Wednesday, July 6, 2016

EDITOR'S COLUMN

Friends,

We are truly into monsoon season. It’s been wet and pouring all over, including Mumbai, where rain god smiled and it flooded the other day. Met men have predicted normal or more than normal rain for the season. Following months will prove them right or wrong. But the erratic nature of the rain has been in vogue since some years now, indicating uncertain future rain scenario. Among other uncertainties the world is facing, this could as well be an addition to the list. Let’s hope it may not be a difficult year with water.
June 6th has been the World Environment Day. As usual there have been seminars in schools, symbolic tree planting and speeches by ministers. But the seriousness with which it needs to be addressed leaves much to be desired, especially when it comes to India and Indians in general. Deforestation and massive cutting of trees in the name of development has been going on in one form or the other. Nearer home, in Karnataka, in the name of providing water to parched land of Kolar and Mandya, there is an ongoing to attempt to reverse the west flowing Netravathi River. There has been massive destruction of forest in the Western Ghats for the purpose of laying pipe lines and culverts, despite expert advice to the contrary.
Chipko Andolan of the 1970s led by Sunderlal Bahuguna, was the precursor of save environment movement in India, did bring about awareness in the protection of environment, aforestation etc.. The state of Uttarakhand, where this movement began over 40 years ago ironically was in flames recently which destroyed thousands of hectares of forests. So much for the seriousness with which our governments prioritize their environment related policies. Pollution levels, especially in major Indians cities have reached alarming proportion taking heavy tolls on the health of city dwellers. There is a serious lack of concerns from all stake holders, whether government, industry or general public.
Month-in-Perspective has, as usual, covered some of the happenings of the month with our take on it. Many issues however, were left untouched for the want of space.
The ruling of the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) in treating the Delhi teenager, whose Mercedes which ran over 33 year old Sidharth Sharma, as an adult for the purpose of trial, in the hit-and-run case, is a welcome development. A precedent had to be set to put these delinquents in the dock to make them accountable for their clearly adult crimes. The Mathura Jawahar Bagh episode leading to violent end of over 30 lives, including a Superintendent of Police is a classic case of political patronage where police and local administration was rendered helpless due to political connections. In this case members of Mulayan singh Yadav family. For some family, parts of India is their fiefdom, and our gullible public is their capital. This is Yeh Mera India.  
The incumbent government of Abki baar Modi Sarkar, has completed its 2 years of the five year term. Being a government with no coalition pulls and pushes, it will be there for the full 5 year term. Accounting for the 2 years that have gone by and the remaining 3 years, how can it go on has been the issue in public space this time round. We have therefore tried to cover the 2+3 years of Modi Sarcar under Focus. We have taken views of a cross section of readers. Hope readers will like it. Do revert with your inputs. We do value them.   

J. Shriyan

MONTH-IN-PERSPECTIVE

New Delhi: It’s been close to six months, since the launching of STARTUP INDIA. But it has not been able to register its success, despite being talked about by all and sundry starting from PM Modi, the architect himself. According to media report it’s not even 1%.
While it is true that there have been some over 200 aspiring entrepreneurs who had applied for permission to set up new ventures, but only one project has been cleared so far, by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, the nodal ministry for approval of these STARTUPs.
Clearing the grey area, when it comes to approval of these STARTUP applications, it looks as if the innovative promoters and proposers of these projects have submitted incomplete details required to avail all the benefits available under the scheme, the ministry had claimed. Surely, the ministry is not expected to do the spade work for the projects, like project report with technical papers, financial feasibility, marketing potential etc. were certainly needed to be submitted by the enterprising youths desirous of starting their own enterprises. There cannot be spoon feeding by the government. However the lone application which has been approved by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry appears to be path-breaking and very promising. Reportedly, the Hyderabad based Cygne Energy Pvt. Ltd. had come out with the most innovative power back-up solution replacing the traditional invertors used in houses and small offices, generally to cope with power shutdowns.
The project report for this innovative idea was wetted by IIT Chennai, and hence had its professional intervention which clearly indicated the possible 50% saving in the electricity bills. And reportedly ministry approved the project almost instantly and recommended it for bank funding. As is known, the Union government has allotted Rs 2500 crores per annum to SIDBI for the next 4 years to finance the STARTUPs. Enterprising young men and women must take some professional help from institutions like IIM and IIT to make their projects look economically worthy and viable to take advantage of this innovative scheme of PM Narendra Modi.

This man called Arvind Kejriwal is increasingly reducing himself to a joker. These days he makes news for all wrong reasons. The Delhi governments ‘Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly Removal & Disqualification Act’ was returned by the President of India Pranab Mukharjee, having refused to give assent. The act was with the intention to protect with retrospective effect 21 AAP MLAs appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries, from being disqualified under ‘office of profit’ provisions of the constitution.
Bugged by the rejection of the legislation by the President, Kejriwal was in his hyper best. And whom does he attack? Not President Mukharjee nor Lt. Governor Jung, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He suffers from a sense of paranoia that PM Modi is there only to create trouble for his government.
Having seen Modi’s style of functioning, although he gets not more than 70% marks for his two years, in office, he must be least interested in destabilizing AAP government in Delhi. But Kejriwal is already in the market crying hoarse, ‘Modi’s strategy is not work himself and not let others work. Modi is scared of the AAP,’ accusing Modi of using the Union Home Ministry. But since when Kejriwal became thick headed? President Mukharjee is not a BJP nominee, he was appointed by the UPA government and he has his own way of thinking and therefore very unlikely he will take Modi’s call, if any, to harm AAP and its Chief Minister’s government.

Whatever the antics of Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP Chief Minister of Delhi, his government needs to be congratulated for the action initiated on private super specialty hospitals for failing to meet the conditions of land allotment in Delhi for building their hospitals. According to report, some Rs. 600 crores has been demanded as fine from some of the hospitals of Delhi.
Reportedly from 1960 to 1990, some 43 private hospitals have been allotted land at concessional rates on the condition that they will keep 10% of the inpatient department capacity and 25% of OPD capacity to treat economically weaker sections’ patients free of cost. Pursuant to a PIL, demanding implementation of these free provisions, Delhi High Court had passed an order in 2007 imposing fine, obviously indicating that these private hospitals were really not doing what is truly a quid-pro-quo for the concessional land. Such behaviour and treatment of poor by most of the private hospitals is not new, it is a mindset of these owner class against the poor and vulnerable section of our society. Besides, most super specialty hospitals are corporate owned where patient is only a commodity. The entire gamut of activity of these hospitals is revenue driven.
Under the circumstances, action initiated by AAP government needs to be commended. Two cheers to AAP government of Arvind Kejriwal. 

BIHAR: Besides alleged ‘jungleraj’ prevailing in Bihar, it can make news for using a mundane a term as ‘dear’ to a lady, who is not necessarily your friend. 
Indeed, Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani can get into unintended controversies. A minister in Bihar Ashok Chaudhary, reportedly a doctorate and can be seen as qualified to be the State Education Minister, had reportedly tweeted the Union Minister with salutation ‘Dear Smriti Irani Ji…..’. He is a Minister of Education of the State, where Union Minister Smriti Irani is on a visit. It is perfectly in order for state education minister to address his observation to the union minister in charge of higher education and national education policy etc.. If he has used the word ‘Dear’ while writing his communication in Hindi, she does not have to take its meaning literally in Hindi. It appeared to be a straight forward observation on the twitter.
Unfortunately, it’s not the observation that she took umbrage to, it’s the word ‘Dear’. It looks, since she was a senior lady honourable union minister, ‘how dare’ a state minister, who is a man, address her as ‘Dear’, is what piqued her.
Dear Smriti Iraniji, keep smiling, it will only improve your profile among your critics. Smile only conceals your real reaction while angry response only exposes us.

