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, April 23, 2010

The 'India Story'!

"A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance." - Jawaharlal Nehru

Those words were spoken by the country's first Prime Minister, just after midnight, on Aug. 15, 1947, when independent India was born. What Nehru was referring to, of course, was the birth of India as an independent state. What is happening today is the birth of India as an independent society—boisterous, colorful, open, vibrant and, above all, ready for change. India is diverging from its past, but also from most other countries in Asia. It is not a quiet country that is slowly opening up to world. It is the biggest democracy that has finally empowered its people economically. The Indian state, stunningly fast growing economy in the world, has been a roaring success on several fronts.

Statistics don't quite capture what is happening. Indians, at least in urban areas, are bursting with enthusiasm. Indian businessmen are proud of their progress. Indian designers and artists speak of extending their influence across the globe. Bollywood movies are expanding their audience abroad from their base of half a billion viewers in India. Producers are now looking to sell films on an even greater international scale. Large Western companies such as Sony, Viacom, and Disney have formed joint partnerships with Indian filmmakers and have created production houses in many of India’s large cultural centers. The popularity of information in India is evidenced in its press. More than 45,000 newspapers are published in India. Roughly 600 million Indians are literate, the largest numbers anywhere in the world. It is as if hundreds of millions of people have suddenly discovered the keys to unlock their potential. Indians bought 65 million mobile phones, 10 million television sets, 6.34 million personal computers, and over a million new cars. And all this happen in one year. A consumer boom of this kind has not been seen in India ever before. The growth is not restricted to just products. It is being driven to infrastructure projects like new airports, fly-overs, roads and bridges. The rising incomes in India have resulted in enormously increased spending on housing and consumer goods that is clearly reflected in the GDP growth, which makes India the second fastest growing major economy after China.

Among the sectors that are driving the Indian growth story are telecommunications, retail, information technology and the IT enabled services. Not surprisingly, telecommunications is among the fastest growing industries. Already, the market for mobile phones in India is a net $16.7 billion and it is growing at over 20% annually. With the addition of 6 million plus new mobile subscribers, each of the top telecom service providers are investing in the region of $2-3 billion a year in capital expenditure alone. In comparison, the $5.6 billion consumer electronics and appliance market is growing at around 10 percent. Retail consulting and research professionals predict that there will be 600 new shopping malls in India by the end of 2010 and retailing in India will cross the US $721.5 billion mark. Global luxury brands have opened outlets in metropolitan cities. As the foreign companies expand their India presence, they are getting their global vendors to set up plants in India. That will bring in further industrial growth. Among the sectors contributing to sustained growth are also the small and medium enterprises (SMEs). These enterprises account for nearly half of India’s industrial output and contribute to 35% of exports.

India is undergoing a retail revolution. Spurred by a new brand of consumerism, social classes are being invented with each glass-fronted shopping center that opens. An unprecedented generation of wealth, spurred by annual economic growth, is rapidly moving millions of people up the standard-of-living ladder. The result is an irreversible social and economic change that many believe will turn India into one of the next global superpowers. Untapped potential is the reason foreigners are itching to break into India, ranked for the past five years as the most attractive investment opportunity for mass-market and food retailers. What is happening in retail in India is quite unprecedented in the world. The huge population base, combined with heady economic growth, seemingly insatiable aspirations of the youth especially, can only create a unique and enormous potential. India's well-educated, young population has embraced state-of-the-art computer and information technologies, making the country one of the most important high-tech hubs in the world. Its information-technology and computer companies in Bangalore have been named as the world's second Silicon Valley.

One of the most powerful indicators of India's transformation is in the world of sport. ICC has recently ranked India's cricket team as number one in the world. India has been chosen as the latest Asian host for Formula One racing and as a site for the European Golf Tour. In India the moves are welcomed as another indication of the country's emergence on to the world stage. All the while India is busily preparing to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games, frantically building new facilities and giving Delhi a facelift, as never before.

