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, July 30, 2013

Happy Friendship Day!

Today, July 30, is observed as the International Day of Friendship. The Friendship Day was proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 2011 with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.

I like the friend who finds time for me in his calendar. But I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar.” - Swami Ameetananda
Often we find ourselves developing a special bond, a special relationship, which we commonly call “ best friends”. We enjoy each other's presence, we share joys and sorrows selflessly, we chat endlessly, we look forward to seeing each other's post of the day together on Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking we subscribe to, we are restless together when it is unduly delayed, worried when anyone is sick and pray together for his/her speedy recovery. Often we may hide a thing or two from our family who may be closer to us, but feel comfortable sharing with all whom we consider our true friends.

Friendship has been a popular formula for films because people can relate to it and often the returns on them exceed expectations. So, the filmmakers down the ages have adopted it as a risk-free and rewarding investment. Here is remembering my most favorite five films from Bollywood that are based on the theme of friendship:

Padosi (V. Shantaram, 1941): It is a moving film on the unfortunate antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims. The protagonists are two old friends and neighbors in a village, Mirza (Gajanan Jagirdar), a Muslim, and Thakur (Mazhar Khan), a Hindu. Then a city builder arrives, to acquire land in order to build a dam. Though the villagers resist his overtones in the beginning, their resolve is broken when he successfully incites one community against the other, ultimately separating the close neighbors two. In the climax of the film, a tour de force of technical ingenuity, the two die together holding each other's hand, when the dam is blown up. Espousing the cause of communal harmony, Padosi boldly emphasizes that people are not divided because of religious differences but because of power-play and profit making. Padosi remains one of the most celebrated social films ever.

Dosti (Tarachand Barjatiya, 1964): A marvellous movie from the house of Rajshri Productions, that touches heart and evokes emotions. Picture a scene where a blind boy, Mohan, is asking for help to cross but sadly nobody complies, so he decides to just cross by himself and is saved from being hurt in accident by Ramu, a boy with amputated legs. Thus, the two handicapped boys become friends for life. Rest of the story deals with the struggle of the two handicapped friends live a respectable life in the hard cold heartless world, each step increasing their bond of friendship. Each of them pursuing their dreams – Ramu to pursue education as promised to his mother and Mohan's to find his sister. What happens in between is the surge of emotions that come from deep within of the friends. The movie had its special moments when the two friends share their joy and pain. Apart from the story, music is the highlite of the movie. Luxmikant Pyarelal have churned out such beautiful songs that they are cherished even fifty years after the film was released: “Kaho manva dukh ki chinta kyon satati hai, dukh to apna saathi hai” and “Teri dosti mera pyar” have everlasting appeal. The movie is not just about friendship. It is also about love, respect and faith that come devoid of any selfishness, jealousy etc.. And more importantly it is also about determination and will. The film won six Filmfare awards.

Sholay (Ramesh Sippy, 1975): A legend and by far the most successful film of its time, which ran for five cosecutive years in a theater in Mumbai, Shole is often described as India's best known 'curry' western. It has all the ingredients of a Western - rugged countryside, bandits on horseback, fierce gun fight etc. But it has much more than that - an idealized love, ample measure of comedy and fast paced actions and an entire galaxy of stars - all the motifs and ingredients which make a Hindi film work. A key factor in this film is the villain, the cold-blooded killer, Gabbar Singh. Played by a new comer, Amjad Khan, Gabbar became and has remained a cult-figure as his popularity ensured the sale of everything from biscuits to belts to water bottles to jackets. By far the most popular character of the film, Gabbar's dialogues are remembered till today. Audio cassetes of the film containing the main dialogues were sold in millions, attesting to their immense popularity. Other highlights of the movie include the screen chemistry between Hema and Dharmendra, delightful camaraderie of Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan and the powerful performances by the rest of the star-cast. Shot in 77 mm with stereophonic sound, Sholay was the ultimate big screen experience and an immortal classic par excellence.

Dil Chahta Hai (Farhan Akhtar, 2001): It is based on a story of three fiends, who are three distinct characters, each having his own view of life, career and love. The film explores the ways in which the relation between this medley of characters develop, how well the three friends groove in with each other. The film has a very different music from Shankar Ehsan Loy trio in sync sound technique, which further enhances the performance of its cast. Over the years, the film has attained a cult status. It won the National Award for the best feature film in Hindi.

