Sep 20, 2008

Entertainment - Taare Zameen Par is India's Oscar Entry

Mumbai, Sep 20 (IANS) Actor Aamir Khan's directorial debut "Taare Zameen Par" has been selected as India's entry for the Oscar 2009 in the best foreign film category, impressing the jury with its 'perfection' in all aspects of filmmaking.
"'Taare Zameen Par' is the final choice because it has a universal appeal and it has all the elements that make a good film, in terms of its production value, script, concept and story,' filmmaker Sunil Darshan said here Saturday.
Darshan is the chairman of the 10-member jury set up by the Film Federation of India (FFI).
The movie was jointly produced by Aamir Khan Productions and PVR Pictures and starred Darsheel Safary as the protagonist. It it the story of an eight-year-old dyslexic boy and a teacher, played by Aamir, bringing the kid out of his predicament.
The other Bollywood films in competition were "A Wednesday", "Rock On", "Mumbai Meri Jaan", 'Jodhaa Akbar", "Black & White" - all of which have won critical acclaim. There were also two Marathi films "Tingya" and "Vaalu" and a Telegu film "Gamyam" in contention.
"'Vaalu' has a fantastic screenplay and 'Tingya' has a good and sound script. It is not that other films were bad, but 'Taare Zameen Par' stood out among others," Darshan added.
Another jury member Mahesh Kothare, a Marathi filmmaker and actor, was all praise for the selected film.
"As a jury, we had two basic intentions - that the chosen film must have a good chance of winning an Oscar and secondly, that it should meet certain parameters for an Oscar. These are content and cinematic excellence.
"'Taare Zameen Par' has it all. It has been made so perfectly. There is perfect direction, animation, screenplay, acting, script, and so there is no reason why it shouldn't have been choosen," said Kothare.
He also exuded confidence that the film will finally bring India an Oscar in 2009.

World - Pakistan;Suicide bombing at the Mariott

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber attacked the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Saturday, killing at least 40 people and turning the hotel into an inferno, police said.
As flames engulfed the hotel, which is popular with foreigners, police said there were still people trapped inside.
"A car laden with explosives rammed the gate at the Marriott and so far we have brought out 40 dead bodies, but the number could well be higher," police chief Asghar Raza Gardazi said.
Hours before the blast President Asif Ali Zardari, making his first address to parliament, a few hundred meetres to the east of the hotel, said terrorism had to be rooted out.
Dozens of cars outside the hotel were destroyed and windows were shattered in buildings hundreds of metres away.
Al Qaeda-linked militants based in hideouts in the Afghan border have launched a bloody campaign of bomb attacks in retaliation for offensives by the security forces.
The hotel has been bombed twice before but the Saturday evening blast was the most serious in the Pakistani capital since the country joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy in late 2001.
Fire began in at least two places in the building and spread to other parts of the 290-room hotel, located at the foot of the Margalla hills in the city centre.
A crater up to 20 feet deep was blasted into the road next to the hotel's security barriers. The street was littered with debris and broken branches from roadside trees, and acrid smoke drifted in the air.
The explosion brought down the ceiling in a banquet room where there were about 200 to 300 people at a meal to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Imtiaz Gul, a journalist, was among them.
"We just ran for cover, I could see a lot of injured people lying around me," Gul said.
A waiter, Mansoor Abbasi, was inside hotel after the blast, calling out for any survivors lying in the rubble.
"I was just setting down a glass when it happened ... Everybody started screaming. I pulled out 16 wounded people," said Abbasi said, his jacket stained with blood.
A doctor at a city hospital said 70 wounded people had been brought in. An official at another hospital said 23 bodies and 97 wounded people had been brought in.
Dawn Television said several foreigners were wounded.
The owner of the hotel said the vehicle carrying the bomb was stopped at the front barrier and was being checked by guards after a bomb-sniffing dog raised the alarm.
"The guard dog alerted them and when they started searching the vehicle the man blew himself up," the owner, Sadruddin Hashwani, told reporters outside the hotel.
Zardari, the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is close to the United States and had earlier vowed to maintain nuclear-armed Pakistan's commitment to the U.S.-led campaign against militancy, even though it is deeply unpopular.
In his address to parliament, he said Pakistan must stop militants from using its territory for attacks on other countries.
He also said Pakistan would not tolerate infringement of its territory in the name of the fight against militancy.
Zardari won a presidential election this month to replace firm U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf who stepped down in August under threat of impeachment.

Fashion - Sydney fashion show a washout as models go underwater

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Australian fashionistas plumbed new depths on Wednesday, staging an underwater fashion show with lots of flailing arms and a mass bad hair day.
With no catwalk in sight, nine sharply dressed models climbed up a ladder and plunged into a large tank of water in Australia's first public underwater fashion shoot, delighting tourists and passers-by in Sydney's picturesque Circular Quay.
"I felt sorry for the hair and makeup artists because they spent so long doing my hair and makeup and as soon as I got in it just washed away, but it's all fun", said Jaynie Seal, a television weather presenter who was part of the show, sponsored by women's magazine Cosmopolitan and skincare label Neutrogena.
Braving cool spring temperatures, Seal and another TV presenter, Jason Dundas, waved at the cameras underwater and tried to look glamorous.
Later, Dundas stood shivering in a dripping wet suit as a team of photographers took pictures of the event.
"It's fairly hard to look glamorous under water. We had to get specialist make up that doesn't run, said the official event photographer Daniel Smith.
"The hair and the hands can go everywhere, the success rate is less, so you just take more pictures."

India - New breed of elite prostitutes cater to the rich

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Zeba, a 23-year-old model and actress says she's found the perfect job. The money is great, she rubs shoulders with the super rich and her working hours are convenient.
Zeba is one of thousands of high-price call girls servicing India's nouveau riche and the throng of foreign businessmen drawn to a booming economy.
"If you have a modelling assignment, you have to work hard," Zeba, who declined to give her full name in order to protect her identity, said in American-accented English.
"But over here, it's just one hour. You talk to the person for half-an-hour and then the other half-an-hour in bed. You make a lot of money and it's easy," added Zeba, who charges 200,000 Indian rupees ($4,600) for an hour's encounter, of which the escort agency keeps half.
Prostitution is illegal in India. Yet voluntary groups estimate there to be two million sex workers, most of them forced into the trade by crushing poverty. Many suffer from HIV in a country with the world's third highest HIV caseload.
Call girls such as Zeba live in a world far removed from New Delhi's infamous G.B. Road, its main red-light district, and work as prostitutes as a matter of choice, plying their trade in five star hotels rather than on the streets or in brothels.
Many high-price escorts such as Zeba are educated women from middle-class families who see prostitution as a lucrative and even glamorous profession.
"Only two to three percent of India's prostitutes enter the profession willingly. These are the high-class girls, and it is them exercising their democratic rights," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi.
"These high-class escorts are definitely an outcome of globalised India," added Kumari.
The growth of high-end prostitution in India underscores not only the affluence among the upper-classes who have the money to hire such prostitutes, but also the changing role of women in a deeply conservative society.
Even today, Indian women are expected to cover up in public and conform to strict societal norms. Premarital sex is taboo and Bollywood movies tease but generally stop short of kissing.
Yet the country's newfound economic affluence and expanding middle-class has also brought an insatiable appetite for the good things in life from designer clothes, to fast cars, to champagne dinners.
"With the changes in the economy and increased consumerism, the Indian woman is under pressure to conform to a highly capitalistic image which requires a lot of money to upkeep," said Anuja Agrawal, a sociologist at the University of Delhi.
"If Indian society were to really allow their women to be free, they won't be forced to conform to such a rigid behaviour."
Most high-end sex workers in India charge anywhere from 10,000 rupees ($225) to 50,000 rupees ($1,125) for an hour, but some charge many times more.
"I accommodate the rich, multi-millionaires and business entrepreneurs. Obviously it's a very big industry and in India it is especially fast-growing," said Sameer Chamadi, who runs an escort agency in India that has branches in Dubai and London.
"If the guys have money, they can have my escorts," added Chamadi. His business is one of many online escort agencies sprouting on the Internet in India.
Police in India say they try to enforce anti-prostitution laws by checking classified advertisements and the Internet for those soliciting sex. But they admit it is difficult to clamp down on high-class prostitutes and clients whose liaisons are usually arranged and conducted in private.
Chamadi and other escort agency owners insist their call girls are worth every cent and can do anything for their clients, from stimulating conversation to bondage fetishes.
"It's a major, major, class difference, and with us it's not just 'slam, bang, thank you Ma'am'. You can actually sit and have a proper conversation with us," said Zeba.
Starting out in Mumbai as a model, Zeba, a college graduate, got her break in movies through a client who was influential in Bollywood. She has no regrets about her chosen profession.
"I really hate people who put on an act about not liking something when they actually do. I mean sex is not just what men want, we women want it also," she said.