   KOLKATA: There was this report in the media some days ago “Triple Talaq raked up to defame Islam says AIMPLB member” & another report “Triple Talaq will stay: AIMPLB”. While the issue is completely an internal issue within the Muslim Community of India, it is very relevant to many of its own faithfuls, who are probably in a minority and therefore need public support.
The question here is, if it is an issue raised by its own members, then the community members are expected to take the call.
All homosapians need to understand and appreciate that religious dogmas and practices are legitimized over a period only by humans who are by nature imperfect. And these were started at a time when some of the practices may have been relevant and therefore need to change with the changing times.
Fortunately among major religions of India, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, both Hindus and Christians have an open approach to the problems within its ranks, which may not be so with the practitioners of Islam.
There is this book by one Irshad Manji “Trouble with Islam today”, which advocates IJTIHAD. Surely all Indian Muslims would know what IJTIHAD means. For the uninitiated, it simply means- Freedom to Question. Irshad Manji talks about her book as an open letter, and she says “By writing this open letter, I am not implying that other religions are problem free. Hardly. The difference is, libraries abound in books about the trouble with Christianity and others. There is no shortage of books about the trouble with Judaism. We Muslims have a lot of catching up to do in the dissent department. 
Whose permission are we waiting for?”
Isn’t it a very relevant question, which should ignite a debate among the Indian Islamic faithfuls?!
A member of AIMPLB, Dr Asma Zehra is reported to have said in Lacknow “Islam has given equal rights to women and men. Muslims are happy with their personal laws”. While addressing an All Muslim Women Conference in Lucknow. Dr. Azma Zehra had her face covered. Whom is she afraid of, to conceal her identity? She and her ilk like the Imam Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahli, who justified the “triple talaq in one go”, should read this book by Irshad Manji.
Here it is pertinent to reproduce the foreword by Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, a Saudi national, who is a Professor at San Diego State University in the U.S and we quote,
“Let us face a simple fact: I should hate Irshad Manji. If Muslims listen to her, they will stop listening to people like me, an imam who spent years at traditional Islamic university.
She threatens my male authority and says things about Islam that I wish were not true. She has a big mouth, and fact upon fact to corroborate her analysis. She doesn’t fear death, except the kind that comes from shutting down one’s brain. She is a lesbian, and my madressa training has instilled, almost into my DNA, that Allah hates gays and lesbians. I really should hate this woman.
But then I look into my heart and engage my mind, and I come to a discomfiting conclusion: Irshad is telling the truth. And my God commands me to uphold the truth-which means that I have to side with her.
However, that is not why I write this prologue. I do so because I need to atone for acting like a hypocrite.
I am often commended for my bravery in opposing extremist Islam and terrorism. I can’t downplay the accolades because it does demand a certain amount of courage to do what I do. It should therefore not have required a colossal sacrifice of testosterone to defend Irshad when she needed it.
Recently, I had that opportunity, and I failed to take it. I’d just come home from a conference, where I’d stirred a flap by urging Muslims to move beyond anti-Semitism. Some Muslims decided to do the right thing: They met with me to determine exactly what I’d said. In the course of the discussion, someone brought up Irshad’s name. The group derided her as a little lesbian troublemaker. And there I sat like a gutted chicken, mute and unmoving, not wanting to take on yet another issue. I, the man, the “upholder and protector” of women, deemed to be so by divine mandate in a seventh-century document that the madrassa teachers told me is for all time, I could not utter a word.
That is when I realized that all this nonsense had to stop. Am I a Muslim or am I not? Do I care for truth or do I not? This is why I now declare, not just for those Muslims who met with me, but for all Muslims everywhere: I support Irshad Manji. She wants us to do what our Holy Book wants us to do: End the tribal posturing, open our eyes, and stand up to oppression, even if it’s rationalized by our vaunted imams, sheikhs, mullahs, professors, and whatever other titles the packagers of Islam give themselves.
Rarely, if ever, has a Muslim stated publicly what so many of us know but dare not confirm. Irshad pulls no punches as she expose Jew-bashing, as well as the urge to lay the responsibility for all of Islam’s ills on Western colonization, while neglecting Islam’s own history of imperialism and continued human rights abuses in the name of Allah. Throughout her book, Irshad remains obedient to the Divine Imperative: “O you who believe! Be upholders of justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves, or your parents and kin…” (Quran, 4:135)
While obeying Allah, Irshad beats the mullahs at their own game. One of the most onerous prerequisites of ijtihad, Islam’s tradition of independent reasoning, is that one be familiar with all the latest thinkers in Islam. On this score, Irshad is way ahead of many clerics. In fact, her book can serve as a primer on the views of modern Muslim intellectuals. Where else can one find such an astute analysis of Sa’d el-Din Ibrahim, Mahmoud Taha, Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Nasr Abu Zayd, and several others?
To be sure, Irshad has opened herself up to criticism by choosing a defiantly democratic form of expression-the book as an open letter. This approach dents the egos of the elite because she refuses to write strictly for us and our clubby constituents. Irshad’s work does not fall into the typology of academic theories couched in almost incomprehensible ivory-tower jargon. Nor does it represent the usual romantic ode to Islam that holds meaning only to a follower. Instead, Irshad’s honesty, style, and clarity catapult the book into a class by itself.
You, the reader, may not agree with all of Irshad’s conclusions. I certainly don’t. But this is precisely her goal. To expect any different would be to defeat the very freedom of thought that she seeks to reintroduce in Islam.", unquote.

MAHARASHTRA: Maharashtra strong man Sharad Pawar, despite strong ambition and some attempts couldn’t reach his target of becoming the Prime Minister of India.
This is probably the reason he ends up targeting incumbent prime ministers. His current target is naturally Narendra Modi.
Pawar is much older than Modi. His interest is varied and involved in different areas, including cricket, without being a cricketer he became the BCCI president, so also ICC president. Even now, he defeated a cricketer to become the president of Maharashtra Cricket Association.
Everywhere it was money and power that attracted Pawar. He is also accused of being in contact with Dawood Ibrahim, the criminal fugitive. There are many scams he is involved in. But somehow managed to remain reasonably unscathed. His political contact and media connection has helped him in this regard.
But Narendra Modi is a diametrically different personality. As clean as anybody else can be. In many respect a model, workaholic, no attraction of wine or women, personally incorruptible, and a powerful speaker. Of course, he has his share of negatives and controversies.
His recent visit and his address to the joint session of U.S Congress has been an unqualified success. But Pawar, not very comfortable with his success, like any Indian opposition politician had reportedly remarked “Modi is PM of India, but is visiting foreign countries frequently. His meeting with the U.S President Obama is… a futile exercise”. Reacting to his remark, the Deccan Herald, the Bangaluru based daily had quoted, Marshal McLuhan, as “A point of view is a dangerous luxury when substituted for understanding.” It appears in this quote that Pawar has failed to understand what Modi is saying and doing, hence this remark. Probably Deccan Herald is not far off the mark. Is Narendra Modi, the man and the prime minister is beyond the comprehension of opposition politicians in India?! 

Some weeks ago hacker Manish Bhangale had disclosed the stunning information of this Maharashtra minister Eknath Khadse being in touch with crime chieftain fugitive Dawood Ibrahim, besides other disclosures. Ministers involved in land scams, money laundering, and bribery etc. is all passé. Most ministers have been doing these evil deeds for all the 70 years of free India, and have enjoyed it too with their friends, relatives and cronies. But what really hit the minister like a ton of brick is the ‘D’ connection.
But, if that is the causa proxima of his ouster, why is Sharad Pawar, the closest Indian politician to ‘D’, is roaming free? Nobody is talking about it, including the media! Indeed, it’s the political party that mattered. In NCP, Sharad Pawar is the boss and it’s ‘King Can Do No Wrong’. But BJP now has Narendra Modi’s eyes & ears. It is unfortunate that Khadse is in the wrong party. In NCP, he would be passé too, like Pawar.  
   
    KARNATAKA: Karnataka was recently in the news for an avoidable wrong reason. Karnataka’s policemen had planned to go on strike, but strike was withdrawn in the last minute. But one of them silently protested, and all that he wanted to do was to submit a memorandum on the problems constabulary in Karnataka faces. Karnataka government reportedly suspended constable Ramakrishna for the alleged indiscipline.
It is an open secret that lower order policemen suffer from all kinds of problems. This is not only in Karnataka, but an all India phenomenon. We all know they do not have a fixed time of duty and therefore they have erratic lunch/dinner time, so also erratic food habits, on ‘as is where is’ basis. Rests and rest rooms, accommodation, behaviour of seniors, interference and rudeness of politicians have all influenced their behaviour towards the general public. After all they too are humans, they take it out on general public, especially poor and those without any influence in the corridors of power. Thus most people are very unhappy approaching the police for any help.
The recent issue of protest by the Karnataka police also threw up issue of age old orderly system, where constables were being used. Home ministry appears to have finally decided about this stupid practice of colonial era to be phased out. It is a fact that seniors, starting from Inspector to DGP, all have these orderlies, with DGP & ADGP having 8 of them. The number, reportedly, goes down as the rank goes down, with Inspector getting the privilege of just one orderly. The government initiative, as and when it happens, can take its own time. However let’s hope, its GRBR i.e, ‘Good Riddance of the Bad Rubbish.’
While we are about it, it is interesting to note that, the Home Ministry appears to be helpless in eradicating this orderly practices. Instead of constables, they are planning to recruit group D employees. So the obnoxious practice of orderlies will continue in some form or the other. Here it is interesting to note what a former DGP had to say on the issue. Writing in the press he appears to be fully in favour of abolishing the orderly system. He quotes how in the past, the government had started paying extra allowances to the senior police officers to appoint their own helping hands instead of the constabulary. But he writes “It later turned out that not only the officers received the allowance but continued to employ constables in the name of visitor screening, security duty etc.”. Thus, for police higher-ups its ‘have the cake and eat it too’. The best solution, according to him “is to outsource orderlies from private manpower supply agencies. They pay the minimum wages fixed by the government and their bill would be less than the cost incurred in employing constables. Besides there will be no problem of promotion, seniority etc. for the department. This will relieve thousands of police personnel from doing menial jobs at the residence of senior offices”.
This is a feudal mindset, most Indians suffer from, where like George Orwell had famously said in his epochal work of proletarian thoughts ANIMAL FARM, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”. This confirms a truth that ‘India is not a fair society’, where marginalized get used and exploited interminably. This is Yeh Mera India.

T.H. Altaf Hussain, was an unknown person, beyond his place of dwelling and his immediate friends circle. But some years ago, he became suddenly famous. Deservedly at that. The reason, he made a film, at a cost of some Rs. 55 Lakhs or so, which among other awards, went on to win the national SWARNA KAMALA. For a debutant, it was a huge success.
Altaf is from Mangalooru. It was a matter of pride for whole of Mangalooru. But did Mangalooru celebrate his success which had the potential for international name and fame? His film was screened in Mangalooru in some theatres. But not many have seen it. Some even said, it’s been boycotted by some groups. The undersigned had the opportunity to see this film at a private screening in Ravindra Kala Mandira of University College Mangalooru.
Why the film was not welcomed or even received positively by the society at least in and around Mangalooru?
It was a movie cleared fully by Censer Board for Universal Viewing. It won the top national award. Yet…..?
Was it too uncomfortable to a section of Mangalooru society? Was Altaf talking about some uncomfortable truths about the society around him?
Some answer may be found in a possible ruling by the Supreme Court, in the application made by petitioners Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Safia Niaz. They approached the court last week.
Altaf Hussain, is obviously far ahead of his time to highlight an issue of injustice and unfairness to women in some of the social practices around him. His movie is bold and courageous. The name of the film which won the SWARNA KAMALA is ‘BYARI’ in Beary language.
Issues taken up by Altaf in his film are exactly the same as the issues before the Supreme Court to-day, courtesy these two ladies of Muslim Mahila Andolan. According to these petitioners “Muslim women in India have continued to suffer injustice through Talaq-ul-Bidaat (triple talaq) and Nikah Halala (ban against remarriage with divorced husband without an intervening marriage with another man). Clearly it is an issue of women’s human rights.
Film ‘Byari’ was an honest attempt, but alas the great public and its intellectuals kept quiet, when they should have spoken.
Martin Luther King had observed long ago “Our life begins to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Isn’t he right?
           