Rang De Basanti (Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, 2006): Director Mehra merges two plots in the film. The first is about a group of friends, their bonding, the carefree lifestyle they lead. The second plot pertains to the past, when the freedom fighters sacrifice their lives during the pre-independence era. Mehra draws parallels between Indians ruled by the British and Indians ruled by corrupt politicians today. The message is subtle at first, but echoes piercingly before it reaches its finale. The transition of the five friends from meaningless to meaningful existence is done brilliantly. A well made film, it caters more to the elite and the thinking viewers. The film did well at many of the Bollywood awards ceremonies, including a win for the best film at the Filmfare Awards.

On this International Day of Friendship, let us cultivate warm ties that strengthen our common humanity and promote the well-being of the human family.”
- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Happy Parents' Day!

Parents' Day is held on the fourth Sunday of July every year in the United States. It is apart from the Global Parents' Day, proclaimed by the U.N., that is observes on June 1 every year. This one was established in 1994 when President Bill Clinton signed a Congressional Resolution into law for “recognizing, uplifting and supporting the role of parents in rearing of children.” Parental figures in the U.S. Receive the recognition for the role they play in the lives of their children on Parents' Day. The day aims to promote responsible parenting and to recognize positive parental role models. Exemplary parents from each state are nominated for “National Parents of the Year”, and those selected are honored at local, state and national levels. For Parents' Day schools across the country invite parents into the classroom to experience firsthand what a school day is like for their child. From children's perspective, it is a special day for them to honor their mother and father. The best way to mark this day for them is to spend some enjoyable time with their parents and letting them know how much they are loved and appreciated. And, it's a time to celebrate the family structure and family values.

The cultural compulsions might have motivated the country to legislate a law for parenting, but to think of it, good parenting is a God given gift to all parents and universally they strive to do their best for their children. In Eastern cultures, particularly in India, parents take it as their sacred duty to raise their children and be responsible for their upbringing right from their birth to the time they are grown up and settled in life, and even beyond till they breath their last. For this they are ready to sacrifice all that they have for them – time, money and most importantly, emotional bondage in bringing them up. In this context, one cannot but time and again bring back to memory that most touching concluding scene and your overwhelmingly emotional speech of a parent in the film 'Baghbaan'.

Parents' Day particularly takes me long back in the memory lane of my growing up years in Lahore. My father was a very busy person, with hardly any time for us during the day. But his absence was well compensated by our mother's omnipresent company and great devotion every minute of our growing years. However, on his part in parenting us, our father made it a priority to be with the family at dinner time every day without fail. In fact, he had made it mandatory for everyone in the family to be together at the dinner table. Mealtime at night was a ritual in our family which must not be missed by anyone. Apart from the family members, anyone around the dinner table was family, most often a friend of one or the other sibling. Father would generally jump-start the family conversation by asking questions like, "What did you like most about your day?" or "What was the best part of your day?" He would suggest slow down and savor the food, not so much to inculcate a healthy habit, as to give more time to enjoy mealtime conversation before clean up began. Indeed, this used to be the best quality time for the family in a day, the important elements being family cohesion and family communication. The atmosphere was essentially kept fun-filled, non-confrontational and stress-free by focusing on fun topics. Interestingly, Sunday evenings were an exception to the rule when there were no mealtime family meetings. Every one was free to come at anytime, or even eat out. It was an evening off for the cook as well as for our mother from the kitchen duty. We looked forward to the weekly off to go to watch a movie or to freak out with friends. Parents would take the opportunity to make social calls on friends and relations. The basic idea was family flexibility.

With school holidays underway, our family's annual summer travel ritual began. The family would head for the hills, most of the time for Srinagar, Kashmir, where our uncle was settled. This was a great way for the family to have some of that special time together, and a great way to get away too. Whether it was around the dinner table, or enjoying our vacations on the hills, we really had a wonderful family-time together.

When the time for us came to devote quality time to our children, the times had changed. Amid the hits to families' budget in the new economic order, at-home moms were already marching to work, to make both ends meet. Although most parents felt hurting to their pride to talk about it, the economic downturn and ever increasing inflation was forcing many to defer dreams of striking a better work-life balance. Amongst working parents, we were slightly better placed, with my wife working less hours and having more holidays in her school job than most other women who worked 9-5 in offices. She would come back from work almost the same time our son returned from school, and could devote rest of the day to him, even though it was at times too tiring.

