Panaji: Petrol in Goa will cost nearly ₹64.50 per litre from Saturday, following the increase in VAT in the State budget.The VAT on petrol has been increased to 15%.While tabling the Budget recently, after forming a BJP-led State government, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar justified the hike by saying that petrol prices in Goa will be below ₹65 per litre, “one of the lowest in the country.” Mr. Parrikar had brought petrol prices down to below ₹60 per litre in 2012, following his promise to scrap VAT on petrol in the run up to the then Assembly polls.
The Centre’s move to appoint an interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir on Monday was welcomed by all mainstream political parties in the Valley, but separatists remained muted to the dialogue offer “awaiting a formal invitation.”Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose party pledged to initiate a dialogue with the Hurriyat under the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ agreed to by the BJP, said: “A political process was necessary. I hope stakeholders in Kashmir take up the opportunity, move a step ahead and enter the dialogue process. It is open to all with no conditions on any side.”Also Read Ex-IB chief to initiate talks with all J&K stakeholders “The representative (former IB director Dineshwar Sharma) has credibility and was involved in the dialogue process in the North-East for a long time,” Ms. Mufti said.Welcoming the initiative, former Chief Minister and National Conference working president Omar Abdullah said, “The acceptance of the political nature of the Kashmir issue is a resounding defeat for those who could only see use of force as a solution.”Congress unimpressedJ&K Pradesh Congress Committee president G.A. Mir said his party “won’t welcome the move until the Centre names the stakeholders and makes the road map for dialogue public.” Parties like the CPI (M), the Peoples Democratic Front and the Democratic Party Nationalist welcomed the move.Sources in the separatist camp said there would be “a joint stand” and “a formal response” to the Centre’s move. “…However, neither has there been any formal invite nor a move in this direction so far. No one knows the contours,” a separatist leader told The Hindu.
The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Tripura has urged the Election Commission to hold the Assembly elections in early February. The party made the demand in a memorandum placed before Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, who was leading a four-member team to the State to oversee poll preparations.The main Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in its submission to the team, did not press for a specific time for elections but requested the Commission to ensure an extensive revision of the electoral rolls to delete bogus voters. The term of the present Assembly will expire in February next.
The Enforcement Directorate on Saturday recorded the statement of former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi in connection with the Railway hotels’ maintenance contract corruption case.“Ms. Rabri Devi appeared before the investigation team in Patna, in response to the summons. Her statement was recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act,” said an official. The agency had earlier issued multiple summonses asking her to join the probe in Delhi, but she did not turn up.The ED had also summoned her son Tejaswi Yadav twice and recorded his statement.“Their statements have been recorded as they had taken over a company through which about a three-acre commercial property was acquired from Patna-based firm, Sujata Hotels. The firm got contracts for the maintenance of two Railway hotels in Puri and Ranchi when RJD chief Lalu Prasad was the Railway Minister,” said the official.The money laundering probe is based on an FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation against Mr. Prasad, Ms. Rabri Devi, Mr. Tejaswi Prasad and others in July.The agency has alleged that the contracts to Sujata Hotels were awarded in 2006, in lieu of the three-acre land that was acquired through a front company, Delight Marketing Company. Accused Sarla Gupta, wife of Mr. Prasad’s close associate Prem Chand Gupta, was a director in that company.According to the CBI, by 2014, Delight Marketing’s shares were taken over completely by Mr. Prasad’s family members for just ₹64 lakh, against the circle rate of ₹32.5 crore for the property and market value of ₹94 crore. The company’s name was later changed to Lara Projects and then turned into a limited liability partnership firm.
After ‘yoga’ and ‘Nouroz’, Kumbh Mela/ KumbhMela, the largest congregation of pilgrims on the planet, has been listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage under UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). The Ministry of External Affairs said the inscription of ‘Kumbh Mela’ in the list was undertaken following recommendation by an expert body which examines nominations submitted by member countries of the UNESCO.“The Intergovernment Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage under UNESCO has inscribed ‘Kumbh Mela’ on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its 12th session held at Jeju, South Korea from 4-9 December 2017. This inscription is the third in two years following the inscriptions of ‘Yoga’ and ‘Norouz’ on 1st December 2016,” said the Ministry of External Affairs in a press statement.The Kumbh Mela is held in Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nashik.
Holi and Dola Purnima celebrations in rural areas of Ganjam district in Odisha provide a platform for folk dancers and theatre troupes to showcase their talents.According to Bighneswar Sahu, convener of Odisha Folk Foundation (OFF), the week-long celebrations keep folk traditions alive. At Badakusasthali, the celebrations are part of a biennial folk festival started 136 years ago. Every night during the festival, the deities from the Radha-Krishna temple are taken out for a procession.Troupes of Bharat Lila, Krushna Lila, Daskathia, Ghudki, Gahana, Radha Prem Lila, Prahlad Natak, Jodi Sankha, Parava dance and Bagha Mukha dance are now camping at Badakusasthali. All families in this village have at least a folk dancer or are patrons of folk art forms, said G. Krishna Reddy, a performer himself. Performers enjoy entertaining the audiences here because they do not have time limits, unlike in government-sponsored shows, said Mr. Sahu. Some performances go beyond two nights.
The J&K High Court on Thursday ordered an investigation against two officials in a case of illegal confinement and rape of a 15-year-old girl at R.S. Pura in Jammu in August.A prosecuting officer and an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) will face the investigation.“The prosecuting officer and the ASI in-charge of the R.S. Pura police station have suppressed a material fact in the report submitted to the court. They have not stated anywhere in the report that the victim, in her statement, had recorded that the accused compelled her to submit herself to the sexual lust and desire of three persons, who forcibly raped her for a long time,” held Justices M.K. Hanjura and Dhiraj Singh Thakur.Justice Hanjura directed the Director-General of Police, J&K, to conduct an inquiry into the role of the officers and submit a report within four weeks.The victim left school at 1.30 p.m. for home on August 22. A vehicle with eight or nine passengers stopped her. “One of them was wielding a gun. They dashed her schoolbag onto the ground and forcibly pushed her into the vehicle. She was put up in a shed in a forest area,” according to the investigation reports. The probe suggests the victim was forced to marry one of the accused. Forced statementIt is alleged that on September 11, 2017, she was forced to make a statement before the court that she was in love with one of the accused and wanted to marry him. “However, in the court, she narrated the entire episode to the presiding officer. She said she did not want to marry the accused and was brought to the court to make a false statement,” said the report.