WORLD: In recent days, nothing occupies the public space in Europe and the U.K is the possibility or otherwise of U.K remaining within the European Union. There is a fierce debate raging across the United Kingdom on the issue, of course by the time, you are reading this, the referendum could have been over and the decision taken. While there is strong lobby in both Conservative as well as Labour to continue to remain with the larger European Union there is equally a strong group in all political groups to say good bye to the Union.
Those who want to have the EU has many point like the acute pressure on National Health Services due to the migration from EU countries. The presence of these migrants from Spain, Portugal, Greece and some of the newly joined members of East European Countries has truly stretched the NHS and has been a big drain on the national resources of U.K. For most migrants U.K has been a preferred destination for its welfare measure and U.K being in the EU has only worsened the situation. But is leaving the EU is an option for the U.K? Not really, think many intellectuals besides of course those in politics.
According to reports, more than 300 historians have said that a vote to leave the European Union will condemn Britain to irrelevance. “As historians, we believe that Britain has had in the past and will have in the future, an irreplaceable role to play in Europe”, their letter to the press in U.K reported to have mentioned.
There is also fear exposed in public that “if we have European Union, the economy will be thrown into recession and some 800,000 jobs will be lost”. This is not untrue.
Indeed both sides have its own strong point, while there is relentless pressure on the U.K government resources especially from the EU migrants, it is also true that EU offers the U.K a huge European market for its products and services, which keeps the teller machine ringing. Clearly for U.K dice is in favour of remaining within the EU than outside it. Hope wisdom prevails in preference to a sense of national pride.  

London has a new mayor. An Asian and a Muslim. As it was unthinkable some 8 years ago that a coloured person would have occupied the whites only territory of WHITE HOUSE, the presidential mansion of the U.S, Similar was the case of London mayoralty. But then we are living in an evolving world. Like the Americans in the first instance, it was the graciousness of Londoners, Whites, Blacks and Browns, that catapulted Mr. Sadiq Khan as the Mayor of London.
A lawyer by profession, a human rights activist by commitment and an M.P. representing Labour party in the British Parliament, Sadiq Khan represented a new breed of Muslims. Hope his new political office, provides him an exallent opportunity to bring freshness of approach to some of the issues bothering British Society. However, in a milieu where a Muslim worker has refused to touch Bible in the past, Mr. Khan has an unenviable task of bridging bridges. How is he going to address, delicate social issues has to be seen, especially when there were instance when Englishmen complaining in the Middle East about the early morning Aazaan were summarily deported out of the country they were in. 
We only hope that the maturity that voters in London have shown in electing an Asian Muslim from Pakistan shall show the way forward.

In a recent survey The Guardian from London had this story titled “Christians now in minority as U.K becomes less religious”. There are two aspects to the above report. One may cause a concern to the Vatican or Church of England and there are so many who are concerned about the minority status of Christian in the U.K. Thoughts on the concerns of this group is best left to them to articulate. But the later part of the report is more interesting.
It is true that The Guardian had this story on the front cover for the importance the news paper thought that it deserved.
One of the most important reasons according to the survey is the stark increase in the number of those who identified themselves as “nones”, which meant, that they have no religion. It was true that they were born to Christian parents, Anglican, Catholic or other denomination. According to the report “The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion. What we are seeing is acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practicing their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion”.
The report of Stephen Bullivant, a senior lecturer in theology at St. Mary’s Catholic University, was presented to the House of Commons of the British Parliament recently. It informed that “both the Anglican and Catholic churches are struggling to retain people brought up as Christian. Four out of Ten adults who were raised as Anglicans define themselves as having no religion, and almost as many ‘cradle Catholics’ have abandoned their family faith to become ‘nones’.”
Purely at an individual level, this development augurs well for the humanity. We have seen ever since the polarization of humanity on religious lines since the birth of these religions, world has been at daggers drawn. It is true over a period of time, the civility and acceptance of others within the social milieu, the tension has been on the wane. But in recent times, there has been some heightened assertion of these religious leanings which have led to discomfort, unease and have disturbed the even pace of life in general. Without naming any religion, it can be safely admitted that Karl Marx was not wrong at all when he said that ‘Religion is the opium of the people”.
Hence, the development in the United Kingdom may after all be the precursor, the harbinger of a world of sanity, peace and tranquility. Or is it too much to ask?

Post mass shooting in the Orlando night club by an American Muslim of Afghan origin, Omar Mateen where he killed some 50 or so has sparked a nationwide debate about the loyalty American Muslims have for their chosen land.
Donold Trump, the Republican nominee for the ensuing U.S Presidential race, as his wont, has been rather quick in branding them, something like unpatriotic. Talking to CNN, Trump was reported to have stated, referring to the Orlando killer, that “For some reason, the Muslim Community does not report on people like this”. Of course that was rather a blanket statement, especially for a country like United States. That was how FBI has come out to set the record straight.
Contrary to the claims of Trump, law enforcing authorities in the United States have gone on record. Referring to responsible Muslims, FBI director, James Lemay was reported to have stated that “they do not want people committing violence, either in their community or in the name of their faith, and so some of our most productive relationships are with people who see things and tell us things who happen to be Muslims”. Thus, it did emerge into the public space that Muslim Americans have reportedly informed authorities about fellow Muslims whom they fear might be turning to extremism. This is something Muslims all over the world need to recognize and understand; especially in those countries which are officially not Islamic countries and Muslims are in minority. The attitude of American Muslims, who are law abiding and responsible can only make the life of average Muslims so much better, when the country is ruled by non-Muslims.

What They Said

"KASHMIR & PAKISTANI PERFIDY", (I&C JUNE- 2016)     Excellent indeed.
-Prof. B.M Hegde, Former V.C Manipal University.

"KASHMIR & PAKISTANI PERFIDY", (I&C JUNE- 2016) Dear Sir, No where mentioned Arundhati Roy adding fuel to burning lamp. No reference how Kashmir Pandits were tortured and women raped and thrown out from their own land. 

"QUOTA FOR RICH DALITS", (I&C JUNE- 2016)  Politicians don't want to make any negative statement on reservation. They are more interested to give more benefits to Dalit and minorities for vote bank.                                                                                  - Bhupal Mendon , Via FB

"PERFORM OR PERISH "(I&C JUNE- 2016)  , You think the present Govt is believably working unlike the previous one.  
"UNSUNG HERO  "(I&C JUNE- 2016) All the Best to Mr. Sunil Yadav, who made his mother proud. Good luck to him.                                                          -Sanathana Kumar Punja, Via FB

I use a little of my time browsing through the blog of ISSUES & CONCERNS and enjoy being appraised of situations the world over, through your erudite articles. Thank you Sir, and hearty congratulations for your wonderful magazine.
One article (I&C- June) regarding an MCGM employee, (story of a sweeper- B.com, M.A., M.Phil) a Sweeper, acquiring an M.Phil, warmed my heart.  I am aware of the amount of determination, diligence and dedication required to pursue higher education without compromising or neglecting designated duties at the work place. Yet, Mr. Sunil Yadav put in persistent efforts towards research activities (that too after travelling to South Africa) and presented a dissertation accepted at TISS. Kudos to him. May he enjoy a great future. May his tribe increase.
At the same time, it is saddening to note that India is yet to appreciate both dignity of labour and enthusiasm towards research. If the humble yet enthusiastic researchers of our country received more encouragement, Research and Development would reach greater heights.                              
-Rupashree Rao K, Via Email

Your story ‘SC/ST Leader shocks Congress’ (I&C June), is a refreshing piece of writing on the politics of reservation. It is very true that there are innumerable Dalit families with connections have done exceedingly well in both politics and socio-economics. But none of them have helped their less fortunate brethren. It is an India growth story, where rich have become richer and poor have either remained poor or became poorer. The latest example is the ministership given to Priyank Kharge, the 37 year old son of senior Congress leader Mallikargun Kharge. Those who have, they still want more. PL Punia, the NCSC chairman should be congratulated for making the bold statement “Dalits who have prospered as a result of reservation should give-up their claim in favour of those who have not, as a social responsibility” 

–Puttanna Patil, Davangere.

Your focus (I&C June 2016) Kashmir & Pakistani Perfidy did not come a day too early. It is a well known fact that Pakistani society grew round the hatred of an external enemy, and India with Kashmir in it provided the easy meat. Pakis were fed on the theory that India has never reconciled to the creation of Pakistan and it is bent on disintegrating it. The merging of Muslim majority Kashmir by India provided an easy way out for Jihad against ‘Hindu India’.

-Amby Mathur, Delhi.      

