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.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

May God Help Them!

May God Help Them!

"Given the children's age, taking away the children from their natural parents till they are 18 is an extreme step which should normally be a last resort. The circumstances as known to the Indian government do not appear to justify such measures in the present case," External Affairs Minister S M Krishna reiterating India's concerns over the Norwegian Childcare Services taking away the two children of an NRI couple from their natural parents. The children have been put under foster care.

This happened in Norway, but it happens all the time in the U.S. In 1904, when moved by the plight of vulnerable children, Mrs. E.K. Foster, a Los Angeles community leader, formed a volunteer group which successfully advocated for legislation to protect children, she could never have imagined that her noble idea of foster care system would one day be turned into big business, a money making machine by the state. In USA the nationwide foster care budget exceeds that of the National Defense Budget, to the tune of well over 12 billion dollars! In addition, from the system’s perspective, they are providing a great service to humanity, soliciting millions of private donations for the plight of millions and millions of abused and neglected children. Is child abuse on the rise? Or are there more incentives to terminate parental rights, placing the child in a foster adoptive home to receive federal dollars through foster care? If parents have a child taken away and put in state’s foster care system, not only does the state now receive money each month from the federal government for their care, but the birth parents are also required to make payments to the state, if they deem that their income allows it. In fact, federal and state tax payer funds are just the tip of the funds available to agencies once the state removes a child from their birth home. Once a child has had parental rights terminated, if a child is under age 5 and deemed "marketable", a private agency takes over and then "double dips" by charging the adopting parents for the same care? It appears that the system may take children out of homes because it pays to do so. Foster care agencies get considerably more federal and state funds for removing a child from his home than they do in making reasonable efforts to preserve the family. So, even the slightest excuse is enough for the state to separate children from their natural parents and put them under foster care system.

Imagine this: You have an ongoing feud with a neighbor. Your angry neighbor calls and makes false allegations to the police that you abuse your children. You prove to DCFS (The Department of Child & Family Services) that your children are fine. Even so, the police respond by gaining unlawful entry to your home, put your children in foster care, and throw you in jail. It all sounds like a bad dream, doesn’t it? This is exactly what the Henderson family went through. And there are so many more families who are terrified because their neighbors are making false reports about them to get into good books of the administration. Here is an open letter to neighbors from Linda Martin, a social activist, which is an eye opener on the issue:

Dear neighbors,

Someone called CPS. Was it you? Please read this letter before calling CPS again.
I am honestly terrified of losing my children and implore you, if you are the one who made the call, to let me know if I do something you think is wrong regarding my children, and do not call CPS again.

My terror is nothing compared to the trauma my children suffer at the thought of losing me, their home, their friends, their school, their pets, their toys, their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and everything else that is part of their world. In the foster care system siblings often even lose each other.

You might think foster care is a better place for children but according to federal statistics children are much more likely to be abused in state custody foster homes. In foster homes many thousands of children have been abused emotionally, physically, and sexually. Many children have died in foster homes – many of whom were beaten to death by foster “parents”.

So I ask that even if you don’t like me, please have mercy on my children and do not call CPS. It is a very dangerous government agency and not good for children. You are welcome to come to my house to advise me if you think I’m doing something wrong. I would prefer a life where we as neighbors can help one another without having to call in government workers for every little thing. Please do not be afraid to contact me if you feel I’m doing something wrong. Do not be afraid to offer to help me. But please, do not terrorize my children – they are traumatized at the thought of being taken away.

Thank you… from a neighbor.

Terry's story is in many respects typical of the plight of America's 500,000 foster children. He entered foster care at the age of one after he was found with his five siblings suffering from frostbite in an unheated home, his mother in a drug-induced sleep. When he was five, he and two of his siblings were adopted by a foster family. This should have provided the happy ending to Terry and his sibling's travails. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of a long journey through the labyrinth of the child welfare system. Terry and his siblings had to be removed from their new home due to extreme abuse and neglect after the subsequent death of abuse of his five-year-old adoptive brother. Thereafter followed a sequence of sixteen placements, during which Terry began to exhibit increasingly serious behavioral problems.By the time he turned 11, Terry was placed in a residential facility where he began making suicidal comments, saying that he wanted to go to heaven to be with his deceased adoptive brother. He left the facility during severe thunderstorms without any shoes on. When he was found, he had to be hospitalized for over a month. He has since been diagnosed as suffering from the psychological effects of the extreme abuse and neglect he had suffered while in various placements, complicated by a lack of permanence over his ten years in government custody. Similar narratives are everywhere to be found.