“Every year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, there's a star. Not a person but a country. One country impresses the gathering of global leaders because of a particularly smart Finance minister or a compelling tale of reform or even a glamorous gala. Last year there was no contest. In more than a decade, no country has captured the imagination of the conference and dominated the conversation as India. It was not a matter of chance. As you got off the plane in Zurich, there were large billboards extolling INCREDIBLE INDIA. Davos itself was plastered with signs. WORLD'S FASTEST GROWING FREE MARKET DEMOCRACY! proclaimed the town's buses. When you got to your room, you found an iPod Shuffle loaded with Bollywood songs, and a pashmina shawl, gifts from the Indian delegation. When you entered the meeting rooms, you were likely to hear an Indian voice, one of the dozens of CEOs of world-class Indian companies. And then there were the government officials, India's "Dream Team," all intelligent and articulate, and all selling their country. The Forum's main social event was an Indian extravaganza, with a bevy of Indian beauties dancing to pulsating Hindi tunes against an electric blue Taj Mahal. The guests joined in the festivities. The impeccably dressed chairman of the Forum, Klaus Schwab, donned a colorful Indian turban and shawl, nibbled on chicken tikka and talked up the country's prospects with Michael Dell. INDIA EVERYWHERE, said the ubiquitous logo. It was.” - Fareed Zakaria, Editor News Week, USA.

THERE is a new-found vigor about India. You can positively sense the optimism and confidence that exists within the middle classes and political élite, a feeling that after all these years of waiting India's time has finally arrived. Words of a great scholar, expressed long ago, are today on the verge of proving true:

"If I were to look over the whole world to find out a country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow – in some part a very paradise on earth – I should point to India."
Max Muller, German Scholar

It's all because of the economic boom, it's called the 'India Story'.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Baisakhi!

Lahore, the cultural and administrative capital of Punjab province of pre-independence India, can easily boast of the biggest Baisakhi fair anywhere in the world. Every year on April13, almost the entire population of Lahore and millions more from other parts of Punjab, would make it a must to reach the banks of river Ravi on the outskirts of the city to celebrate Baisakhi with exuberance and gaiety. High-point of Baisakhi celebrations was the performance of the traditional Bhangra and Gidda dances and the special langar served at Lahore's largest Gurudwara nearby. Out of town participants would also take the opportunity to visit the two most popular landmarks of Lahore, the Fort and the Shalimar gardens in the vicinity of the fair. The salient feature of the fair was convergence of all communities, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians in large numbers, even though Baisakhi is basically a Sikh religious festival. Lahore, indeed, lived up to its unmatched secular traditions during the Baisakhi celebrations.

Over 60 years after the Partition and formation of Pakistan, when there are hardly any Hindus or Sikhs living in Lahore, Baisakhi remains one of the biggest festivals of Lahore, next only to Basant, though as part of Mela Chiraghan ("Festival of Lights"). It is a three day annual festival to mark the urs (death anniversary) of the Punjabi Sufi poet and saint Shah Hussain. It takes place at the shrine of Shah Hussain in Baghbanpura, on the outskirts of Lahore, adjacent to the Shalimar Gardens. It begins with a celebration of Hussain's birth, and includes the seasonal Baisakhi festival, which marks the beginning of the cutting of the wheat crop. The third and final day is reserved for women only. The road leading to the tomb of Sufi poet Shah Hussain in Baghbanpura is decorated, while the whole tomb lit up by the hundreds of thousands of lit-candles carried by people. Thousands of Indian Sikhs join from across Pakistan and the rest of the world to celebrate the 3-day Baisakhi festival in Lahore and at the famous Panja Sahib Gurudwara in the Punjab province.

