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.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year Wish For Facebook Friends!

The following news on CBS Early Show put me on alert and prompted to put in this post in the interest of my friends on Facebook:

Everyone you consider a "friend" on Facebook, may not have the friendliest intentions. That was the hard lesson homeowners in New Albany, Ind., believe they learned after their home was ransacked by two men. Keri McMullen and Kurt Pendleton left a status update on Facebook Saturday night that said they wouldn't be home because they were going to a concert in nearby Louisville at 8 p.m. At 8:42 p.m., two burglars entered their house, using a screwdriver to force open a back door. However, luckily for McMullen and Pendleton, they had recently installed a surveillance system in their home. The cameras caught the entire episode on tape. The video shows the two men going through McMullen's purse, stealing electronics -- more than $10,000 worth -- including a plasma television right off the wall. The burglars are then seen driving away with a laundry basket filled with the stolen goods. After posting images of the suspects on Facebook, McMullen realized one of them had "friended" her about six months ago. On "The Early Show," McMullen said after looking over that Facebook "friend"'s page, she thought the man in the surveillance video was him. "Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez added that if the surveillance camera hadn't captured the burglary, this person wouldn't have been suspected in a million years.

Facebook, enables its users to present themselves in an online profile, accumulate "friends" who can post comments on each other's pages, and view each other's profiles. Intensity of Facebook use is positively associated with individuals' perceived bridging of social and strong ties with family and close friends, who might be in a position to provide emotional support or access to scarce resources. As a social networking site, Facebook encourages you to find old friends and meet new ones. As you find friends, you can add them to your account, opening up a range of options for sharing your news and daily happenings. Now Facebook claims to be signing up 150,000 new members a day. Oxford professor Robin Dunbar has posed a theory that the number of individuals with whom a stable interpersonal relationship can be maintained (read: friends) is limited to 150. Facebook begs to differ. It encourages adding up to 5000 friends. The Facebook obsession of amassing 'friends' creates the impression that some users are wildly more sociable than others. It encourages a disturbing competitiveness around friendship: it seems that with friends today, quality counts for nothing and quantity is king. The more friends you have, the better you are. You are "popular"!

The creators of the site need do very little bar fiddle with the program. In the main, they simply sit back and watch as millions of Facebook addicts voluntarily upload their ID details, photographs and lists of their favorite consumer objects. Once in receipt of this vast database of human beings, Facebook then simply has to sell the information back to advertisers. Indeed, this is precisely what's happening. Furthermore, have you ever actually read the Facebook privacy policy? It tells you that you don't have much privacy. As if this was not enough to pierce through your privacy, here comes news of another technology tool from Facebook that would reveal your present location to all your “Friends”. Facebook's 500 million-plus users will soon be able to track friends' whereabouts across the United States, as the world's largest Internet social network adds technology to increasingly tie its virtual world to everyday life. The new "Places" feature is touted as a tool to help users share where they are, figure out who is in the vicinity, and check out happenings and services within the same locale. The addition of so-called location services to Facebook opens new revenue opportunities for the company, but also presents it with delicate privacy challenges.

In all this scary scenario, if you’re experiencing a bit of bloat on your Facebook friend list, here is a silver lining. You can snag a free burger by dropping 10 of your Facebook friends, courtesy of Burger King. That’s the gist of Whopper Sacrifice, an advertising campaign from Burger King to promote a new version of the company’s flagship sandwich called the Angry Whopper. To earn their free burger, users download the Whopper Sacrifice Facebook application and dump 10 unlucky friends deemed to be unworthy of their weight in beef. After completing the purge, users are prompted to enter their addresses and the coupons are sent out via snail mail. Brian Gies, vice president of marketing for the fast-food chain, said the company had been eyeing Facebook as a marketing platform but wanted to use it in a way that was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “Facebook is an amazing way to keep current with your friends, but it’s becoming more of a popularity contest with how many friends you have as the barometer,” said Mr. Gies. “We wanted to be part of its momentum and growth, but in an inverse way.” Facebook declined to comment on the campaign.

If you're on Facebook, you've no doubt got a bunch of friends. And if you're like most Facebook users, you're certain those friends are exactly who they say they are. And you might be right. Or you could be wrong. They could be scammers posing as your friends. Facebook represents a perfect storm of fraud factors. The whole "friend" system creates trust, but the reality of social networks prevents verification that people are who they say they are. While some Facebook fraud involves strangers posing as existing "friends," other types involve making new "friends." Eventually, that fraud may become so widespread that signing up for Facebook will require a verified cell phone number. But in the meantime, difficult-to-detect fraud is exploding on Facebook, and you would be well-advised to verify every unfamiliar friend. And you may ever remain prosperous and never fall prey to any fraudulent friend on your page is my New Year wish for Facebook friends.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Benchmark Of Urban Oasis!

