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June - July 2007


Political News

From Far & Near: Topics of interest

by Bhupendra Gandhi


Is Press Power Replacing Prayer power?

We all know and some of us, the fortunate ones, have even experienced the prayer power. So often when every thing else fails, when we are at the end of our tether we often turn to prayers in our hour of need.

Once in a while, it may succeed, a person suffering from an incurable disease miraculously recovers and broken relationships get mended, as my wonderful experience captured in my short story “From Hell and Back” so vividly illustrates. It was indeed a triumph of faith over adversity.

But we have to admit it is very rare and on most part our hopes are dashed, we are heading for a fall if we depend too much on faith. Even the dedicated Faith Healers readily admit the shortfall of faith healing, depending too much on God, faith and miracles.Otherwise the Pope would have to make someone a saint every other day!

But with the advent of information technology, online news and information, TV, radio and the old and trusted print industry, the press, or the pen power as we would like to call it, has never been so prominent, so influential and in some cases financially so rewarding.

I was privileged to indulge in my favourite hobby of writing when I had a mishap in NHS hospital some ten years ago, which changed the course of my life, reduced me to a life of leisure, inactivity and made me practically housebound. I am not the type of person who could sit in front of a TV, watching aimless Indian movies with one theme, same storyline on most part and happy ending, living happily ever after. For some it is escapism at its best while for others, it is a complete waste of time. I am afraid I fall in the second category.

When I was young and ambitious, I always wanted to become a journalist. But it was practically impossible to enter the field, unless your family owned the press. It was, like some other professions such as legal and medical, was controlled by a few aristocratic families and one ethnic minority community, with wealth, unity, education, dedication and unimaginable political influence. So I had to put my ambition of becoming a journalist on hold until the unfortunate mishap when I was reaching the retirement age in any case.

By this time, the political, educational, financial and social environment had changed significantly, beyond recognition. Even ethnic newspapers and prestigious periodicals like my favourite India Link are successfully owned and operated by ethnic minorities, giving our youngsters and not so young enthusiasts like us but with a literary talent, the opportunity to enter the field of journalism.

I must admit my entry to journalism was not an easy ride. As I had secured my financial future from my accountancy profession, I was not looking to make a living from journalism and that helped me enormously.

Yet my first thirty or so attempts, my writings submitted to various newspapers were rejected without reason or explanation. I got my first break when a couple of my travel briefs and a few letters were published in a local ethnic newspaper, Asian Voice, followed by poems and short stories.

Once I got this break, I must admit the profession has been kind to me. For the last ten years, I write, on average and get published some 70 to 100 articles a year for various newspapers, periodicals and magazines.

Naturally it would be difficult to write so prolifically if my writings were confined to a particular subject. Fortunately, as the readers of this prestigious magazine would have noticed, reading my column From Far and Near” I feel that God has given me this precious gift that enables me to write on any subject, whether it is politics, finance, mythology, religion, culture, health, science, short stories and especially poems which I feel are the most difficult to write but most rewarding as well.

My real break, dare I say, to fame but not the fortune came when I started interviewing people, mainly politicians and prominent members of the ethnic communities. The devoted readers of this magazine must have read my in-depth interviews with Member of Parliament and Ministers, like Barry Gardiner, Tony McNulty and Gareth Thomas, with colourful photographs of the highest quality attending various Indian functions and meeting leading community members.

I have just come back from a holiday in Spain where we go so often, as I speak the Spanish language and would like to keep up with it. The only opportunity I get to practice my Spanish is when we are on holidays in Spain and pretend that the only language I speak is Gujarati with a bit of Spanish! If they know I speak English, then their English is inevitably better than my Spanish. So we ended up talking in English.

The hotel where we were staying in Benidorm was owned and managed by a family. Naturally such hotels are better run and managed than chain hotels, as owners, family members are there to greet and welcome us, make us feel at home.

But in a big hotel, they always keep a low profile which may make it difficult to know who they are. A couple of days after our arrival, I was sitting in the internet room which was a tiny cabin next to an office. As Spanish keyboards are some what different from ours, I was struggling to find some specific letters and sign when an immaculately dressed lady, speaking perfect English, asked me whether I need any help.

