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 26, 2010

Let Peace Prevail In Paradise On Earth!

Srinagar has always remained my most favorite destination for spending holidays, ever since my school days in Lahore. This was the city that my uncle had selected to set up a sports goods factory, and had extended us an open invitation to spend our summer vacations with him every year. The Bund, where uncle lived, was an expensive and exclusive residential area on the river front. River Jhelum that flows in front of the houses is so calm, as if making a deliberate effort not to disturb the peace of the neighborhood, who must have paid so dearly to live along its beautiful bank. The scenic splendor of Jhelum is as joyful during the day, as it is at night. Shikaras, with their colorful canopies and expensive interiors, provide luxurious ride to tourists and the locals on the river and the Dal Lake. Hundreds of lanterns hanging on the shikaras at night look like another body of stars with blue waters of the river as their horizon. Most tourists prefer to stay in ornately decorated houseboats anchored in the river. Waterway vendors in their shikaras, bring to the doorsteps of the houseboats, Kashmir's finest crafts and choicest fruits. Much of Srinagar life seems to be on the river that flowed through the city, dividing it into the old and the new inhabitation, connected by boats and the seven bridges on the river.

Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, is also the crowning glory of Kashmir Valley. The Valley has been celebrated since ancient times for its magnificent setting in the Himalayan Mountains. The snow-covered peaks overlook the lovely lakes, their surfaces spangled with the exotic blooms of lotuses and water lilies. There are several small towns and tourist resorts near Srinagar, like Pehalgam and Gulmarg, that attract thousands of tourists every year for vacationing. They find the feeling of tranquility that pervades the romantic places nested between the towering Himalayan summits. Tourists are the backbone of Srinagar and the surrounding towns. Apart from being tourist attractions, these places are the outlets for purchase of Kashmir's crafts, especially shawls and carpets, which are admired all over the world. Amirakadal, Srinagar's main market street, is seen bustling with big crowd of shoppers during the season, most of them tourists from abroad and other parts of the country. In winter they work indoor, creating their crafts, with 'kangri' – the earthen pot containing burning charcoal – in front to warm themselves, and samovar on their side to sip cups of freshly brewing tea. The 'hukka' – their favorite smoke – keeps passing around for enjoyable puffs, as they are engrossed in weaving and knitting for the next season.

Srinagar's biggest tourist attraction is the sightseeing trip to the famous Mogul Gardens – Nishat, Naseem and Shalimar – built by the Mogul Emperors three centuries ago as their summer resort. Beautifully decorated and luxuriously furnished shikaras are hired for the day long trip to the gardens through gorgeous Dal Lake. On the way to gardens, a break in the journey for lunch is a must at the mystical Chashma Shahi, the royal spring, the name given to the crystal spring by Emperor Shahjehan, who created this oasis around the spring. It impresses the visitors as the ultimate sanctuary, making it the most popular picnic spot near Srinagar. There is a magical quality in the spring water: whatever and how much you may eat, you will digest it instantly after drinking the spring water. After a couple of hours ride from Chashma Shahi on the Dal lake, enjoying the most magnificent views of the snow-peaked mountains and the waterfalls emerging out of them, you reach the royal Mogul Gardens. Built hundreds of years ago, the gardens have maintained their grandeur and glory under different dynasties that ruled Kashmir. Filled with flowers, terraced waterfalls, fountains, and great shade trees, chenars (sycamores) and evergreens, these are amongst the world's best preserved gardens. Another great place of tourist interest in Srinagar is Shankaracharya Temple on top of a hill. It is a hard climb but once you reach the top, the panoramic view of the city and heavenly peace at the temple fascinate you. The breath taking view of the Valley made a Mogul Emperor exclaim in awe, “If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here!”