A baby girl weighing just 520 gm has become the tiniest in South Asia to survive a major abdominal surgery. The girl, born premature at 26 weeks of pregnancy, was operated upon as 12-day-old in Udaipur following progressive distension of her abdomen because of which she was unable to get the milk feed. The surgery entails a very high mortality ranging between 60% and 80% and the chances of survival were less than 10% in the Udaipur case.The baby, Jhanvi, was born in February this year to Umesh and Madanlal Arya, hailing from Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri district. She was conceived after 29 years of marriage by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) technique. Paediatric surgeon Praveen Jhanwar and his team carried out the emergency abdominal surgery under general anaesthesia which lasted one-and-a-half hours. The post-operative course was like a rollercoaster. There were several hurdles, infections and blood transfusions along the way and regular screening of heart and brain was performed to rule out any bleeding in brain.Dr. Janged said Jhanvi’s weight was now close to 2,110 gm and that her progress and clinical course in the neonatal intensive care unit was satisfactory.
Already under pressure to submit its report on its assessment of the possibility of reservation in jobs and education for the Maratha community, the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission will now have to deal with the 1.9 lakh suggestions and objections. The eight-member panel is, officials said, is wondering how to go through them, given the deadline for submitting its report is November 15. It has already appointed officials, experts and think-tanks to complete collection of data and surveys, but the submissions from the public were unexpectedly numerous. Dinesh Waghmare, Secretary, Social Justice and Special Assistance Department, said, “We’ve asked them to hurry, but obviously the number of submissions is large. It will take time to determine how many of these are for and how many are against reservation for Marathas. The government is doing its best to assist the commission with the scrutiny.” Senior officials said a time-bound programme has already been submitted to the leaders of the community.
An irate mob, comprising mostly women from the neighbouring Sweepers’ Colony, allegedly ransacked and burnt a country liquor shop located in Ward No. 17 of Choudwar Municipality, about 15 km from here, on Saturday morning. The mob reportedly went berserk after finding the body of a local youth lying in a pool of blood near a canal, five km away from the liquor shop. The police said a man named Ashok Naik (30) and his acquaintance from the colony had gone to the liquor joint on Friday evening. When Ashok did not return home late in the night, his family members searched for him. His body was found lying near the Dhumabati canal. Believing that Ashok’s murder had something to do with the liquor shop, the colony residents rushed to it and set it on fire after ransacking it. The police said a murder case has been registered and investigations are on.Another body found In another incident, the Mangalabag police of the city retrieved the body of another youth lying in a pool of blood near the tuberculosis ward of the SCB Medical College and Hospital on Saturday morning. The police had suspected it to be a murder case after seeing a liquor bottle and some belongings strewn near the body. However, an autopsy led doctors to believe that it was a case of suicide.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga said on Thursday that the ruling Mizo National Front would not hesitate to snap ties with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is not revoked. Addressing MNF workers at Aibawk village near here, Mr. Zoramthanga said that the party and his government had been making all-out efforts to ensure the defeat of the bill.“The ruling party would withdraw its support to the NDA if situation arises,” he said. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8, seeks to grant Indian nationality to non-Muslims who fled religious persecution from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and entered India before December 31, 2014.“The state cabinet adopted a resolution opposing the proposed legislation and I have met both the prime minister and the Union Home minister to inform them about our opposition to the legislation,” the MNF chief said. The party would be at the forefront of the movement against the proposed bill, Mr. Zoramthanga asserted.“The bill should not be enacted as it does not value the historic Mizo accord signed between India and the erstwhile underground MNF in 1986,” he added. The Mizo National Front was formed in 1950s to protest against the inaction of the central government towards the famine situation in the Mizo areas of Assam. Following years of underground activities, it signed the Mizoram Accord with the Union government in 1986, renouncing violence. The party cruised to an absolute majority last year, winning 26 of the 40 seats in the Mizoram Assembly.
Two persons were killed when their truck was hit by a landslip in this hilly district of Jammu and Kashmir, police said Saturday. The truck was on its way from Thathri to Gandoh and the accident occurred at Piykul Kara, 37 km from here, Friday night, a police official said.He said the landslide hit the vehicle, burying alive two of its occupants – driver Shahzad Hussain (27) of Bhadarwah and conductor Arif Hussain (22) of Kishtwar district.While the driver’s body was retrieved from the spot around 3 am, the other body was recovered around 7 am, the official said, adding that both the bodies were shifted to a trauma centre Thathri for completion of formalities.
