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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving, America's biggest national festival next only to Christmas, is celebrated primarily to express thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation to God, similarly as we celebrate Lori, Pongal, Maghi and so many other harvest festivals in India.

"For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee!"
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

The traditional origin of modern Thanksgiving in the United States is generally regarded to be the celebration that occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in Massachusetts in 1621. This celebration occurred early in the history of what would become one of the original Thirteen Colonies that later were to become the United States. The feast was more of a traditional English harvest festival than a true "thanksgiving" observance. However, this "first Thanksgiving" was not a holiday, simply a gathering. The first official Thanksgiving can be traced back to October 3, 1789, when President George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:

“ Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be....”

In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863:

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God....It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens....”
- Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation
Washington, DC—October 3, 1863

And in 1941, Thanksgiving was finally sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday, as the fourth Thursday in November.

"Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year;
to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."
-Edward Sandford Martin

U.S. tradition compares the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is continued in modern times with the Thanksgiving dinner, traditionally featuring turkey, playing a large role in the celebration of Thanksgiving. Certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. Firstly, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, other fall vegetables, and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. The less fortunate are often provided with food at Thanksgiving time. Most communities have annual food drives that collect non-perishable packaged and canned foods, and corporations sponsor charitable distributions of staple foods and Thanksgiving dinners. During Thanksgiving Day families and friends usually gather for a large meal or dinner and Thanksgiving prayer.

"Without Thy sunshine and Thy rain
We could not have the golden grain;
Without Thy love we'd not be fed;
We thank Thee for our daily bread."

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Thanksgiving is a four-day or five-day weekend vacation for schools and colleges. Most business and government workers are given Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays. Thanksgiving Eve, the night before Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest nights of the year for bars and clubs, as many college students and others return to their hometowns to reunite with friends and family. There are Thanksgiving parades in many cities, the biggest being in New York City, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade features floats with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters and TV personalities, and high school marching bands. The float that traditionally ends the Macy's Parade is the Santa Claus float, the arrival of which is an unofficial sign of the beginning of the Christmas season.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, although not a Federal holiday, is a holiday for many companies, except for those in retail. It is also a day off for most schools. It is popularly known as Black Friday, so-called because of the heavy shopping traffic on that day. Another reason for the term 'Black Friday' is that many stores reach sales numbers that take them out of the red and (hopefully) keep them in the black for the rest of the fiscal year. Black Friday has been considered by retailers to be the start of the Christmas shopping season since at least the 1930s.

"So once in every year we throng
Upon a day apart,
To praise the Lord with feast and song
In thankfulness of heart."
-Arthur Guiterman, The First Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving !

Friday, November 19, 2010

Addicted To Korean Dramas!

Korean TV dramas were hardly ever heard of beyond Korea's borders, but beginning in the late 1990s they began to acquire a strong following in USA, especially in California, where ethnic Korean community has a predominant presence. Without a reference or recommendation from a friend on Facebook or a follower to Twitter, we started watching Korean TV dramas when my wife during one of her habitually repeated channel rolling sessions suddenly stopped on Stairway to Heaven, and we had a heavenly TV time. We remained glued to enjoy the rich experience even though we did not follow the foreign language the characters were speaking, no subtitles then. That was in the year 2004 perhaps, and since then we have watched so many Korean dramas that we cannot count them on fingers or even recollect all the titles to enlist them for our reference. Indeed, the Korean dramas are a class much above the Indian or American soaps we have been seeing, and the added attraction is that they now come with English subtitles. One most welcome feature of Korean dramas is that unlike Indian and American soaps they do not tend to drag on and on for year after year, but are limited to a length of 3-6 months at the maximum.

Korean dramas are fun to watch. However, sometimes there are cultural differences that may make it difficult for non-Koreans, not so much for Indians as for Americans, from fully understanding what is happening in the drama. By and large, it is easier for Indians to relate to the relationships and situations in the story because of the cultural similarity between the two countries. For instance, pre-marital sex is as much a taboo in Korea as in India and it is never shown in Korean dramas. Kissing in public is not as common in Korea as it is in the U.S. In many of the dramas, when a couple kisses, it
usually means the relationship is very serious and will likely lead to marriage. In most dramas the lovers are not even shown lip-kissing till the couple is eventually united permanently towards the climax portions of the drama. Engaged marriages are preferred and even when the couple is romancing, parents' permission is sought before the marriage. As highlighted in "Mothers and Sisters," sons are more desirable than daughters in a traditional Korean family. If the family has more than one son, the oldest son is expected to take care of his parents when they age. Daughters, on
the other hand, are valued less since they become part of their husband's family and are required to serve their husband's parents once they get married. One particular aspect of their culture seen in practically every drama may be difficult to digest by most Indian viewers– universal addiction to drinking. Every one, young and old, parents and children, start drinking at the slightest provocation or set back in their life and get so much drunk, especially the female folks, that they have to be given piggy-back ride to their residences. May look amusing to non-Korean viewers!