One of the most tragic aspects of many of these cases is that the children suffer needlessly, for in their zeal to protect them against the perceived shortcomings of their natural parents, child protective workers placed them into dangerous homes that inflicted upon them precisely the injury they had hoped to prevent. Just how many abuse and neglect related incidents actually occur in foster care is difficult to determine, given the child protection agencies apparent unwillingness to investigate them. It becomes nearly impossible with confidentiality laws shielding child protection agencies from public scrutiny. What is clear is that there is no shortage of them. Notes outspoken veteran juvenile court judge Judy Sheindlin: “Every year in every a state a commission meets to attempt to identify the scores of children killed and maimed while in foster care. And each year a report is published with suggestions for legislative and systemic change. Although the number of victims is increasing, there has been no nationwide overhaul of the systems that permit these in-house tragedies to occur.”

With all the problems in the country's foster-care system, nothing short of a major overhaul would serve as a lasting solution to this national disgrace. For years, children have been sentenced to navigate the system that promised them refuge from abuse and neglect in their own homes. However, foster care remains as inconsistent, abusive neglectful and dysfunctional as many of the homes from which the children were removed from in the first place. Without cohesion, leadership and accountability, the system continues to fail too many of the 500,000-plus children assigned to it. Once these children age out of the system at eighteen, the state sees the effects that this broken system has on society.
It's like all of a sudden you're 18 and they expect you to be an adult, but the system doesn't teach you to be an adult. It's one thing to be sad about being in the system but still have a roof over your head. It's another to be sad and homeless and unemployed. For the 20,000 youth nationwide who emancipate - or "age out" - of the foster-care system every year, nothing is more terrifying than the number 18.
It is on this birthday that these youth, many abused and neglected before and after entering the system, are expected to instantly become responsible adults. While many children outside of the system are eager to leave home at this point, their parents often serve as a safety net in times of financial or emotional need. Most emancipated foster children do not have this luxury. They are moved from house to house, forming few, if any, long-lasting ties to any of the adults they are forced to live with. Then, at eighteen, they are instantly cut off from a system that never prepared them to live on their own.The state has failed them. Each year, the state fails approximately 20,000-plus foster youth, who, once they turn eighteen, are no longer eligible for foster-care services such as housing. During this pivotal time, many of these youth find themselves with no place to live, and no one to turn to.
May God help them!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bless You Bollywood!

Mention Bollywood, today the first thing that comes to mind is the Bolly-dance. It is this phenomenon that makes Bollywood and cinema in India so very unique. 99% of the films Bollywood turns out are musicals full of incredibly imaginative, loud, vibrant and exciting scenes of song and dance. Bollywood song and dance numbers do not only provide the most popular entertainment to the people, they are also contributing in a big way to convert over 300 million people in India from weak-literacy to functional literacy through Same Language Subtitling (SLS). SLS simply suggests subtitling the lyrics of existing film songs and music-videos on TV, in the ‘same’ language as the audio. In other words, Bollywood film songs marry Karaoke to produce mass literacy. “Karaoke” approach to literacy provides automatic and regular reading practice to the early-literate in India. In addition, nearly 300 million illiterate people are motivated to become literate.

Bollywood dance scene is a piece of art, and it is the costume designer who adds to the art it's color. As the slow and steady progress of western culture imposes itself onto the East it is nice to see that somethings are being returned. Bolly-dance is starting to subtly but undoubtedly influence Western dance, specifically Hip-Hop and Pop. It cannot be over emphasized how special Bolly-dance really is to India's, and even world's culture. A small but significant example is when America's NBC show Smash goes Bollywood. NBC's musical drama pays homage to Indian movies with an elaborate performance airing April 23. It's a dream sequence, set to the original song ''A Thousand and One Nights'' written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and is ­triggered by the strained relationship between Karen (Katharine McPhee, pictured) and Dev (Raza Jaffrey). ''They have dinner in an Indian restaurant and there are Bollywood numbers playing in the videos on the wall,'' says Smash creator Theresa Rebeck.