Unfortunately, this paradise has been twice on the verge of being lost for the tourists, who throng in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. First time when the tribals aided by Pakistan army invaded Kashmir, shortly after India attained independence in 1947. I can never forget being an eye witness to the brave and proud saga of Srinagar. It was the last week in October of 1947, barely ten weeks after India became independent from the British rule. I was in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, and was an eye witness to Srinagar's proud record in war against terror, when the city was saved by the triamph of secular forces over the evil of communal fundamentalists. Tribal militias, backed by Pakistan military, had invaded Kashmir. Before the raiders had almost reached the outskirts of the city, all the Maharaja's men fled to Jammu and beyond. In the absence of any administration, the city's infrastructure had totally collapsed to leave us without water and electricity in our homes. It was then that the citizens of Srinagar experienced something very strange--a unique power to pull together, the vast majority of the Moslem population along with Hindus and Sikhs, to save the city from falling to the tribal invaders and to restore all the essential services in the city including law and order.
Imagine the scenario, Moslem fundamentalists, motivated to wage a 'Jihad', to capture Kashmir, pushing forward to within miles of Srinagar, the capital, could not cross the human barrier of brave men whose only weapon was their united stand for secularism and a strong will to overcome the forces of communalism. Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent struggle for India's independence was their inspiration, Pundit Nehru's passion for secularism provided the strength and Sheikh Abdullah's leadership gave the guiding light that led them to victory, and saved their beloved city, Srinagar.

The saga of Srinagar is as relevant today as it was then, in war against terror and extremist forces anywhere in the world. This paradise came under attack the second time, when in early nineties the terrorists from across the border intruded into Kashmir and turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world to visit, even to live for an important section of its own citizens, Kashmiri Pandits. Thanks to succeeding secular governments in Kashmir and steps taken by the central government, terrorists have been on the run and the tourists have once again found their lost paradise back. Srinagar is again full of life with thousands of tourists traveling to this awesome city in the season. It is my greatest wish and hope that Kashmiri Pandits, the colorful community, will also find their lost paradise and return from Jammu, where they have taken refuge, to live safely and happily in their homeland, Srinagar.

If only Arundhati, Geelani and the alike, had been born earlier and witnessed the saga of Srinagar, they certainly would have resisted from making irresponsible and seditious statements that can only incite the terrorists, and encourage Pakistan to felicitate their infiltration into Kashmir from across the border. Please, for the sake of peace-seeking people of Kashmir and tourists from all over the world who travel in thousands every year to enjoy the Himalayan beauty, let peace prevail in Paradise on earth.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What A Wonderful World In USA!

An old friend of mine is a typical Tea Party follower. He shouts out from house top when he has bad news to share, the news that no one is sure if true or false. He tries to cut short the conversation if I want to give him some good news. When unable to get sleep at night, he starts counting scams, real or imaginary, instead of the proverbial sheep crossing the fence. You may also be having someone in your circle like him- quite a common trait amongst true followers of the Tea Party. All their statistics are Satanic, all prophecies pronounce arrival of Doomsday, whatever the business of the House for the day, they would insist on the Speaker to first let them have their say on the depressing news, dished out in the morning by Fox, their most favorite cable channel. And if Members from the ruling party are ready with some really good news to share, they are sure to manipulate a misunderstanding of the real meaning of that news. If they could, they would just jam all those channels that carry cheering news and would rather request media Moguls to come up with 24-hour TV newscast that can hide all the inspiring happenings behind the bad news splashed prominently under bold headlines. Their listeners, fed up of false propaganda and earnestly looking for real news, are left with no option except to google for good news.

For my friend and alike in the Tea Party, nothing works in this country, not even the marriages, which they would like to be solemnized with a slightly amended vow, "...till divorce do us apart!" All their love stories end with-"and they lived miserably thereafter". It is beyond them to believe that the national pride is still a first priority, and Change is the mantra most people believe in, especially the youth and the ordinary American. Indeed, so much has already been achieved in health care, education reform, economic stability and so many other areas for all to see and benefit from, but for those who choose to be blind to their cheering existence:

Banking and Financial Reform: Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the biggest financial reform law since the Great Depression.

Economy: Economy grew 5.9% in 4th quarter. Manufacturing grew by most since 2004. GDP up 3.2% in first quarter. Consumer spending showed biggest rise in 3 years. US auto industry rescued. Federal deficit shrank 8% year-on-year. Financial reform has ‘strongest consumer financial protections in history.’ Wall St reform designed to end taxpayer bailouts.

