Barriers melt in warmth of Freeman’s blazing torch
Kashmir thorn in US bouquet
Delhi fires fax at Bengal
Bill logs in to Bharat
Calcutta weather

 
 
BARRIERS MELT IN WARMTH OF FREEMAN’S BLAZING TORCH 
 
 
FROM SUJIT BHAR
 
Sydney, Sept. 15: 
Amid a thunderous roar of “G-Day!”, Australia unveiled the Millennium Games with a spectacular pageant of triumphs and tears that showcased the Olympic spirit of courage and reconciliation.

Spurred by this spirit, the Koreans marched together for the first time, grinning, holding hands and basking in a warm standing ovation. An athlete from North Korea and South Korea led the delegation, each holding aloft the white flag bearing a blue shape of the peninsula, undivided on this evening, North and South indistinguishable.

But in the most symbolic and pointed moment of the evening, Aboriginal sprinter Cathy Freeman, a gold-medal favourite in the 400 metres, carried the Olympic torch for its last leg — up four sets of glowing white stairs — and walked through a shallow pond of gleaming water towards a vast waterfall before she ignited the cauldron.

Freeman’s achievements and visibility on the track have brought increased international attention to the plight of the Aborigines at the Sydney Games. Two months ago, she had rebuked the government of Prime Minister John Howard as “insensitive” for refusing to apologise for the atrocities committed on the indigenous people.

International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch, presiding over his final Games, issued a “special tribute” to the Aboriginal people and “those who have made Australia what it is today”.

“To all the athletes of the world, good luck!” Samaranch said before asking Governor-General William Deane to declare the Games open.

In music, imagery and a few well-chosen words, a fluid narrative launched the millennium’s first Games. From the populous coasts to the rough, empty outback, from the aboriginal homelands to the European-built metropolises, performers told Australia’s story through one girl’s — played by the poised 13-year-old actress Nikki Webster — Alice-in-Wonderland journey.

Organisers said they structured the ceremony to show off Australia’s best, without ignoring its darker chapters.

It began with depictions of the aboriginal creation myth and swept through a stylised rendition of history that introduced such diverse creatures as platypuses and English colonists.

Smoke billowed. Fabric undulated. Over 12,000 performers in stilts stalked the stage in symbolic tribute to yesterday’s Australia. The arena glowed with ethereal blues and angry oranges as deafening drums beat a tattoo. And the culture’s most familiar tune, Waltzing Matilda, sprang jubilantly into the air from the instruments of a 2,000-piece band.

Figures, real and mythic, from the nation’s past introduced the flavour of a Cecille B. De Mille epic. They tried to bring Australia into focus and transcend the kangaroo and Crocodile Dundee clichés that have circled the globe and irritated many of the country’s residents.

Sport’s greatest show on earth — seven years in the making at a cost of $1.4 billion — has brought 11,000 athletes from 199 countries to Sydney, a melting pot of a city with immigrants drawn from around the world.

A few shadows, though, clouded the eagerness. The Games opened amid worries of increased protests by Aborigine groups and concerns of doping.

In fact, Australian hockey player Rechelle Hawkes, reciting the athletes’ oath, issued an extraordinary promise — a competition “without doping and without drugs”.

But for one magical evening, that stuff was secondary. It was Australia and the world, beginning their two week dance of competition, partnership and pageantry.    


 
 
KASHMIR THORN IN US BOUQUET 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Sept. 15: 
As Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee began his engagement of the Clinton White House with a 19-gun salute and a 40-minute restricted meeting with the US President, a sense of realism has been infused into the Prime Minister’s Washington visit following a statement by Bill Clinton that Kashmir is at “the core of difficulties between India and Pakistan”.

The off-the-cuff remark by the President came when a reporter working for an ethnic Indian newspaper here threw a question at Clinton as he was leaving the South Portico of the White House after commenting on a medical legislation on Thursday afternoon.

Expressing delight over Vajpayee’s visit, Clinton hoped for a “closer and more constructive relationship” with India. Then came the remark which immediately cast a pall of gloom among Vajpayee’s aides and sent them into a tizzy.

“I still hope that if not while I am here, then in the future, because of the groundwork we have laid, the US can play a positive role to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute, which has been at the core of difficulties between India and Pakistan for more than half a century now”.

The remark was inoffensive: nor did it represent any deviation from the consistent stand of the White House on the Kashmir dispute.

But what it did was to immediately bring the bloody conflict between India and Pakistan, which has defied a solution for half a century, to the centre-stage of Clinton-Vajpayee talks in public perception.