With my absolute belief that we as parents would greatly benefit from joining together and sharing the trials and tribulations of parenthood, supporting each other, learning form each other, and lending loving advice and helping hand, I sincerely strived to play my part as a husband who is helpful. Let me elaborate my role by relating to an amusing anecdote: Our son was still in his elementary school when he upset his teacher by being adamant on answering incorrectly, which as per his teacher, was a very simple question of social studies. After she had taught the class the basics of our daily life from a lesson in the book, wherein it was clearly stated that in the family, the father goes out to work and the mother does the household, she asked our son, “Who makes breakfast for you everyday?” To which he replied, “My father makes breakfast for me everyday.” And repeatedly gave the the same answer in spite of being corrected by the teacher. We had to explain to the teacher that this was the only truth he knew. While his mother went to work early in the morning, I fixed breakfast for him and tiffin for the school, saw him off when the school bus came, and then went to office.

Parenting in Indian culture particularly, is for parents to do their best for their daughters to find the most suitable match for settling in married life. They remain concerned and responsible and cannot have a good sound sleep till they give away their daughter of marriageable age in marriage. This is one concern they can never be free from even if their daughter is doing well in her career and the thought of marriage is not at all that important a thing in her mind as so many other work related worries. I know of an interesting example where the parents travelled all the way to the U.S., where the daughter is presently settled, to present her with several alternative offers of marriage. They did not know, nor could ever imagine that their daughter was living-in with her American boy friend for quite sometime. We knew because they were living in our neighborhood. Suddenly the couple pretended a split. Reason, her parents were to visit her on vacation, and she did not want to shock them with her live-in relationship. My wife and I came to know the parents while on our walks in the nearby park. Their only topic of talk was their daughter - “We are very concerned for her remaining single for the sake of her career; our only purpose of paying her this visit is to put pressure on her to get married and to present her with several suitable matches from India to chose from, but she has no time to even look at their photographs; she works very hard, working till wee hours at her work”, and so on. Poor parents, they remained worried for their daughter's wedding till their departure, not knowing she would be reunited with her live-in boy friend as soon as their flight took off.

All said, whatever the individual circumstances, there is no greater gift in the world than what parents give to children- all their time and attention and, of course, love.
I want some day to be able to love with the same intensity and unselfishness that parents love their children with.” - Shakira

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ever Lasting Joy!

Today is Nelson Mandela International Day. Every year on July 18, the day Nelson Mandela was born, the UN observes the day in recognition of Nelson Mandela's values and his dedication to the service of humanity. Even if you have made a difference in one person's life, you truly have followed the following quote from Nelson Mandela:
“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.”
You have practiced in life what Audrey Hepburn said on growing older:
“As you grow older you will discover you have two hands, one for helping yourself, other for helping others.”
Your one inspiring act sets an example for others. You cannot imagine how grateful this person must be for getting your timely help. And how equally happy you must have been to have helped him. Even one good deed done by us gives us so much joy. We have experienced such a joy with just one small help my wife gave to a little girl:

As Principal of a government school, my wife Inderjeet had been allotted official accommodation to which we had shifted recently. She observed that every day when she returned from work in the afternoon, a small girl started to cry from her window next door. She would wave to her smilingly to make her happy, but that did not help. When she saw that it had become a daily routine, she became curious and could not resist knocking at the neighbor's door. An elderly lady opened the door. She was the grandma of the girl, who would tie her leg to the bed so that the girl did not bother her while she was cooking. The girl's mother was a working woman who returned from work in the evening. Inderjeet offered to take her to our place and keep her there till the grandma was free from her kitchen work. The grandma was only too happy to accept the offer. Since that day, Sapna, the little girl, was our daily guest. Inderjeet would pick her up on her way back from work and keep her till her mother came back from work. It continued for days, months and years when Sapna had long passed the age when she needed to be tied to bed by her grandma. Inderjeet helped her get admission in the best school in the area, and she would still spend most of her after school time at our place. Now seven years old, Sapna had become an inseparable part of our family, till fate separated her and pulled her back to the period when as a cute toddler she would cry for Inderjeet's help to attain her freedom.