However, Bollywood's biggest contribution is in India's cultural unite. There was a time when Indians were fanatically divided for speaking different language in different states to the extent that non-Hindi speaking people literally hated Hindi language. However, their lifelong passion for Bollywood films, particularly the songs, has totally changed the scenario. Now the people from Maharashtra to Mizoram and Kashmir to Kanyakumari cannot wait to watch the latest Hindi language film from Bollywood and repeatedly listen to its hit songs and even remember the lyrics of the songs they like. Thanks to Bollywood, the language barrier, particularly the hate wave against Hindi, is long over and passed into history. Not only Bollywood has helped non-Hindi speaking people leave their hate against Hindi language far behind, it has also contributed in a big way to bring together people belonging to different cultural background. Bollywood fosters the spirit of brotherhood which is displayed by filmgoers every day in every show. While enjoying a film, one never thinks to which caste and religion the next person in the theatre belongs to. In fact, everybody sit together in one place and enjoy the film together. They cry for the same reason, laugh at the same joke and sing the same songs.

Bollywood movies have time and again shown that they are immune to economic turmoil. Even during the worst of economic depression Bollywood blockbusters have made thousands throng to the theaters. When people are depressed due to inflation they want to watch a movie, when they are happy with elation they want to watch movies. Amid the continuing poverty and frustrating period that came in the aftermath of partition, Indians looked to Bollywood to provide the messages of their best hope. In the beginning era of Bollywood, what was then an extremely conservative society, Bollywood gently pressed back boundaries by portraying relations between the sexes as those between companions and equals. The radicals of Indian cinema sought to rebel without causing outrage. In V. Shantaram's “Duniya Na Mane” Shanta Apte was cast as Nirmala, a young girl marri­ed to a man old enough to be her father. Instead of accepting the marriage as a ‘failed accomplishment” she revolts, refusing to have conjugal relations with her hus­band and making him realize his mistake. Dev Anand's film, Guide, was a tale of love between a single man and a married woman – an extremely taboo subject that was nonetheless finessed into a popular and perennially beloved hit. The tacit Bollywood ethic helped to familiarize its audience with the possibility of Hindus, Muslims and others living in amity in a plural India. Bollywood has given Indians an inspiring image and narratives of integrity and decency, giving them an optimism that, until recently, the circumstances of the country rarely gave cause for.

As Bollywood celebrates its centenary there is no better way to congratulate it than to continue counting its countless blessings. Bollywood seems to be one of the reasons why India is so prominent on the global map. True, there are other reasons for it but none of them are as glamorous as the movies made by great Bollywood moviemakers. Bollywood has nowadays become synonymous with instant celebrityhood. Bollywood has witnessed a lot of progress from its nascent years. It has been continuously evolving for the better. Bollywood fascinates one and all; it has captivated the hearts of millions of viewers in India and abroad. Hindi cinema had humble beginnings. Raja Hrishchandra was the first silent feature film made way back in 1913. Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara (1931) was the first sound film. This was just the beginning of what would later become revered as Bollywood. It has seen a monstrous growth ever since. Bollywood has come a long way, seen a lot, shown a lot and it marches ahead without faltering much. Now the time has come when Bollywood industry is touching the height of sky. The great Indian Bollywood saga is more enchanting than a fairy tale, spicier than Indian food. Bollywood’s evolution with time can provide enough fodder for a million books to be written or odes to be sung. On its auspicious centenary celebrations let us wish Bollywood the best and an immortal life :
Tum jiyo hazaron saal, har saal ke din hon hazaar!
Bless you Bollywood!!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lahore Loves Bollywood!