FOCUS

NARENDRA MODI-TWO YEARS ON LOOKING BACK-LOOKING FORWARD

It was sometime in early 2014, post BJP announcement that Narendra Modi will be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party in the ensuing Loksabha election, there have been plethora of reactions from those who had a pathological dislike of the man.
Among those public reactions, remark by the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was the most telling, since he was the incumbent PM of the time. He had reportedly remarked “Modi as Prime Minister will be a disaster for India”.
Despite Manmohan Singh and his ilk Modi was voted to power with an unprecedented mandate on his election plank “Abki baar Modi Sarcar”. And BJP secured an absolute majority on its own for the first time in its political existence of more than five decades (read Jan Singh together).
Modi government at the centre has completed its two years in power since 26th May 2014. Looking back, has he proved the economist from the London School of Economics, former Governor of Reserve Bank, former Finance Minister in the P.V Narasimha Rao government and the former Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh comprehensively wrong?!  
Narendra Damodradas Modi, is probably the most written about politician in India- past and present. Surely there are any number of reasons he can be written about. His rise, ever since he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat, in 2001, has been admired and hated. Since his first foray into power in Gujarat state politics, there has been no looking back. He kept growing in the eyes of many Indians, including media, industry and business, which led him into the unprecedented victory in 2014 that catapulted him into the most powerful seat of the Prime Minister of India.
For close to 3 decades, coalition politics had come to stay. Never in their wildest dreams nobody envisioned a single party government in India with its own absolute majority. But Modi juggernaut had attempted the impossible and BJP had emerged as the party with absolute majority. Incredible had happened. In the words of Lord Meghnad Desai, it was an event of transformational significance.
Looking back over the two years that NDA led by BJP traversed, we decided to go back to our readers for their thoughts on the journey of this inimitable political torrent called Narendra Modi. In following pages we have a mixed bag of inputs from a cross section of Indians. Hope readers will find it interesting. 

Two Years of Narendra Modi:
The Promise, Performance and Prospects

- Norbert Shenoy
What has changed in the two years since Mr. Narendra Damordas Modi came to power? Well, quite a lot really. And yet there is a cacophony of a chorus deriding BJP rule. There are, of course those who are genuinely disappointed, given the initial tidal wave of expectation of the arrival of a messiah with a magic wand.  But a lot more deride his rule, because their entrenched bastions of vested interests are threatened or over run. The so called ‘netas’,  essentially rent seekers in many crucial sectors of the economy, such as telecom, coal or hydrocarbons are not only ruing the loss of their fiefdoms but are hounded for the humungous loss caused to the exchequer. They are the ones who are busy pulling strings and planting rumours to denounce a regime that has pulled off transparent, scam free auctions in sector after sector, garnering lacs of crores of rupees for the nation. This is no mean achievement. 
The NDA lead by Mr. Modi has presided over an improving economy. Inflation is down, interest rates are dropping, the rupee is stable and fiscal and current account deficits have shrunk. Again, there will be many who will say that NDA just got lucky, with oil prices crashing. But then fortune favours the brave and NDA can certainly take credit for using the crash in oil price to scrap the massive, poorly directed subsidy on diesel. IMF and IBRD (World Bank) expect India’s GDP to grow by over 7.5 per cent, which means ours is the world’s fastest growing large economy. With the ease of doing business improving, at least at the central level, foreign direct investments have surged 37 per cent, from the launch of “make in India” campaign in October 2014 to February 2016. Manufacturing activity seems to be picking up, albeit gradually and startups have become new engines of employment generation. The prime minister in true Gujarathi style has never failed to market India abroad, where he cuts an impressive figure. He has been quite effective in negotiating many an important pact to secure India’s long term interests, be it the one on Chabahar port with Iran, the defense logistics pact with the US, or procuring nuclear technology and pressing for admission into the Nuclear Supplier Group and UN Security Council.
On the reform front too he has covered considerable ground despite the mulish opposition he encounters in the Rajya Sabha. He has made efforts to reach out to the opposition and also to the regional leaders and this has yielded some positive results, though gradually. Today, we have almost all the states on board (except TamilNadu) on the crucial GST legislation. A number of important bills covering Insurance, Bankruptcy Code, Real Estate etc., have been passed. And where opposition to bills like the land acquisition bill, robbed him of a ‘modus operandi’ to pilot the bill, he was creative enough to resort to a ‘modus vivendi’ of giving states a free hand to deal with the issue. This was a shrewd move, but also reflective of a Prime Minister who appreciates the federal structure of the country.
It is true that the colonial and socialist past has bequeathed India a bureaucracy whose direction is hard to change. But Mr. Modi has done a commendable job in galvanizing this bureaucracy at least at the centre, with procedural simplifications and policy initiatives coming thick and fast resulting in quicker approvals for major projects. He has correctly understood that delayed decisions is where corruption finds cozy shelter and has made a fine art of management by exception, by seeking explanation not on decisions taken, but where decisions are not taken. While he has been slowed down by an obdurate opposition in parliament, he with his team of ministers has brought about extensive reforms through executive action. Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), where ten states have already come on board, has infused new life in moribund and debt ridden discoms. The Chaiwala from Gujarath has turned out to be a past master in harnessing technology for economic liberation of the poor. He has articulated his vision of digital India which in turn has spawned a sub-vision of 100 Smart Cities.  Thanks to effective and decisive adoption of unique identification technology, poorer Indians increasingly get cash welfare instead of cheap rations through a leaky public distribution system. Since April 2015, world’s biggest cash transfer scheme has replaced artificially cheap cylinders of cooking gas. And by encouraging people to open over 15 crore new bank accounts linked to biometric data base of over 85 crore people, government is creating a transparent structure for better poverty relief. When it comes to fertilizers, a crucial agri input, government through Adhar based identification, has sought to direct subsidy to the farmer to the tune of around $ 11.5 billion, instead of subsidizing the product, namely, urea. This has resulted in better balance in the use of three fertilizers, nitrogenous, phosphatic and potassic. Coming to infrastructure, policy initiatives have removed many constraints that were holding back many infrastructure projects. Construction of national highways has trebled to 10000 kms in 2015-16, from 3500kms in 2013-14. The road network is being stretched to the villages, because poor rural roads destroy more than one third of the agri produce while being transported to the consumption centers.
Well, one could go on with the list of achievements of the NDA led by Mr. Modi. Certainly, it will take time to feel the full impact of the steps taken, at ground level. This nation is fortunate to have one of the finest Prime Ministers independent India has seen. Here is a workaholic driven by the conviction that India is destined for greatness. As he succinctly puts it, India has the three ‘D’s; Democracy, Demography and Demand that will underwrite its progress. A self taught economist indeed. He knows how to fight a good fight. At the hustings he is never tired of feisty debates, but back in the parliament he is the prime minister of the whole nation, who spontaneously reaches out to offer a glass of water to Mr. Bhagwant Mann, AAP MP, who while decrying Mr. Modi for the CBI raids  at Delhi Government Secretariat, suddenly felt uneasy. This then is our Prime Minister. Can we not look at the future with hope and confidence with this man at the helm?

 (Author is a financial consultant & economic thinker)

MODI AND FUTURE INDIA

Dr. Satish Rao
May 2014! History was created in India by the unprecedented victory of NDA under the leadership of Shri. Narendra Damodardas Modi - with the slogan “ Abki Baar Modi Sarkar’ and Modi became the Prime Minister.  The rest is history, and is continuing.
Last month Modi government at the centre completed 2 years.  The majority of Indians will agree that there is a visible new governance paradigm in the country after the Modi govt. came to power.  We always dreamt of a Swatch Bharath. But it was left to Shri Modi to envision and implement. How successful we shall be is a moot point. But he successfully brought it to the public domain as an ongoing project to etch it in national consciousness as Swatch Bharath is our duty.  The govt. has been working towards efficient delivery of services and empowering the poor through various welfare schemes.  Of Course many previous governments also tried to execute various schemes for the public but many failed to reach the target.  As our ex-PM late Rajiv Gandhi once famously said, “Out of every rupee spent on welfare schemes and public works, only 15 paise reach the beneficiary’.  Now with the present government claimed to have not a single case of corruption against its ministers so far, is definitely delivering much more than 15 paise.
With the weeding out of bogus ration cards, a sum of Rs. 36,000 crores has been reportedly saved.  Modi’s call to the nation “GIVE IT UP” resulted in over 1 crore cooking gas users voluntarily giving up their subsidies and this   amount was used to provide over 3.7 crore new LPG connections to those without gas connections during 2015-16 alone.
By encouraging actively to use LED bulbs in 500 cities, the nation saved 20,000 MW electricity.  Transparent auctioning of the coal blocks yielded more than 1 lakh crore. The import of coal has also been stopped.  The same happened with 3G and 4G auction also with huge inflow to the wealth of the nation.
The NDA govt. of Modi has so far implemented over 50 welfare schemes. About 5300 villages were given power connection in the last two years.  Improving road connectivity and upgrading our highways was given top priority by this govt. which is very essential as the new generation slogan appears to be “IF THERE IS A WAY, THERE IS A WILL’’.  The Railway networking is also improving well under the able minister Shri.  Suresh Prabhu.
Reportedly our own district of Dakshina Kannada has received around Rs. 10,000 crores for different development works including improvement of highways and roads.
One striking feature of this govt. is that the entire mechanism is with the people of the country through various social media.  The tech savvy Modi and his ministers have been prompt and proactive in using the power of social media in good governance.  As told recently by the Union Commerce & Industry minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, “The govt. is accessible to the people at any point of time.”.
ISSUES & CONCERNS (Jan 2016), in its Open letter to Mr. Modi had written “May be in the history of India (?World) no other person has ever been written in such endearing terms and pathological hatred at the same time.  If those who do not like you are innumerable, even those who admire you are a legion.’’ This is so very true. The scenario of late is slowly and steadily changing in favour of Modi and even his own enemies are becoming his admirers in India & abroad. It was the very same United State of America, who earlier denied VISA to Modi, but gave him repeated standing ovation when he addressed the joint session of U.S congress in early this June.
There are comments about his foreign  jaunts but that is also essential to build up the resources in India and the image outside.  And he manages them both so prudently.
Some BJP functionaries are talking about a “Congress- free India”, though they claim that ideologically it means “building a strong India”. However one should not think of decimating that grand old party totally – though it appears to be literally heading for that.  For an effective democracy, we need an effective opposition party as a watchdog.  Let Modi’s good rule continue for decades, but a good opposition party is needed. The tragedy with Congress is that inspite of the clear writing on the wall, they don’t want to accept it.  Let this dynasty rule end and the left over true congressmen can rebuild the party before it dies a natural death.
There is no doubt India is emerging as the new power & force in the world under Modi now.  India richly deserves it – as the Vishawaguru.  Let us all progress as Vishwamanavas for the prosperity of the whole mankind:  Vasudaiva Kutumbakam.