The year was 1984. Prime Minister Indra Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards belonging to the Sikh community. Fanatics amongst her followers avenged the assassination by killing thousands of Sikhs on the streets of Delhi. It was the most horrible happening in the history of Delhi. Life in Delhi limped back to normalcy in a couple of weeks, but deteriorated for our little guest from the next door. Sapna's parents stopped her from coming to our house because of Inderjeet's Sikh connection. They were scared that the Sikhs would now take revenge by killing the Hindus, and since Inderjeet was from a Sikh family, it was risky to leave Sapna with her when she was alone as she might also avenge the killings of her community by harming her. They also tried to brainwash their daughter into believing that it was no longer safe to go to our house or even meet or greet Inderjeet. The innocent seven year old girl did not get even a bit of what all they were talking about. This made Sapna sick, sick of her parents for preventing her to go to her dearest aunty's house, and physically sick too. Her condition kept on worsening and the doctor was worried and puzzled as no pills or injections were working on Sapna. We came to know about it from the doctor who lived in our neighborhood and knew about the bond Sapna had developed with Inderjeet during the last few years. On her advice, Inderjeet immediately went to see Sapna, in spite of her parents' strong objections. On hearing her voice, Sapna opened her eyes and greeted her with a broad smile. It was like a miracle. Her speedy recovery thereafter surprised the doctor. Her parents apologized and sought our forgiveness for the sake of Sapna's health.
Our little guest was once again a regular feature in our family – the source of everlasting joy in our life.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Greatest Villain Passes Away!

Pran, the iconic villain with golden heart, passed away today, Friday July 12.

Hindi cinema's legendary actor and last century's greatest villain, Pran started his career in films in pre-Partition Lahore. He 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. Dalsukh M. Pancholi, one of the well-known cinema producers of the time. Offered pran a role. A sceptical Pran promptly refused the offer – as an actor he would earn a meagre Rs. 50 a month while he was already making Rs. 200 at the photography studio.Later , though, he accepted on condition that he could continue work at the studio and doned greasepaint for the first time for “Yamla Jat”, where he played the villain. A spate of roles followed and not all of them as the bad man. In 1942 he played hero for the first time opposite Baby Noorjehan in “Khandaan”. He went on to play romantic lead in several films after that, Hindi as well as Punjabi.
Pran cut a romantic figure in real life as well. Always flawlessly turned out, complete with silk tie, handkerchief, he was easily recognized in Lahore, stylishly driving his tonga. Partition changed all that. Pran arrived in Mumbai in August 1947 with his young wife and infant son and little else. No job, no money and very few prospects. After several months of futile waits outside studio walls, he finally came full circle with “Ziddi” where he played the villain once again. After that, though, there was no looking back.

The 'Villain of the Century' had marathon six decades long career in Hindi cinema and was one of the most celebrated actors in the industry. After Ziddi (1948) became a super hit, he became the star attraction of hits (Apradhi, Badi Behen, Afsana, Bahar, Pehli Jhalak, Azad, Devdas, Kundan, Munimji, Chori Chori, Madhumati, Chhalia, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hei, Raaj Kumar, Ram Aur Shyam, Milan and so on). He worked extensively with the 'Trimurti' of the golden era, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raaj Kapoor and won several awards- Filmfare (1967, 1969, 1972, 1997), Stardust (Villain of the Millaneum-2000), Screen (Lifetime Achievement Award-2000), Zee TV (Lifetime Achievement Award-2000) and Government of India (Padmbhushan-2001). He was presented the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the Indian government's highest award for cinema, in May this year at his Mumbai home.

Pran is especially remembered for his supporting role in 1973's smash hit “Zanjeer”, which is also remembered as the launch pad for Amitabh Bachchan to superstardom as the 'angry youngman of Hindi cinema', . Pran went on to team with him in over a dozen films and no better tribute can be paid to him than what Big B wrote in his blog after visiting the ailing legend in hospital in November last year:
“A true professional, an earnest colleague, a gentleman and in possession of an elephant's memory of some of the most incredible 'shari' of the times gone by. Irrespective of the heavy makeup that he wore for most of his films – the heavy false beards and wigs interpreting various characters that he played – he was always the first on the set and never left it to get back to his room. He would sit quietly after the shot was over, in the heat of the studio, with gentle demeanor throughout the shift, leaving after the 'packup' sound. On outdoor scedules, he was a delight to spend time with – his daily evening drink and his numerous anecdotes and knowledge of Urdu poetry. This evening too he is filled with those numbers and at 92, God bless him, has not lost any of his sense of humor and humility.”