In order to give a glimpse of the Korean TV drama, I have here tried to introduce my most favorite five dramas out of the numerous dramas we have watched and enjoyed in the last 5-6 years of our love affair with the Korean drama:

Stairway to Heaven

Wow, what a spellbinding story surcharged with heartwarming emotional moments and above all class performance by the entire cast. This show was a big hit. This drama quickly became known as one that could bring on laughter and tears, pulling at viewers’ heartstrings every time they watched. The wonderful story-line kept people talking long after the final episode aired. The show incorporates the beauty and sadness of love set in beautiful filming locations with a sweet, mellow soundtrack. The story opens with two children who grew up together and become lovers. Song-ju and Jeong-seo grew up together as close friends. As the only son of a wealthy executive of Global Group, Song-ju went abroad to study management. During this time, Jeong-seo is in a serious car accident, resulting in memory loss. She remembers nothing of her childhood friend, Song-ju and is unexpectedly reunited with him. The young main characters have different ways of expressing love, making each character unique.

All In

It is a special TV drama based on the true fiction-like story of Cha Min-su, a pro gambler and a pro janggi (Korean chess) player. Mr. Cha is the model for the main character Kim In-ha, played by Lee Byung-hun, who has become a super star of Korean TV dramas after his highly acclaimed performance in All In. Mr. Cha has had a dramatic life. He went to Las Vegas with only 18 dollars and became a millionaire. 'All In' is a story about a passion for success, victory and defeat in business and at the casino, and a love, sorrowful and pure.

The Slave Hunters

An award winning period drama of slaves fervently wishing to live like a human being and slave hunters chasing them tirelessly. While doing his job as a slave hunter, Dae-gil is offered to get Song Tae-ha and is promised to be given a fair amount of money as a reward. Tae-ha was forced to become a state slave as he was wrongfully accused of stealing some provisions. Tae-ha tries to escape. Daegil, however, gets wind of his plan and the two ends up fighting a bloody fight. Having barely escaped from the fierce fight, Te-ha happens to accompany a beautiful woman named Hye-won. In the end, Tae- ha manages to run away from Dae-gil while Dae-gil feels affection for Hye-won.

Cinderella's Stepsister

With great lines, heartfelt scenes, and exceptional acting, Cinderella's Stepsister has been praised as the most beautifully compelling drama of 2010. A modern adaptation of the classic fairy-tale “Cinderella,” “Cinderella's Stepsister” is the story of the stepsister who must overcome her past to find her true colors. Love is a seemingly unattainable luxury for Eun-jo (Cinderella's stepsister) who spent an unhappy childhood with an extremely selfish mother. Hyo-seon (Cinderella), despite her loving childhood, can never seem to get enough affection after her mother passes away when she is just a child. The drama follows the life of these two very different girls on their journeys into adulthood, where they eventually find themselves vying for the love of the same man. The drama sends the message that whether you are Cinderella or Cinderella's Stepsister, the star of your own fairy-tale or a character pushed to the background, life can be equally painful and sweet.

Bread, Love and Dreams

The highly acclaimed, awarded and extremely popular drama is also known as King of Baking, Kim Tak Goo. It tells the story of how a determined young baker manages to become the best baker in all of Korea, facing many trials on his journey, spanning through the 1970's to the 1990's, beginning with his mother's past, through his childhood, and his adulthood, successes, and trials. Kim Tak-gu is the eldest son of Gu Il-joong, the chairman of Geo-sung Corporation, a legend in the baking industry. Although he is an extremely talented baker and seemed destined to succeed his father as president, Goo Il-joong's family plotted to rob him of his inheritance because he was born to Il- joong's mistress, Kim Mi-soon. Tak-gu's determination to become number one in the baking industry drives him to rebuild his career from scratch despite the many trials he faces. It is one of the best Korean dramas with incredible performance by the entire cast and very inspiring and engaging story.

Korean drama programming is publicly available in most broadcast areas in USA. Now, due to information spread via the internet, cable TV, satellite TV, and DVD rental businesses, along with k-dramas' quality English subtitling and good production quality, Korean dramas have become even more popular across a diverse American audience - i.e., not limited to families of Korean descent. I'm sure if you have a chance to watch any Korean drama, especially any one of my favorite five, you will understand what made my wife and me so much addicted to Korean dramas.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Singing Star Surendra's Centenary

This generation may not have heard of him, but he was heard with pin-drop silence when he sang his soul-stirring song “Kyon yaad aa rahen hain guzare huye zamzne...” on the stage during Indian Cinema's Golden Jubilee celebrations in the year 1982. The audience that included biggest of the Bollywood names knew him well and had their eyes moistened by the touching melody which looked so true to life. The glorious bygone era of Surendra, the singing star sensation of the 30s and 40s and heartthrob of thousands then, seemed to have suddenly come back before them. Their spontaneous applause and standing ovation made him overwhelmed with emotion, as their so much admiration and regard was, perhaps, his best recognition in many decades since his most melodious early years of Hindi films. Celebrating the centenary of this great singer, born November 11, 1911, let us remember him highlighting some of his great moments in movies.