Of course I gladly accepted her help and expertise.Realizing Rosa is Spanish, I started talking to her in Spanish. Rosa was surprised as hardly any of us, the Brits speak any European languages. We expect others to learn our language.

When I told Rosa that I was a journalist and was trying to email my article, she was intrigued and invited me to her office for a cup of coffee in the afternoon.

Whenever I go on holidays, I always take a copy of my book “Ivory Tower” and a few copies of India Link with some of my best articles. As it turned out, her son was living in London, working for a Spanish paper. So she was not only familiar with journalism but had a great respect for people like us, members of Chartered Institute of Journalists and belonging to an ethnic minority whose first language is not English.

I gave her a copy of my book and a couple of India Link issues. Within a couple of days, Rosa had not only read the India Link but had been into the website as well. I had the opportunity to talk to her practically every day, in the dining room or the lounge. She was like a friend and looked after us so well.

Normally we had to vacate the room at noon;usual time for check-out in all the hotels. As our flight home was late and the pick-up time was 7pm, we needed the room until at least 6pm which was readily provided.

That was not the only help, assistance and support we received from Rosa. As we are vegetarians, we often found rice, Nan, mix vegetable curry, pizza and pasta without meat and such other dishes that are not part of Spanish cuisine, not to mention occasional bottle of sparkling wine at dinner time.

We saw and talked to Rosa practically every day, albeit for a few minutes only, as she was so busy. But she always had a smile, a few minutes to spare and occasionally a cup of coffee with us. I felt she was so kind and generous to us, beyond the call of duty.

When we were leaving, Rosa also promised to post me a couple of books on Spanish, as she must have realized that my Spanish is in need of a bit of uplift. But as long as I am able to converse with the locals, I am happy.

Needless to say that this was not the first time my journalistic background and copies of India Link have helped me to make friends nor would it be the last. For this ray of sunshine in my life, I must thank Krishan Ralleigh, C.B.Patel, many MPs I have interviewed and readers who constantly write and encourage me to carry on when I am too ill and on the verge of giving up.




Australia welcomes Indian settlers

Australia is a virgin land in more ways than one, with a landmass to rival India; ten times more than the British Isles, yet the population is twenty five million, just over one third of Great Britain, an over-populated, over-crowded land that is fast becoming an urban concrete jungle, with poor air, damp atmosphere that is unhealthy, especially for the young and the elderly.

Australia was and still is a jewel in the British Crown, albeit nominally, as Australians are fiercely independent and proud of their culture and tradition, developed over two hundred years of brutal colonial rule that made these people tough, proud and fiercely independent.

Australia has an endless landmass, warm climate and enterprising people. No wonder it has become a magnet for the people who would like to migrate, start afresh and put down their roots.

Australia is hungry for young, well educated, hard working and peace-loving immigrants. No wonder we the Indians fit the bill and are welcomed with open arms. According to the latest figures published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Indian immigrants and homesteaders come third, behind Britons and New Zealanders who are predominantly white.

India has overtaken China and will soon replace New Zealand in the second place, as this island nation itself is under-populated and fighting hard with Australia to attract Indian immigrants.

Until recently, America, Britain and Canada were the main attraction but no more. Australia and New Zealand are fast gaining ground to attract the well-educated and hard working Indians. It is worth mentioning that there are many Indians and East African Asians who settled down here and are now encouraging their children to migrate to Australia, a new land of milk and honey.

So the migrating Brits or the Pommies, as Australians would like to call us, are not all whites. For the first time in recent history, the Asian Brits are as welcome as the White Brits in Australia and New Zealand.

TV programs on our TV channels, such as “Relocation, A Place in the Sun and Property Hunt” are not only keenly watched but so often have Indian participants. This is indeed a new trend, breaking the old tradition.

Most of the Indian settlers prefer Victoria but many are now moving to Perth, the capital city of Western Australia where land is cheap, houses are vast with swimming pools and at least a few acres of land, so often planted with grape vines and fruit orchards. The lifestyle is what we used to enjoy in East Africa just after the end of the Second World War.