Education: Enacted largest reform of student aid in 40 years. Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010. Established President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability to assist in financial education for all Americans. Created the Race to the Top Fund ($4.35 billion) to reward States that create comprehensive education reform plans. Children’s Health Insurance Program .

Employment: Jobs for Main Street Act (2010). American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010. 3.7 Million jobs created by stimulus (May 2010). 682,370 jobs created under the Recovery Act Between January 1 — March 31,2010. New jobless claims tumble. March payrolls surge by 162,000. March jobs data showed biggest growth in three years . U.S. economy added 90000 jobs in April . Jobless rates dropped in 34 states and DC .

Foreign Affairs and International Relations: Re-established the United States standing in the world. World’s opinion of U.S. has “improved sharply”. 47 nations rise to Obama’s challenge at US nuke summit and agree to four years of non-proliferation efforts. Visited more countries and world leaders than any first year president. G-20 Summit produced a $1.1 trillion deal to combat the global financial crisis.

Health Care Reform: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act // Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (March 2010). Required large employers to contribute to a national health plan. Required insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. Prevented children from being refused health insurance coverage. Cut prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients by 50% and began eliminating the plan’s gap (“donut hole”) in coverage.

Housing: Unveiled $275 billion dollar housing plan. Established “Opening Doors” – a federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Provided $2 billion for Neighborhood Stabilization Program . Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, helping millions avoid foreclosure . Established the Making Home Affordable Plan, which will provide for the refinance or loan modification for 9 Million homeowners.

Scientific and Medical Research: Removed restrictions and provided support for embryonic stem-cell research and new biomedical research.

Taxes: Small business tax credits for the cost of health insurance for employees. Income floor for medical expense deductions for individuals age 65 and older (and their spouses) remains at 7.5% through 2016. Health insurance premium tax credits and subsidies available for those with income up to 4x the federal poverty level . Tax bills hit lowest level since 1950. Tax refunds up 10 percent due to stimulus.

In democracy we have learnt to live in the House with an Opposition, ever depressed as my old friend is. I wish and pray that he and all his friends from the Tea Party, presently blinded by politics, will one day open their eyes to perceive the true picture of our rapidly changing country – economically less privileged provided health care of the quality that the affluent afford, inner street students availing as much opportunity to college admission as the kids from the most expensive areas, the neighborhood grocery store feeling as good as the great Walmart, relatively recent happenings in IT, especially cloud computing, Carpathia Hosting and Yunteq, no less upbeat than the big time players, Microsoft and Apple, in short everyone from the lowest ring to the highest, ready to reap the fruits of Change that President Obama has sowed so far in less than two years of his presidency. I ask my friend is it not the time to exclaim with one voice - “What A Wonderful World In USA!”

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Guest Obama God In India

President Barack Obama's visit to India may have been dubbed by both the countries as a "defining moment in the history of our bilateral relations", and the President may in his own words, “look forward to the history that we will make together, progress that will be treasured not just by this generation but by generations to come,” but what he is going to cherish for ever is the traditional Indian hospitality that will be showered on him by the warmhearted people of India whichever place he chooses to go to. This is not just a journalistic prediction based on positive thinking, but on the astonishing experience of five of the President's predecessors, including the three living former presidents, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W Bush. Can President jimmy Carter ever forget Carter Village in Haryana state, named to honor his visit to the village, or President Bill Clinton the village women of Noyla, who did away with their traditional veils to dance with the President, or president Bush, the tumultuous welcome he received in India which was beyond any imagination? No, never, these are the most treasured memories that will remain with them for ever. Now when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and over one billion citizens of India look forward to give a very warm and heartfelt welcome to President Obama and the First Family, let us look at what the traditional Indian hospitality is all about in common man's everyday life and culture.