(Author is Prof. & Head of Department of Psychiatry, KSHEMA, Mangalore)

Celebration @ two years.....

Dr. G.R. Krishna
The NDA govt alias BJP govt at Delhi is celebrating its 2 years of existence. It is time to take stock of things,It's plusses and minuses. Of course 2 years is too short a time to asses/estimate the performance and results of any govt particularly in a complex country like India with its contradictions.
Perhaps it was a turning moment in Indian politics, that a regional leader like Narendra Modi could emerge as a national leader to gain a thumping majority to BJP in the Lok-sabha on the brand name called "Modi".
Now, on the international front and diplomacy, PM Modi's worldwide travels have enhanced the image and prestige of the country India/Bharath. Our friendship with USA is deepened with Obama-Modi frequent hand shakes.India acquired new friends like Switzerland, Mexico and some of the gulf countries. Each one of these may be of great strength to India in future. 
Of course Modi's ‘Bhai-Bhai diplomacy’ with Pakistan did not work,the later being a known backbiter and stabber to India. The China, the dragon is intolerant of growing popularity and strength of India. Of course, Modi's approach is the only alternative to contain and continue with the disgruntled neighbours!
The campaign "Make in India" has acquired a national appeal to attract and make India the investors friendly country. It has also given a sensitivity to the quality and prestige of Indian products. Same way "Swatch Bharath" campaign has assumed the proportion of national movement for cleanliness and environment consciousness. These two movements have given goals to cherish and dignity to live with for Indian masses.
Coming to controlling and redeeming black money,the governmental efforts are not fully successful nor appreciable, may be the newly acquired friendship with Switzerland through an MOU may help India in unearthing atleast some part of black money which is hoarded in Swiss banks and N.B.Cs.
Coming to the malady of corruption, the disease is so ingrained in Indian politicians and the Indian bureaucracy, P.M Modi, along with some honest colleagues in the cabinet and Parliament, is trying his best to clean the stables. However the problem defies immediate results and it is a long way to go!
On the development front and economy, the govt is quoting/boasting the so called impressive growth of 7 points plus; but alas! All is not well. The growth rate index is only one facet of the economy. The uncontrolled prices in the wholesale as well as retail markets and galloping inflation have worsened the citizens lives and drastically nullified the effects of the so called growth rate. "The Reduced interest rate mechanism" to enhance the investments and to increase productivity is not fully working. As a result the real benefits of the growth and welfare are not reaching the masses. 
There is also a perception, which appears to be true to a large extent, that the disparities between rich and poor, the privileged and the masses are widening, ney alarmingly widening ;unless the govt takes care of it on war-footing, this govt with all its positives have to count it's days in it's existence, if not for the come back.
The PM Modi's singular focus on development has given a new fillip and new thrust for the whole nation to strive at. However, some extreme right elements in the govt and the fellow organisations of BJP are doing enough damage to weaken the PM by their irresponsible, loose and irrational comments. These comments have given the handle to the emaciated opposition to accuse the present govt at Delhi of causing the 'communal divide' in India. PM Modi has to doubly take care of this menace of extreme rightism and extreme leftism.
Inspite of its stability and clear direction at the centre,India presents a bewildering scenario of complex realities and contradictions: inspite of sharada and other scams, Mamatha is back to power in Bengal with increased majority.
Jaya Lalitha's coming back to power in Tamilnadu continuously (second time) reversing the trend is a proof of success for the welfare approach in the ruling. Nitish Kumar coming to power in Bihar,with an unholy ally like Laloo Prasad is a tragedy in Indian politics. Orissa is one state where stability and progress continue to march forward under the great leader like Naveen Patnaik. Of course U.P is a political enigma where Mulayam, Mayavathi and BJP with the emaciated Congress play the chess and dice, unpredictable for the results!
On the other BJP's impressive victory to power in Assam is a great welcome in view of the extreme importance of the state for its political sensitivity. Also BJP's improved performance in Tamilnadu and Kerala help it to make the party truly a nationwide-party. AAP govt in Delhi is an oasis. Time only has to tell whether oasis dries up or spreads its water current far and wide.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are going through the pangs of separation. The central govt has to evolve a strategy in tackling and caring the newly born states.
In short 2 years is too short a time for judging a govt,in a country of India's proportions,dimensions, realities and contradictions. However, credits shall be given to PM Modi for unifying the whole country with national stability. He has given a singular focus and direction of development to the country. Perhaps, after Pandit Nehru,Indira Gandhi and Vajpayi, Modi is the only leader in this country as a brand name for the national development and unity. In the contemporary world scenario India and PM Modi has to play role of commanding statesman not only in politics but in the development of the whole world. 
(Author is a well known commentator on socio-political affairs)
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FEATURE- BM Hegde

Strange Bedfellows

Prof. B. M. Hegde,
hegdebm@gmail.com

“Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine; there is no other shelter hereabout: misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.”
WilliamShakespeare-The Tempest Act 2, Scene 2
Something has happened in the world for strange people to come together. It is almost like the serpent and the mongoose have become friends! Two sets of people, diametrically opposite in their approach to make big money (goal is the same, though), have now come together to save the Amazon forest. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this report. The Amazon loggers’ mafia and the US pharmaceutical industrial tycoons have befriended each other to save the Amazon forest for their own good. The latter think that their future depends on the treasures in the Amazon forest to find powerful drugs for all ills of mankind for big money. The reader might think they are doing it for ecological balance! Far from it, very far indeed! They had to befriend the former lest they should spoil their rice bowl. They could be partners instead, for mutual benefit.
Chemical reductionist molecules used as therapeutic drugs have come to grief. The adverse drug reactions (ADRs) have become a routine affair that it is the leading cause of death today. Newer and more potent antibiotics have become a nightmare. More potent pain killers are impossibility as the Placebo effect in the west is becoming stronger by the day and the companies are not able to show them to be better than the placebo! Cancer chemotherapy has been an utter failure and is deadlier than the cancer itself. The Pharma giants are learning from history where most powerful and useful drugs were discovered by local people in their own backyards.
Quinine was discovered from the bark of the Cinchona tree in Peru in the 15th Century as local people believed that God gives the medicines where He gives diseases. They went to the forest to get this beautiful white tree barkto successfully treat Malaria which killed millions there at that time; their Vice Roy’s wife was beautiful and her name was Cinchona. They named the tree after her. Europeans who were jealous of the Peruvians failed to spot the tree; instead they got the bark from Willow Tree which gave them salicylic acid. Vincristine, a powerful anti-cancer drug came from Vinca Rosea deep in the Amazon forests in the American continent. It is freely grown in India although its origin is supposed to be from Madagascar. Many other such examples could be cited. After getting frustrated by producing chemical molecules in the laboratory to stimulate or suppress some new receptors discovered by Nobel winning reductionist scientists, the US drug lords feel it will be more profitable and less dangerous to harvest good drugs from nature, especially the large forests reservoirs like the Amazon. They are trying to learn from the poet: “full many a gem of purest ray serene, the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.” Full many a drug for disease cure the deep and blue forest treasures might hold. That is the long and the short of their love for the Amazon forest and its real guards-the loggers. Indirectly, mankind gets benefit if we preserve and increase the world’s forest cover.
These reservoirs might be holding the secret of cure for many an incurable disease today. Recently there has been a renewed interest in the wisdom of the aboriginal races found in pockets all over the world without any touch with the so called advanced world. Americans have found some such groups even deep inside the Amazon forest who have lived there without the touch of modern medicine etc. and have been tending to their sick in their own way successfully. Western medical juggernaut, reeling under its own heavy cost and prohibitive mortality rates, has been looking for such outlets to innovate. Those people do not have their textbooks or computers but have their elders to pass on the wisdom to the next generation. The only way to tap that wisdom is to befriend the people there.
When Europeans first came to the New World they wanted to finish off as many of these Native Americans as possible by arms, poisons, the deadly germs they brought with them etc. are now trying to woo them and also to locate more such groups in deeper forest areas, even here, for their own good and to satisfy their greed. This innate wisdom gets incorporated into their consciousness when they are made in their mothers’ womb itself and can be learnt from them by us. So far so good. There is one more danger lurking in the corner. That is the one up-man-ship of the western reductionist thinking. As soon as they find a herb or method to cure they use their reductionism to find out what chemicals are there in the medicine to be extracted to use it both for research to begin with and treatment later. This is bound to fail as the whole is not necessarily the sum total of the bits in nature. The interconnectedness is essential for any herb to act.
One example from modern medicine will suffice. Digitalis lanata was the original powder of the leaves of that plant used by William Withering to treat dropsy (oedema) successfully. Even when we were students in the 1950s we used to have powder digitalis. This had a wide range of therapeutic and toxic doses. Now we have taken the extracts and modified versions like digoxin, digitoxin and many other reductionist forms. Their therapeutic-toxic range is so narrow that a small overdose results in serious side effects! The good effect is the same as the leaf. The conventional randomised controlled studies (RCTs) with surrogate end points are also unscientific. We must innovate to have patient outcome studies instead. This is a good move by the western drug companies although for wrong reasons. I welcome the move.
“While science critics might have consumers believe the words biotechnology, sustainability, environment and industry together make strange bedfellows, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) shares with manufacturers and consumers information that shows the worlds can commingle.”          Anon.