Personality - Cinderella woman;Shenaz Hussain (G.Read)

Shahnaz Husain’s day typically begins with 20 minutes of yoga and stretching exercises. “It’s good to keep the body supple,” she says. Next comes a 20-minute soak in bath water sprinkled with rose petals and drops of sandalwood oil. Ghazal music is usually playing softly. Husain washes her face with milk and graham flour. After the bath, she uses her Shaflower lotion, which counts wild turmeric and conessi bark among its active ingredients. A pedicure, manicure and facial massage with aloe vera follow.
Twice a week, Husain treats her hair with 16 egg whites mixed with lemon juice and olive oil. To keep her enormous mane a deep burgundy, she regularly applies a blend of henna powder, ground coffee beans, lemon juice, tea and as many as 20 eggs.

Nearly 40 years ago, Husain began creating simple beauty treatments in her home based on Ayurveda as well as beauty routines learnt from her mother. Today, Husain, who calls herself “princess” (a title handed down through her mother, who Husain says was a descendant of a royal Mughal family) has adroitly blended earthy tradition with aggressive modern marketing to create an ambitious little beauty empire.
The finances of the family-run company are private, but officials say it encompasses some 300 salon franchises, 53 beauty schools, 3,000 employees and nearly two dozen product lines. “If you ask anyone on the street if they know her, they’d say ‘yes’,” says Yvonne Kok, a Euromonitor International research analyst based in South Asia.
Her potions are sold through an estimated 150,000 stores in India. Internationally, the brand is available from Seoul to Dubai to London.
By drawing on ancient herbal therapies to develop beauty treatments that Husain claims will improve vision, treat decaying teeth, heal dry skin and enhance eyelash growth, among other things—and then marking them up to luxury prices—she is ringing up sales to women drawn to the natural.
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Husain declines to specify her age beyond saying she’s in her 60s. “You never give your age in the beauty business,” she says in her deep, gravelly voice. Last year she began a direct-selling division in India, enlisting as many as 50,000 representatives, the company says.
Now, Husain says she’s ready for the US. Currently, Shahnaz Husain products have been sold in the US online through Amazon and Indian import shops, salons and grocery stores. Over the next few months, Shahnaz Husain Group of Companies predicts it will introduce its herbal remedies and luxury skin-care lines— made with diamond dust, crushed pearls and flecks of 24-karat gold—through national chains.

“Americans desperately need me. They’ve gone on too long without me,” Husain says. She has firm ideas about what women in the US are lacking. “The American woman is the woman in a hurry,” Husain says. They “need more facials, more skin care, more manicures, more pedicures. Their femininity is very neglected”.
The hurdles are huge. Following Macy’s acquisition of May department stores, negotiating beauty-counter space is harder than ever in the US. And although other speciality retailers, home-shopping networks and drug and grocery stores have expanded their beauty product offerings, plenty of niche brands have joined the market.
Haya Morgenstern, the US distributor for Husain charged with finding a national retailer for the brand, says she plans to approach home-shopping network QVC, speciality beauty retailer Sephora and the Whole Foods grocery chain. Natural beauty products are, “no question, one of the hottest stories in the beauty business”, says Allen Burke, director of beauty merchandising for QVC, which sells a variety of cosmetics and toiletries that emphasize natural ingredients, including Bare Escentuals and Ojon. At Sephora stores, demand for natural and organic beauty products “has continued to grow significantly”, says a company spokeswoman. And at Whole Foods, a representative says that while the company hasn’t seen many ayurvedic beauty products in the market, “we’d love to see more

Recognizing perhaps how different the US market is, Morgenstern has asked product developers to tone down some of the Indian products. Natural cosmetics aficionados Stateside tend to be more sensitive to fragrances, she says, so she’s asked for lighter scents on some items along with emphasizing the essential oils. Colours in certain hair and skin-care products will also be lightened. “Shamla is dark brown; that would be hard to adjust to (in the US),” says Morgenstern, referring to a shampoo enriched with dates and Indian gooseberry.
Husain’s push abroad comes as giant multinationals are aggressively moving on to her turf. In July, Estée Lauder Cos. said it bought a stake in an Indian ayurvedic beauty brand, Forest Essentials. And Procter and Gamble says it is “closely examining the opportunities associated with ayurvedics.” Last year, L’Oréal chief Jean-Paul Agon said the company was hunting for an Indian ayurvedic line to acquire. And in 2002, Unilever’s Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Unilever, created Ayush, a line of ayurvedic beauty and health products. Hindustan Unilever is also a partner in a chain of 47 Ayush Therapy Centres that offer ayurvedic treatments.
“We believe consumers are more and more interested in natural products,” says Daniel Rachmanis, Estée Lauder’s senior vice-president of international business. “It’s a trend that’s going to continue not only in India but around the world.”
Beauty sales in India totalled $6.3 billion (Rs28,350 crore) last year, up 13% over the previous year—more than four times the growth rate of the $52 billion US beauty market, and twice that of the $270 billion global market, according to estimates by consulting and market research firm Kline and Co.

Strolling by a gleaming Forest Essentials shop in Select Citywalk, a new, upscale mall in New Delhi, Husain shrugs off her deeper-pocketed competitors. “They sell their brand; I sell myself,” she says, pointing out several other giant beauty brands that have opened shops in the bustling shopping centre, including Clinique, MAC, The Body Shop and Lancôme. “Besides, those are cosmetics. I’m selling ayurveda—civilization in a jar.”
Assessing India’s enormous beauty market presents challenges because it is highly fragmented and difficult to audit. According to Kline estimates, Husain’s company is India’s market leader for skin-care products sold in salons and through other professional channels, yet it accounts for only 2% of the $630 million natural products market here. People close to the company say the firm draws from $100 million to $200 million in annual revenue.
To chronicle her days and ensure that she always has fresh footage on hand for local media, Husain has one of her staff photographers follow her almost everywhere, often accompanied by a staff cameraman. She prefers to have the right side of her face photographed to better show off a pea-size diamond stud in her nose.
Calling herself a “workaholic”, Husain says she often works until 4am or 5am, concluding her day with a foot massage given by one of her live-in beauticians. Around 26 servants are on 24-hour call in Husain’s main New Delhi residence (according to Husain, she keeps 19 homes in New Delhi, a 35-acre farm, and houses in Mumbai and London). Her round-the-clock assistants include a florist, plumber, carpenter, electrician, phone operator, make-up artist, photographer and hairstylist, in addition to live-in cooks, drivers, housekeepers, tailors and errand runners. The daytime household staff of 60 operates by a system of small buzzers placed on Husain’s favourite chairs in each room.
Senior advisers at her company keep in regular contact with Husain via the two cellphones that she frequently speaks into at the same time, even while multiple callers stand by on her landline.
When Husain needs to call after-hours meetings with company executives, she asks her managers to bring along their families, whom she keeps entertained on a separate floor with games, food and movies. “The wives don’t feel their husbands’ absence when they get to come along,” she says. “That way everyone stays happy.”
In her primary residence, she set up the public sitting room—“the white house”, she calls it—with several white couches covered in faux white fur and dotted with gold-sequined throw pillows. Statues of horses, Buddhas, swans and cherubs, in crystal, porcelain and gold, fill tables and shelves scattered throughout the room, lit by multiple crystal chandeliers.
Husain likes to keep her reflection nearby. Most rooms have mirrors on the walls, and jewelled hand mirrors remain within arm’s reach. A mirror is also attached to the back of the driver’s headrest in her cars, so she can see herself while in transit.

Husain’s fashion taste is also elaborate. She designs all her clothes, which are sewn by four staff tailors and two embroiderers, she says. Before heading to a nearby mall to relax in her favourite New Delhi coffee shop, Husain donned a full-length brown suede jacket with a coordinating top and skirt. The ensemble featured trim and giant pockets made in Louis Vuitton’s brown leather monogram print. “I’ve probably had 11 Louis Vuitton bags cut up to decorate my clothes,” she says, pulling out what looks like a diamond-encrusted Louis Vuitton cellphone. “I’d make a great ambassador for Louis Vuitton, too.”
Reclining in the coffee shop’s lounge chair, Husain was interrupted by one of her omnipresent security guards. Her back was too close to the shop’s busy entrance, inviting an attack, the guard said. Husain says she has received death threats and now takes extra precautions: She travels in one of two cars, employs extra security and frequently changes her daily routine.
Husain was born in Hyderabad to a politically powerful, liberal-minded father and a wealthy, conservative mother. She led a sheltered childhood, which included attending boarding school and riding in chauffeured cars with curtained windows, in keeping with her mother’s view of propriety. But from an early age, Husain had a hunger for publicity. “When there was lightning, I would run outdoors,” she says. “I’d tell everyone, ‘God is taking my picture!’”