The one thing that takes any tourist to India by surprise and also deeply touches him is the warm hospitality of Indians. A ready smile on the face, always willing to go out of the way to help somebody, exuding genuine happiness upon meeting a person - these are some of the common traits tourists find in maximum Indians. Even strangers on the road are so friendly and hospitable. If you ask them where a certain shop or place is located, chances are people will not only give you the direction, but also accompany you to your destination, especially when the place is nearby. Indian people feel that their guests must be given proper warm hospitality, which certainly requires extreme care and attention. So it's understandable why the tourists visiting India want to come back again & again. Many prefer to stay with families as far as possible. The aroma of sizzling vegetables, warm curry, lentils, and rice greets guests as they enter the foyer of a traditional Indian home. Most Indians live in a joint family where the womenfolk form the backbone of traditional hospitality. Apart from taking full care of all their family members, they never ever let a guest go away unfed or unhappy from their home. Indian women are great cooks and can scurry up delectable dishes in no time. Because the home is a reflection of an Indian family's life and pride, most go to great lengths to make a visitor feel comfortable and secure. Accordingly, Indian hospitality is a reflection of the family, their home, their culture, and their country.

E.M Forster's novel, A Passage to India, depicts India during the British colonial era. Amongst themes of cultural awareness, British and Indian relations, respect, and tolerance, Forster weaves aspects of Indian culture and daily life throughout the novel. Forster provides many examples of Indian hospitality through his main characters, Dr. Aziz, a Muslim doctor from Chandrapore, and the English Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Adela Quested.

During a party, Mrs. Moore, curious about Indian culture and in search of the "real India," wonders if another guest, Mrs. Bhattacharya, would mind her visiting some day. When asked what day is convenient, Mrs. Bhattacharya, a proud Indian woman, quickly replies, " All days are convenient." When asked what time, she replies, " All hours." The guest is the first priority: prior plans become secondary and inconveniencing your family is never an issue.
Forster stresses the point that a guest in India may receive the pleasure of being respected and cared for, but a true host, when being hospitable, finds, "that it is more blessed to give than to receive." In addition, A Passage to India, shows that for Indians, hospitality is not only a beneficial ideal but also a priority and even a dream. Aziz explains to Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore that, " one of the dreams of my life is accomplished in having you both here as my guests".

Here is the age-old story that strengthens Indians' strong belief in their traditional hospitality:

A man who had never missed his daily prayer at the temple, one day spoke aloud, addressing God, "Oh God, I have been coming every day to your home, but you have never visited mine. I do not want any favors from you, but I do wish and pray that you pay a return visit to my house at least once." He heard God saying that He would visit him the same day, though late in the evening. The poor man kept sitting at the entrance of his cottage waiting for God. It was getting darker and colder, but he did not move in, hoping to receive God at the entrance. He had lit fire to keep himself warm. Late at night a passerby stopped to warm himself by sitting near the fire. The man offered him a cup of tea and a piece from the cake he had made for God. The passerby thanked him profusely and went his way. The man kept sitting till the next morning, but God never came. At his daily prayer at the temple, he complained to God that He had not kept His word to visit his house the previous evening. He again heard God's voice, "I did come my son, and enjoyed the hot cup of tea and the piece of cake you served, and also the warm comfort of fire you had lit. Thank you for your hospitality."

The above story and the Sanskrit adage, "Atithi Devo Bhava," meaning the “Guest is God”, dictates the respect granted to guests in India, as also gives meaning to the title - “Guest Obama God In India”!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Obama Goes Gandhi On Outsourcing!

On October 2 every year the world remembers Mahatma Gandhi on his birthday, while India observes the day as a national holiday in honor of Father of the nation. There are discussions, discourses and seminars on the salient features of his teachings in schools and varied forums. Central to Gandhi's philosophy was the principle of 'swadeshi', or home economy, which still is of utmost relevance, remarkably so in reference to the debate on outsourcing, particularly in the U. S. from day one of Obama's election campaign and continuing till date during his presidency.