Like our lifestyle in East Africa, Australians prefer outdoor life. Most homes have huge gardens with a swimming pool and a barbecue. They enjoy nothing more than BBQ food and a crate of Australian lager at the week-end, either in their own garden but more often in outback where most have a timber house, a hut or a weekend retreat.

Australian beaches are becoming more and more popular, especially with the new arrivals, as these beaches are vast, practically deserted and a haven for wild life. Humans have to share the sandy beaches and shallow, warm waters with dolphins, penguins and occasionally with whales and sharks. The life style is unbelievably slow, calm, peaceful and enjoyable. Australia is indeed a heaven on earth, a blessed land where even God would like to put down roots.

I wonder any of our readers have their children or relatives settled down under, especially migrated from Britain and would like to share their experience with us.




CAN US COLONIZE THE MOON?

U.S. space agency NASA has announced plans to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972, the unique achievement that NASA first achieved when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon on that historic day of 20th July 1969 as part of the Apollo project.

It was the height of the cold war and the moon landing gave America not only a lead in the space race but also an unparalleled propaganda victory over the Soviet Union, who were the first nation to put a sputnik in orbit, followed by a dog and a man and seems to have won the space race hands down.

But the Soviet Union had a notable adversary in President John F. Kennedy who changed all that with his determination to make USA the first nation to conquer the moon and he did it with panache and flamboyance unmatched in space exploration. No wonder the name Kennedy has become synonymous with pride, love, self-respect and patriotism.

The first words Neil Armstrong uttered after the successful landing, now a coined phrase were, “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. How right he was! It was the most significant and unforgettable achievement of the 20th century watched live on television in every house that had a TV at the time.

It was ironic that this success was achieved, at least in part with the immense contribution from the German space scientists captured during the Second World War and given asylum in America. Both USA and Soviet Union grabbed as many scientists as they could and resettled them as privileged persons in their own respective country. This was part of the booty of victory, for destroying the evil empire that Hitler was trying to build at the expense of the free world.

The last landing was in 1972, a long time ago. It is still a puzzle to many, including notable scientists, why America, the only nation to land a man on the moon, did not go on further, exploring the moon and establishing a colony on the moon that would have given the country an unparalleled military and space science, space travel and exploration advantage above the Soviet Union and the rest of the world for decades to come.

It is now 37 years since the first landing and by now America could have a well established moon colony with hundreds of people living permanently under a tent city, a settlement not too dissimilar to the millennium dome built on the River Thames to celebrate the arrival of the 21st Century.

Their failure to colonize the moon, has even raised doubt whether such a landing ever took place, was genuine or a stage managed show filmed in the Nevada desert, a big con trick on the mankind. Indeed I have watched many TV documentaries on this subject that have put forward compelling arguments why such a moon landing never took place.

It is difficult to believe that America could fool the world on such a grand scale when so many people were involved in the launch; when every picture, every photograph was watched and scrutinized by every leading scientist in the world.

But one can never tell? The astronauts brought back to earth samples of rocks and soil which must have been studied and analyzed a million times. I wonder how many reports were published by NASA and why ordinary people like us know next to nothing about this scientific breakthrough.

Could it be that America has learnt that there is no mineral wealth in significant amount, such as gold, diamond and uranium needed in the production of nuclear energy that would make moon base financially viable?

I am sure there is iron ore, lead and other such minerals on the moon but in low quantity. Moreover the cost of transporting such heavy minerals would be a thousand times more than its commercial value.

There can not be coal, oil and diamonds on the moon, as they derive from huge carbon deposits provided by forests and there has never been plant life on moon, let alone forests. Moreover coal and oil is on the way out. In fifty years time, 99% of our energy requirements will come from renewable sources. But now, in the fast changing world, we need moon bases for scientific research, as a platform to launch manned flights to Mars and other planets. It is much easier and cheaper to fire a rocket from the moon than from earth, due to very low gravity and no atmosphere on the moon.

A rocket weighing ten tons on earth may weigh only a few hundred pounds on moon. That will be the real incentive to colonize the moon and not the mineral wealth. Then again we do not know what sort of new minerals not found on earth may be present on Mars and other planets?