Among those travelling with Vajpayee, it also somewhat dampened the euphoria generated on Thursday by the Prime Minister’s address to the US Congress. The euphoria was not misplaced as the address was positively received by American lawmakers who subsequently lavished praise on Vajpayee at Senate and House of Representatives committees and a lunch hosted by the India Caucus.

Already Clinton aides have said Kashmir will certainly be on the agenda of talks between Vajpayee and the President. One of the aides, briefing Washington-based South Asian journalists, hoped Clinton could do something to bring peace to Kashmir.

“The parties (to the dispute) will be able to take advantage of President Clinton’s presence and experience because he, more than any President in recent memory, has engaged the region and the problems of the region and indeed, the opportunities of the region.”

The aide pointed out that Clinton “has a lot of experience in trying to find political paths forward on very difficult issues like this”.

That Clinton’s remarks on Kashmir were not intended to armtwist the Indians or derail the visit was obvious from the President’s response to the same reporter.

“The US is strongly opposed to terrorism in any form,” Clinton said. “I hope they (in South Asia) can lay this burden (of poverty) down and I hope we can help them and, in the meanwhile, of course, we will have to oppose terrorism in all its manifestations.”

Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister, also confirmed that Kashmir would be on the agenda of the White House talks today. When his attention was drawn to Clinton’s remarks, Mishra said: “Certainly Kashmir will come up in the context of Indo-Pak relationship and in the context of South Asia. But we have not come here to discuss (only) the Kashmir issue.”

As Clinton and Vajpayee completed their “restricted meeting” in the White House Oval Office and moved to the Cabinet Room for half an hour of delegation-level talks, White House sources said the US President had played up India’s leadership role in South Asia to attempt a resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue.

Clinton told Vajpayee that India was the clear leader in South Asia, a reference to the Prime Minister’s address to US Congressmen telling them that India was at the cross-roads of the Asian continent in every sense.

Clinton implied that India should vindicate expectations of that leadership role by creating a rapprochement with Pakistan.

The President’s attempt once again to jump start an Indo-Pak dialogue is extremely significant because his plea to Vajpayee was not made in a vacuum.

Last weekend, the under-secretary of state for political affairs, Thomas Pickering, had met Pakistan foreign minister Abdus Sattar in New York.

And on the eve of the Vajpayee-Clinton talks, Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state, had rushed to New York for a similar meeting with Sattar.

Meanwhile, the joint press conference by Clinton and Vajpayee at the end of their talks in the White House has been cancelled in view of the Prime Minister’s health.

His aides said a lunch hosted by vice-president Al Gore for Vajpayee will now be followed by half and hour of Gore-Vajpayee talks. This would put additional strain on the Prime Minister, a casualty of which was the joint appearance before the media.

Joint press conferences in the White House are always addressed by leaders standing.    


 
 
DELHI FIRES FAX AT BENGAL 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Sept. 15: 
The Centre tonight sent a caustic reply to West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu saying it had strong reasons to be dissatisfied with his response on the law and order situation in the state.

New Delhi, in fact, said it had reason to believe there was some “foul play” on the West Bengal end as the Centre’s response to Basu’s letter could not be communicated to the state government on fax till late tonight.

Senior officials in the Union home ministry were engaged till late tonight in trying to fax the Centre’s response — a 6-page letter attached to four pages of annexures — to the chief minister’s residence, and his office at Writers’, but had no success. The fax finally went at 9.40 pm.

The terse home ministry response to the West Bengal government comes in the midst of mounting political pressure from involved NDA constituents like the Trinamul Congress for action against the state government on the deterioration of the law and order situation in the state.

Indications are that a final decision on West Bengal will be taken upon the return of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee from the US.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) team headed by defence minister George Fernandes, which visited West Bengal earlier this week, has recommended that provisions of Article 355 of the Constitution be invoked to declare some West Bengal districts, including Midnapore, disturbed areas.

Though the recommendation fell short of the initial demand made by Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee for declaring President’s rule in the state, it is a prestige question for Basu’s Left Front government, which maintains that law and order is essentially a state subject.

Basu’s government has steadfastly refused to accept that the law and order situation in West Bengal demands any Central intervention.

The Centre’s reply came amid reports that it plans to declare five violence-hit districts of Bengal if the Prime Minister approves it.    


 
 
BILL LOGS IN TO BHARAT 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Sept 15: 
Big Mac did it last week. Big Bill this week. The upshot of the chief ministers’ meeting with the microsoft chairman and chief software architect on e-governnance on Thursday is likely to see the firm go desi in India.

Chief minister after chief minister, taken by Bill Gates’ presentation on e-governance, told him how important it was in India to communicate in the local language.