People outside India know of Gandhi's campaigns to end British colonialism, but this was only a small part of his struggle. The greater part of Gandhi's work was to renew India's vitality and regenerate its culture. Gandhi's vision of a free India was a nation of self-governing, self-reliant, self-employed people, deriving their livelihood from the products of their homesteads, weaving homespun clothes, eating homegrown food, using homemade goods. When India was flooded with machine-made, inexpensive, mass-produced textiles from Lancashire, England, the local textile artists were rapidly put out of business, and the village economy suffered terribly. Gandhi thought it essential that the industry be restored, and started a campaign to stem the influx of British cloth. Due to his efforts, hundreds of thousands of Indians joined together to discard the mill-made clothes imported from England and learned to spin their own yarn and weave their own cloth. He felt that Indians should recognize their own genius. It was a crime to spin cotton into yarn and weave yarn into cloth in India. It hurt factories in Manchester. Gandhi began spinning on a "charkha," or manual spinning wheel, and forced the British to relent.

Gandhi sailed to England in August 1931 to attend the Second Round Table Conference, and also to win the hearts of the British people. Gandhi spent eighty four days in England and most of the time he was meeting and talking to people. Climax of the Gandhi visit was the Mahatma's pilgrimage to cotton-spinning, overproducing Lancashire, to see for himself the effects India's boycott on cotton goods had had on the workers there. The crowd that awaited him was several thousand strong. By destiny or design, his simple peasant image combined with his reputation as the spiritual leader of millions made him irresistible. Intensely practical, Gandhi had no idealistic notion that he could relieve unemployment in this distressed British area by inducing capitalists to scrap their textile machinery, or unemployed workers to adopt the hand loom. In Darwen the well-guarded Mahatma was both booed ("Tear his eyes out!") and cheered ("Good old Gandhi!"). He met the Mayor, visited shut factories, gloomy homes. "It distresses me," said Gandhi, "that in all this unemployment I have had some kind of share. ... It is the result of a step I took as my duty to the largest army of unemployed anywhere—the starving millions of India. ... I have come in search of a way out of the difficulty. ... I am powerless without the active co-operation of Lancashire and Englishmen". Gandhi was received with sympathy and affection by the Lancashire cotton workers, even though they were the ones hit hardest by the boycott.

In his first State of Union address, the US President reverted to the anti-outsourcing stance that he had adopted during his election campaign. Recently, Speaking in Cleveland, Ohio, Obama made it clear that he intends to push this course to propel companies to invest more in the US, thereby opening fresh avenues for jobs.

“One of the keys to job creation is to encourage companies to invest more in the United States. But for years, our tax code has actually given billions of dollars in tax breaks encouraging companies to create jobs and profits in other countries,” Obama said.The president said he was determined to change that.
“I want to change that. Instead of tax loopholes that incentivise investment in overseas jobs, I’m proposing a more generous, permanent extension of the tax credit that goes to companies for all the research and innovation they do right here in America,” he said, with Ohio Governor Ted Strickland standing by his side.

Mr Obama's speech — that strikes a populist chord — comes at a time when the US job market has been slow to recover from the global financial crisis; unemployment remains at 10 per cent. In order to encourage more local hiring, Obama also gave a speech in January this year where he suggested a $5,000 credit for every job a company created (net new job) and an overall limit of $500,000 credit per company for availing such benefits. Jobs will be increased as more firm will stop/reduce outsourcing and look for American peoples more. In the time of recession jobs should be in America rather than other countries. As a president he cares for America, his motivation is very clear to help American Peoples in bad conditions when he declared last year that he wanted jobs in Buffalo and not Bangalore.

New Delhi’s concerns on outsourcing is expected to be raised during Obama’s maiden visit to India in November. Well in advance of the President's visit, consternation is rippling through India's US$50 billion annual outsourcing industry over the president's intention to block tax breaks to companies globalizing their IT operations. It is to be seen how President Obama handles his strong anti-outsourcing stance in India where more than 3 million jobs have been created and a huge infrastructure has sprung up to take care of the myriad needs and demands of the US companies. It would be a well advised gesture on his part to visit Bangalore, the Lancashire of Gandhi, and explain his viewpoint to the numerous Call Center employees who are on the verge of losing their jobs because of the ban on outsourcing which he is vigorously advocating. Indeed, it will be another historical event if Obama goes Gandhi on outsourcing!