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Those who had shifted to Dubai a decade ago now having difficulty to sustain their families as oil prices take a plunge in the international market. “Education here is expensive. I have two daughters and one of them goes to kindergarten now. My wife had a job too but since we had two children, juggling between work and family became challenging in the absence of a domestic help, which does not come cheap here unlike in India,” says Sahil, a retail employee from Aligarh who went to Dubai eight years ago.Read it at Siasat Related Items
The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) have decided on Saturday to grant visas to 10,000 Sikhs from India, so that they can participate in the 550th birthday celebrations of Guru Nanak.Pakistani officials have given a green signal to the largest representatives of Sikhs, the Shiromani committee, and other small groups to take part in the celebrations.Read it at Tribune Related Items
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The Indian government has proposed new rules aiming to stop the spread of fake news and misinformation in the country on social media — and local civil liberties groups aren’t happy. Late last month, the Internet Freedom Foundation penned a statement saying that these new rules would act as a “sledgehammer to online free speech.”Read it at The Verge Related Items
There is a remarkable scene in Nikhil Advani’s film Kal Ho Na Ho (2003), in which Aman (the lead actor Shah Rukh Khan) tells Jennifer (Jaya Bhaduri), playing the role of an Indian restaurateur in New York, who is losing business to her competitor, a Chinese restaurant: “Look at the Chinese restaurant across the road. Why are they successful? The Chinese are successful because they carry their culture with themselves wherever they go.” Soon, the star-spangled American flag is replaced by a tiranga (India’s national flag), the interiors of the failing Indian restaurant are revamped, and lo and behold, business picks up in no time. It is not surprising the Shah Rukh Khan’s rise as India’s international matinee idol has been concurrent with India’s post-liberalization economic boom. I was reminded of this scene when I read the recent remarks of Hong Kong star Jackie Chan: “Asians should unite against American cinema.” The report came from Mumbai, India’s film capital, where Jackie was promoting his latest film, The Myth, co-starring Indian actress Mallika Sherawat. The report exhorted Asians: “Unite against U.S. movies, you have nothing to lose but your culture.” Hollywood movies are eroding the culture of Asian countries, Chan reportedly told The Times of India. He asked why did we need to ape American culture. “I see an Indian saying, ‘Yo Man!,’ but that’s not what Asians are about. Cinema reflects culture and there is no harm in adapting technology, but not at the cost of losing your originality,” he said.This morsel of moralizing, especially coming from an actor who had starred and benefited from Hollywood blockbusters (Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights, Rush Hour I & II, The Medallion, Around the World in 80 Days) in the recent years, may sound just a little odd. Not that Chan can be accused of compromising Asian values in his Hollywood avatars. Interestingly, Chan is not alone to harp on the changing mores of Asian societies, especially under the influence of the Hollywood movie machine. Iranian auteur Abbas Kiorastami, the jury chairman at this year’s Pusan International Film Festival, voiced a similar concern at a press gathering in South Korea: “You can see the trend for films all over the world to become more and more similar.”Kiorastami, Iranian filmmaker par excellence, exhorted Asian filmmakers to make films that reflected different cultures, and not just blindly copying the Hollywood formula films for commercial gain. “Asian filmmakers now are forgetting their cultural identities and becoming too Americanized,” he added.“I want Asian films,” the 65-year-old filmmaker said, “to be Asian. It’s important to express your own ideas. It’s sad that films are becoming so commercial and so similar.”They are most concerned by Americanization of Asian films. One may agree or disagree with Chan and Kiorastami, but their stand begs an exploration of the two value systems (of the East and the West), and whether this dichotomy of values could still hold water in these rapidly globalizing times.So, what are the Asian values? The major Asian values, in the words of Singaporean scholar Kishore Mahbubani (Can Asians Think? 2004), are: “attachment to the family as an institution, deference to societal interests, thrift, conservatism in social mores, and respect for authority.” On the other hand, the strength of the Western values are: “the emphasis on individual achievement, political and economic freedom, respect for the rule of law as well as for key national institutions.” SHEKHAR KAPUR: “There is a profound cultural difference between Asian philosophies and western philosophies: eastern storytelling is mythic, and western storytelling is less so.” But values, Eastern or Western, cannot be discussed without a reference to the socio-economic conditions of a society. Historically speaking, the world has been dominated by the Western civilization for the past two centuries. The West’s technological innovations and economic power first colonized and then mesmerized Asians. Until a few decades ago, every Asian desired to go to London or New York where the streets were paved with gold. Then came the Asian economic miracle. First Japan, then the South East Asian tigers (Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong), and now China and India. Despite some hiccups, the economic success of these Asian countries have reawakened the dream of an Asian century. And cinema, a tool in the hands of dream merchants for the projection of the masses’ conscious and unconscious desires on the larger than life screen – originally a Western invention – assumes a greater role in defining the zeitgeist of an era. And therein lies the irony. As J. M. Roberts noted in his 1985 work, The Triumph of the West: “Here lies the deepest irony of post-Western history: it is so often in the name of Western values that the West is rejected and it is always with its skills and tools that its grasp is shaken off.”The desire for the reassertion of the Asian values, expressed by filmmakers like Chan and Kiorastami, represent a complex set of motives and aspirations. It reflects a deep-rooted desire to reconnect with their historical past. This connection had been ruptured both by colonial rule and by the subsequent domination of the world by a Western worldview. The recent Asian successes – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The House of Flying Daggers, The Myth, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Lagaan, Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Kal Ho Na Ho, just to name a few – corroborate this view. These films either hark back to a past that does not exist anymore or they are cinematic essays trying to find the right balance in the current state of affairs – for a generation that is open to the “flat world” of a technologically interconnected universe, immigration and yet rooted in and conscious of the cultures of their ancestors. Remember the England-returned bhajan singing Rani Mukherjee in Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai (1998)?In the Nasreen Munni Kabir-helmed documentary film, The Inner and Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan (2005), the Indian superstar’s legions of fans, in UK, US, and Canada, mostly immigrant Indians, are shown idolizing him because he seems to represent the best of Indian culture with the modern day élan of a cool, resurgent India. Some fans say that his films are strong in family values. His films, they said, give them what most American films cannot. “He could play a brother, a friend, a lover, and a husband with equal charm,” says one of his American female fans in the film. It is not surprising the Shah Rukh Khan’s rise as India’s international matinee idol has been concurrent with India’s post-liberalization economic boom. JACKIE CHAN: “I see an Indian saying, ‘Yo Man!,’ but that’s not what Asians are about. Cinema reflects culture and there is no harm in adapting technology, but not at the cost of losing your originality.” The concerns expressed by Chan and Kiorastami are especially relevant to Asian filmmakers who are trying to blaze a new trail, overwhelmed by the gloss and sassiness of Hollywood’s flicks. Getting carried away a little, that’s when things go wrong with a Sanjay Gupta’s Kaante (2002; based on Reservoir Dogs) or a Jingle Ma’s Seoul Raiders (2005).In November this year, when Shekhar Kapur was in Singapore, he said that Singapore had the potential to become the next Hollywood. By this, I am sure, he meant that Singapore had the necessary wherewithal – the money, the infrastructure, a talented multilingual and multicultural pool of creative people – to emerge as the next Hollywood, and not as a place to facilitate a Hollywood-like standardization as a creative goal. Asian creativity has to spin its own kind of storytelling. Kapur had written in 2002: “There is a profound cultural difference between Asian philosophies and western philosophies: eastern storytelling is mythic, and western storytelling is less so.”The key question, therefore, is whether Asian filmmakers will be able to develop the right blend of values that will both preserve some of the traditional strengths of Asian values with the strengths of Western values. Therein lies the challenge. Asian Values: Loosening Up?In early December 2005, when the Crazy Horse Paris started its shows in Singapore, a topless dance revue, it attracted a lot of criticism in the media. Letter writers and commentators accused the show “of exploiting women, being chauvinistic, archaic, outdated, immoral, sleazy, a threat to marriages and a poor example to children.”“Soft porn has finally landed here…officially,” said a Singaporean blogger. Commenting on these reactions, humor writer Neil Humphreys quipped: “I am sure it also contributes to global warming and the hole in the ozone layer.”Questions were being asked: Is Crazy Horse Paris a step forward or a step backwards for Singapore?At the heart of this controversy is the debate over “Asian values.” Since the rise of the Asia’s tiger economies (Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) in the last quarter of the twentieth century, the “Asian values” debate has been centre-stage. The main thesis of Asian values is the appealing notion that Asians sacrificed individual aspirations for the greater good of society. Historically, the unusual economic growth experienced within East Asian countries pushed the socio-political structures of these countries under the spotlight. The success of these countries as well the economic awakening of giants like China and India, coupled with the friction that has resulted over “trade protectionism, economic conditionality, democracy and human rights” have made the “Asian values” debate political. “Asian values’ is a fundamentally racist term,” says Fulbright scholar Ravi Veloo, managing director of Media Campus, Singapore. “Riding on rising Asian economic power the way a parasite rides on a healthy host, infects the Asian mind with a sense of false psychological well-being by looking at the former colonial masters in a negative light, and presenting good values as ‘Asian,’ ignoring the rest of the world where such values are embraced. I am embarrassed for those who use this term,” he adds.Veloo is referring to the idea of “Asian values” invariably being seen in the context of an East-West dichotomy, where “Asian values” celebrate the community over individualism, the family, frugality, respect for learning, hard work, public duty, teamwork, in contrast to the perceived breakdown of the family, decadence, hedonism, excessive individualism, lack of teamwork, fecklessness, and ill discipline in the West. “One commonly cited example of Asian values is close-knit families,” says Veloo. “But what about African and Latin American societies where families are also closely knit. Are they Asian societies?” he asks. He is also not comfortable with the allegation that the West is inherently morally debased. “Another common derisory example of Western values is the overt sexuality of westerners, as if India did not invent the Kama Sutra,” he says. He adds: “We also ignore the fact that large conservative groups of Americans make up the Bible belt who reject the so-called Hollywood values. By the way, no church in the world puts up sexually suggestive figures in places of worship, unlike certain Asian places of worship.”Finally, he asks, “In which part of the world is AIDS, transmitted primarily by sex, the biggest rising problem? How could this even happen in one of the homes of ‘Asian values’?” The debate has taken political ocvertones with leaders such as Mahathir bin Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, exhorting for a renaissance of “Asian values,” in concert with their economic rise,, in contrast to the socially and economically deteriorating Western societies.“The Asian values debate was something Lee Kuan Yew, forced into the public domain in the 1980s,” says P.N. Balji, former editor of Today and The New Paper. “He framed the debate with Chinese philosopher Confucius as the pillar. Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s main fear was the loss of respect for elders (read the authorities) as the onslaught of Western values through Hollywood movies and American lifestyle gained prominence.”After the Asian financial crisis and the new wave of globalization aided by information technology, says Balji, “the preaching of values disappeared. Today, Singapore is even more plugged into the Western world than ever before. Differentiating between eastern and western values makes no economic sense. Singapore realizes that too, like many other ideological debates here, has been dumped into the dustbin of politics.”Ameerali Abdeali, a bureaucrat and community leader in Singapore, says: “Both Western and Eastern cultures have been influenced by historical events and media exposure. Values are a subset of these cultures. Western and Asian values may differ considerably, for example, values such as filial piety and discipline are associated with Eastern culture and materialism and individualism are largely regarded as Western value. However, it would be misleading to suggest that one set of values is inherently superior to the other. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. So I am not for the outright rejection of one value system over the other.”Crazy Horse Paris seems to be playing pretty well as Singaporeans loosen up.Singapore authorities hope the Crazy Horse Paris topless cabaret, which debuted in December, will help shake off the country’s staid image for tourists. Related Items