She excelled in school, making her father proud. “I lived to please him,” Husain says. But her outgoing personality troubled her mother. “‘This girl is going to get out of control; let’s get her married,’ my mother said.” By age 14, Husain was engaged; she met her fiancé only once in a supervised gathering. “I was told there was a boy here I was to marry,” she says. “I walked into the room, said hello, and then walked out. That’s all I saw of him.”
Married at 15, she became a mother within a year. Then restlessness set in. “I cried every day; I was so bored,” she recalls. To pass time, she started attending beauty classes in New Delhi. Eventually, Husain’s father arranged for her husband, who worked for the Indian government, to land a post abroad.
In London, Husain enrolled in a course at Helena Rubinstein. She also took classes offered by L’Oréal, Schwarzkopf and other beauty companies in Tehran, where her husband was eventually based. “I didn’t want to learn hair and make-up; I wanted only to do beauty treatments like massage,” she says. “I’m not a beautician; I’m a therapist.”
Husain and her husband returned to India and settled in New Delhi. Borrowing Rs35,000 from her father in the early 1970s, Husain set up shop at home. She offered free consultations and then charged for natural remedies, a novel concept for a salon at that time in New Delhi, she says. Clients flocked. “The only thing I didn’t have time to do was count all my money,” Husain jokes. Concocting facial scrubs in her store, she named her shop Shahnaz Husain Salon. “I never thought of calling it anything else.”

When clients began asking for lotions to take home, Husain started selling her products in small bottles bought at a local market that she labelled herself. One of her first creations, Shagrain, was inspired by her mother’s recipe of rice and rose petals, herbs and sandalwood oil for a nightly exfoliation. After Husain’s salon had been open five years, a Kolkata client asked her if she could open a franchise salon there. “I didn’t know what a franchise was,” Husain says. “But I agreed anyway.”
The young entrepreneur gave birth to a second child, a son. Today she speaks lovingly of the relationship that gradually blossomed with her husband. In 1987, he resigned from his government post to work with Husain on her business.
When her husband suffered a fatal cardiac arrest in 1997, she says, she nearly died of a broken heart. “I didn’t know life without him.” She also mourns their son, Samir, who died earlier this year after a plunge from his in-laws’ balcony. Husain was told the accident was a suicide. Awaiting the results of an investigation, she said she suspects otherwise.
Today, Husain is married to Raj Kumar Puri, who calls himself an investor and says he isn’t involved in running Husain’s business. She devotes herself to developing products and diversifying her company. Her men’s line, called Man Power, includes a hair-care product called Shalocks, which claims to prevent balding. “Men are the same all over,” she says. “They connect the hair on their head with their virility.” Puri credits his wife’s products for his full head of hair.
Most Shahnaz Husain products are sold at luxury prices, though one of the company’s biggest sellers is its eye kohl—a wide black eyeliner resembling a huge lipstick and crafted, according to vice-president Suresh Kumar, from carbon ash scraped from burned mustard oil mixed with almond oil (“to increase eyelash growth,” Kumar says) and trifala (“to improve vision”).
In India, her Diamond range of skin-care products sells for about Rs760. In recent years, Husain has expanded into more mass-market offerings through her line of skin-whitening cream called Fair One. Such creams are sold throughout Asia. The line had $280 million in sales last year, according to Euromonitor estimates.
Serving as president of the company is Husain’s daughter, Nelofar Currimbhoy, who closely resembles her mother. Currimbhoy is expected to succeed Husain. “She’s an aura; it’s so hard to describe her,” Currimbhoy says of her mother. “I will have very big shoes to fill.” A third generation has joined the executive ranks: Currimbhoy’s son is a vice-president.
Mother and daughter develop new formulations, collaborating with a team of chemists and ayurvedic doctors on staff. Sometimes, they consult ayurveda experts. Often, Husain weighs in. During a recent meeting with her staff, Husain rejected new packaging prototypes for a skin-care line called Shahnaz Ayurveda. The problem: The bottles didn’t bear her photo. “We’ve tried to launch products here without my face on them, and they always fail,” she says. “People need to see me.”

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;Roles that went on to make movie history

It’s funny how so much of the media hype surrounding the release of the new Indiana Jones movie (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) focused on Harrison Ford. Was he young enough to play the iconic role? Would he still be convincing in the action sequences? And so on.

Funny, because the role was not written for Ford. Indiana Jones grew out of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ desire to make “a James Bond movie without all the gadgetry”. They tested several actors for the part but their heart was set on Tom Selleck. Unfortunately for Selleck, he had signed on to star in the TV series, Magnum PI, and his network would not release him — not even for Spielberg and Lucas. Desperate for a leading man, Lucas fell back on Ford who had zoomed to stardom in the Star Wars movies. Ford was not wild about Indiana Jones but then, he’d never been wild about Star Wars either. Spielberg and Lucas thought he had the necessary physicality for the role and persuaded him to star in Raiders of the Lost Ark. When that film became a hit, the Indiana Jones franchise was created and the role became indelibly associated with Ford.
Casting is one of those Hollywood mysteries. The right cast can make a movie soar. The wrong casting can destroy it. When Mike Nichols was making the movie of Nora Ephron’s best-seller Heartburn, he cast Mandy Patinkin in the Carl Bernstein role (the book was about the break-up of Ephron’s marriage to Bernstein). Patinkin walked out and Nichols affected not to mind, signing Jack Nicholson, one of the world’s biggest stars, instead. But Nicholson was too Irish for the role, never quite made his character seem convincing and his performance sank the picture. Patinkin was no star but he would have been a better choice.
Often, stars who decline roles because they realize they are wrong for them, do big favours to unknowns. David Lean wanted to cast Albert Finney as TE Lawrence in his Lawrence of Arabia. When Finney turned him down, he went for the unknown Peter O’Toole who looked nothing like the real Lawrence (who was something of a midget.) The casting worked and who can now think of the movie without thinking of O’Toole’s performance?
One other star turned Lawrence of Arabia down. Lean’s original choice for Sharif Ali was Dilip Kumar. Kumar thought abut the offer and then decided that he’d rather be king of the Bombay film industry than co-star to some Western unknown. So, Lean cast Omar Sharif who few people had heard of, even in West Asia.
Many years later, I asked Kumar if he regretted turning down the role that made Sharif an international star. He said he didn’t. But surely, I persisted, he must regret not becoming an internationally renowned actor. He was ambivalent. “How do you know I would have been convincing as a Arab?” he asked. “Maybe the film would not have done so well if they had cast me.”
Lean had bad luck with Indians, anyway. In the 1960s he was slated to direct Gandhi (which Richard Attenborough made two decades later, eventually) and asked Alec Guinness to play the title role, claiming that there was no Indian actor who could do justice to the character. The project floundered but, in the 1980s, when Lean made A Passage to India, he cast Guinness as Professor Godbole, a horrific piece of miscasting that turned the movie into a laughing stock.
But Lean was merely advancing the Western preference for white actors in brown-face that was normal practice in the film industry in those days. In Nine Hours to Rama, about Gandhiji’s assassination, Nathuram Godse was played by the German Horst Buchholz and Robert Morley played a character based on Morarji Desai! Even when Attenborough finally made Gandhi (with Indian money) he refused to cast an Indian in the lead role choosing the stage actor Ben Kingsley over say, Naseeruddin Shah (who, I think, would have been much better) and claiming that Kingsley’s Indian ancestry meant that the role had gone to an Indian.
Casting is less important in Hindi movies. Hrishikesh Mukherjee wanted to make Anand in the 1950s with Raj Kapoor. Eventually, he made it with Rajesh Khanna but it is hard to see whether the casting improved the film. Even when Karan Johar produced a virtual remake in Kal Ho Na Ho, with Shah Rukh Khan, the choice of lead actor made little difference to the subject.
On the other hand, Amitabh Bachchan owes his career to casting choices. Prakash Mehra offered the lead role in Zanjeer to the entire Bombay industry (including Jeetendra and Raj Kumar). It was only when they all turned him down that he cast Bachchan. Today it is impossible to imagine any other actor in that role — and it became the first rung on Bachchan’s journey to superstardom.
Similarly, Bachchan was not supposed to be in Sholay. While other actors were being considered, he spoke to Dharmendra who had already been cast. Dharmendra is the sort of man who never turns down anybody who asks for a favour, so he agreed to get Ramesh Sippy to cast Bachchan as his co-star.
But the real enigma of Sholay is: What would Danny Denzongpa have been like as Gabbar Singh? He was Ramesh Sippy’s original choice and it was only when Danny said he was unavailable that an unknown actor called Amjad Khan got his first break. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Danny would have played Gabbar differently, but that he would have been as good as Amjad was.
These days I’m less and less convinced that casting matters in Hindi movies. Most films have little in the way of characterization and the roles are written so that any actor can play them. Only in Hollywood does casting still matter.
If you don’t believe me, pull out a DVD of the second Tim Burton Batman movie and see Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. Then, watch Halle Berry’s version from the eponymous movie.
You’ll see the difference a good actor can make.

India - Direct Cash Transfer no panacea by itself (V.G.Read)

Mihir Shah

Any anti-poverty programme will work only if it leads to an end to dependence on doles. To end this dependence, sustainable livelihoods must be created for the poor.

Anti-poverty programmes will work only if they lead to sustainable livelihoods and end dependence on doles. This requires stronger people’s institutions, appropriate technology, skill development, leveraging markets and adequate public investment.