May his soul rest in peace!

Ramadan Mubarik!

I have been fascinated with Ramadan, or Ramzan as we call it in our country, the annual religious ritual of daylong fasting by the Muslims, right from the day I heard the word for the first time in early forties from Usman, a tonga man in Lahore.  My father had hired his tonga on daily basis for distribution of wedding cards of my eldest brother. It was the first wedding in the family and obviously the enthusiasm was beyond imagination. My immediate elder brother, super active sibling for any service in the family, was entrusted with the job in which I joined just for the joy ride on the tonga. We carried the cards, the packages containing 'kalakand', super tasty variety of sweetmeats made by professional chefs at our place and, of course, tiffin of tasty dishes made by our mother, for our lunch, more than enough for us and Usman. We started in right earnest with area-wise list of invitees, meticulously made by our elder sister, that truly served us as GPS in our tonga. It was when we stopped for lunch break at a beautiful spot and invited Usman to join us for lunch, I learned what Ramzan was all about. Requesting to be excused from joining us as he was observing Roza, the daylong fast for Ramazan. Seeing that we were still too young to understand what he was talking about, he explained at length like a teacher lecturing in the class:

“During the blessed month of Ramzan, we, devout Muslims, abstain from food and drink, even water, from sunrise to sunset. It is a time to purify ourselves, practice self sacrifice and pray to almighty Allah – God. We are to make peace with those who wronged us, make friends with our foes, strengthen ties with friends and family and do away with bad habits – essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts and our feelings towards others. During Ramzan every part of the body must be restrained – the tongue from back biting or using bad words, eyes from looking at dirty or obscene things and the ears from listening to idle talks. In such a way every part of the body observes fast. We believe whoever observes Roza sincerely out of faith, he attains Allah's rewards and all his past sins are forgiven.”

In the evening when we returned home after first day's distribution of cards, my brother gave Usman a packet of the sweets to serve him when he ends his fast for the day and I particularly thanked him for his Ramazan tutorial, which no teacher had taught me before. Fast forwarding to today's times, having moved to the U.S., living in San Francisco Bay Area, I was surprised to see our Muslim Moroccan friend, Mina, married to Greg, a White American, religiously and regularly observing Ramadan fast every year without missing even once in the last over ten years we have been close to her. This calls for big compliment to both of them, the Muslim wife holding on to her religious beliefs even after marriage to a Christian and also the husband, who not only doesn't mind his wife carrying on to practice her religious rituals but fully supports her religious freedom without any reservations whatsoever. In fact, they both believe that religious belief is one's very personal preference and must not be made to come in the way of the couple living a happy married life. They and, may be, many more such couples set an example for the rest to respect each other's religion and live a peaceful and happy life.

Remembering Usman's introduction to Ramzan, I wonder how relevant the teachings of Ramzan are in the context of brutal political conflicts around the world, particularly in Muslim majority countries, and what a blessing it would be for the innocent victims of such conflicts if Ramzan is observed in its true spirit and not merely as a Muslim religious ritual. I wish for permanent peace and happiness for everyone in the world while praying in this holy month of Ramzan or as they call it in the West, Ramadan and wish everyone Ramadan Mubarik.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

White Revolution of India

Today, Saturday July 6, 2013, is the International Day of Co-operatives. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Day is observed on the first Saturday of July each year. The day is of special significance for our country because it is commemorative of India's White Revolution of the sixties.
Operation flood, also referred to as “White Revolution”, was a gigantic project propounded by Government of India for developing dairy industry in the country. The United Nations has commended India's "White Revolution," saying a sharp increase in the production of milk has achieved twin goals of raising incomes of rural poor families and nutrition status of the people. The report forecasts that India's dairy production will triple by 2020. With government policies that facilitate rural credit and provide essential support services to promote milk production, the White Revolution will continue to play a significant role in reducing poverty and hunger. Gujarat-based Amul (Anand Milk Union Limited) was the engine behind the success of Operation Flood and in turn became the biggest company based on the cooperative approach. The story of Amul began with just two dairy cooperatives and 250 liters of milk per day. This led to the formation of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation which now has the capacity to collect and process over six million liters of milk a day. This milk is marketed as cheese, butter, yoghurt, ice-cream and chocolates under the brand-name ‘Amul’. Amul is Asia's largest dairy brand. Verghese Kurien (chairman of NDDB at that time), gave the professional management skills and necessary thrust to the cooperative, and is considered the architect of India's 'White Revolution'. His work has been recognized by the award of a Padma Bhushan, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Carnegie-Wateler World Peace Prize, and the World Food Prize. Success of dairy cooperatives make India the world's largest milk producer.