The brilliant green eyes of the Goddess Parvati are startlingly beautiful; the goddess Lakshmi, with very South American features and stylish dress, stands on a lotus, her arms extended. And the mighty God Vishnu? He is powerful – and female. The images are the creation of the fevered imagination of Roberto Custodio, a Brazilian artist who has never visited India – except in his dreams. But he believes he’s walked the land, in a past birth.“When I was a teenager I saw a postcard with an image of Krishna,” says Custodio. “His kindness and light fascinated me. Since then I started to read everything that I could about Hinduism. The Indian classical music is for me the most complete translation of the superior spheres.”Custodio, whose series of Hindu gods and goddesses is created painstakingly through intricate collages of cutup magazine material, showed his work in the United States at the Peter Louis Gallery in Manhattan. He lives and works in Brazil, but has this inexplicable connection with India. He feels linked enough to it to interpret the gods and goddesses through his own eyes. He says, “I don’t follow any particular religion, but Hinduism and the people from India touch my soul as if I have really lived there in a past life.”Indeed, what is it about India that touches the soul of all those who step on its soil, from President Bill Clinton to Bill and Melinda Gates to Debra Winger and George Harrison? Legions of rock stars and celebrities, writers and artists, not to mention truth seekers and dreamers and peace corps workers have searched India for varied things and almost always found what they were yearning for. Clinton in Gujrat after the 2001 earthquake. It turned out to be one of Clinton’s defining tasks after leaving the presidency and shaped his subsequent ex president public persona as an advocate for disaster relief on an international scale, from Katrina to the Tsunami, much as Habitat for Humanity and world peace efforts came to define former President Jimmy Carter Unlike the invaders and colonizers of past centuries, these new travelers come sword-less and in peace. They come not to conquer, but to be conquered by a land that is thousands of years old, wise and all knowing, and yet as new and vibrant as a babe. The seekers come for redemption and for renewal, for rest and for recreation, to outsource, to find new markets, to search for new fabrics and for new inspiration. And sometimes, they come to solve the world’s problems, because India is a fertile experimental lab: it is so huge and its population so vast that if there is a problem anywhere in the world, it’s bound to echo in India.Take President Bill Clinton, for whom it seems to have been love at first sight with the people and places of India. Who can forget that image of Clinton being showered with rose petals in a traditional ceremony by smiling village women in Naila? It captured the exuberance of Indian welcomes and the joy of those on the receiving end. As recently as this year Clinton’s been to Goa, which he just loved.While Clinton has been a wonderful tourist – bestowing that famous charismatic smile as he rode on an elephant, traveled with daughter Chelsea to the Taj Mahal and gave his gourmet stamp of approval on the finger licking cuisine of Bukhara at the Maurya Sheraton – he also has developed a deep commitment to India and his work there has had far-reaching consequences. Roberto Custodio, a Brazilian artist who has never visited India-except in his dreams. He feels linked enough to it to interpret the gods and goddesses through his own eyes: “I don’t follow any particular religion, but Hinduism and the people from India touch my soul as if I have really lived there in a past life.” Of particular import to Indian Americans, Clinton was the principal mover behind the American India Foundation (AIF), which he helped jumpstart. Today the organization, headed by some of the most powerful NRIs, is a leading international development organization working toward accelerating social and economic change in India. By mobilizing people and resources across the United States, AIF has raised over $30 million since its inception in 2001. It awards grants for education, livelihood and public health projects in India, especially elementary education, women’s empowerment and HIV/AIDS.“The starting point was when President Clinton left the White House on January 21, 2001 and the earthquake in Gujarat happened on the 26th,” recalls Pradeep Kashyap, executive director of AIF. “Clinton had struck up a personal rapport with Prime Minister Vajpayee and asked him how he could help. Vajpayee asked him to connect with the Indian American community and be a catalyst in pulling them together so that they could help in the reconstruction work which was going to be long-drawn.”It turned out to be one of Clinton’s defining tasks after leaving the presidency and shaped his subsequent ex president public persona as an advocate for disaster relief on an international scale, from Katrina to the Tsunami, much as Habitat for Humanity and world peace efforts came to define former president Jimmy Carter.Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, visit a Sikh Temple in Anandpur Sahib.Clinton made a number of calls, the culmination of which was a lunch that Citibank CEO Victor Menezes hosted at Citibank for senior level Indian Americans from New York and Silicon Valley. Clinton made a pitch for bringing a focus to the fundraising for the rehabilitation work and urged Indian Americans to take a leadership role. He made a personal commitment to the fundraising effort and several high profile events followed, including one in Silicon Valley that raised over $3 million.Major Indian American players, the crème de la crème of Silicon Valley, heeded Clinton’s call and came together. Subsequently, AIF was formed to channel the funds to Gujarat, with Menezes and McKinsey Managing Director Rajat Gupta as co-chairs and President Clinton as honorary chairman. Several other major fundraisers followed, including one at the Regency Hotel on Wall Street, where Clinton spoke eloquently and animatedly mixed with the 1,000-plus crowd to raise awareness for the Gujarat earthquake.Clinton rallied powerful Indian Americans from Vinod Dham, a key architect of the pentium processor and Vinod Khosla, one of the country’s leading venture capitalists, to Lata Krishnan, co-founder of SMART Modular Technologies.“I remember President Clinton was quite involved and he remains committed besides the work he does for global initiatives and his foundation,” says Kashyap. “He is still the honorary chairman and still does a lot of letter writing on the behalf of AIF. We do a bi-weekly report to his office.”Joshua Greene’s son, an airline pilot, was married in a Hindu ceremony in the courtyard of the Radha Damodar Temple in Vrindaban to an Indian woman he had met over the Internet, and they have a Krishna shrine in their home in Savannah, GaThe silver Ganesha he keeps on his desk symbolizes Clinton’s closeness to India. Says Kashyap: “I visited his office many times and I remember I teased him, ‘So President Clinton, you got the Ganesha out because all the Indians were coming?’ He laughed, ‘Oh, no, don’t say that! I have it all the time.’ And sure enough, I must have visited his office probably 3-4 times, the Ganesha was always there. He said to me, ‘Look, this is the Lord of Wisdom. I have it all the time!’” As AIF continues to grow and evolve, Kashyap says Clinton has been a catalyst: “Without a doubt, we would not have the credible platform that we have today were it not for President Clinton’s personal involvement in cheering and pushing us to getting where we are.”While Clinton’s visits to India have been high profile, major events, the visits of countless other Indophiles occur quietly, on the backroads and byways of an India that even many Indians rarely see. Debra Winger, the noted actress of such films as An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment has been smitten badly by India. “My first trip to India was in January of this year, but it was the culmination of a lot of events. I had the ticket to India in my hands twice in my life so you can imagine that finally being able to go was quite an event for me,” says Winger.What attracted her to India? “I had wanted to go since I was a teenager. In the late 1960s in Los Angeles, the Indian culture was coming so big into our lives, because we were learning about Eastern philosophy, we were learning about yoga, we were changing our diets, and so many of us were becoming vegetarian. There were so many influences, as you know, from the clothes we were wearing to the incense we were burning. Everything seemed to be from India.“It was a big influence on our generation at that time. A lot of people were turning spiritually to India to make some sense out of things. What we were being handed to us wasn’t working for us any more. It was a cultural phenomenon that was happening. People were reading philosophies and people were coming back from being in ashrams, and they were bringing good ideas back.”George Harrison was one of the great emissaries of India’s spiritual culture. In the 1980s, Harrison and his then wife Patti Boyd received Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada at their home in Friar Park. Even after purchasing an airline ticket, she never went. She recalls, “I was very young and I honestly just got frightened. I was going to backpack and I thought I’d never come home. I thought I’ll just go there and just change my life and never return and some part of me didn’t want that to happen. I knew myself and knew I get captivated with things.”So by the time she actually went, decades later, she was really looking forward to the experience. “It was really time. I remembered an important thing about life and about traveling for me, which is it’s always better to go with a purpose. I’m not a very good tourist or a good vacationer. The fact that I finally got to go to India with a very strong purpose made it a very meaningful trip.”The strong purpose that propelled her to India was her work with Sightsavers International, an organization based in the United Kingdom. Globally, India has the highest percentage of blind people, but according to the organization the blindness rate has been reduced 25 percent from 1990 to 2002. In its battle with avoidable blindness India has developed some of the most sophisticated eye care hospitals in the world. According to Sightsavers, doctors travel from Europe and the United States to these hospitals to see the amazing systems that enable surgeons to perform up to 60 cataract operations a day.Winger herself had once been temporarily blind after an accident many years ago and felt it was logical to help out: “I was going to go out in the world and try and understand the domino effect of blindness in developing countries. To me, the real work is in stopping this domino effect, because when someone goes blind, everyone around them is affected in really, really dramatic ways, especially in India where you have multi-generational families.”Winger traveled to Delhi, Rajasthan, Calcutta and the Sunderabans, and met real people who had been affected by blindness and the caseworkers who helped them through Sightsavers: “They are just my heroes and they are the most amazing people.” She traveled to way out villages and inner cities, documenting stories of the organization’s work with the elderly and the poor.India more than lived up to its hype for Winger. She says, “I found the Sunderbans to be an intense experience. It remains a very mystical place, more so than a lot of places that are more traveled. There’s such a connection with the essence of life. Once you’re on a boat on a Ganges tributary in a crocodile infested area and you realize you can’t go on either side of the land, because you’re in a tiger preserve. You feel like you’re living in the middle of a Zen parable – the crocodile and the tiger – and to have that experience in my life, I’m very grateful.”Winger also experienced a deep connection with people. She says, “I just can’t wait to go back. I have a real affection for the people, but you know I had a great affection for India even before I went there.” The India of the 1960s had seemed far away and exotic, but Winger found India pretty exotic even in its regularity. She adds: “I think there’s a connection with spirituality that we don’t have here and that goes a long way with me. Also there is a generosity and a welcoming feeling that I think is part of Indian tradition. It is very warm. I’m not sure America has that, not the press of humanity that you feel in India. You’re surrounded and you’re laughing within five minutes. I mean, here if you walk into a community, you’re lucky if someone opens their door for you!”Although Winger is not vegetarian, she has developed a taste for meatless food and is almost having withdrawal symptoms: “I was never hungry or thirsty for five minutes. I liked everything I ate and I just ate like a horse the whole time I was there. I’m completely addicted to daal. I was so depressed when I got home and didn’t have daal every day.”While Winger took just a short trip to India, the English writer, journalist and filmmaker Justine Hardy has spent much of the past 12 years there. The author of such books as The Ochre Border, Goat, Bollywood Boy and Wonder House, she’s become a desi at heart, and can even speak some Hindi.Her connections to India are rooted in family. A cousin married into a Bihari family when Hardy was a child: “As you can imagine the notion of Indian-relations-by-marriage seemed vastly romantic to a five year old – wild images of elephants, mountains, marble palaces, the whole gamut of what India meant to me at that age. And then I began to go there with my mother and all that India really is began to seep into me at that very impressionable age.”In her 17 years in India she’s worked for several newspapers, including The Indian Express, as well as the BBC and traveled all over the country, including Kashmir, which has a special place in her heart. “What is without question is that India has been the greatest teacher I can imagine. She has shaped so much of who I am today and indeed the enormity of all that she is has shaped my writing at a very profound level.”Asked if her idea of India has changed over the years, she says: “The impressions of a five year old and a 40 year old are very different – elephants and spangles versus Vedanta and traffic chaos. But then there have been some consistencies all along: the sheer tidal weight of the place that hits you every time you get back, how your internal timer has to shift into what people joke about as Indian Standard Time – or to be more precise, the mentality of jo hona hai hoga. And now this very way of life is being challenged by India’s arrival at the international big boys’ table.”A recurring discovery for travelers is the way India seeps into one’s soul and becomes a part of life for many visitors to the sub-continent. As Hardy notes, “India seems programed into my DNA now and I often dream of it when I am not there, and find myself wandering after scents that remind me of it when I am away – the good ones, of course, as against some of the less fragrant ones that