Direct cash transfer (DCT) is the current buzzword on the development circuit. Economist Arvind Subramanian, in India to promote his new book, regards DCT as the “first best option” to address poverty in India (The Hindu, August 24, 2008). In a recent article in the Economic and Political Weekly (April 12, 2008), Subramanian joins Devesh Kapur and Partha Mukhopadhyay (KMS) to present a more elaborate case for DCT. As KMS say, putting together the current annual allocations for centrally sponsored schemes with food, fertilizer and fuel subsidies, we get a figure of nearly Rs. 2,00,000 crore. They ask: “Is this enormous expenditure through centralised mechanisms the best way of improving the welfare of India’s poor and achieving India’s development objectives?” Why not, instead, transfer Rs. 1 crore per annum to each gram panchayat? A mouth-watering figure, indeed!

No wonder, there is an almost irresistible seductiveness in the idea of DCT. But it is also a reflection of great intellectual, policy and political ennui. KMS suggest a two-fold path for redirecting central expenditures — outright transfers to individuals and transfers to local government. The expenditures they wish to cover this way include the Public Distribution System (PDS) for food and fuel, fertilizer subsidies, rural housing (Indira Awas Yojana) and the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana (SGSY), which account for more than Rs. 70,000 crore in the 2008-09 budget.

But the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) is already based on DCT. Obviously, houses are not being transferred to the rural poor. The problem is translation of cash into houses. Thoughtless policy-making has meant that the IAY transfers crores of rupees to gram panchayats and “poor” families each year but these families routinely do not undertake quality housing with that money. One, because that money is just not sufficient to build houses. Two, because at times families have other needs that gain priority over housing. Three, because families do not have other inputs required (skilled masons, materials, etc).

A reckless exercise

Even more serious is the case of the SGSY, under which loans are provided for income-generating activities. In a typical bureaucratic drive to meet targets, little attention is paid to assessing whether families have access to technologies and markets, which would ensure that the loans work. The major consequence of such reckless direct cash transfers under the SGSY has been the conversion of many of India’s poor into bank loan defaulters, no longer able to access formal sector credit.

No magic bullet

The SGSY is a classic case study of mistaking microfinance for a magic bullet. As innumerable studies have shown, microfinance works only under very specific circumstances. The transfer of cash is hardly the constraint. There are so many concomitant conditions of success that need to be present for credit to engender sustainable livelihoods. Any anti-poverty programme will work only if it leads to an end to dependence on doles (what in a more glorified term is called direct cash transfer). To end this dependence, sustainable livelihoods must be created for the poor. And this demands skills, markets, technology, material inputs, infrastructure and institutions.

KMS believe we should learn to trust the poor to use these resources better than the state. But it is not really a question of trust at all. For, even a completely trustworthy poor person will not be able to do much with the cash directly transferred to her unless the conditions required to translate this cash into enduring outcomes are present. The question is not merely one of placing trust in the entity concerned (the poor, the bureaucracy or even gram panchayats) and leaving the rest to fate, as it were. The issue is one of setting up systems and creation of an environment that facilitates enforcement of accountability by the gram sabha on whoever is made the “trustee” of public resources. The issue is not primarily of directness or otherwise of transfer. It is much more about ensuring effective utilisation of this cash, which needs both developmental inputs (markets, technologies, skills, materials) and political ones (social mobilisation to strengthen monitoring mechanisms and institutions).

PDS inequities

As for the PDS, it is not clear how cash transfers will allow the poor to buy grain from the open market at a time of steep inflation. The problem is that the PDS is characterised by a whole range of inequities — its coverage is the weakest in the neediest regions and it fails to cover crops grown and eaten by the poorest. The way forward is to reform the PDS and extend its reach to and density in the poorest parts, where need is the greatest.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is upheld as a positive example of DCT. But viewing it as a mere cash transfer scheme would actually guarantee its failure. The NREGS is not an old-style famine relief kind of welfare programme. This is a development initiative providing crucial public investments, which can trigger private investment in the most backward regions. It visualises the involvement of local people in every decision — whether it be selection of works and worksites, implementation of projects or their social audit. This requires a new bottom-up, people-centred approach to planning of works and social audit. But so far the social mobilisers and technical personnel required to make this a reality have not been supplied. The Schedules of Rates remain the same that the contractor-raj used. They underpay labour and discriminate against women. If we view the NREGS merely as a means of cash transfer, we will fail to attend to these critically important dimensions that need urgent change.

Unfinished agenda

A final word of caution. It has become fashionable among scholars of rural India to wave Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) as some kind of politically correct magic wand. A solution for all ills. We certainly see PRIs as critical to the success of programmes like the NREGS, even to the future of Indian democracy itself. But PRIs in large parts of India today are nothing more than work-in-progress. They have a very long way to go before they can become instruments of democracy and development at the grass roots. They need massive support from the state for them to be able to realise their potential. This is the whole unfinished agenda of reform of rural governance, the reform of the public sector in rural development.

Since the 1990s, India has been hailed as a great success story of reforms. India’s elevated rates of growth have been attributed to a new liberalised policy regime. It has also been acknowledged, at the same time, that this process has failed to draw into its ambit millions of rural Indians who have suffered unprecedented distress, whether in the form of hunger (malnourished children, anaemic women) or farmers’ suicide. And this has happened despite thousands of crores being spent in the name of rural development each year. A major part of the explanation for this lies in the very poor quality of implementation of these programmes. This persists because, unlike India’s corporates, our rural poor do not have a voice in pushing for reforms that matter to them. Even Left-leaning politicians across the political spectrum or civil society activists, all of whom claim to speak for the rural poor, have failed to make reforms in the rural public sector, a key ingredient of their political agenda. This means rural Indians have to continue to cope with the same corrupt and insensitive bureaucracy that has ruled their lives since independence. Rural development desperately needs infusion of professional inputs. It is high time we gave up thinking of rural development as routine administrative work. Or charity. At the same time, we need to build strong systems of transparency and accountability into anti-poverty programmes.

Without these changes, a constant reference to PRIs as the answer will only amount to buttressing abdication by the state of its responsibility for rural development. A misplaced Gandhian over-emphasis on “voluntarism” will also end up only reinforcing this tendency of the state to withdraw. It is patently unfair to burden PRIs with massive tasks of development without providing them the requisite support. Funds, functions and functionaries are all vital (as the PRI Minister likes to say). But more than that a reformed, accountable, performing system.

Thus, anti-poverty programmes to succeed demand more than cash transfers (whatever the degree of their directness). They require that simultaneously many challenges be addressed — strengthening people’s institutions, extension of appropriate technology, skill development, leveraging markets for the poor and wise and adequate public investment. Only then can sustainable livelihoods be generated and an end visualised to both poverty and anti-poverty programmes.

(An economist by training, the writer lives and works among the Adivasis of central India to help engender sustainable rural livelihoods.)

India - Reforming property registration

Property registration in India involves a minimum of six procedures and takes 62 days and costs 7.7 per cent of the property value, says the World Bank 2008 report on “Doing Business in India.” Transparency International India’s study estimates that people, especially the poor, pay Rs.1,234 million a year as bribe to access land-related records and services. It is not surprising that India is ranked 112 among the 178 countries surveyed for efficiency in property transactions. The process of property registration is cumbersome and tedious, and the land records are fragmented, outdated and least transparent. In the past, land records were organised primarily for the purpose of land tax and when tax regime changed they lost sustained attention. These records still remain a part of the revenue department and there is no real time integration with the registration department that oversees property transactions. To add to the woes, the land survey and town survey maps are also not periodically reviewed and corrected. This situation has led to increased land disputes, burgeoning legal and transaction costs, and the buyer being left without a guaranteed title to the property.

The Union Ministry of Rural Development recently announced that computerisation of land records will be hastened and a new system that guaranteed title to the registered property will be put in place. Computerisation of land records commenced in 1991 but has not progressed well in many States. Speeding up the process is certainly the first step and, to its credit, the Centre has allotted substantial funds for this task. However, the State governments need to match this effort since land is a State subject. The reform is not just about technology upgradation. At the core of the exercise should be a thorough overhaul of the system so that it facilitates efficient registration and better land reforms. Currently, the registration system offers no further assurance or guarantee to the title beyond what the seller claims. By integrating various records and verifying them, the reforms are expected to guarantee the title of the property. This is not an easy task. Experience elsewhere has shown that it will be wise to avoid boundary verifications of property and the attendant disputes. Suggestions have been made that the system should remain focussed on title verification and record integration. Apart from technological solutions, it requires well trained staff, who will enable a quick and efficient use of records and delivery of services.

India - Resist draconian measures

A persistent political myth is that tougher, more draconian laws can tackle terrorism. Subscription to the myth is an admission of failure to take the right steps to combat the menace — such as beefing up the intelligence apparatus, identifying and choking the source of funding for terrorist groups, and addressing the combination of social, political, and economic grievances that feed the growing monster. The serial bomb blasts in Delhi have led to official reactions that suggest the United Progressive Alliance government is losing its nerve, as evidenced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s announcement that he “was considering legislation to further strengthen the anti-terrorism law.” While the promulgation of a new anti-terror law has been ruled out following a Cabinet meeting, the ‘strengthening’ is apparently to be done by amending the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2004 (UAPA). There are legitimate fears that draconian provisions that bear a worrying similarity to those in the repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) may creep in. For instance, among the changes reportedly being discussed are tougher bail provisions to keep the accused in jail beyond a three-month period. Under ordinary criminal law, an accused in custody can get bail if the prosecution fails to file a charge sheet within 90 days of his or her arrest.