Bombay, although the movie capital of India, was left behind at the Box Office by Calcutta film makers because the former had no singer to match Saigal's mass appeal. The directors here were desperately looking for a singer to play a lead in their movies when Surendranath, B.A.LL.B, landed in Bombay to start his practice in law-courts, but, as destiny would have it, was picked up by producer-director Mehboob Khan from a party where he was singing some of Saigal's songs . Surendra, as he was credited by Mehboob in his movies, became a part and parcel of Mehboob's Sagar Movietone, after his very first song, "Birha Ki Aag Lagi More Man Mein"(Deccan Queen) became an instant hit. Since the song was inspired by Saigal's hit song, "Balam Aye Baso More Man Mein", Surendra came to be known as Bombay's Saigal. However, when "Tumhi Ne Mujh Ko Prem Sikhaya"(Manmohan), from his second movie with Mehboob, became hugely popular with the masses, Surendra made his place for himself as a very talented singer-actor, independent of the Saigal tag. Then followed Surendra's hit musicals, Jagirdar, Gramophone Singer, Jiwan Sathi, Alibaba, Aurat, Gharib, Jawani etc. and movies made in Bombay were on top of the Box Office charts, the place they had been missing for want of a singing talent. Surendra's peak time of a super popular singing star continued into the 40s when two of his movies became the greatest musicals of that time. "Bhartrihari", a mythological with music by Khemchandra Prakash, and Mehboob's alltime musical hit, "Anmol Ghadi", with music by the maestro Naushad. "Bhiksha De De Maiya Pingla' from film "Bharthari" is still played, after 60 years of its rendering, wherever the classic play on the life of the king-turned-saint is staged every year during the festival season. The duet from "Anmol Ghadi", "Aawaz De Kahan Hei" has immortalized both Surendra and Noorjehan as the most popular singing pair in movies.

It was the era of singing stars. Surendra, brought by Mehboob in the 30s as Bombay's counter- strategy to Calcutta's reigning singer Saigal, was already the most sought after singing star of Bollywood. Noorjehan, the queen of melody, had cast a spell in the country with her melodious voice and hit songs. What more was needed to make a big musical hit than to bring the two together. The ace director Mehboob Khan and the mastreo Naushad Ali did exactly the same to produce one of the greatest musicals of all times, Anmol Ghadi (1946), with Surendra and Noorjehan as the lead pair. The two singing stars had already given a huge hit, Lal Haveli (1944), and though not a great musical, the film proved their potential as a popular pair. Anmol Ghadi put them on the pedestal of great acheivers, the most popular singing pair. The film was unique for the fact that the lovers did not come face to face till towards the end, and yet were able to express their deep emotions of love throughout with their melodious voice, especially, singing from long distance the all time greatest duet, 'Awaz De Kahan Hei'.

After the Partition when Noorjehan moved to Pakistan, the popular pair of Lal Haveli and Anmol Ghadi never got another chance to sing and act together. Surendra did sing some solos in movies thereafter, including the haunting melody, "Teri Yad Ka Dipak Jalta Hei"(Paigam), but eventually switched over to character-actor roles, some of his movies becoming greatest hits of 50s and 60s, such as Baiju Bawra, Waqt, Mughal-E-Azam, Milan, Johar Mehmood in Goa, Dil Deke Dekho, Evening in Paris, Sarswati Chandra, Haryali Aur Raasta etc.. A few years before his death in 1987, Surendra, then better known as Surendranath, started an advertising company and devoted much of his time to making TV commercials for some of the big brands like Colgate and Lyril. His very talented sons, Kailash Surendranath and Jeet Surendranath inherited the business and continue to make hugely popular TV commercials and short films. The all time popular musical short, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, made by the two brothers and directed by Kailash Surendranath, put them on the top amongst their fraternity of short film makers. As a tribute to their father on his centenary, Jeet Surendranath, along with his sister Rohini Pinto, has started a website to commemorate the memory of their father – www.singingstarsurendra.com. You may go to this website if you wish to know more about the veteran singer or like to listen to some of his select songs.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Obamas' Charm Offensive In India!