One of the hallmarks of a happy day is when we view from our second floor window people sipping coffee on the sidewalk bench in front of our house or they just having joy sitting there watching the world around. The perfect resting space for pedestrians on a sidewalk, this bench, actually a combination of three benches, comes complete with a bike stand and is most appropriately placed where people can view the action going on right in front of them. For us from the window, it is often a more interesting and enlightening experience than watching the same old stereotypes on cable TV. At times we get so much attached to some of the persons on the bench, especially the regular ones, that we start missing them if they do not make it to the bench for a while. We can never forget the face of an elderly person who would spend several hours sitting on the bench, but never ever lying on it even when he was there till late in the evening. During all this duration he would never sip a drop of water or have a bite on any snack. Feeling sympathetic for the strenuous routine of this regular on the bench, my wife sent me down one day to ask him if we could share some food or coffee with him. He did not only decline the offer rather bluntly but also disappeared from the bench thereafter never to be seen again. We felt guilty of hurting his ego and learned our lesson not to under estimate the status of a person sitting on a sidewalk bench, no matter for how long a period he may be there.

The importance of sidewalk benches in a city cannot be emphasized more than how the San Franciscans demonstrated their determination to use them. As soon as it became clear that Prop. L, the ordinance that bans sitting and lying down on city sidewalk benches, had passed, the opponents organized some sort of mass sit-down or sleep-in as a response - "Calling all San Franciscans to a solidarity sit-in against the passage of proposition L--the so-called Sit/Lie law. We are going to assert our right to sit anywhere we please by having lunch on the sidewalk benches. The purpose is to hang out, have lunch, be visible, embody TRUE San Francisco values, network with folks about the next steps in the anti-prop L fight and to have fun. Of course getting cited for sitting on the sidewalk is a totally glamorous possibility that we will opportunistically use to the most dramatic effect possible. This is lunch, but it's also a protest. If you can't make it to city hall, sit on the closest sidewalk." It urged participants to bring food to share and also encouraged people to bring their kids along.

In sharp contrast to San Francisco that bans sitting or lying on sidewalk bench, there are many cities that are blessed with neighborhoods that offer cafes, restaurants and small parks with tables and chairs or benches out on the sidewalk. In Washington, D.C. the neighborhood around the historic Eastern Market is a vortex for public life, especially on a weekend when merchants and shoppers sip coffee amidst strollers, kids in sports uniforms, musicians and groups of slightly overwhelmed tourists. One does not have to visit Paris or Vienna to enjoy the sights and sounds of life on a sidewalk. The café and the park bench are universal concepts familiar to foreign travelers. In India, China and most of Asia outdoor life takes on a whole new dimension as entire blocks are occupied by food vendors whose tables spill out into the street. It’s a festival of food and acquaintances at every meal. The idea is meant to enliven the street, to lure pedestrian traffic, to support local businesses, and generally to increase the fun quotient of an otherwise unappealing stretch of sidewalk and roadway.

Mexico City seems to have surpassed every city in the world in emphasizing the beauty of sidewalk benches. It has put up an incredible and practical expo right on the sidewalks of the main street of the city--Re-forma Avenue. It is an expo of BENCHES!!! They had artisans from the country each create a unique bench that was put on the sidewalk. There are perhaps 60+ of them in a 5 block area, and they are great! People come to take photos and actually, they are in use at all hours of day and night. This is an amazing way to bring people together, and get them out even doing some exercise as they walk from bench to bench. Kids play on them. Teens hang out on them. People wait for buses on them. One set of benches is even a game board, so they play chess on them! There are various levels of seating in some of them. They are artistic, useful, and versatile. This is a wonderful idea if cities would like to encourage its people to explore their city, and walk, and relax and visit with each other. Hats off to the Benches on Re-forma in Mexico City!

There is no place better than a sidewalk bench in the city for a foreign tourist to sit and take the true picture of the people there. For many travelers coming to India, poverty immediately strikes them and overwhelms their impression of the country. This is especially true of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta,) whose suffering was painfully highlighted by the work of Mother Teresa. The poverty definitely persists in the West Bengal capital, but left untold in so many tragic travel tales is the joy and exuberance that pushes through, and beautifully captured in impressions of Kolkata by a foreign tourist: “I cannot overstate the beauty of the joy that resonates through the city, day and night where I spent long moments on sidewalk benches with inexplicable tears of joy in my eyes. I drink chai on a bench on the sidewalk, oblivious to the screams of car horns and the bells of rickshaw pullers. A mentally handicapped young man walks by, laughing to himself. A cab driver shares his papad ( a snack) with him, and laughs along; and my heart soars with joy. A rickshaw puller rings his bell for him. ‘Please give this man a chai,’ says he to the stall owner. The owner throws in a cookie as well. The puller grins, eyes bright; he’s lucked out, for a brief moment in his hard life.”