Mein nikla gaddi lay kar…Rastay mein …O sadak par…Ik mod aya…mein oothey dil chod aaya…
Rab jaaney…Kab guzra…Amritsar…O kab jaaney…”Lahore” aaya…mein dil oothay chod aaya

The lovely lyric of the super hit song from film Gaddar beautifully depicts the decades old love between Lahore and Bollywood that began in the early era of Indian cinema. Next to Mumbai and Kolkata, Lahore was the largest movie making center in India. In fact the best known industry in Lahore is the movie industry. Like you have Hollywood in America, Bollywood in India, film industry in Lahore is called Lollywood. It is a mixture of Lahore and Hollywood. During the twenties and thirties, a lot of movies were made in Lollywood, based on the ones made in Hollywood. There was even a big movie studio, named “United People's” on Ravi Road. Besides two big studios, Pancholi Arts and Shorie Pictures, that boasted of many super-hit movies, there were a large number of smaller units, which too had quite a few hit films to their credit. Dalsukh Pancholi, a film tycoon from Lahore (born in Karachi) and the founder of Pancholi Studios of Lahore, studied scriptwriting and cinematography from New York, and played an important part in the careers of stars such as Noor Jehan, Ramola, Om Prakash, music composers Ghulam Haider and O.P. Nayyar. His first film was Gul-e-Bakawli (1938) starring Noor Jehan. Ghulam Haider's "shaala jawaania" was an instant rage. Pancholi's film Khazanchi was one of the longest running movies of its time. Master Ghulam Haider a phenomenal music director from Lahore, was the man who gave Lata Mangeshkar the break of her career in the movie Majboor (1948). Mohd Rafi's debut also happened to occur in Lahore, at the hands of music director Shyaam Sunder in Pancholi's film Gul Baloch. Many of the mainstream stars started their career in movies that were made in Lahore, and later moved to Mumbai where they became some of the biggest stars of Indian cinema.

Many high profile Indian actors and singers lived in the Walled City in the 1940s and Lakshmi Chowk was where the film fraternity got together in tongas decorated with maroon flowers, foot bells and lamps on the side. The tonga was the primary means of transport for the ordinary and elite in the 40s. Most tongas were undecorated, but the ones used by the elite were special and fascinating. Lakshmi Chowk was the hot spot for formal and informal film gatherings. Lakshmi Chowk was the focal point of Lahore’s film industry crowd. By the evening, Lakshmi would be full of tongas, with film stars, top film directors and producers thronging teahouses and discussing filmy affairs. Pran, Om Parkash and Al Nasir, another Lahori film hero, would spend their evenings chatting and playing billiards.

Pran, who mostly played the role of a villain in films, lived in Qilla Gujjar Singh. He was a skilled photographer and took photographs of famous artistes. One day – while standing at a pan shop in Lakshmi Chowk – he met Wali, a leading film director of the time. Wali asked Pran if he was interested in acting and Pran said yes. Wali wrote the address of Pancholi Studios on the back of a cigarette pack and asked Pran to see one of his friends there. Pran started his film career with ‘Chaudhry’ and later appeared as a hero in ‘Khaandaan’, a film by Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. The heroine was melody queen Noor Jahan. Later Pran established his career in Lahore as a villan in punjabi films. Pran migrated to Bombay in 1947. B. R. Chopra was born in Lahore. He studied journalism, directed/produced plays, and worked as a film critic in Lahore. Yash Chopra, B. R’s younger brother was born in Lahore as well, later he joined his brother in Bombay to start their own production house. B.R. Chopra was working on his first film Chandni Chowk when the partition riots began. And the man who made the epic master piece Mughal-E-Azam in bollywood, Mr. K. Asif hailed from Lahore. Om Parkash was also one of the great names of Bombay. He lived at Matti Chowk, Lohari Gate and always rented out a decorated tonga to take him from Matti Chowk to Lakshmi Chowk every day. Om Parkash did many small and large roles in films made in Lahore and also migrated to India in 1947. Balraj Sahni also lived at Matti Chowk and was the secretary general of the All India Communist Party. He studied at Government College. Sahni also acted in pre-Partition films in Lahore. Dev Anand lived in Lohari Gate, but later moved to Bhaati Gate. He also studied at Government College. Dev Anand participated actively in politics in Lahore. His brother Chaitan Anand was a famous film director in Lahore and was considered quite influential in film studios when it came to casting and other affairs. Meena Shori was one of the leading female actors of her times. She lived in Bhaati Gate and married the owner of Shori Film Studio (now Shah Noor Studio). She acted in several pre-Partition films made in Lahore and migrated to India in 1947.