FEATURE

How India fell out with Facebook

RAHUL BHATIA

Until Mark Zuckerberg arrived in a bright orange helicopter in October 2014, Chandauli had never seen a celebrity visitor. One of 44,795 villages in the state of Rajasthan, Chandauli is only three or four hours’ drive from Delhi, but it exists alone and forgotten, tucked away, a kilometre off a quiet highway. Last year, when a local boy used the internet to buy a used motorcycle, astonished villagers called him an online shopping hero.
Zuckerberg had come to see an experiment at work. Earlier that year, with its sights set on the forthcoming elections, the government had asked a foundation to help give Chandauli’s mostly Muslim villagers a digital education. And so, with uncommon haste, a small administrative building was turned into a community centre, where locals could learn how to access information online. Soon, almost every household in the village had one person who knew how to use a computer.
The transformation of Chandauli was an ideal story for Zuckerberg – a little parable for his grand mission for India. He wanted to bring the internet to millions of people who had never used it before. Specifically, he wanted to bring them a version of the internet that had Facebook at its core.
After Zuckerberg landed, he was quickly guided by his advisers towards the community centre. He saw wheat fields and power lines, and a classroom with children sitting on a dirt floor. The heat warped the horizon. A crowd trailed behind him, talking excitedly about the man they called “Juckerberg”. But once he stepped inside the centre, the door was closed and latched.
Zuckerberg took a seat and awkwardly asked the village children about how they used the centre’s computers. His stiff manner, combined with the presence of a reporter from Time magazine, and a Facebook photographer documenting the encounter, added to the sensation that the locals were playing parts in a performance directed by the company.
But not everything went according to plan. The electricity had gone out shortly after Zuckerberg arrived, taking with it the wireless network that provided the village’s main connection to the internet. Instead, one of the boys showed Zuckerberg his mobile phone, and tried to bring up his Facebook profile page. This roused the CEO. “He genuinely wanted to know what they did on their phones, and how they spent time on the internet,” said Osama Manzar, the co-founder of the Digital Empowerment Foundation that had set up Chandauli’s digital literacy centre.
Under Zuckerberg’s gaze, the boy’s profile page slowly emerged on a 2G connection. “Bandwidth issues,” Zuckerberg said to himself. 
Later that day, Zuckerberg returned to New Delhi, where he posted a picture of himself speaking with a child at the resource centre. “One day, if we can connect every village, we can transform many more lives and improve the world for all of us. Chandauli is just the start.” he wrote.
From Zuckerberg’s vantage point, high above the connected world he had helped create, India was a largely blank map. Many of its citizens – hundreds of millions of people – were clueless about the internet’s powers. Zuckerberg was convinced that Facebook could win them over, and even more convinced that this would change their lives for the better. He would bring India’s rural poor online quickly, and in great numbers, with an irresistible proposition: users would pay nothing at all to access a version of the internet curated by Facebook.
But where Zuckerberg saw the endless promise of a digital future, Indians came to see something more sinister. Seventeen months later, Facebook’s grand plans to bring India online had been halted by overwhelming local opposition – the biggest stumbling block the company had hit in its 12-year-history. In the end, it seemed, Facebook had acted as if it was giving India a gift. But it was not a gift Indians wanted.
In the charged days before Facebook went public in May 2012, its official filings contained a faint warning about the company’s future growth. In Europe and America, the company had gained users at an astonishing rate – but, as it ran out of new people to add, its expansion was slowing. On both continents, almost four out of five people had internet access, and more than half of them were already on Facebook.
In the rest of the world, Facebook’s business was booming, but it had the opposite problem: less than half the population was connected to the internet. For the social network to continue its growth, it needed those people to get online.
No country except China held the kind of potential that India did – and Facebook was banned in China. Without much effort, there were already around 100 million Facebook users in India by 2014, and the company judged its potential market to be several hundred million more.
“If you look at the literate population, which is a good proxy for how many people can be online, it’s about 700-800 million,” a Facebook employee who worked on the company’s plans for India told me.
But Facebook was not about to sit around waiting for them to get online on their own. Since 2010, the company had been experimenting with ways to bring more people online, and thus to Facebook. One of these experiments, the Facebook employee said, was a project referred to as Apollo.
Under Apollo, Facebook’s growth and partnership teams persuaded mobile phone companies in the Philippines, Latin America, Africa and India to give mobile phone users who had not paid for data plans free access to Facebook. The initial financial sacrifice, Facebook told the phone companies, was an investment – giving customers a small taste of the internet would convince them to start paying to access everything the web had to offer.
The best proof of this proposition came in the Philippines, where Facebook partnered with Globe – the smaller of the country’s two dominant mobile companies – which trailed its rival’s market share by 20 percentage points. Globe’s user numbers surged, and within 15 months, it had overtaken its rival, thanks to the enormous lure of free access to Facebook.
The success of such experiments fed into a much bigger plan Facebook had been developing: an ambitious effort to bring hundreds of millions of people around the world online. In February 2014, while the results of the Philippines experiment were trickling in, Zuckerberg stood on a stage at a mobile industry conference in Barcelona and pitched the phone companies its big plan: Internet.org, which would provide free basic internet services to entice the whole world online. 
In July 2014, Zambia became the first country where Internet.org was rolled out. But Facebook was already preparing for India. A few months before Zuckerberg’s helicopter landed in Chandauli, Facebook contacted Osama Manzar of the Digital Empowerment Foundation to ask for his advice on tailoring Internet.org to a local audience.
For months, Facebook employees working on Internet.org mined Manzar for information. “Just about anybody from Facebook in the US would land up at our office,” he told me.  “They had questions interns would have!” Manzar likes to say he guided them like a paid adviser, but without the pay. “It was taking a lot out of me, and I had no idea what the future of this huge amount of content-gathering was,” he told me.
Manzar, who is 48, had spent much of his life working to help Indians get online, and now one of the biggest tech companies in the world had thrown its weight behind his cause. “The power of Facebook as a platform, how it has motivated people to come online, generate content, get even the non-literate to become literate ... I am a great fan,” he said.
But Manzar’s optimism soured when he saw what Internet.org actually looked like: a threadbare platform that only allowed access to 36 sites and Facebook, which was naturally the only social network available. There was one weather app, three sites for women’s issues, and the search engine Bing. 
Crucially, Facebook itself would decide which sites were included on the platform. The company had positioned Internet.org as a philanthropic endeavour – backed by Zuckerberg’s lofty pronouncements that “connectivity is a human right” – but retained total control of the platform. 
Manzar had never seen anything like it. He realised that if Internet.org took hold in India, Facebook would be the gatekeeper to the web for hundreds of millions who had no idea what the internet was, or what it could do for them.
As Zuckerberg travelled around the country in the autumn of 2014, he had every reason to be optimistic about Facebook’s India strategy. He received an ecstatically warm welcome from Indian politicians, who were eager to advertise their tech-savviness by being seen with Facebook’s founder. He was even granted an audience with India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, who had built a sizeable online presence – with some help from Facebook – during the recent elections.
Zuckerberg also got an easy ride from the Indian media, which churned out puff pieces about Facebook’s noble plans to get millions of Indians online. But the company remained vague about the detailed workings of Internet.org, and tech journalists began to voice their suspicions after an evasive press conference in New Delhi, where Zuckerberg only took questions from carefully selected reporters.
One of the sceptics was Nikhil Pahwa, the founder and editor of Medianama, a news site about India’s telecommunications industry, who left the press conference and began to outline his reservations about what Facebook was proposing. “What Zuckerberg means by internet for all, is essentially Facebook for all, along with a few non-profit services thrown in to give it the appearance of philanthropy,” he wrote the following day.
But what would prove devastating to Zuckerberg’s ambitions for India was something else that Pahwa noticed. Facebook had wandered into an arcane technical dispute – involving India’s phone companies and the idea of net neutrality – which was about to come to a boil.
Internet.org would allow some commercial services – such as the employment site Babajob – to be available on its free platform. But that would necessarily mean excluding those companies’ competitors, and essentially subsidising the growth of a few chosen firms. Pahwa argued that this arrangement violated net neutrality – the principle that phone companies and internet providers should not be allowed to prioritise certain sites and services, since this could fundamentally alter the level playing field of the internet. The government had been debating the legality of services said to violate net neutrality. If it decided to issue a ruling on the subject, Facebook’s plans could be dashed.
In February 2015, four months after Zuckerberg’s visit, Internet.org went live in India, in partnership with Reliance Mobile, India’s fourth-largest phone company. Reliance’s advertisements for the service showed college students crowding around a single phone, laughing at something on the screen. The tagline: “If the sun is free … If the air is free … Then why shouldn’t the internet be free?”
The debate between the company and its critics about the virtues of Internet.org would most likely have carried on quietly, without ever disturbing the attention of ordinary Indians. But at the end of March 2015, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) announced that it was considering a ruling on net neutrality, and asked for public comment on the issue. Any ruling would affect the fate of Internet.org.
For Pahwa, this was a worrying development. Even the term “net neutrality” was forbidding: “It’s a terrible, technical sounding phrase,” he said. The TRAI already seemed to have a tendency to come down on the side of the phone companies, and Pahwa believed his only chance of winning was to somehow gather huge public support. The regulator could ignore policy papers by telecom nerds. “What they can’t ignore is people,” Pahwa emailed a friend.
Luckily, at least in the public eye, his adversary was one of the world’s largest and most famous technology companies – and the playing field was a country whose citizens reacted with fierce antipathy to anything that looked like a foreign power dictating terms to grateful supplicants.
A group of volunteers – coders, lawyers, policy wonks – began to coalesce around Pahwa. Dubbing their movement Save the Internet, they built a website that would allow anyone to make a submission to the regulator in favour of net neutrality.
On 11 April, the website launched, featuring a video by a wildly popular group of young comedians, All India Bakchod – who produced a nine-minute net neutrality explainer that would eventually rack up 3.5 million views. Within two weeks, more than a million people had used the site to send emails to the government – and soon enough, politicians were debating net neutrality in parliament.
All of a sudden, a shockingly large number of Indians had been drawn into a loud and raucous public argument about the intricacies of the country’s telecoms policy. On one side, there was the unlikely sight of a popular online rebellion, among young and old alike, in favour of net neutrality – a concept almost nobody had heard of a few months earlier.
On the other side were the phone companies and Facebook, which was convinced that its plans would benefit the economy, lure a massive invisible population online, and help realise India’s ambitions to become a digital powerhouse. This side was not without its own impassioned supporters, and soon India’s fractious social media was tangled in thousands of bitter fights about whether Facebook was asking too much for the kind of progress it promised to provide.