In many ways, Karnataka follows in the footsteps of Gujarat, which, under Verghese Kurien, put the country on course for the White Revolution. But Karnataka' story stands out because the state is less fortunate than Gujarat in industrial development and economic growth. Just 100 km from Bangalore, Kolar-Chikkaballapur remains untouched by the big city's industrial and corporate glitz. It has 2,919 villages, none of which has anything in the name of irrigation. Except rains, which are erratic. The region was declared drought-hit year after year. But, the 1,674 milk cooperatives in the area pick up no less than 925,000 litres every day. About 24,000 litres of this is consumed locally, and the rest sent to Bangalore, and places in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The dairies of Karnataka - there are 12,000 of them - defy the hardships to keep the wheels of the state's rural economy turning and have made Karnataka the second-largest milk producer among states after Gujarat.

Patna Sahib MP and film actor Shatrughan Sinha praised the success story of milk cooperative in Bihar under the brand name of Sudha while addressing the General Assembly of United Nations (UN) in New York at the session being held to mark 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. In capacity as Indian delegate, Sinha in his speech said that India's experience with cooperatives has been singularly successful. " Our national priority for poverty eradication, inclusive growth, women empowerment and promoting self-reliance underpins the fundamentals of the Indian cooperative movement. Milk cooperatives have been most successful in the dry parts of India, not the most ideal setting for dairy, making cooperative action even more noteworthy. A milk cooperative, Amul, is a household name in India with its products available throughout the length and breadth of the country. Milk cooperative under the brand name Sudha has contributed significantly to ensuring healthy, nutritive and affordable food to the people in Bihar," he said. Sinha thanked the UN for taking leadership to raise awareness about cooperatives as a progressive model of socio-economic advancement. Considering the role that cooperatives have played the world over in bringing about social change, rural development and raising economic productivity, this global recognition has been long overdue, he noted.
The International Day of Cooperatives, while drawing our attention to the internationally applauded White Revolution of India, also reminds of the beautiful Hindi film on the subject:
Manthan (Shyam Benegal, 1976): Manthan is an extraordinarily powerful and intense depiction of social change. Set against the backdrop of Gujarat's fledging dairy industry, Benegal addressed the viewer in a strict cinematic language. The earnest youngman (Girish Karnad), prodding the local farmers into resistance, finds them overcoming their fatalism and fear because first, that it is possible, and second, thatthere is direct and gettable economic benefit to be obtained by putting up this resistance. In the end the forces for change may be defeated but you see that the society is changing and sooner or later, the oppressed will fight their own battles. Half a million farmers in the state, each of whom contributed Rs. 2, raised the then princely sum of rupees one million to produce the film. They came in truckloads to see 'their film' once released, thereby making it extremely successful at the box-office. Is there a parallel for this anywhere in the world?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Fourth of July

Today is Fourth of July – Independence Day – a national holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. The day is commonly celebrated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, family reunions apart from political speeches and ceremonies. In San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, the scene is most lively at the waterfront where the city sets off fireworks in the evening. On this day, I would like to share with you some aspects of the American life which shows the positive side of the people here:

Home away from home!

The thing that moved us instantly on moving to USA was the pleasantness of its people. On our walks or at the work, on the street or in stores, we experienced it everywhere, every day. Friendship and hospitality are traits that can be readily found all across this land. The day starts with almost every one, who passes us on the pavement or the park, greeting us, some even stopping to talk to us. Once on our morning walk on the beach, we were pleasantly surprised when a person approached us to bless the chip that he was holding in his hand. He was participating in the lottery for permission to operate the weekend kiosk on the beach and believed that Indians were spiritually very powerful and he would surely win if we blessed him . He soon returned to thank us; he had won kiosk for the weekend. Very simple, sincere and warm people. They are a nation of immigrants. Their parents, grandparents or forefathers came from many nations. This makes them specially compassionate, caring and hospitable to foreign guests. Ask for assistance in finding some destination, the stern visage of the Americans melts instantly as their concern and compassion takes over. Once traveling in the city bus I requested the driver to announce when he approached a particular stop as I was new to the area. The driver not only remembered to announce the stop but also stopped the bus for a while to give me detailed directions to walk to my destination. At the workplace too, the atmosphere was absolutely tension-free that made life easy and enjoyable at work. I was astonished when my boss, the Regional Manager, asked me if I wanted coffee when she was going out to bring for herself (no peons for the job here!). No wonder, multitude of people kept coming from different countries, and felt at home here amidst the friendliest people on the planet.