are all part of the deal of Bharat.”Hardy’s friends tell her she speaks Hindi like a taxi-walla and she’s secretly quite proud of that fact. Ask her about her favorite food and she says, “How can you beat dhokla and cool pudina chatni on a hot night with the smell of raat-ki-rani in the air?” George Harrison (extreme left) and Joshua Greene (behind Harrison) at the Apple Studio in 1970. Says Greene: “For a 19 year old in 1969 to be in the company of a Beatle recording at Apple studios, I mean, never mind finding God, here was a Beatle!” recalls Greene, now an established author, documentary filmmaker and teacher.British rajas and ranis have, of course, a long connection with India, but none quite like Prince Charles. For the prince, India and Hinduism have always held a deep fascination and he’s visited several Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwaras in the Unitd Kingdom and also expressed a desire to change the title of the future king from “defender of the faith” to “defender of faith.” Simultaneously idiosyncratic and pragmatic, he is drawn to India’s ordinary people. At his grand wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles invited guests included two dabbawallas from Mumbai!On an earlier visit he had shown a keen interest in the 5,000 tiffin carriers of the metropolis who deliver 175,000 lunch boxes, rain or shine, every day. He had chatted with them and two years later when he was all set to walk the aisle with Camilla, he sent all-expenses paid wedding invitations to Raghunath Medge, president of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association, and Sopan Mare, the secretary. The delighted dabbawallas conducted a special puja for the couple and the two guests, who don’t speak English, headed out bearing a traditional headdress and sari as wedding gifts. “It is a noble gesture on his part as we are poor, hard-working people and never ever imagined to be part of such a grand royal wedding,” Medge told the media. In this case, life handed a free lunch to the dabbawallas!Recently Prince Charles and Camilla were in India, reaffirming that it was a country they love and want to revisit again and again. Charles was quoted as saying, “I love coming to India. It is emotional.” When he was asked what he found most exciting about India, his answer was simple and said it all: “The Indian people.” During this private visit, the couple went to Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, visiting small villages and meeting with ordinary people, farmers, craftspeople as well as business bigwigs. They viewed water conservation efforts and organic farming initiatives, projects close to the prince’s heart. They also prayed at the Anandpur Sahib Gurdwara, barefoot and with their heads covered.India has also impacted the world’s richest couple, Bill and Melinda Gates, and they in turn are impacting India in huge and very beneficial ways. In India, it seems, Gates’ twin passions of technology and public policy have come together.At the 50th anniversary of the Indian Institutes of Technology in California, Bill Gates pointed out that Microsoft had given over $7.5 million in grants to IITs, more than any other organization outside the United States or the United Kingdom and noting that Microsoft had hired thousands of Indian graduates, including hundreds from the IITs. “IIT and Microsoft do have a lot in common, an optimism about the future, a belief that fundamental science will lead to breakthroughs that will let us solve some of the toughest problems that mankind faces, a belief that we can provide better tools than ever before and that we’ve really just scratched the surface”Gates’ passion for public policy and making a dramatic difference in the world has taken him back to India. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $200 million to prevent the spread of HIV in India through its India AIDS initiative, Avahan, whose prevention programs are focused on those most at risk of contracting and spreading HIV.“For myself, in terms of the really outsized luck I’ve had financially,” says Gates, “It’s a pretty large responsibility and it’s one that I put a lot of energy into thinking about and it’s really only in the last five years that in my foundation I’ve really tried to say how can I give these resources that I’m lucky enough to have back to society in a way that can make an impact.” Talking about the threat of an AIDS epidemic, he says, “I feel privileged to have been able to hopefully cast a little bit of energy on that, put some resources into it and hopefully stop what could be a very bad development and really slow down India’s ability to realize its incredible potential.” Justine Hardy in RishikeshWhile the couple rarely speaks about the emotional or personal aspects of their India efforts, those who have seen them in action are in awe of their humanity and commitment. Melinda Gates, especially, becomes involved in the lives of the marginalized people she has visited in India, sitting on the floor in slums, laughing and singing a civil rights anthem with the poorest of the poor and making a real effort to enter their world.Dr. Sundar Sundararaman, a mentor with Mysore and Mandya Direct Intervention, told the Christian Science Monitor after observing her genuine interactions with those affected by AIDS, “As an onlooker, I was taken aback. She was engaged in asking very specific questions about whether this project was touching their lives. There was a natural person in her, an individual who connects with people.” He added that what sets her apart is that she responds to need in a way that is personal and direct: “That simplicity is what is inside her.”As Bill Gates moves from being the world’s technology icon to world’s leading philanthropist, his future seems increasingly linked to India’s through his foundation’s global health initiatives. For the world’s richest man turning into its philanthropist in chief – what better canvas than India? From vaccinations for infants to multi-pronged AIDS treatment, India is that huge dramatic landscape where one can see gratifying results in sheer numbers and human capital. Not surprisingly India is the largest single foreign recipient of the foundation’s largesse and the only country outside the United States where it has established an office.Visitors come to India for many reasons and in many seasons, but perhaps the largest group are on spiritual quests to find answers to the enigmas of life. Indian gurus and ashrams have seen many devotees from the West and the line stretches all the way from the Beatles to Sting to Madonna. The fact that the Dalai Lama is stationed in Dharamsala has also drawn many high profile Buddhists and Tibet sympathizers, such as Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn to India. Hawn, who describes herself as a Jewish Buddhist is deep into yoga and meditation, which she does in her “India Room.”Of all the rock stars and celebrities who set out for India in quest of spirituality, perhaps the most engrossed was George Harrison. He is credited with bringing Hinduism and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to the West. He and the Beatles introduced Ravi Shankar’s sitar and Hindu chants to western pop music and Harrison himself became a serious devotee of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.Harrison was already the rage of the music world when Joshua M. Greene, an American student at the Sorbonne in Paris, went to London for his Christmas holidays. The year was 1969 and Greene visited a Radha Krishna temple in London where the devotees asked him, an organ player, to join them at the Apple Studios in singing devotional hymns and mantras with their friend George.