Following the meeting and shortly before leaving for the inaugural of the Olympics in Sydney, Gates is understood to have indicated to his Microsoft India technologists to work on writing software with Indian audiences in mind.

The message was clear: If you have a digital divide, cross the digital bridge, hand in hand with Bill Gates.

The suggestion for regional languages software was first made at the meeting by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ram Prakash Gupta, who was also the only chief minister to address Gates in Hindi.

Gates was also informed about Madhya Pradesh’s experiments with the gyandoot scheme — the MP government has started installing computers in kiosks in district towns from where users may mail officers and/or print forms — often hailed as the beginnings of e-governance.

No doubt, Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, too, not for the first time, advertised his administration’s strides in e-governance during his 20-minute exclusive meeting with Gates.

Microsoft’s serious pursuance of Gates’ advice could result in Indian languages being available with .NET, the new XML (Extensible Markup Language) technology standard — said to be more advanced than HTML — on which the company is building more user-friendly operations systems for the Internet.

.NET (pronounced dotnet) promises to make the Internet, with all its multimedia applications, more accessible than ever before. “Technology will make reading on a screen as easy and pleasurable as reading on paper,” Bill Gates told a Technology summit on Thursday.

Within India too, software developers are increasingly working on local languages. A National Informatics Centre technologist says that recently a young graduate of IIT Kanpur has designed a programme that can translate 14 Indian languages into English. The programme is also said to be capable of translating one Indian language into another.

Microsoft’s move is in keeping with the trend of multinationals to Indianise their products. Last week, MacDonald’s introduced a vegetarian burger — the Pizza McPuff — not available in their menus outside India at a pocket-friendly Rs 16 apiece.

Marketing professionals gathered in Delhi last fortnight also foresaw the trend. Titoo Ahluwalia, chief of ORG-MARG, actually asked marketers to “decode Indian culture” if they wanted to be a hit with Indian consumers.

“Culture subsumes all,” says K.S. Singh, former director of the Anthropological Survey of India and editor of the People of India, a series (15 volumes already published) that documents the diversity of the country.

“I know of engineers in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, worshipping computers on Vishwakarma Puja. Even Amitabh Bachchan on Kaun Banega Crorepati, addresses the machine as ‘computer-ji’. Markets have their own culture but culture, too, can absorb markets,” he says.

Earlier this week, Lotus-IBM announced the launch of its messaging and collaboration product, Lotus Notes version 5.0.4 in Hindi. The version supports two primary scripts, Devnagri and Tamil.

The Lotus Notes Hindi version is targeted at government and public sector outfits, banking, finance and insurance companies, the education sector and social welfare organisations and NGOs.

“India, being a multilingual country and the Indian socio-economic structure being based on languages, localisation is an imperative step,” said Andrew Dutton, vice-president, sales and channels, IBM Software Group, Asia Pacific.

Within India too, software developers are increasingly working on local languages. A National Informatics Centre technologist says that recently a young graduate of IIT Kanpur has designed a programme that can translate 14 Indian languages into English. The programme is also said to be capable of translating one Indian language into another.

Microsoft’s move is in keeping with the trend of multinationals to Indianise their products. Last week, MacDonald’s introduced a vegetarian burger — the Pizza McPuff — not available in their menus outside India at a pocket-friendly Rs 16 apiece.

Marketing professionals gathered in Delhi last fortnight also foresaw the trend. Titoo Ahluwalia, chief of ORG-MARG, actually asked marketers to “decode Indian culture” if they wanted to be a hit with Indian consumers.

“Culture subsumes all,” says K.S. Singh, former director of the Anthropological Survey of India and editor of the People of India, a series (15 volumes already published) that documents the diversity of the country.

“I know of engineers in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, worshipping computers on Vishwakarma Puja. Even Amitabh Bachchan on Kaun Banega Crorepati, addresses the machine as ‘computer-ji’. Markets have their own culture but culture, too, can absorb markets,” he says.

Earlier this week, Lotus-IBM announced the launch of its messaging and collaboration product, Lotus Notes version 5.0.4 in Hindi. The version supports two primary scripts, Devnagri and Tamil.

The Lotus Notes Hindi version is targeted at government and public sector outfits, banking, finance and insurance companies, the education sector and social welfare organisations and NGOs.

“India, being a multilingual country and the Indian socio-economic structure being based on languages, localisation is an imperative step,” said Andrew Dutton, vice-president, sales and channels, IBM Software Group, Asia Pacific.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.6°C (+l)
Minimum: 26.5°C (+l)

Rainfall:

1.4 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 77%

Today

Possibility of light rain in parts of Calcutta and suburbs    
 

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