“Pahle aap, pehle aap”!

The second thing that attracted our attention was America's national love affair with cars that has been going strong for over 100 years; nearly as long as there have been cars at all. In the last sixty years, they have built such a great network of roads and service stations and restaurants that whenever you feel like it, you can get into your car and drive and drive and drive and ... Anything they want to do, anywhere they want to go, they have to get into the car. Their life seems regulated by stripes marking the parking places. Every adult seemed to own a car, some more than one. Most youngsters get a car as present from parents on completing 16 years, the prescribed age for procuring a driving license. There are 220m cars in a country of 290m people. America's obsession with the car goes so deep it is reflected in virtually every facet of socio-economic life. Back home in India car was a barometer of a man's richness, whereas in the U.S. we were surprised to see even the lowest on the economic ladder commuting in their cars. The newspaperman delivered the paper while driving, the mailman came with the mail in his official van, and the part-time gardner got out of his truck that carried all his garden tools and so did the weekly domestic help to do the cleaning job. The most amazing, also the most amusing sight was a procession of the homeless demanding subsidized homes, most of them in their cars with bold stickers or banners - “How long can we live in our cars?” The most cheering aspect of all their love for cars is that they never ever fail to respect the pedestrians' right to cross first. At times when persons like us, who are not used to such a right back home, want to wait and let the car cross first, inadvertently recreate the proverbial “Pehle aap, pehle aap” scene of the Lucknow railway station, as the driver would keep signaling to the pedestrian to cross first.

Age before beauty!

The third and most heartening thing for us was to see the respect for senior citizens that we experienced in every walk of life. The first time it attracted our attention when we went to watch a movie with our son and daughter-in-law. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were charged half the price for our tickets of what our son and his wife paid. Senior citizens are given many advantages in American communities and by the American market. These include significant discounts on anything from travel to movies to bus-fare to consumer goods. Some establishments give out senior citizens cards which allow discounts all the time. Many stores, hotels, restaurants, theaters and other establishments do give senior citizen discounts, but do not advertise or publicize them widely. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), open to anyone over 50, offers its members a wide variety of discounts on travel, auto rental, insurance, and anything else sold in the United States. Community help for senior citizens can range from help preparing tax returns to free hot meals for the homebound. Many communities have "Senior Citizen Center" that allows for socializing, entertainment, job search and other kinds of assistance. To top all the above advantages, the U.S. workers become eligible at the age of 65 years to retire with full social security benefits and all citizens at this age are eligible for supplemental social income and free medical insurance under Medicare. In their everyday life too, people show great respect to seniors and put them ahead of themselves. An interesting example was when at a function I tried to let my boss go ahead of me at the entrance, but she insisted I go first - “age before beauty!” - she said in her own inimical style.
    Cool at work!
    I joined the retail management team of a reputed chain that dealt in high-end luggage and travel accessories. It was my first exposure to the working environment in the U.S. and I was thrilled by the experience. The place looked like the showpiece of the country, the melting pot, where immigrants of varied nationalities and cultures blended beautifully. Our sales team comprised of the stores manager, of Moroccan origin, three Russian girls, a Mexican, a Phillipine, a Korean, an African American, a White American and the boss, the Regional Manager, an American lady. The atmosphere at the store, though very professional with dress code and other regulations strictly enforced, was the coolest I have ever seen in my career. The boss took the initiative to make the environment very pleasant with her humor and 'take it easy' policy. Interestingly, on my first day at work when I addressed my boss as Madam, as accustomed to do back home, she at once corrected me, asking me to address her by her first name only, no Madam or Miss before it. Indeed, the life was never so easy and enjoyable at work.