“For a 19 year old in 1969 to be in the company of a Beatle recording at Apple studios, I mean, never mind finding God, here was a Beatle!” recalls Greene, now an established author, documentary filmmaker and teacher. “So it was a very heady experience and so probably good fortune was part of my initial connection with India.”Over the following months, when the album of Krishna chants was released, Greene found himself “touring nightclubs and concerts all over Europe and chanting the Krishna mantras under some very unusual circumstances. All that made for a exotic encounter with India.”“I think George felt that way too. That’s why so many of his songs were about the spirituality of India,” says Greene, who is the author of Here Comes the Sun: the Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison: “His album Dark Horse practically takes a melody he learnt in Vrindavan – “Jai Radhe, Jai Radhe Radhey, Jai Sri Radhe” – and put it on his album.” The 1969 “Hare Krishna Mantra,” a Sanskrit prayer set to a Ringo drumbeat, sold 60,000 copies on the very first day.While all the Beatles were inspired by India, Harrison was clearly the one who went deepest into traditional Indian practices. He read the works of Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Vivekanand and in 1970 purchased an estate for use as a Krishna retreat and today Bhaktivedanta Manor is one of England’s most popular Hindu temples. Debra Winger, the noted actress of such films as An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment took her first trip to India in January of this year. Decades ago, she passed up travelplans even after purchasing an airline ticket.Says Greene, “To my mind he’s one of the great emissaries of India’s spiritual culture. Remember that when he was singing and talking of India and the great depths of wisdom and beauty of India, this was the mid-60s. You could have opened any newspaper in America and you would not have found one advertisement for a yoga class. It just didn’t exist. People looked at him as if he was going off the deep end. Today it’s mainstream. You can’t go to any city in the country without seeing yoga classes and concerts of Indian music and vegetarian restaurants.”It was Harrison who invited the other Beatles to visit India. He had been with Ravi Shankar to Bombay and Kashmir and then took the Beatles to Rishikesh. Greene adds, “The Beatles went to India and that changed everything, because they were the Bards of the era. And what they did people examined closely for its meaning. From a poor third world country India was now looked upon as a place of tremendous cultural and spiritual wealth – a place that can set a example for the world in what the Bhagwad Gita describes as seeing all living life as divine – and that is the gift of India to the world.”Before John Lennon died so tragically, Harrison went to visit him and found hundreds of CDs of Indian music stacked up in his home. As for Ringo Starr, Harrison always said, “Never underestimate Ringo; he could be a yogi disguised as a drummer.” Paul McCartney, of course has been meditating for over 20 years and is a leading advocate of vegetarianism and peace.While the Beatles’s fascination with India is well known, there were hundreds of nameless, unknown Westerners from that era who tried to find themselves in India. Many later left the ashrams and rejoined mainstream life in America, but the impact of their India encounter remained. Greene, who had joined the Hare Krishna movement in London, was introduced to India through their chants and devotion. He, like countless other young people, was inducted by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and stayed in Krishna temples for 13 years, including trips to India.In those early days he remembers a very different India with rustic pilgrimage spots with hardly any cars. “Going to India was very much like going to another planet almost. Everything was so different. You could not turn any place without seeing some reminder of divinity – Krishna Bicycle Repair Shop or Vishnu Sweet Shop. Now everywhere there are hi-rises, telephone towers and industrial complexes. It was quite perplexing to see the impact of globalization and modernity and what’s its done to the experience of pilgrimage in India.”The Indian connection continues over generations. Last November Greene’s son, an airline pilot, was married in a Hindu ceremony in the courtyard of the Radha Damodar Temple in Vrindaban to an Indian woman he had met over the Internet, and they have a Krishna shrine in their home in Savannah, Ga. Says Greene, “India to me is like coming home. It is going back to the birthplace of Lord Krishna, it is going back to the place of the origin of the Vedas, it is going back to the land of spirituality. In spite of all the modernization, I still feel I am somehow connecting with this ancient culture that has so much to offer to the world.”While many Indophiles come to India, some are actually born there. New Yorker Peter Louis, who is Greek American, was born in Bangalore where his father was manager of the West End Hotel. His father had been a refugee from Greece, moving through the Middle East to Burma. When the Japanese attacked Burma, he fled to British India. Recalls Louis, “At that point, my father adopted India as his country of residence, living there until he passed away. In 1972, he obtained Indian citizenship. I guess India adopted him and he felt quite at home, always working for Spencers Hotels in the South, all of which have been taken over by Taj Group.”Although the family moved to the UK for higher education, his father remained in India and died there. Louis himself retained an interest in Indian art and now sells Lalique Ganeshas and Indian art in the Peter Louis Gallery. He says, “Ganesha is most definitely lucky for all of us. After all the Lalique Ganesha is the one who opened up this path for me!” He adds, ” My return trip to the country of my boyhood, in 2003, really opened my eyes about India. It had changed so much, and yet, so much had not changed. Sometimes it seems to be a country fixed and frozen in time, and in other moments it seems to be leaping forward. I love that a respect for tradition is so strong there in certain parts. The respect for religion is amazing and it is amazing that a belief system that was put in place thousands of years ago is still adhered to. The historical art is spectacular. Of course, the food in India is the best in the world, in my opinion.”Yet in the end, it always comes down to India’s richest resource – her people. Warm, caring and hospitable to the extent of giving guests the last roti in the house and always a cup of hot chai and a seat on the charpoy in the courtyard. Indians have a tendency to get connected to strangers – and remain connected.What perhaps touches Louis the most is the genuine affection and long memories of the people he encountered in his youth: “People always welcome me with open arms there, friends that my mother made all those years ago when she was in India in school, and they are still in touch, still trying to get her to move back, because they say that India is her home!”In ways known and unknown, India continues to impact those who venture to its shores. It’s a relationship that once formed is forged for life. No one now dare colonize India, but India colonizes people’s dreams, their imaginations, their aspirations and their hopes for a better world. Related Items