The sidewalk bench with its interwoven mix of cafes, shops and offices, is a place of energy, activity and interaction. The City governments that invest considerable resources on green or open space around the sidewalk benches deserve a big applause because trees and benches beside a pedestrian path are not only good for the environment but also good for the soul. These benches engage passers-by physically and mentally, as well as visually, by providing places to sit and think. Urbanist Jane Jacob captured the value of these interactions best, “Sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.” An occasional place to sit can be more than welcome, even a necessity for someone whose arms are full, who is weary or has a long wait for a rendezvous. For them the sidewalk bench is a benchmark of urban oasis.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Early Achievers Of Indian Origin

In the midst of the all important national debate on illegal immigrants in the United States, particularly President Obama's steps to reform immigration laws and legalize illegal immigrants, it would be appropriate and interesting to recall the remarkable efforts of early immigrants from India that made the country proud of them.

Dalip Singh Saund

Dalip Singh Saund, the first native of Asia elected to the United States Congress, came to study at the University of California, Berkeley in 1920 and after completing his M.A. in 1922 and his Ph.D. in 1924, it became clear that he would make the United States his home. But he found few career avenues open to him. The only way Indians in California could make a living was to join with others who had settled in various parts of the state as farmers, and so in the summer of 1925 he decided to go to the southern California desert valley and make his living as a farmer.

Life was not easy for the young farmer. His first lettuce crop was a total loss. But even with the demands of farming he was still able to find time for study and for public speaking. Saund became a U.S. citizen, on 16 December 1949 and was elected as judge in Westmoreland, where he built a reputation as a reformer who could achieve results.

In 1956 he decided to run for U.S. Congressman from the 29th district of California. Judge Saund faced formidable challenges running a cash-strapped campaign as a Democrat in a district that had always voted Republican. Saund relates that his colorful opponent, Jacqueline Cochran Odlum, who flew her own plane from campaign stop to campaign stop, hosted a widely advertised barbecue in the Riverside County fairgrounds, with a stellar lineup of guests, including Bob Hope. Still the grassroots campaign won many supporters and when the ballots were counted Saund won. He served three terms, working vigorously for the all the constituents of his district. While running for re-election for a fourth term in 1962, Saund suffered a disabling stroke that ended his political career.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, was an Indian-born American astrophysicist who, with William A. Fowler, won the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics for key discoveries that led to the currently accepted theory on the later evolutionary stages of massive stars. Chandrasekhar was the nephew of Sir C. V. Raman, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930. Chandrasekhar served on the University of Chicago faculty from 1937 until his death in 1995 at the age of 84. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1953.

In July 1930, Chandrasekhar was awarded a Government of India scholarship to pursue graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. The following year in January 1937, Chandrasekhar was recruited to the University of Chicago faculty as Assistant Professor. He remained at the university for his entire career, becoming Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics in 1952 and attaining emeritus status in 1985. Chandrasekhar did some work at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, which was run by the University of Chicago. After the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research (LASR) was built by NASA in 1966 at the University, Chandrasekhar occupied one of the four corner offices on the second floor. During World War II, Chandrasekhar worked at the Ballistic Research Laboratories at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his studies on the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars. Chandrasekhar's most notable work was the astrophysical Chandrasekhar limit. In 1999, NASA named the third of its four "Great Observatories'" after Chandrasekhar. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999. The Chandrasekhar number, an important dimensionless number of magnetohydrodynamics, is named after him. The asteroid 1958 Chandra is also named after Chandrasekhar. American astronomer Carl Sagan, who studied Mathematics under Chandrasekhar, at the University of Chicago, praised him in the book The Demon-Haunted World: "I discovered what true mathematical elegance is from Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar."

Dr. Har Gobind Khorana

Dr. Har Gobind Khorana, is an Indian-born American biochemist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1968 with Marshall W. Nirenberg and Robert W. Holley for cracking the genetic code, research that helped to show how the nucleotides in nucleic acids, which carry the genetic code of the cell, control the cell’s synthesis of proteins. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1966, and subsequently received the National Medal of Science. He currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States serving as MIT's Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Biology and Chemistry,

Khorana was born in Raipur, a village in Punjab, British India (now Pakistan). In 1945, he began studies at the University of Liverpool and earned a PhD in 1948. In 1970 Khorana became the Alfred Sloan Professor of Biology and Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he worked until retiring in 2007. He is a member of the Board of Scientific Governors at The Scripps Research Institute, and currently holds Professor Emeritus status at MIT.