The new spaceship known as Orion will replace the present ageing shuttle fleet which has been in service for more than 25 years. U.S. defence contractors Lockheed Martin have secured the contract to built the fleet of Orion spaceships which will take the astronauts to the moon and beyond by the year 2020, some fifty years after the first landing!

The Orion spaceship will also have a new fleet of rockets, called Ares to take the astronauts to moon and beyond. The Russian newspaper Pravda states that Orion will look more like Russian built Soyuz rocket booster than the space shuttle Atlantis or Discovery.

The test flights will start by 2014. But the NASA administrator Michael Griffin wants Orion to be tested well before 2014, as space shuttle will be retired in 2010, leaving a four-year gap without a manned flight that will be detrimental for the American space programme.

The new design is said to be ten times safer than the present one and has gone back to the original cone shaped capsules rather than the winged design of the present shuttle. It will be able to land up to ten astronauts at a time.

Mr. Scott Horowitz, a former shuttle commander who now heads NASA’s effort to develop a new and safer generation of spaceships said that space will no longer be a destination for a short visit. Moon will be a base for the exploration of the universe and to land a man on Mars.

According to space scientists and experts in various fields of space travel, the ultimate aim is to colonize the moon for the benefit of the mankind, where astronauts will stay for up to six months to begin with. This mission and its ultimate aim of a permanent settlement will be as exciting as the discovery of the new world, the colonization of North and South America and Australia.

President Bush’s vision for space exploration is so grand and futuristic that it may sound like dreams that may never materialize, especially after the failure of Star War type shield he wanted to build around America that would destroy any in-coming missiles, firing not only anti-missile missiles but also laser beam from the orbiting space satellites. But after several failures, it is still more a dream than a reality.

It may sound like a plot from one of Jules Verne’s novels, a French author who wrote tales of adventure that anticipated future scientific development, with knowledge and vision far beyond his time and age.

He predicted undersea vessels, (submarines) cities built on the sea bed and space travel so ably demonstrated in his novels Five Weeks in a Balloon, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Twenty Thousand League under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days.

This moon colonization project is so grand, so imaginative and so futuristic that one may have to pinch now and then to make sure it is not a dream but a reality.

It is understood that NASA is already gathering a team of scientists and experts in the field of biology, chemistry, agriculture, flora and fauna, husbandry, water preservation, recycling, architects who could design and build the space colony, space survival under low gravity, a few among many, vast and varied personals who will be needed to make moon colonization a reality, a success.

It is envisaged that the future consequences, the settlements will be a number of domes like structure that can support up to one hundred settlers, joined by huge pipes so that astronauts turned settlers can freely move from one dome to another, within a specified settlement area, a colony with pressurised cabins and controlled atmosphere that we have on the earth.

In the beginning, all the items needed for survival will have to be transported by huge rockets at a great cost and the settlements will be built over a very long period but if the lunar poles contain underground frozen water, as reported by some satellite study then it will speed up the settlement programme. Water and air are the most important life sustaining elements needed to colonize the moon.

In the long run, huge domes will have to be built where settlers can grow their own food, keep animals and recycle the waste products and become self sufficient. Even a mini forest can be created that will produce oxygen, water and fuel. Ultimately colonies will have to become self sufficient and self reliant in order to thrive and expand.

Perhaps an under sea settlement, a tent city on the ocean floor may precede the moon settlement, as problems encountered on the sea bed, on such a project will be similar to building a permanent settlement on the moon.

Deep sea is indeed the most unexplored part of our world. We know less about deep sea than moon and new species of coral, fish, plants and marine life are discovered every now and then.

But the moon can never be colonized the way earth was, due to lack of atmosphere, water and low gravity which can never be artificially created to cover the whole moon. So all settlements have to be under a dome with a controlled, artificial atmosphere. But the word impossible is no longer in human dictionary. So who knows what human beings can achieve in, say a thousand years’ time. Perhaps create an entirely new moon!

This is indeed a futuristic project that may not be completed until the turn of the century. Perhaps China’s entry in the space race, with her vast resources may help and speed up the colonization of the moon. America has the knowledge and manpower but whether it has the financial resources to match this ambition is a different matter.

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