One of the most abused provisions of POTA was that accused could seek bail only a year from the date of detention. If such provisions find their way into UAPA, the Congress-led regime will stand accused of smuggling in through the backdoor the very law it repealed. Already UAPA, which was passed to replace POTA, contains a number of sections that are virtual reproductions of the latter. What made the difference was the exclusion of some of POTA’s most draconian provisions — such as those relating to bail, confessions (admissible as evidence even if made to police), and the shifting of the burden of proof (to the accused). It is virtually certain that draconian laws will be targeted at political opponents and members of marginalised communities. Moreover, India’s decade-long experience with POTA’s equally notorious predecessor — the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act — should have taught it that they simply do not do their job. Of the 67,000 persons detained under TADA from its enactment in 1985 to August 1994, as many as 59,509 had no case brought before them. The conviction rate? Around one per cent. The UPA government must hold its nerve and not vacillate in the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s aggressive campaign for draconian anti-terror provisions that violate civil liberties, democratic rights, and proper standards for a fair trial.

Sports Columnist - Peter Roebuck;Kumble & McGain have a lot in common

Anil Kumble and Bryce McGain have a lot in common. Both have entered their mid-thirties as surprisingly sane people. Both eschew glamour. Put them alongside each other and try to guess which man until recently worked in a bank.

Both took up an absurdly difficult style of bowling, a style demanding a contortion of body and wrist so tricky that hardly anyone survives exposure to it.

The game is strewn with the hopes of wrist-spinners forced into submission by their calling. They live for the beauty of the perfect leg break and are sustained by occasional instances only to be driven back towards dementia when the next ball lands yards from its intended destination.


Kumble and McGain belong to the small group of survivors. They stripped their craft to its basics much as an apprentice does the engine of a car. They understand how to put it back together.

Both are superbly accurate, a product of many hours spent toiling away, patiently seeking rhythm, gradually adding variety, slowly gaining knowledge and always wanting to remain in control. After all their calling is already a gamble. All the more reason to go about it in a calm and methodical manner.

Of course a few differences can also be found, technically, temperamentally and in terms of achievement. McGain is fresh and orthodox. His counterpart is long serving and severe.

Kumble has made his mark in the history books as one of the finest spinners the game has known. At first he was underestimated, with his flat deliveries, flippers, googlies and dry manner.

Cast as suited only to dustbowls, he was not for an unconscionable time put in the top rank. It did not bother him. He has always been able to concentrate on the next ball.

But Kumble persisted and improved and critics met him midway, admitting that on closer inspection he was a subtle operator with a wide range of deliveries to his disposal. He learnt to vary his pace on docile decks, became less reliant on pressure, more prepared to risk runs in search of wickets, more wiling to try to beat the batsmen in the air as well as off the pitch. In short he matured into a complete bowler.

Different history

McGain’s history is a little bit different. He grew up in the shadow of Shane Warne, whose attractions set him apart. And not just in his shadow, in his country, in his State, in his city.

It not so much that anyone thought badly of him. No one thought about him at all. Occasionally the Victorian selectors nodded at him but fame proved to be fleeting. Mostly he turned out every weekend for his club, landed his breakers on the spot, took wickets, combed his hair and went home.

But something kept him playing. By and large Australians stop playing club cricket in their late twenties owing to the call of wives, shopping, children and other splendid activities.

McGain gathered these attributes yet kept playing for his club. Leg-spinners are a breed apart. It is a love affair, and a torment.

Then Warne retired and the State selectors began to look around. No one had appeared in his wake. Lots had tried. So they sent for the old timer still playing in the parks.

McGain played for Victoria and landed the ball on the same spot and without ever appearing menacing took a steady stream of wickets.

Next Stuart MacGill withdrew and the field was open.

McGain is 36 and in the forthcoming series will provide the accurate spin needed to counterpoint the pace attack. Kumble is 37 and supposedly past it.

Entertainment - Hall of Fame drummer Earl Palmer dead

LOS ANGELES (AP): Earl Palmer, the session drummer whose pioneering backbeats were recorded on such classics as Little Richard's ``Tutti Frutti'' and The Righteous Brothers' ``You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin,''' has died. He was 84.

Palmer died Friday at his Los Angeles home after fighting a lengthy illness, his spokesman Kevin Sasaki said.

Born in New Orleans in 1924 and later moving to Los Angeles, Palmer worked extensively in both cities, recording with some of the music world's all-time greats on thousands of tracks.

His beats form the backdrop on Ike and Tina Turner's ``River Deep, Mountain High,'' Fats Domino's ``The Fat Man'' and ``I Hear You Knockin''' by Smiley Lewis.

From his Los Angeles home, Palmer drummed for music producer Phil Spector and Motown, and his session credits include artists as diverse as the Monkees, Neil Young and Frank Sinatra.

Palmer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. According to the institution's Web site, Little Richard wrote in his autobiography that Palmer ``is probably the greatest session drummer of all time.''

Palmer married four times and is survived by his seven children.

India - Lakhs hit by Orissa floods,22 breaches in Mahanadi

Bhubaneswar (PTI): Lakhs of people were marooned on Saturday as Orissa braced up to a grim flood situation as major rivers, including Mahanadi, caused at least 22 breaches as the army stood by to assist in rescue and relief operation.

Surging waters in the swollen Mahanadi caused 22 breaches in embankments in the complex river system in the deltaic plains as more water was gushing into the Hirakud reservoir in western Orissa, official sources said.

As many as 46 of the 64 sluices of the Hirakud dam had been opened to discharge over 6.93 lakh cusecs as the districts of Angul, Kendrapara, Puri, Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur and Jajpur faced the deluge.

Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Manmohan Samal said that the breaches on the embankments of the Mahanadi and its branches in the delta have affected over 10 lakh people in 15 districts.

While three breaches had occurred on the Mahanadi embankment, the flood waters had broken through the embankments of several of the river's branches. Five breaches had occurred in the Chitrotpala river followed by two each in Devi and Luna and one each in Bhargabi, Kandala, Kathajodi, Kushabhadra, Kanei and Biluakhai.

Water resources department engineers were maintaining constant vigil on the 'Daleighai' embankment on the Devi river in Jagatsinghpur district.

This embankment, which had breached in 1955 and 1982, was the last protective barrier for a thickly populated area in the district.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who reviewed the flood situation at a meeting, is expected to make an aerial survey of the flood hit areas.

Army asked to standby

Alarmed over the situation, the state government had asked the army to stand by for relief and rescue operation besides urging Chhattisgarh to stop releasing water from the Ravishankar Barrage to prevent a complete deluge.

Two helicopters of the Indian Air Force have been provided by the centre for rescue and relief operation.

Besides the Mahanadi, the state's biggest river, other major rivers like Baitarani, Brahmani, Rushikulya and Vamsadhara were also in spate.

Around 40,000 people in seven districts have been evacuated to safer places as 14 out of the 30 districts in the state had been hit.

Thousands of people have left their homes to take shelter at safer places---flood and cyclone shelters, schools and colleges, roads and embankments--- in the coastal districts.

Sixty five free kitchens had been opened to provide them food, sources said.

Medical teams were kept ready and adequate medicines, halogen tablets and water pouches had been stored for distribution. If required, post-graduate medical college students would be pressed into service in the affected areas, they said.

The government has announced that relief would be provided for seven days in the flood-affected areas.

Health - Alternative remedies - ancient,but how safe?

Like many people these days, Lori Potter, a 50-year-old massage therapist living on Kauai, Hawaii, has explored alternative healing for everything from headaches to skin problems. So when she wanted to boost her immune system and lower her stress levels a few years ago, she made an appointment with a visiting practitioner of ayurveda, a medical system that originated in India thousands of years ago and has gained wide popularity in the United States.

He prescribed herbal supplements, which he tested himself for impurities, to help boost her immunity. Soon, Potter said, she felt more energetic and her digestion was better. After two years, the practitioner stopped visiting the island, and she has not taken any supplements since, she said, because she has not met any practitioners she trusts.

"You never know what's really in these supplements," she said. "This is serious stuff, and you can't just take them without knowing the source."

Potter may be right to be wary. A report in the Aug. 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 21 percent of 193 ayurvedic herbal supplements bought online, produced in both India and the United States, contained lead, mercury or arsenic. Almost all of the products were sold through American Web sites. "Some manufacturers advertised that they test for metals, and their products still had them," said Robert Saper, assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and lead author of the study. The average consumer, he said, "has no way of determining which supplement is free of contaminants and which isn't."

No one knows the exact numbers of arsenic, mercury or lead poisoning illnesses in the United States related to ayurvedic medicine. Saper estimated that there have been 80 cases since 1978, but he believes that is just the "tip of the iceberg." In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 12 cases of lead poisoning associated with ayurvedic products in Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York State and California.