.For the three days, November 6-8, when President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama made their historic state visit to my home country India, I along with my wife remained glued to NDTV, India's prime news channel, to enjoy watching them charm our countrymen as never before by any U. S. president, surpassing even the super-hit performance of President Bill Clinton during his visit to India in the year 2000. From the villages in Punjab or the bylanes of Chandni Chowk...an old section of Kolkata or a new high-rise in Bangalore (all these names spoken by President Obama in his speech), Obamas reached out to the masses with their astonishing mass appeal. When Obama rolled up his sleeves and let loose a bit, he ultimately won over the world’s largest democracy.

Almost as soon as the Obamas arrived in Mumbai on Saturday, US First Lady Michelle Obama was an undisputed hit in India after winning hearts with a Bollywood boogie and displaying a common touch. Michelle Obama was winning compliments for her moves while dancing with disadvantaged children to a popular Bollywood tune. On Sunday, Obama won accolades among Indians for at least trying out his moves with folk dance performers at a Mumbai high school, though it was First Lady Michelle Obama that did most of the charming by sticking with the dance until the song was over. The clip of Barack and Michelle Obama’s dancing dominated India’s airwaves, replayed over and over again, to the seeming delight of Indian viewers. India was, indeed, captivated. The Times of India hailed her as a “dancing queen” after she took to the floor twice during her visit to Mumbai, shaking a leg to Bollywood hits on Saturday and joining in a local folk dance with schoolchildren. Videos of the First Lady dancing have been getting constant play on Indian news channels, with NDTV, describing it as “the defining image of the Obamas’ maiden visit to India”. India Today magazine drew attention to her “emotional appeal” with a headline which reads: “Michelle steals Barack thunder.”

As she chatted with the group of children – all between eight and 13 years old – one little girl told the First Lady that seeing her was a “dream come true”.

“No, you are my dream come true,” Michelle responded to the delight of her young fan.

“Obama appeals to the head, Michelle touches the heart, despite her formidable intelligence,” Sunaina Kumar noted in the magazine, praising her “inordinate warmth” and calling the couple “a perfect team at work”.

Indian author and commentator Shobhaa De described the visit as “a charm offensive”. When Obama’s three-day visit to India is now said and done, people are going to remember the dance for a long time, as they continue to do of Clinton's dance with the village women in a tiny village of Rajasthan.

President Obama’s freeflowing event at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai was another feather in his hat that struck a sharp contrast with a more controversial town hall meeting in Shanghai last year, in which it became clear the audience had been handpicked by the Shanghai Communist party. Handling tough questions about Pakistan, Mahatma Gandhi, the US midterm elections and spiritualism, Mr Obama’s answers returned repeatedly to his desire for deepening ties with India. President Obama faced some tough questions from a group of 300 students . The invigorating interaction, which was watched by young people all over India, was spellbinding. Not only did the students ask some intelligent and tough questions, Obama handled them nicely as well.

“There is a strong bipartisan belief that India will be a critical partner for the US,” he said when asked whether last week’s Republican congressional victory would affect his India push. “The US has an enormous fondness for India.”

The US President made a strong statement by staying in Taj Mumbai and addressed businessmen at Hotel Trident. Both these hotels were targets of terror attacks on 26/11 in 2008. He charmed the India Inc by punctuating his 25-minute speech with some well known Hindi expressions and warm handshakes with a few leading lights sitting in front rows. There was a lot of rhetoric, "Namaste...Saal Mubarak...Diyas (Dipawali lights)... Diwali... Mumbaikars and Dharavi" were some of the expressions and words that Obama used in his interaction with a select group of leading industrialists. On the first-day of Obama's three-day visit to the country, deals worth $10 billion (about Rs 45,000 crore) were signed and much more are in the pipeline. His 25-minute speech to the CEOs was applauded several times as he talked about creating trade opportunities between the two nations -- for large businessmen to small shop owners in the bylanes of Dharavi (Asia's largest slum colony in Mumbai).

“A lot of people talk about India rising,” he said. “But, in our view, India has already risen. We see India’s emergence as good for the US and good for the world.”

In his address to the Joint House of Parliament, Obama uttered every word that the distinguished gathering present at the House wanted to hear. From Indian contribution of zero to Panchatantra and Gandhiji to Ambedkar, Obama spun his argument to drive home "the promise of India" and why India will have to shoulder greater responsibility with greater power. Beginning with bahut dhanyavad in Hindi for the warm hospitality he and Michelle Obama received, Obama struck a warm chord with his tone of humility.

"I am mindful that I might not be standing before you, as President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhiji and the message he shared with America and the world," said Obama as he traced Mahatma's influence on civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Surely, there were no scenes of MPs climbing over benches in Parliament's Central Hall to shake hands with the world's most powerful leader, as they did for Bill Clinton, but, by the time he uttered Jai Hind to wrap up his 35-minute address, US President Barack Obama had sold his vision of India and must have created a record of sorts: several rounds of applause — almost one every minute — and a standing ovation that showed the success of Obamas' charm offensive in India.