Khorana and his team had established that the mother of all codes, the biological language common to all living organisms, is spelled out in three-letter words: each set of three nucleotides codes for a specific amino acid. Their Nobel lecture was delivered on December 12, 1968. He was the first to isolate DNA ligase, an enzyme that links pieces of DNA together. These custom-designed pieces of artificial genes are widely used in biology labs for sequencing, cloning and engineering new plants and animals. This invention of Khorana has become automated and commercialized so that anyone now can order a synthetic gene from any of a number of companies—one merely needs to send the genetic sequence to one of the companies to receive an oligonucliotide with the desired sequence.

Didar Singh Bains

Didar Singh Bains followed his father and grandfather into the orchards of Sutter County. His grandfather migrated first to Canada in 1890, and to California in 1920. Bains' father arrived from India in 1948 and Bains himself followed in 1958, 18 years old, fresh from Nangal Khurd village in Hosiharpur. Those were long, hard days. "You know, we came here empty-handed, and I worked like a manual laborer," he says. "We worked really hard, borrowed, struggled, took risks our whole life. God is always good to us." 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. He is known as the Peach King of California, but also cultivates prunes, walnuts and almonds.

Didar Singh Bains who came to American with $8 in his pocket in 1958 owned 12,000 acres in California and Canada by 1980 and much of rapidly developing western Yuba City. The Bains Ranch office, surrounded by orchards on the outskirts of Yuba City, is well-appointed but unpretentious. Trucks and tractors are parked outside near a large, aluminum-sided barn. It is the business hub of one of the largest farmers in the Central Valley and one of the wealthiest men in Northern California, Didar Singh Bains.

Amar Bose

Amar Gopal Bose is an American electrical engineer, sound engineer and multi-millionaire entrepreneur. He is the founder and chairman of Bose Corporation. In the year 2007 (Forbes 400), he was listed as 271st richest man in the world, with a net worth of $1.8 billion.

Bose was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a Bengali Indian father and a white American mother. His father, Noni Gopal Bose, was an Indian freedom revolutionary, who having been imprisoned for his political activities, fled Calcutta in the 1920s in order to avoid further prosecution by the British colonial police.

Amar Bose first displayed his entrepreneurial skills and his interest in electronics at age thirteen, when, during the World War II years, he enlisted school friends as co-workers in a small home business repairing model trains and home radios, to supplement his family's income. Bose enrolled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in the early 1950s. He completed his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT, writing a thesis on non-linear systems.

Following graduation, Bose took a position at MIT as an Assistant Professor. He focused his research on acoustics, leading him to invent a stereo loudspeaker that would reproduce, in a domestic setting, the dominantly reflected sound field that characterizes the listening space of the audience in a concert hall. Bose was awarded significant patents in two fields which, to this day, are important to the Bose Corporation. These patents were in the area of loud speaker design and non-linear, two-state modulated, Class-D, power processing. Bose was elected Fellow of IEEE, 1972 - for contributions to loudspeaker design, two-state amplifier-modulators, and nonlinear systems.

During his early years as a professor, Bose bought a high-end stereo speaker system in 1956 and was reportedly not pleased by the performance of his purchase. This would eventually pave the way for his extensive speaker technology research, concentrating on key weaknesses in the high-end speaker systems available during Bose's time. The Bose Corporation is a multifaceted entity with more than 12,000 employees, worldwide, that produces products for home, car, and professional audio, as well as conducts basic research in acoustics, automotive systems, and other fields.

Today, Indian-Americans are one of the fastest-growing and most successful immigrant groups in the United States. The three million Indian Americans in the US continue to top the US Census charts as the best-educated, highest-paid and top-placed community among the 38.1 million foreign-born population in the country. Indians have proliferated in this country in the fields of health care, information technology and engineering, with higher education levels and incomes than national averages. All of this progress is result of the ongoing hard and honest effort of Indian immigrants to prosper here and thereby contribute to the greatness of this great country, as did the early achievers of Indian origin.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Time To Celebrate!

December 14, 1960, was the D-day when our decade long love and courtship culminated in happy marriage. In our 50-years' journey together, there were, of course, many joyous moments which we'll cherish for ever. But there also were few bad times which even if we try to forget, we cannot. This is what life is all about. Thankfully, like in 'feel good' films, the bad patch passed over early in our journey and the going thereafter was just good most of the time. I would like to first mention the two most anxious moments of our life together, before recalling some really good times till date.