While the Western medical community may be concerned about Saper's findings, many ayurvedic practitioners and holistic health centers are less so. Of the dozen spas, wellness centers and practitioners contacted for this article, all said they stood behind their products. Some suppliers said they believed that the levels of heavy metals in their ayurvedic products were no greater than in many Food and Drug Administration-approved medicines.

Kevin Casey, the chief of Banyan Botanicals, a maker of ayurvedic products in Ashland, Oregon, sells three items — mahasudarshan, shilajit and kanchanar guggulu — that are on Saper's list of contaminated supplements.

After the study came out, Casey said, some of his 15,000 clients, who include practitioners and consumers, called. He said he alleviated their fears after he explained that his products are sent to outside laboratories, and they meet "the standards that we adhere to."

He added that sales had not suffered since the study, which has "created a dialogue — people are talking about it and understanding that there is the presence of heavy metals, but it doesn't mean it's toxic or dangerous."

Saper disagreed. Even with relatively low levels of lead in the bloodstream, he said, "a person can be relatively asymptomatic but the lead can still impact their IQ It can reduce their cognitive function and increase blood pressure."

Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, a trade group, said that eliminating every trace of arsenic, mercury or lead from products was not a reasonable goal. "If it was, we'd have to find an entirely new food supply," he said.

Many Americans get their first taste of ayurveda at spas. A 2006 survey from the International Spa Association reported that about 31 percent of United States spas offer ayurvedic medicine, usually limited to hot oil massages and facials. But some spas with ayurvedic practitioners, including Exhale in Santa Monica, California; the Chopra Center for Well-Being in Carlsbad, California, and Manhattan; and the Ayurvedic Rejuvenation and Wellness Center in Manhattan, also recommend that some clients take herbal supplements to boost their immune systems and alleviate everything from depression to acne.

Dawne Burrowes, the director of the Ayurvedic Rejuvenation and Wellness Center, said she bought supplements from manufacturers such as Banyan Botanicals, which has been in business for 12 years. The Chopra Center buys some goods from Bazaar of India, an importer of herbal and ayurvedic products in Berkeley, California, and the source of 17 products that Saper found contained lead, mercury or arsenic.

David Simon, the medical director of the Chopra Center for Well-Being, said he was satisfied that Bazaar of India sends its products to an independent laboratory and that the herbs they recommend are free from toxic levels of heavy metals.

John Shahani, the ayurvedic practitioner at Exhale Spa in Santa Monica, took a similar position. Two products sold at the spa made by Balance Ayurvedic Products (AyurRelief and GlucoRite) were found by Saper to contain lead, but Shahani, who is technical director of Balance, said that he had the products tested by American laboratories and was not worried about their safety. "We know everything that goes into our products," he said, adding that he has certificates from the labs to ensure that the products are lead-free.

Kush Khanna, the president of Bazaar of India, defended the safety of the 17 products that Saper listed. All of the items, said Khanna in an e-mail message, have levels of contaminants below the safety levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

Khanna declined to explain why some, but not all, of the offending products are no longer on his Web site. He said business had not suffered since the study was released.

The FDA does not specify maximum acceptable concentrations or daily dose limits for contaminants in dietary supplements. Instead, the onus is on the manufacturer to ensure that its products are safe. What's more, there are no universally accepted standards for herbal supplements. The Food and Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives Secretariat recommends that a 70-kilogram, or 154-pound, person consume no more than 250 micrograms of lead, 50 micrograms of mercury and 150 micrograms of arsenic per day.

The National Sanitation Foundation International Dietary Supplement Standard, which certifies dietary supplements and ingredients for purity, suggests a daily limit of 20 micrograms of lead, 20 for mercury and 10 for arsenic. California Proposition 65 has limits of 0.5 microgram of lead per day and 10 micrograms of arsenic per day. (There are currently no guidelines for mercury.) But, as Wynn Werner, president of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association pointed out, California does not prohibit sales of these products, but "rather requires a specific warning to the consumer if a product contains these elements above its limits." None of the tainted supplements in Saper's study met the standards for lead set forth by California Proposition 65.

In fact, the presence of metals in certain ayurvedic products may be intentional. An ancient form of ayurveda called "rasa shastra" involves fusing organic and mineral compounds — including pearl, gold, diamonds, copper and mercury — into a medicine and then purifying it into what is believed to be a safe and ingestible form. But the rasa shastra products in Saper's study contained the highest levels of mercury, arsenic and lead — as much as 10,000 times over the recommended limits.

Symptoms of lead poisoning, according to Saper, can include abdominal pain, lethargy, impaired cognition, constipation and anemia.

Earlier this year, a woman named Frances Gaskell experienced some of these symptoms after taking Garbhapal Ras, an herbal supplement geared toward pregnant women, and filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Iowa against the manufacturer, Maharishi Ayurveda Products, which is based in India but distributes its products in the United States. According to the lawsuit, her blood levels were over 20 times the level considered safe by the Centers for Disease Control, said her lawyer.

Her case may be among the most extreme, but some spas are wary. Marguerite Barnett, a plastic surgeon, owns the Mandala Med-Spa in Sarasota, Florida A few years ago she added ayurvedic massages to her treatments, but she does not have an in-house ayurvedic practitioner, nor will she sell herbs or supplements. "I am not being negative toward ayurvedic medicine in general — it has a lot to offer — but we do have to raise questions about the purity of the products being used," she said.

Regardless, some are convinced that the benefits outweigh any pitfalls. In her 20's, Gina Simo, now 39 and a full-time mother, suffered from a terrible case of cystic acne. Dermatologists were not able to help her, so she went to the Pratima Ayurvedic Skincare Spa Clinic in Manhattan, run by Pratima Raichur. After three months of dietary changes and herbal supplements, the pimples had disappeared. Simo is undeterred by results of Saper's study, still visits the spa and even gives her 18-month-old daughter supplements for colds and skin allergies. "I just feel so much safer with herbs than with quote-unquote medicine."

World - What's in a street name?Moscow is finding out

As Alexander Solzhenitsyn was laid to rest last month, President Dmitri Medvedev decreed that he be memorialized "for his extraordinary contribution" to Russian culture. Among other things, a Moscow street should be renamed for the great chronicler of Russia's turbulent 20th century.

In short order, the office of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov announced that Bolshaya Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa, or Big Communist Street, actually one of the prettiest, quietest and most well-preserved streets in Moscow, full of elegant pre-revolutionary mansions, is now Ulitsa Solzhenitsyna, or Solzhenitsyn Street.

Medvedev had neither set a deadline nor singled out a street, but as Izvestia, the former Soviet government newspaper that still has close ties to the Kremlin pointed out, the Russian capital is still full of place names representing the ideology Solzhenitsyn spent a lifetime railing against.

"Why not rename Leninsky Prospekt, or Shosse Entuziastov?" Izvestia suggested, referring to a highway along which prisoners were marched off to distant Siberian incarceration both in czarist times, when it was known as the Vladimirsky trakt, and in the Soviet era.

Renaming a street is just one honor for the writer whose "Gulag Archipelago" is credited with revealing to the world the horrors of the Soviet system - and, ultimately, helping to bring it down.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, under whose tenure as president Stalin re-entered the school curriculum as an example of effective rule, has called for more of Solzhenitsyn's texts to be included in that same curriculum.

But while Putin's suggestion has gone relatively unquestioned, the street name has spurred a serious new round of debate about Moscow's toponymy - debates that had fizzled after a spate of renaming in the 1990s after Communism fell.

How appropriate is it, for example, that Leninsky Prospekt, which cuts through southern Moscow, runs past the Academy of Sciences building, where the wake for Solzhenitsyn was held, and near the Donskoi Monastery, where he is buried?

Or that one of the main streets perpendicular to the newly christened Ulitsa Solzhenitsyna is Marksistskaya - Marx Street, as in Karl?

"I think this is the beginning, after a long silence, of a new period of renaming," said Viktor Moskvin, director of the Russia Abroad Foundation, a repository of émigré memoirs and archives that Solzhenitsyn helped compile and strongly supported along with Luzhkov. The archive will also be named after him. "Now that Bolshaya Kommunisticheskaya, a street name with such ideological meaning, is being renamed, I think it will be easier to rename the others."

Luzhkov has made his position clear. He attended the panikhida, or memorial service, at the Donskoi Monastery on Sept. 11, the 40th day since the writer's death, and stood at the graveside with Solzhenitsyn's widow, Natalia.

Moscow Communists are up in arms. Vladimir Lakeyev, the leader of the Communist Party faction in the Moscow City Duma, the Russian capital's main legislative body, has petitioned the city's prosecutor's office to investigate the legality of the decision.

Lakeyev said in a statement that Big Communist Street is named after Bolsheviks who fell in battle there during the Revolutions of 1905 and the Great October Revolution of 1917.

Renaming the street is "inadmissible" because it "reflects the feat of communists who gave their lives for freedom, the happiness of the people and the strengthening of the state," the statement said. By contrast, it added, Solzhenitsyn was "a public figure who devoted his life to fighting the Soviet people's state and spoke out with anti-communist and anti-state positions."