On Twitter, supporters of net neutrality began to protest against companies that had partnered with Facebook. Before long, four websites withdrew their participation, and tweeted support for net neutrality on their way out.
All the while, from his office at Facebook HQ in Silicon Valley, Chris Daniels, the vice-president of Internet.org, watched with alarm as the opposition mounted in India. 
To most onlookers, Facebook’s initial reaction suggested that the company was not taking the opposition seriously. Its efforts appeared clumsy and ineffective, especially for a company that rarely stumbles so visibly. Employees wondered what Facebook’s gameplan was. “To do things right, you need someone in policy who is a strategist and a skilful tactician,” the Facebook employee said. “Globally, yes, we have people like that. In India I’m not so sure.”
In private, Facebook’s efforts began to intensify. Zuckerberg began to make personal calls to Indian internet entrepreneurs to rebuild support for Internet.org. 
Facebook held its cards close, and tried to avoid public confrontation. At one parliamentary committee hearing, the company took the unusual step of asking if it could put its case to lawmakers in private, and had everyone else cleared out of the room. Ankhi Das, the company’s head of public policy – its top lobbyist, in other words – had uncommonly good access in Delhi’s corridors of power. Her presence seemed to open any door, a Facebook executive told me. “We used to joke that it was like she was Modi’s granddaughter.”
Modi had swept into office after a massive election victory in May 2014, thanks in part to a huge, well-organised online following. The person who ran Modi’s social media operation told me that Facebook was extraordinarily responsive to requests from the campaign, and recalled that Das “never said no” to any information the campaign wanted. However, a Facebook spokesperson insisted that the company had never provided special information or extra details to Modi’s campaign.
In the months after the election, Facebook’s interest in India was evident. Sheryl Sandberg met Modi soon after. A few months later, Zuckerberg paid him a visit. And in the midst of the net neutrality debate, Modi returned the favour by making an appearance before a large crowd at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters in September 2015, with Zuckerberg and Sandberg at his side.
The moment – a picture of solidarity – was broadcast live online, and did not go unnoticed back in India, where it was covered live on television. Pahwa, who had been invited into a TV studio to give his reaction, recalled that he feared Modi would announce his opposition to net neutrality on the spot.
Instead, Zuckerberg told Modi a cute story. “I haven’t told this publicly,” he began, anxiously. “Before things were going well, when people wanted to buy Facebook, I met my mentor, Steve Jobs.” The Apple CEO apparently urged Zuckerberg to visit a temple in India that he had gone to years earlier. “So I travelled for almost a month, seeing how people connected,” said Zuckerberg. “Having the opportunity to feel how much better the world could be if everyone had a stronger ability to connect reinforced for me the importance of what we were doing. That’s something I’ve always remembered while we built Facebook.”
Modi clapped and grinned.
A month after Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg returned to Delhi once again. At the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, Zuckerberg sauntered on to a stage and gave woolly answers to the softest of pre-selected questions. But when the talk ended, Zuckerberg was ushered to a nearby room, where many of India’s most prominent online entrepreneurs had been assembled for a closed-door meeting with him.
By now Internet.org had been rechristened Free Basics. The meeting was about how Facebook could help everyone there, one of the attendees recalled. However, the entrepreneurs wanted to talk about Free Basics. “Everybody started saying, ‘Well, why are you controlling who gets on this?’” recalled Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the proprietor of the popular mobile payments firm Paytm.
Zuckerberg assured them that Facebook would no longer retain the power to choose which sites were included. “He said he will not decide who will be on Free Basics. Some ‘eminent people’ of India will decide,” Sharma said. The entrepreneurs wanted Free Basics changed in many ways, and Sharma recalled Zuckerberg’s response as being, “I’ve heard your inputs, and we’ll try changing it.”
When it was Sharma’s turn to speak, he did not hide his feelings. “I said, ‘Zuck, what are you talking about?’ In my view, it’s like the British coming in and saying, ‘While everything’s OK, we’ll come in and help you with your tax collection – and this is the percentage we’ll take.’ It’s incredible.”
Several people involved in the debate over net neutrality shared Sharma’s disbelief. They told me that Facebook’s insistence on pushing through Free Basics without a transparent discussion was doing lasting damage to the company. “There was tone-deafness in the people who carried out the campaign,” Nitin Pai, the co-founder of an influential policy thinktank named the Takshashila Institution, told me. “You know that foreigners talking down to Indians and telling them what is good for them is going to backfire.”
Zuckerberg had tried to gain Sharma’s support. “What is my perception of Facebook’s purpose? Thumbs up,” Sharma said when we met earlier this year at his office. “What is my judgment of their actions? It’s not correct. The purpose is nice. I want everybody in this country to be connected as much as Zuck wants. Who doesn’t want that? But are they doing it correctly?” He could not stop laughing as he imagined Facebook’s plans to serve India. “Someone isn’t advising them well. Let them provide the complete internet for free at night. We’ll partner with them,” he said, thumping his chest.
Within Facebook, the executive said, there existed a strong belief that the crises would pass; the regulator would eventually be pressed to give services such as Free Basics legal sanction and that would end the debate.
After months of foot-dragging, the telecoms regulator – under the influence of a new chairman – decided in November 2015 to hurry up and reach a decision on net neutrality. For the second time in a year, it asked the public to comment, on three specific questions relating to net neutrality and expanding internet access, with a deadline of 30 December.
There was no mention of Facebook or Free Basics. “Facebook did not figure much in the discussions,” a person involved in the telecoms regulator’s deliberations said. Instead, the regulator turned the debate’s glare away from Facebook, and on to the larger subject of net neutrality. By resolving the larger issue, they thought, the Free Basics question would sort itself out.
But Facebook panicked. The company saw the regulator’s public questions as an existential threat, and within a week, Facebook’s marketing and policy teams launched a scorched-earth campaign to rally support.
Every user in India who logged into Facebook was greeted with a special message from Facebook, which said: “Free Basics is a first step to connecting 1 billion Indians to the opportunities online. But without your support, it could be banned in a matter of weeks.” Below the message, a large purple button invited users to click and “send email” to the regulator. If this was not intrusive enough, many users complained that even if they declined to send the message, merely lingering on the page caused Facebook to send all their friends a notification indicating they had written to the regulator. Online, outrage at the heavy-handed tactics erupted. “FB just listed an uncle’s account as having signed up to support Free Basics,” one user tweeted. “He passed away two years ago.”
 Facebook  had succeeded, overwhelmingly, in making the larger ruling on net neutrality about itself. As Pahwa told me : "Facebook came and put its ass in our faces."
Commuters on India’s roads and highways found themselves called upon to support Free Basics from what seemed like thousands of billboards. One pictured a farmer and his family and asked them to support “a better future” for unconnected Indians such as “Ganesh”, who used Free Basics and learned “new farming techniques that doubled his crop yield”. Patriotic Facebook advertisements filled entire pages in Indian newspapers every day. By the end of the year, the Indian business daily Mint reported that Facebook had spent more than £30m on advertising. “It felt like a tidal wave,” Pahwa recalled.
Two days before the deadline set by the regulator, an editorial by Zuckerberg was published in the Times of India, the country’s largest newspaper. “Critics of free basic internet services should remember that everything we’re doing is about serving people like Ganesh,” he wrote, in reference to the farmer who had featured in Facebook’s ad campaign. Pahwa responded with an op-ed of his own in the same paper.
Behind the scenes, Zuckerberg made one final offer to India’s software industry. NASSCOM, the software lobby, had come out for net neutrality earlier in the year. But now, days before the deadline, its members were abuzz about the deal Zuckerberg had proposed – the lobby group itself would hold the power to decide which sites were on Facebook’s platform. “That suddenly made them say, ‘Man, that would put us in a very powerful position,’” the former NASSCOM executive told me. The software lobby quietly changed its tune: it told the regulator it supported net neutrality, with an exception for “short-term business promotions” – like Free Basics.
According to Facebook, 16 million users in India sent messages to the regulator to support Free Basics before the deadline. Swamped with feedback, the regulator used custom-built programs to sift out the original replies. A pattern emerged immediately; the comments in support of Free Basics that Facebook had submitted did not address the questions the regulators had asked. The regulator worried that Free Basics’ supporters were not “making informed decisions” and chastised Facebook for reducing the consultation to a popularity contest.
The regulator spent the month of January 2016 preparing its ruling. The meetings ran on for hours every day. But the discussions were about the details of a stance that had already been decided: net neutrality would be upheld. “We could have kept going on discussing it, but someone has got to stop,” a person closely involved in the process said. “So we just stopped on 8 February.” Services such as Free Basics were effectively declared illegal.
Many of Facebook’s supporters – in India and abroad – were aghast: why would a poor country reject the assistance of one of the world’s biggest and most powerful tech companies? Marc Andreessen, the powerful venture capitalist who sits on Facebook’s board, contemptuously suggested a misguided resentment of the west was to blame. “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for India for decades,” he told his 500,000 Twitter followers. “Why stop now?”
When I mentioned this quote to the Facebook executive, he raised his voice in frustration. “There’s no respect, and you can see that from Marc Andreessen. They wouldn’t dare to say that about China. In India they’re fine because we’ve been bending over backwards to accommodate them. I’m a supporter of prime minister Modi, but I don’t know why he has let this go on.” He bet me that Andreessen would apologise by the end of the next day. As we spoke, Andreessen tweeted an apology.
Senior people at Facebook, the executive said, had convinced themselves they had special pull with the prime minister. “They believed Modi would do it for them,” he said, recalling meetings where people discussed the similarities in “managing” India and Africa: “It worked in Burundi, so it should work in India.”
“I think the mistake that people make is that they think, ‘India is this developing country and there are these back-channel ways of getting things done,’” the Facebook employee told me. “In essence, the mistake of thinking that a third-world country is a banana republic. So institutions, the public, the press – they can be bypassed.” He recalled a whiff of disrespect that lingered in meeting rooms and on conference calls. “You can sense it in the way that some of these things have been approached. It’s like, ‘If we show support for Free Basics from six million users, the government can’t shut it down’.”
“We are not a Tanzania,” Pai, the thinktank founder, said. “We are producing apps, and it is an economic pillar to our success. So we shouldn’t give over our keys to anyone. We should be careful of putting market power in the hands of one or two companies.” Several people who had been lobbied by Facebook – and a few insiders at the company – remarked with distaste that the company had “no skin in the game”, as one put it. “The pipes belong to the phone companies, and they pay the marketing costs of bringing new users online,” the former NASSCOM executive said. “So what exactly did Facebook bring here?”
When I asked the Facebook executive why the company had failed to heed the growing protests and carried on fighting so hard for Free Basics, he pointed to Zuckerberg’s intense belief in Facebook’s mission. “This happens every time Facebook pushes out a new change,” he said. “New privacy settings? People protest, Facebook changes it just a little, and people get used to it. The same thing probably happened here. Mark would have thought people would get used to it.”
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SERIAL : 37