Jeet was my mother's best friend after our marriage, and a true follower of the traditions my mother believed in – 'atithi devo bhav' (guest is God) . There was hardly a day when God had not visited our house. We really were having a wonderful time with mother around when she was suddenly diagnosed with serious condition of cancer and died within a few weeks. It was too big a loss to bear, especially in early years of our marriage when we were still settling down to lead a happy married life. Before she breathed her last in the hospital, she kept holding Jeet's hand and spoke the last words, “I may not come back home with you, but promise you will continue to keep the house always open for everyone to enjoy its hospitality.” This wish we have always tried our best to fulfill.

The second biggest setback was the sudden failure of my fast growing start-up because of a very sinister maneuvering by my rivals in the business. After serving for the first twenty years of my career as an executive in one of India's biggest companies, I started my own business of retail sales of consumer durables which flourished so fast that even my competitors of long standing could not match my sales. What they did not digest was how could I, operating from home, defeat them despite their big showrooms and large establishments. They manipulated delay of deliveries to my customers from the manufacturers during the festival sales season, which not only caused colossal monetary loss to me but also credibility with my customers for future business. During this worst time of our life, if it wasn't for Jeet, I would have completely fallen apart. Throughout that bad patch she always stayed positive. I don't know how she did it those days when she had to wake up at five in the morning and drag herself to take the bus to work and attend to our kid on coming back. She was exhausted, but never failed to turn the focus and her attention on me and to find ways to come out of the financial crisis, which we did overcome, earlier than could be expected. Knowing that she has been there for me through thick and thin has made life wonderful.

Birth of our first and only child was, of course, the happiest moment of our married life. When we looked at the newly born baby boy, we were immediately transported to our trip to Sanovar, a very beautiful village in the interiors of Himanchal, about sixty miles beyond Simla, and our dream destination in one of our annual vacations. There we had also climbed “Chur Peak”, the highest peak in the area at a height of 14,000ft., where Lord Shiva's statue stood majestically on the mountaintop. We had both prayed to the Lord to bless us with a happy married life and a beautiful child. We had absolutely no doubt that Alok, as we named him, truly was a gift of God. As he grew up, his godly qualities of kindness, compassion and caring were quite obvious to every one who came in contact with him.

Our next happiest moment was when Alok went to USA for higher studies after graduating from St. Xavier School in Delhi. As Alok was kind to others, God was kind to him. When he wished to go to USA for higher studies, it was almost impossible to achieve this ambition. The government would not grant permission to send fees in foreign currency for studies abroad because of very stringent foreign exchange situation. Nothing short of a miracle could help Alok cross this hurdle, and there it was. Jeet had a chance meeting with a Member of Parliament, who happened to be very close to the Finance Minister. He went out of the way to help us get the foreign exchange permit from the government. And Alok left for the United States at the age of seventeen to pursue further studies at the University of San Francisco. Today, he is amongst top computer technologists in Silicon Valley and cofounder of Yunteq, a start-up company of cloud computing which is creating waves with wonderful prospects for progress.

One of our proudest moments as a married couple was our close interaction with Pandit Nehru, the first Prime Minister of free India. As officials of International Cultural Forum, we took a group of children to Prime Minister Nehru's residence for his blessings before the children were to leave for a Summer Camp in the then Soviet Union. Mrs. Indra Gandhi, the PM's daughter, treated us with refreshments while Pandit Nehru remained attentively engaged with us in his study speaking to us about the beautiful Black Sea site where the children were to spend the summer months. Indeed, it is beyond imagination how extraordinary we felt when we came out after spending the most wonderful hour of our life with the great world leader.

We also always feel proud of our interaction with former president Bill Clinton, even if by correspondence. During the eight years of his presidency we wrote several letters on varied subjects to President Clinton and we're proud to possess his personal replies to each one of them. The unique privilege of corresponding with President Bill Clinton remains our most rewarding experience in life, next only to experiencing the greatness of Pandit Nehru.

One thing we realized and always remember is that when you are really up to it, you can find happiness from even little happenings in life, as we discovered from the innumerable day to day incidents, interactions and experiences, some small and some big, but all giving us great pleasure when they happened. The most significant of these happenings for us was my joining Aravali Ispat Ltd., Alwar (Rajasthan), one of the most modern foundries in Northern India. Far bigger than the happiness of building our house in Alwar was our unique bonding with my managing director, the noblest man we ever met in life, and his very loving family. Our relationship remains as solid today, several years after my retirement, as when it started in the seventies. We continue counting our blessings such as these and thank God for His benevolence. While we pray for health, happiness and prosperity for all our friends and family on the eve of our 50th anniversary, we cannot describe how delightful we feel on this day to join our son Alok and daughter-in-law Ranjan, who insist it is just the time to celebrate.