Stanislav Minin, a columnist for the Nezavisimaya Gazetar, worried last week that Solzhenitsyn Street would be out of place.

"It will inevitably end up in amusing, and at times simply idiotic, contexts," he said. For example: "The Interfax agency reports that a drunken fight took place tonight on Ulitsa Solzhenitsyna."

Moscow has a street, Prospekt Akademika Sakharova, named after the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1990.

Yevgeny Bunimovich is one of two members of the Moscow Legislature's liberal Yabloko Party faction, which wholeheartedly supports the naming of a street in honor of Solzhenitsyn, but not the manner in which it is being done, nor the confusing city laws on street names.

"Many quite famous people die in Moscow, and there's an idea right away to name a street after them," he said. "We need to think how this is to be done."

Technically, in fact, naming a street so quickly after a dead luminary violates city laws. But then exceptions have already been made - in 2004, a street on the outskirts of the city was hastily renamed after Akhmad Kadyrov, the Chechen rebel turned pro-Kremlin strongman who was killed by an assassin's bomb.

And in 2005, Malaya Kommunisticheskaya, or Little Communist Street, which adjoins its big brother, was renamed for Konstantin Stanislavsky, the pioneering theater director whose family once had a factory on the street.

The Orthodox priests of a beautiful church in the neighborhood, meanwhile, have taken matters into their own hands Affixed to their church, which served as a book repository in Soviet times, is a sign that simply returns the address to the days before the 1917 Revolution: 15 Bolshaya Alekseyevskaya.

"We shouldn't be like the Communists, who went around renaming everything," said the Reverend Valery Stepanov, who serves at the church and hosts a television show about Moscow. "But Solzhenitsyn Street is better than Big Communist Street."

World - Canada election tainted by bad joke

An attempt at levity by a Canadian cabinet minister over a tainted food epidemic that killed 17 people, has turned the health crisis into an unexpected issue in Canada's current election campaign.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued Friday to resist calls from some relatives of the dead and all of his political opponents to fire Gary Ritz, the agriculture minister, because of remarks he made during a conference call about an outbreak of listeriosis linked to lunch meats.

"This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts?," Ritz said during a conference call with about 30 bureaucrats, scientists and political officials on Aug. 30.

Later, when someone on the call indicated that there may be a case in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said: "Please tell me it's Wayne Easter." Easter, a member of Parliament from that province, is the agriculture critic for the opposition Liberal Party.

Ritz, whose department is responsible for food safety, had been the government's public face during the outbreak of listeriosis, a bacterial disease that can be fatal to the elderly or the infirm. The outbreak prompted a nationwide recall of products produced by Maple Leaf Foods.

Although Ritz's black humor has made the government's handling of the situation a prominent campaign issue, its performance during the outbreak had already been questioned before the Canadian Press news agency reported the comments on Wednesday evening. The Canadian Medical Association Journal published an editorial on Tuesday which said, in part, that "government policy errors helped bring about this epidemic." During the height of the outbreak, Tony Clement, the health minister, was also criticized for going to Denver to attend the Democratic National Convention as an observer.

Late Wednesday night, Ritz appeared outside of an office building near Parliament Hill to apologize. Harper subsequently said that no further action is necessary.

"I suspect everybody in this room, if they're honest with themselves, will admit in private conversations they probably said things that were pretty insensitive and inappropriate," Harper said during a campaign stop in Trois-Rivières, Quebec.

Although Harper declared the matter closed, television and radio newscasts continued Friday to carry calls from the relatives of victims for Ritz's removal.

Among them is Dennis Schroh, a self-described Conservative whose mother, Elizabeth, was a resident of Ritz's electoral district in Saskatchewan when she died on Aug. 24.

"It just ticked me right off for a man of his stature to come across to say that," Schroh told the Canadian Press in a video released Friday. "So I tell Ritz: throw some more dirt on my mom's grave."

Schroh's sister, however, has accepted the minister's apology.

The editors of the medical journal and others have drawn a parallel between the Harper government's handling of the listeriosis outbreak and an outbreak of tainted drinking water that killed seven people in Walkerton, Ontario, in 2000. The Conservative government that was in power in Ontario at that time could not overcome a widespread perception that its regulatory cutbacks led to the Walkerton deaths and it was defeated in a subsequent election.

India - A daughter remembers P.Ramamurthi ( G.Read)

He was a true communist, humane and selfless, with a strong belief in secularism and equality. Like other leaders of the communist movement in the early decades, he faced severe repression. For him, politics and family life were inseparable.

“If your charge is that we have conspired to overthrow the British along with the 40 crore Indians, we accept the charge.”

— P. Ramamurti’s fearless defence in 1941 as the first accused in the Madras Conspiracy Case electrified millions of young Indians. He was sentenced to four years rigorous imprisonment along with other communists – among them, C.S. Subramaniam, Mohan Kumaramangalam, and R. Umanath. If he were alive, he would be a 100 years old today.

A freedom fighter and an architect of the Indian communist movement, he was at once a leading trade unionist, a legislator, and a Marxist idealogue. He was affectionately known as PR. His actions were radical and influenced millions but he was never content with them. In the 1930s he organised Dalits living near Triplicane’s Parthasarathy Temple in Madras to get voting rights at the Temple Trust. It was a historic victory in the Madras High Court. Mahatma Gandhi, in Young India, called it a great victory for the cause but PR was dismissive. He said in an interview to the Nehru Museum Library (1978): “I laughed at it. What was the achievement, as if it was a big revolutionary thing?"

Disillusioned with ‘Congress socialism,’ PR turned to communism in 1936. After the Communist Party split in 1964, he became one of the nine founder Polit Bureau members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He was the first general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

A phenomenal organiser, he led the labour movement across the country. The strikes he led between 1930 and 1950 made workers in Madras refer to the Communist Party’s Broadway office as the ‘strike office.’ Working together with A.K. Gopalan, B. Sreenivasa Rao, and Manali Kandasamy, PR organised and led tenant farmers to fight oppression and exploitation by landlords. From being a handful of protestors, they became an organised force, many among them transformed into radical leaders.

PR’s campaigns led to significant law reforms between 1948 and 1956. Hundreds of tribes branded by law as criminals gained their human dignity through a denotification order, the first ever in Indian history, in 1949. Cultivating tenants earned better wages and social freedom. These actions made him so popular among agricultural labourers that Chief Minister C. Rajagopalachari remarked: “Don’t they know that I have passed the laws and not Ramamurti?”

PR came from an orthodox Brahmin family but abjured caste or class. My sister Ponni recalls that when she was 10 years old, her teacher saw PR and K. Kamaraj come to our school to take us home. The next day Ponni was asked by her teacher, “neenga enna jathi?” (which caste do you belong to?). Ponni was confused and could not answer. When she asked our father, he laughed and said “manitha jathi” (humankind).

Imprisoned again in the Madurai conspiracy case, PR was released on the eve of India’s Independence. Since the Communist Party was banned even thereafter, he was arrested again. In all, he spent nearly nine years of his life in prison and another five underground.

In 1952, while in jail, PR won his Madras Legislative Assembly seat from Madurai with a huge margin. The Communists-led coalition was on the verge of creating history to become the world’s first democratically elected communist government. The Congress was pushed to a minority. However, Rajaji who had not contested the election was nominated to the Legislative Council and invited by the Governor to become Chief Minister. The Congress began horse-trading to win over independents to prevent the Communists from coming to power.

PR immediately filed the first ever public interest writ petition in the country, challenging Rajaji’s nomination as MLC. His arguments in the Madras High Court anticipated the “basic structure” theory evolved by the Supreme Court years later. Arguing in person, he contended that Rajaji’s nomination was aimed at defeating electoral results and democracy and the court should prevent this in the public interest. Chief Justice Rajamannar and Justice Venkatarama Ayyar rejected his arguments, opining that the court could not decide political rights or enforce public interest or constitutional conventions. The very same principles PR advocated in 1952 were emphatically accepted by successive constitutional benches of the Supreme Court nearly three decades later.

He was a true communist, humane and selfless, with a strong belief in secularism and equality. The leaders of the early years of the communist movement faced severe repression. Their struggles met with adversity and were at the cost of their family lives. Their politics and family lives were inseparable. My sister and I, first generation children of Indian communists, were raised in a different milieu. As children raised in Delhi, we spent a lot of time in the party commune, where families of comrades lived in one room per family and shared common meals and other amenities.

To me the party was a large family. Party discipline percolated through the family. While in school, Ponni and I had only two sets of clothes, one to wear, the other to be washed. My mother had about five sarees. Life was spartan, but we were happy.

Since both my parents were communists and had faced imprisonment, we grew up hearing of many struggles. Facing the police without fear came naturally to us. The police raided our home in the dead of night when the communists were arrested in 1962-63 during the India-China war. They raided and rampaged our house in search of PR. Failing to get any lead from my mother who remained calm, they pulled off our sheets while we were asleep. The next day we went to school as usual. From such experiences, I learned to challenge injustice without fear.