INDIAN IN COWBOY COUNTRY

LABOUR DAY

Pradeep Anand
Come Labour Day, the Lunch Bunch and their spouses descended on Satish and Monica’s home in Sugar Land.
It was a single-story, ranch home on an outsized lot. The St. Augustine grass in the front yard was manicured, and several crepe myrtles with pinkish-red flowers blossomed in the summer heat. It also had four oak trees surrounded by bushes of Mexican heather, blooming begonias, and an assortment of heatresistant perennials, such as blue lily of the Nile and day lilies. All borders were lined with variegated monkey grass. At the entrance to the home, two large hibiscus plants displayed giant, gloriously red flowers.
The greenery outside extended into the home. Bright green potted plants adorned almost every window of this well-lit, airy home with high cathedral ceilings. Several identical pots of African violets adorned the large French windowsills of the integrated kitchen and breakfast area that overlooked the backyard.
The formal dining area, adjacent to the front door, was dominated by an antique cherry dining table surrounded by ten New England ladder chairs. They matched the table, sideboard, buffet, and china cabinet. A plant peered through the window at the far corner, where the gold-gray curtain, topped by a valance was drawn.
Elegantly framed prints of Monet’s Nympheas were neatly displayed on the walls of the formal living room, as if in a museum. The cushioned formal sofas, stationed across from them, and the curtains and valances, were understated and subdued. They complimented the colors of the pastoral paintings without overpowering them.
The Sharma’s den was an informal room. Laminated Indian tourism posters, remnants from Satish’s bachelor days, and colorful Indian wall hangings and sofa cushions gave it an ethnic touch. A wall unit encased a large TV and a stereo system with two large speakers, carefully positioned to create a sweet spot where he used to sit on the sofa to listen to music before Seeta was born.
The kitchen and breakfast areas, at the far end of the home, with open entrance to the dining room and den, were spotlessly clean. The white, tiled countertop displayed eight silver serving spoons neatly placed in front of eight serving bowls containing Indian dishes that a stressed-out Monica had toiled over during the weekend. Tandoori chicken was kept warm in the oven.
In all the rooms, ceiling fans were running violently fast, joining forces with home’s two-zone central air conditioners to cool the home and its inhabitants. They also distributed the aromas from the kitchen.
“Golly, this home sure smells like someone’s been cooking,” Clyde said when he and his wife, Pauline, stepped into the home. Dressed as if they were going to the rodeo - Wranglers, open collared western shirts, and boots-they made a beeline for the kitchen. They introduced themselves to Monica, and gave her a bouquet of the finest long-stemmed roses she had seen. Clyde also brought a six-pack of beer that his host preferred.
Monica accepted the gifts graciously and said, “You shouldn’t have; it wasn’t necessary.”
Pauline replied, “We couldn’t come here empty handed, could we, darlin’?”
Clyde conceded that it was her idea to bring the roses, and his idea to bring six-pack. “It’d look mighty strange if I brought Satish a bouquet of flowers, wouldn’t it?”
Clyde looked at the array of covered serving bowls that had been set on the kitchen counter and began opening each one of them, inhaling the steamy smells. “Hot dog, Monica. Next time I participate in a chili cook-off, I want you to be my partner. You gotta tell me how you create this bouquet of aromas!”
Pauline pulled him away. “I apologize, honey. He’s attracted to food like wasps to barbecue,” she said. Satish smiled at an amused Monica, who was getting her first taste of an authentic Texan couple in close quarters.
Just then, the bell rang. Dan arrived with his date, Miriam, and her two year-old daughter, Liya. Like Clyde before him, Dan and Miriam searched out Monica, gave her a gift-wrapped package, and insisted that she open it immediately. It was a mahogany plaque with a silver plated inscription in Hebrew.
Dan said that it was a house blessing and translated the inscription: “In this place there shall dwell peace. Upon this residence shall rest tranquility. Upon this abode shall dwell brotherly love. Here shall they meet with satisfaction and happiness with blessing and success. Within these beams shall sing the voice of thanks. In this residence and in this corner shall dwell the holy presence.” He added that, in Hebrew, the words rhymed by stanza.
Miriam then gave another package to Liya and asked her to give it to Seeta, who did not need an invitation to open it. It was a large brown teddy bear, which she hugged immediately. She said, “Thank you. This is the best teddy bear I ever had.” She hugged Liya, took her by her hand, and led her to her room to play with her toys.
“Where’s the beer?” Dan asked. Satish retrieved three bottles from a large cooler filled with ice and chilled beer. He handed one each to his friends, who were gathered around the breakfast table that was laden with hors d’oeuvres. The ladies preferred chilled white wine and iced tea.
The doorbell rang again, and when Satish opened the door, he saw Darrel and Sam, both with their wives. Darrell’s wife, Serena, was a tall, handsome, dark-haired woman. Satish thought she looked more Middle Eastern than Hispanic.
He was surprised to see Sam’s wife, Susan, who was a stunning Oriental. Satish did not let his astonishment show as he welcomed the quartet into his home. They joined the rest of the team in the kitchen.
“You have a beautiful home, Monica,” Susan said. She gave Monica a bottle of champagne, which she gave her husband. He united its red ribbon, commented on the label and the vintage, and put it in the fridge to preserve it for a special occasion.
“Thank you, Susan,” Monica said, doing little to cover her amazement that Sam’s wife was of Chinese origin.
Almost simultaneously, Darrell gave Satish a large, gift-wrapped box that he politely accepted and opened. It was a foot-and-a-half tall, gold- and silver plated mariner’s constellation compass. It had four movable rings around a central compass, all encircled by two entwined dragons.
“It is beautiful. Thank you so much. Darrell and Serena,” Satish said.
“You shouldn’t have,” Monica said.
Darrell raised the bottle of beer that Dan had just given him, turned to Satish and said, “May your True North always guide you, my friend.”
The rest of the Lunch Bunch and their spouses raised their glasses, said, “Cheers!” and took quick sips of their drinks.
“Enough of this stuff. When do we eat?” asked Clyde.
“Shush, Clyde. That isn’t polite, darlin’. Why don’t you and the boys go outside to the purty backyard and do some men talk while we set the table,” suggested Pauline.
Clyde opened the back door from the breakfast area and went outside, asking the rest of men to join him. “C’mon let’s get out of their way. Satish, bring some more beer.”
There were ten lawn chairs set in a circle on the covered patio. The men sat on alternative chairs, and all were cooled by the ceiling fan that created a mild breeze.
“Thank God summer’s almost over and we can have an outdoor life again,” Sam said, breaking the ice.
“Yup. I am looking forward to nine months of paradise on earth,” Clyde conceded.
Darrel said, “You know, when I came to Houston from New England, I thought it was nothing but hot, brown, and dry, filled with tall, rough-riding, impolite Texans. But once I started visiting the place, I realized how wrong I was. Yes, it’s hot, but only for three months. The rest of the year is like heaven on earth. It’s green, lush, and sunny, and I can sail all year round in the gulf.”
“To the best coast of the U.S.A.,” Dan said, and raised his bottle.
Darrell half raised his bottle in acknowledgement and said, “Let me share something with you, Clyde, you being the only native Houstonian here. Texans are the warmest people, friendly and straight. I agree with Dan. It’s the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family.” He then raised his bottle to a full toast and took a gulp.
“You got that right, Darrell,” Clyde concurred.
Sam, too, raised his bottle and added, “It’s the diversity that makes it so livable. You can find people from all over the world here.”
Dan turned to his host and said, “You’ve been awfully quiet. What do you think?”
Satish said, “Where could I have met such good friends? To good friends.” He raised his bottle and took a swig. Noticing that his bottle was bottles empty, he went to the nearby cooler, retrieved five more bottles, and took away the nearly empty bottles from his friends. As they twisted the tops off, Pauline appeared at the doorway and announced, “C’mon y’all. Lunch is served.”
The men trooped in with their cold beers and sat down at the table next to their wives. Monica and Miriam told them that the children had already eaten, and gone back to Seeta’s room to play. Then a hush fell over the table till Pauline asked, “Do y’all say Grace before eating?”
When Monica nodded yes, Clyde said, “Why don’t you say Grace over this food we are about to receive in your native tongue?”
Monica looked at her husband, who asked her to continue. The guests and hosts closed their eyes and bent their heads reverentially while she recited the Brahmaapanam in Sanskrit.
When she had finished, Miriam asked what it meant. Monica again looked at Satish, who encouraged her to translate it.