Lahore was considered the 'launchpad' for famous singers and musicians. K. L. Saigal, the legendary singer, acquired fame in Lahore then later moved to Calcutta. and then to Mumbai. The subcontinent’s greatest playback singer Muhammad Rafi lived in Bhaati Gate. He was from a family of barbers and ran his own barbershop. Rafi had a beautiful voice and most of his customers would often ask him to sing for them while they got their hair cut or got a shave. A man from the film industry introduced Rafi to film director Gul Baloch who gave Rafi the opportunity to sing three songs for ‘Gul Zaman’. The film proved a launching point for Rafi’s film career in Lahore and by the time he migrated to India in the 40s he was an accomplished singer. Khurshid Begum was an outstanding singer from Lahore who too moved to India for better opportunities. She also lived in Bhaati Gate. She sang several famous songs for various Indian films, including great songs with singer K. L. Sehgal. Hritik Roshan's grandpa Roshan (Roshan Lal), the famous music director, was from Lahore. He was given a chance as an assistant by another Lahori musician, Khwaja Khurshid Anwar (who was in Bombay at the time). Khayyam the music composer of Umrao-Jaan fame started his career in Lahore. Roshan Ara Begum from Lahore was acclaimed the best interpreter of Kirana Gharana Sytle of Khayal singing in the subcontinent. Composer O.P Nayyar, Ustad Fateh Ali, Baray Ghulam Ali (the only film he ever sang for was Mughal-e-Azam), all are from Lahore. Other famous musicians from Lahore who migrated later to Mumbai include Pundit Amarnath, Shyam Sunder, Gobind Ram, Lachi Ram and Dhanni Ram. More recently Lahore has given India Nusrat Fateh Ali, Sabri Brothers, Adnan Sami, Reshma, Mehdi Hassan, Abida Parveen, Tassawar Khanum, Atif Aslam, Ghulam Ali, Rahat Fateh Ali, Shafqat Amanat Ali---- their talent truly saturates Bollywood.

Another stream of Bollywood is also connected to Lahore, in this case intellectually, and that is the progressives. Sajjad Zaheer (father of Nadira Babbar), Jan Nisar Akhtar (father of lyricist Javed and grandfather of actor/director Farhan and director Zoya), Kaifi Azmi (father of Shabana), Majrooh Sultanpuri and so many others have a deep link to that city. Sahir Ludhianvi (Abdul Hayee) started his career in Lahore as a lyricist/poet, who later went on to become one of the biggest lyricist in Bollywood. Tanveer Naqvi was a noted lyricist of his times. He lived in Faqirkhana Museum inside Bhaati Gate. He wrote ‘Awaz Dey Kahan Hai’ and ‘Jaan-e-Baharan, Rashk-e-Chaman’.

Lahore also boosted box-office figures of Bollywood films with its large number of movie theaters where “House Full” sign was a usual sight, especially on Sundays and holidays. It was Lahore that encouraged women to throng the theaters for the first time where the Wednesday matinees were reserved for women in special “Ladies Only” shows in all theaters at half the normal rates. Lahore's love for Bollywood movies continues till date where while the Pakistani films have vanished from the cinema, the screening of Bollywood movies is again in full swing after a setback when Indian films were banned for sometime to help indigenous industry to pick up. Almost every cinema hall in the city including those located in the Northern Lahore and Walled City known for showing Punjabi movies, has switched over to either Indian or English films. The cinema-owners are going for the foreign flicks after the Pakistani films failed to attract viewers in a sizable number to sustain the cinema industry. Many of the Hindi films might have miserably failed to impress Indian audience but they seemed to have conquered Pakistan's historic city Lahore. No wonder today Lahore is fast becoming the Bollywood celebrities' top destination. They are all the time looking forward to crossing the Wagah border to promote their films and mingle with their most favorite film fraternity in Lahore. It is not only because they are well aware of the ages old Bollywood bonds with Lahore, but especially so because they have seen and felt how much Lahore loves Bollywood.