Monday, December 06, 2010

UC Berkeley's Idealistic Young Men

{In the midst of the all important national debate on illegal immigrants in the United States, particularly President Obama's steps to reform immigration laws and legalize illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico and other States in South America, it would be academically interesting to recall the remarkable efforts early students from India made to overcome difficult situations in a similar scenario.}

Early 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 and were more evenly distributed throughout the United States than the early Indian immigrants who were mainly confined to California; Robindranath Tagore’s son studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana, the son of the Maharaja of Baroda attended Harvard, other Indians were at Columbia and at universities in Nebraska and Iowa. But 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. Taking everything into consideration, the University of California suited really the best for Indian students. Tuition was only $15 a year and living expenses about $250. Opportunities were plentiful in Berkeley for “self-support, the American custom of working your way through college, and a student could also make extra money selling shawls, ivory, art works and other Indian handicrafts. During the summer months students could make $125 a month as agricultural laborers.

In December 1911. the Modern Review, a widely-read Calcutta journal for Indian intellectuals, published an article entitled "Information for Indian Students Intending to Come to the Pacific Coast of the United States," by Sarangadhar Das, a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Das recommended bringing along a basic kit for the stay in America that could be acquired for about Rs. 125 in India, including soap, shaving brush, a pair of pump shoes, linen, athletic summer underwear, colored or striped shirts (plain not plaited, half a dozen), a pair of Paris garters, one black serge suit, an Indian-made artistic scarf pin, a few dhotis (sometimes handier than night shirts), and two collar studs. The students who came found many sources of support. The Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan had purchased a hostel at 1731 Allston Way where Indian students could stay rent-free. In 1912, one successful California potato farmer, Jwala Singh, funded the Guru Govind Singh Sahib Educational Scholarship, awarded through a competition held in India.

Students formed individual relationships with their professors, who were often helpful and encouraging to promising scholars. A small group of faculty on campus worked closely with the Indian students, including Arthur Ryder and Arthur Upham Pope. Ryder, a Sanskrit scholar who came to Berkeley in January 1906, encouraged the Indian students to participate in activities to promote understanding of Indian culture, including productions of the classical Sanskrit plays that he translated into English. Gobind Behari Lal presented the prologue for “Shakuntula” in 1914 and Tarakhnath Das also had a part. Pope, a junior professor in the Department of Philosophy and advocate of Indian independence since his undergraduate days at Brown, chaired the committee that selected the Guru Govind Singh Sahib Scholarship recipients. He, as well as any faculty member who was in contact with the Indian students, came under surveillance by the British during this period.

Prejudice and stereotyping were also part of the student experience. Many Americans, even on university campuses, were surprisingly ignorant about India. Dalip Singh Saund, a student at UC Berkeley from 1920-1924 comments: “In those days the picture of India which most of the American people carried in their minds had little basis in reality. It was a confused jumble of yogis, snake charmers, and maharajas. There were very few good books available about India, most of them written by former members of the British Government in India who were on the whole extremely unfriendly toward the history and culture of that ancient land..” Sometimes the manifestations of prejudice were relatively harmless, like the hazing incident described in the San Francisco Chronicle, 15 August 1921:

Members of the sophomore class of the University of California, who engaged today in upholding the university tradition of the hazing of freshmen, faced a real problem this afternoon in the form of three Indian scholars who were captured and lined up for hazing. It was decided to make them take off their shoes and wade in the chemistry pond, explaining to them that they were “bathing their feet in the university’s sacred pool.” Then it was decided to unwind their turbans to solve the mystery of what might be underneath. To this, however, the Indians objected and showed fight. The three finally freed themselves from their captors and ran frantically for the president’s office with the intention of calling the office of the British consulate at San Francisco for protection. But they were overhauled by members of the senior class, who restored the peace. The three are said to be graduates of Oxford University and are here to take post-graduate work.

However, some manifestations were more serious. It was rare for foreign students to be admitted to the Greek-letter societies, for instance, and, in an era when these societies controlled most student social activities, this exclusion restricted Indian students’ full participation in campus life.