Baisakhi Festival marks the time for the harvest of Rabi crops and is therefore celebrated with utmost joy and enthusiasm in the state of Punjab where agriculture is the predominant occupation of the people. To celebrate the occasion, people dress themselves gaily and perform the joyful bhangra and giddha dances on the tune of the dhol. Farmers in Punjab celebrate Baisakhi Festival to hilt by feasting and merrymaking before they hit on tiring but joyful task of harvesting from the next day. Festival of Baisakhi is celebrated as a Thanksgiving Day by the farmers. People wake up early on the day and take bath in rivers or pond water and pay a visit to the temple or gurdwara (Sikh worship place). Farmers thank God for the bountiful harvest and pray for prosperity in future also. Many people also perform charity on the day as a custom. As a harvest festival, Baisakhi is also celebrated by different names and with different rituals in several regions of India. Regional celebrations of Baisakhi are marked as Rongali Bihu in Assam, Naba Barsha in Bengal, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Vishu in Kerala and Vaishakha in Bihar.

With innumerable number of Sikhs now settled abroad, Baisakhi is celebrated worldwide. NRI Sikhs in Southern California celebrate Baisakhi at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where around 20,000 people participate in the event. California Government officials join the celebration and address sikh Community. A colorful parade from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. through the heart of downtown Los Angeles conclude the day’s events. The two-mile parade through downtown consisting of floats represent the principles of Sikhism. Special designs are created in which the floats highlight special Sikh themes, lifestyles and values. In San Francisco The festival of Baisakhi is celebrated at the historic Gadar hall with all the enthusiasm and gaiety. Among the prominent people who attend the celebrations, B.S. Prakash, Consul General of India, is a regular Chief Guest. The celebrations begin with prayers performed by members of the Sikh gurdwara and Bay Area Centre of Sikhs, El Sobrante. Several prominent members of the Indian American community are also honored. Of course, Punjabi music and Bhangra are the main attraction of the function, along with one or the other Bollywood celebrity. The San Jose Vaisakhi Mela is a world class event celebrating the diverse culture of Northern California. With over 10,000 people attending every year, This event has become the largest Mela festival in San Jose. The event is presented by the Indo-American Senior Center of San Jose, and collaborated with Evergreen Valley College and the San Jose/Evergreen Valley Community College District. There is an abundance of family activities to choose from, including over 40 sponsored booths, plentiful food, exciting entertainment and shopping. Not to mention the bhangra (punjabi dance) competitions, local/international celebrities and performers and sports tournaments.

The festival of Baisakhi also has tremendous religious significance for the predominant Sikh population of India, particularly Punjab, as it is was on a Baisakhi Day in 1699 that Guru Gobind Singh - the revered Tenth Guru of Sikhs laid the foundation of Khalsa Panth. Besides, it was on the Baisakhi Day that Guru Gobind Singh administered amrit (nectar) to his first batch of five disciples, the Panj Piaras making them Singhs, a martial community. After the Baisakhi Day in 1699 the tradition of gurus was discontinued, and the Granth Sahib - the Holy book of the Sikhs was declared the eternal guide of the Sikhs. People following Sikh faith wake up early in the morning on a Baisakhi day and pay visit to gurdwaras to attend special prayer meetings. While most Sikhs strive to visit the revered Golden Temple or Anandpur Sahib, where the Khalsa was pronounced, those who are unable to do so visit their neighborhood gurdwara. Colorful bhangra and gidda dance apart from mock duels are performed during Baisakhi processions. Another fascinating part of Baisakhi celebrations is the accompaniment of drummers, bands playing religious themes, devotees singing religious songs and men swinging swords.

Baisakhi also marks the beginning of the Solar New Year for the Hindus that takes place usually in mid-April but not necessarily on the exact same day each year but it is usually very close to the same day of the Baisakhi festival. The Solar New Year for the Hindus is a time for the spiritual bath in the holy rivers. Hindus gather along the Ganges River to honor the Goddess Ganga who was supposed to have descended to the earth thousands of years ago. The Goddess Ganga was believed to take on all the sins of the world so bathing in the holy Ganges River is supposed to take away a person’s sins.

Happy Baisakhi!