-made object to impact the lunar surface was Luna 2, and the first photographs of the normally occluded far side of the Moon were made by Luna 3, all in 1959. The first spacecraft to perform a successful lunar soft landing was Luna 9 and the first unmanned vehicle to orbit the Moon was Luna 10, both in 1966. Moon samples have been brought back to Earth by three Luna missions (Luna 16, 20, and 24) and the Apollo missions 11 to 17 (except Apollo 13, which aborted its planned lunar landing). The landing of the first humans on the Moon in 1969 is seen by many as the culmination of the space race.
Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon as the commander of the American mission Apollo 11 by first setting foot on the Moon at 02:56 UTC on July 21, 1969.

After some years of Neil Armstrong's unbelievable walk on the Moon followed the most amazing Moonwalk by Michael Jackson. On March 25, 1983, Michael Jackson took one small, backward step onto a television stage — and one giant leap into dance-floor history. The thin, angular pop star was only 24 years old when he took an obscure break-dancing move and transformed it into one of the most recognizable routines of all time. Jackson debuted the Moonwalk during his performance of "Billie Jean" on the ABC television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. It not only became his signature move but also one of the best-known dance techniques in the world, injected into world's pop-cultural consciousness. The youth throughout the world became Moonstruck as never before.

And now the bombshell that ended much of the sentiments and sensitivity around the Moon in one stroke. Astronomers and space enthusiasts around the world watched as Nasa sent a rocket into the lunar surface. The rocket hit the Moon at the speed of about 5,600mph. The probe searched for ice and water on the Moon. The event came just weeks after exciting research revealed widespread water on the surface of the Moon. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper on board India's Chandryaan-1 picked up the electromagnetic radiation signature of water on and a few inches below the surface. No one ever imagined that the Moonstruck world would one day wake up with this shocking worldwide news headline, “Moon Struck!” What a tragic end of the journey of the Moonstruck to Moon Struck!