In the 1910s, UC Berkeley had a significant role in the Indian independence movement, when Indian students studying at the university took an active part in forming the radical Ghadar Party - especially in publishing its paper, The Hindustan Ghadar. The Ghadar Party was an organization founded with the aim to liberate India from British rule. The party quickly gained support from Indian expatriates, especially in the United States and Canada. The Hindustan Ghadar was published under the auspices of the Yugantar Ashram in San Francisco with donations raised with the help of the Indian diaspora, especially with the aid of Indian students at the University of California, Berkeley. Har Dayal, who had come to the area as a lecturer in Indian philosophy at Stanford, was living at that time in one of the Indian student hostels in Berkeley. He addressed a meeting of all Indian students at Berkeley and sought to unite their views, denouncing British rule in India and calling for the students to do their part in bringing it to an end. Looking for a way to serve their country, the Gadar Party became a significant force in the lives of the students, UC Berkeley's idealistic young men.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Indian Aroma In American Melting Pot

In the midst of the all important national debate on illegal immigrants in the United States, particularly President Obama's steps to reform immigration laws and legalize illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico and other States in South America, it would be academically interesting to recall the remarkable efforts early immigrants from India made to settle in a similar scenario.

Early Indian immigrants, mostly from Punjab, opted for farming jobs because of their traditional agricultural expertise. Punjabi settlements began in fertile lands of the Sacramento valley, San Joaquin Valley and in the Imperial Valley in California, which offered irresistible farming opportunities to them. The similarity of the California landscape to Punjab gave a sense of homeland to this unfamiliar world - fertile fields stretched across the flat valley to the foothills lying far in the distance. As they became established in farming or successful in business they began to think of staying permanently. But immigration policies severely restricted the entry of the immigrants’ families into the United States. Nothing embittered the immigrants as much as this policy of exclusion; for it was not only injustice to them, but also to their innocent wives and children back home.

Since they could not bring brides from India, many men sought wives among women living in the United States. Anti-miscegenation laws, which stayed on the books in California until 1948, prohibited intermarriage between races. This meant that it was hard for the Indian men to marry white women. Most Indian men, therefore, sought wives among the Mexican women, many of whom were themselves recent immigrants to the United States, fleeing from the violence of the Mexican revolution. While these marriages were technically between different races, according to race definitions of the time, most civil authorities sanctioned them, giving the same race on the marriage registry for both bride and groom—“brown,” “black,” or “pale white.” When a Punjabi did marry a Mexican wife it was common for her to then facilitate the marriage of her sisters or other relatives to Punjabis. Thus a small "Mexican-Hindu" community formed in California that flourished in California's Yuba City and Imperial Valley.

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. But if a Mexican woman married a Punjabi man, she would then become ineligible for land rights due to the specifications of the Cable Act. To get around this dilemma, the men turned to 'benami' land deals in the name of Americans willing to hold land for them. Later, they also put land in their children's names, who were American citizens. Cultural differences sometimes caused friction. The men were not used to the degree of freedom the women expected. And in a system where business partners became, in many ways, like an extended family, the women found they had the strange and unwelcome duty of cooking and washing for their husbands’ unmarried partners. Still the majority of the marriages were stable unions, characterized by tolerance and love.

However, not all immigrants married and the dominant pattern of social life continued to be bachelors living in dormitory-style bunkhouses or several bachelors living together on land that one of them owned or leased. They would hire one man to cook. Men in the camps ate mostly roti, an Indian whole wheat pancake, and vegetables, many grown in their gardens, including Punjabi favorites like karela (bitter gourd) and okra. The men were fond of cooking with butter and had a saying, 'ghi banaunda salan' (the butter makes the curry). According to one estimate the Indians consumed about 15 pounds of butter a month each. Ice cream was also a food universally liked by the Punjabis, and, when visiting, it was considered polite to bring along a package of ice cream as a gift for the host. One of their favorite pastimes was narrating jokes, many revolving around their birthplace in Punjab. It is reported that these men had very few bad habits except for the heavy drinking that was a regular part of their social interaction.

The immigrants were frugal, directing most free money to the purchase or leasing of land, but they also spent some money on luxuries. They enjoyed a good many comforts, such as silk shirts and turbans, scented oil and soap and perfumery of all sorts. Some even bought gramophones and sent for records from India. Movies were also an occasional treat and the bachelors at Van Tiger Ranch had pictures of Indian movie actresses on their walls. They were fond of modern vehicles, starting with bicycles, then moving on to Fords, and finally up to Buicks and Dodges. But they never went into debt for comforts. During hard times they would lower their standard of living and stayed within their means rather than borrow money.

Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) became the center of the immigrants' movement primarily because 95 percent of the immigrants were Sikhs. After a few years of farming and service, they managed to save some money and got involved in constructing places of worship such as the Gurdwaras in Stockton and Yuba City. They would meet in the Gurdwaras during the weekends to think about their common welfare. The Gurdwaras became places to welcome new arrivals and to help these new immigrants to look for jobs or until they can look after themselves. These Gurdwaras provided shelter, food, and social life to all immigrants without any consideration of caste, creed, or religion. Hindus and Muslims were also attending and living in these Gurdwaras.

A common feeling among the Punjabis who have settled in California is appreciation of America and pride in being American as well as Indian. One reason for this is a belief in shared values. Social welfare and education rank high with them, especially Sikh immigrants, whose philanthropy is not limited to the Gurdwara, but extends to causes that help everyone, from aiding rescue missions for the homeless to running marathons that raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Fusion may well be the byword for the active, community-minded Indian immigrants in California. And while many families weathered hard times, their good humored resiliency and appreciation of the Americans have gained them not only acceptance but extraordinary success. Undeniably, most Americans welcome the Indian aroma in American melting pot.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Fall Of The White Wall

In the midst of the all important national debate on illegal immigrants in the United States, and the strong opposition, primarily from the White population, to President Obama's steps to reform immigration laws and legalize illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico and other States in South America, it would be academically interesting to recall the racial bias of the White workers that early immigrants from India faced in a similar scenario.

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 generations 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 into the northwestern United States, where an economic boom was in the works. From Washington to Oregon, and eventually California, the Indian immigrants worked in the lumber industry, found jobs building railroads, and worked in the orchards and vineyards throughout the Sacramento and Imperial valleys. Having crossed the hurdle of admission to the United States, immigrants from India faced 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 preservation of the Caucasian race upon American soil" was the constitutional objective of the Asian Exclusion League. To achieve that end they pressured lumber mills into laying off Indian workers, lobbied to stop further immigration, and fomented riots to drive Indians from their homes. While not condoning the crude methods of the Asian Exclusion League, still the United States Congress, Judiciary, and Bureau of Immigration were sympathetic to their objective and the immigrants from India found themselves confronted by a great White wall. The group was responsible for violent incidents, such as the "Anti-Hindu" riot in 1907 at Bellingham, Washington. The word “Hindu,” meaning people from Hindustan, as India was popularly called then, was used then for Indian immigrants to differentiate from Native Indians.

On the night of September 4, 1907, a mob of between 400 and 500 white men attacked Bellingham's Hindu colonies. Many of the Hindus 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," said Hattie Spencer. "We were afraid of them at first. But my dad said, 'They have to make a living same as the rest of us. We are foreigners too.' Chris Simonsen remembered the men in "Hindu Alley" making "chapatti pancakes" patting the dough between their hands. The Indians were especially well-known for their prowess and agility in wrestling. "They were light-heavyweight champions," Bill Wootton said. Helmer Lindstrom remembered that the Indians "never undercut wages" -- they wouldn't work for less than the other employees. And most of the Astoria community considered the Hindus "vastly interesting and peaceable."

Citizenship remained an elusive dream, despite a major change in the attitude of many people towards the pioneer immigrants, until arrival of a prominent individual from Punjab, Dalip Singh Saund, on the scene. He came to the United States as a student and 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. Saund advocated for the rights of Indian immigrants to attain citizenship. In 1946, the Luce-Cellar Bill passed through the U.S. Congress and granted citizenship to the existing Indian immigrants in the country. Later in 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act overturned the racially discriminating bias against non-Whites and allowed all immigrants the opportunity to become naturalized. In 1957, as a member of the Democratic Party representing District 29, the Riverside and Imperial valleys of California, Saund became the first Asian to hold a congressional office.

“This system violated the basic principle of American democracy -- the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man. It has been un-American in the highest sense because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country. Today, with my signature, this system is abolished.” -- from President Lyndon B. Johnson's address to mark the signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 3 October 1965

The Act created a wide crack in the great White wall. In era of civil rights awareness, the system, which heavily favored northern Europeans, had come under increasing attack as being racially biased. The Immigration and Nationality Act led to a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants from all over South Asia. Majority of the new immigrants, like most of the students who had come in the early years, were scientists, engineers and doctors. In California, the post-1965 group with Networking ambitions became a force in Silicon Valley and major urban centers, emerging in recent years as successful entrepreneurs and professionals and have achieved notable economic success. On American campuses, second- and third- generation South Asian Americans have made their presence felt. In the University of California system alone, six endowed chairs and two lecture endowments in South Asian studies have been established, funded almost entirely by members of the South Asian American community. In the political arena too, they are progressing to make their presence noticed with the position of Governors in two states and high ranking officials in both the political parties as well as at the White House.

As of today, with over a century of hard and honest work along with love and loyalty for their adopted country, the estimated three million Indian Americans community feels proud of its presence here and happy to have contributed to the eventual fall of the White wall.