While my schoolmates spoke of outings with their father, my sister and I could see our father only once in nearly four months. When he was home, it was hardly for a week. In the 1960s, when he was imprisoned, we did not see him for nearly three years except when he was on parole briefly. I remember how surprised he was after one such release to see I had grown tall.

He compensated in full measure whenever he was with us. He was an extremely affectionate father and his coming home was a matter of great joy. We travelled widely with him and he would tell us the history of the places we visited. Ponni and I learnt more from him than in our history and geography classes.

In keeping with his beliefs, PR gave away, long before 1947, his share in the agricultural lands in Tanjavur’s Vepathur village to the cultivating tenants. He treated families of comrades and friends as his own. Their problems were his. His growth in stature never separated him from people.

A Member of Parliament in both houses between 1960 and 1983, PR never let his sharp instincts, ever ready to face state oppression, fade. Late at night on the 25th of June 1975, we received a phone call at home in Delhi informing us about the proclamation of Emergency and the large-scale arrests of opposition leaders. Leaving behind our car, PR immediately got into a taxi to go to the CPI(M) headquarters, disguising himself in a head gear and taking me along as cover. He asked the driver to take a circuitous route and stopped the vehicle near the office’s back-gate. He then walked to the office in the dead of night to discuss counter strategy.

PR created history by replying in Tamil to the budget of 1953 in the Madras Assembly. A powerful speaker, he had the art of explaining complex economic and political issues in simple terms. His speeches were evocative, making the audience participate and drew packed crowds. I saw him address innumerable hall meetings during the Emergency; he held his audience – students, teachers, scientists, and the intelligentsia – in rapt attention.

When banks were nationalised, PR lobbied keenly in support of the move. Newspapers were agog with reports of the Supreme Court striking down the law and the quick response of Parliament in introducing the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to bring back the nationalisation measure. I was in high school then and felt an urge to understand law. During my discussions with my father, he explained to me how Parliament’s moves towards greater distribution of wealth were defeated in courts. He was my inspiration to become a lawyer and to use law as an instrument for social transformation.

PR was a strong defender of our national interests and the public sector. His 1979 speech in the Rajya Sabha opposing the BHEL–Siemens collaboration deal, for which 30 minutes were allotted, was extended to two hours as he held members in attention with his mastery of facts and analysis of the economic perils of the agreement. The rest is history. BHEL is today one our Navaratna PSUs.

PR continued to shape India’s history until his death on December 15, 1987. His political opponents respected him and he had friends across party lines. His close friend Harkishan Singh Surjeet noted: “PR had no enemies.” President R. Venkataraman said in his tribute: “With his demise, public life has lost a forceful personality and many of us a warm friend” (Hindustan Times, December 16, 1987).

PR continues to live in people’s hearts and his legacy will inspire generations to come. Ponni and I are truly privileged to be his daughters.

(R. Vaigai is a practising lawyer at the Madras High Court. She is Chennai district president of the All India Lawyers’ Union, and director of the People’s Law Centre, Chennai.)

India - 'World's best' accord signed for Hyderabad metro rail project

HYDERABAD: A significant milestone in commencing work on the Rs. 12,132-crore Hyderabad Metro Rail Project (MRTS) was reached when the Andhra Pradesh government and Maytas Metro Limited (MML), special purpose vehicle constituted to implement it, signed a concession agreement here on Friday.

MML is a concessionaire company for implementation of the project on DBFOT (design, build, finance, operate and transfer) basis.

It consists of a consortium of Maytas Infra Limited, Navabharat Ventures Limited, Ital Thai Development Public Company and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited.

The concession agreement for building the metro system spanning a length of 71 km was signed by C. V. S. K. Sarma, chairman, Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited (HMRL) and B. Teja Raju, managing director, MML, in the presence of Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy. The State government will have to subscribe an equity of Rs. 250 crore in the company.

A cheque for Rs. 11 crore was presented to the Chief Minister by MML as the first instalment of the Rs. 30,311-crore revenue promised to the government over a period of 35 years.

Dr. Reddy quoted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to describe the agreement as the “world’s best” (in the public-private partnership mode). September 2012 has been fixed as the outer-limit for completing the project. The Chief Minister announced that civil works for the project would start from March.

N. V. S. Reddy, MD, HMRL, later said the sum of Rs. 2,300 crore sanctioned by the Centre would be used for allied work. The Centre sanctioned the money under the original arrangement that the Union and State governments must contribute Rs. 4,800 crore towards the project cost.

He said the consortium had made the best offer as it would get revenues from metro rail and also from 269 acres of land to be made available for construction of commercial complexes, stations and depots. The metro rail fare would range from Rs. 8 to Rs. 19 on an average and they would not deprive the APSRTC of its business.

Business - Superfood or monster from the deep (G.Read)

Off the coast of Peru swim billions of sardines and anchovies: oily, smelly little fish, rich in nutritious omega-3 fatty acids. Their spot on the food chain is low; many will be caught, ground up, and fed as fishmeal to bigger animals.

But a few have a more exalted destiny: to be transported, purified and served at North American breakfast tables in the form of Tropicana Healthy Heart orange juice and Wonder Headstart bread. These new products promise to deliver the health benefits of fish oil without the smell and the taste — without, in fact, the fish.

The possible benefits of eating omega-3s include cardiovascular protection and improved neural development in children.

However, "People just aren't eating salmon or sardines twice a day," said Ellie Halevy, director for marketing of Tropicana, which is owned by PepsiCo. "But they will drink two glasses of orange juice, if it has no fishy taste and all the benefits."

Orange juice laced with anchovies is one example of the latest way major food companies are competing for health-conscious consumers: plugging one food into another and claiming the health benefits of both. Shoppers are offered green tea extracts in their ginger ale, yogurt bacteria in their salsa, and powdered beets in their peanut butter. Market staples like blueberries (high in certain antioxidants), cherries (may have anti-inflammatory benefits) and bananas (when unripe, particularly rich in fiber) are being broken down, shaken up, microencapsulated, and put to work in new ways.

These additives are often called nutraceuticals, broadly defined as ingredients that are derived from food, and that offer health benefits associated with that food. Nutraceuticals like garlic pills and cranberry capsules became popular in the 1990s, usually taken alone in the form of dietary supplements.

Now Kraft, Dannon, General Mills and many other companies are adding nutraceuticals to existing foods: "fat-burning waffles" made from a newly developed corn flour, cheese that kills intestinal parasites, even ketchup that regulates digestion, are on the shelves or in the works. New technologies in food processing, and a landmark 1999 court decision giving the makers of supplements broad leeway to advertise their health benefits, have brought this new class of enhanced foods to supermarket shelves.

These products are known as functional foods, meaning they have been modified to make them more nutritious, like genetically modified rice or fortified milk.

"One day, we believe, you will be able to walk into a supermarket and all the products could be enriched with omega-3s: milk, yogurt, tortillas," said Ian Lucas, head of marketing for Ocean Nutrition Canada, maker of the fish oil used by Tropicana.

Are we really that close to a world in which food functions as a nutrient delivery system, made possible by microencapsulation and fine-spray coating? And what would this mean for food and human nutrition?

"This whole area is far more complex than we thought just one or two years ago," said Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University.

Since the 1970s, as nutrition research has progressed beyond "vitamins and minerals," a variety of new compounds have been touted as the key to health: antioxidants (related to vitamins, these include lycopene, beta-carotene and other plant-based nutrients); long-chain fatty acids like omega-3s, plentiful in fish and some plants; and "probiotics," the live bacteria in yogurt and fermented vegetables.

There is significant scientific agreement — the standard the Food and Drug Administration requires before foodmakers can place unqualified health claims on packaging — on the benefits of certain nutrients, including calcium, fiber, folate, soy protein, omega-3 fatty acids, lactic acid bacteria and a few others. In food, these have proved to help protect against specific diseases (calcium against osteoporosis, omega-3 fatty acids for heart disease), and many nutritionists believe that they are beneficial in supplement form.

However, recent studies on supplemental vitamin E, beta-carotene and folate (all of which fall into the broad category of "antioxidants") surprised everyone by showing no benefits whatsoever for cardiovascular disease. "There is a great deal we don't know about how the compounds in food are made available to the body," Lichtenstein said. "Now we have to be more cautious about individual nutrients, though we should not close our minds, given the successes of the past."

Fortified food is certainly one of the great triumphs of public-health policy. When vitamin-B-enriched flour was introduced in the 1940s, rates of pellagra plummeted. Iodine-fortified salt virtually wiped out goiter, and vitamin-D-enriched milk eliminated rickets in children. But some experts say that such carefully designed campaigns have little in common with the fortified products now turning up in supermarkets.

"Those decisions were based on rigorous public-health studies," said Jeffrey Mechanick, a professor of endocrinology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "But the science hasn't been done on the new nutraceutical products, and the FDA's current labeling standards are inadequate."

The agency does not have specific rules for the labeling of functional foods. "It all depends on what type of claim is being made," said Michael Herndon, an agency spokesman. "An unqualified health claim like 'calcium reduces your risk of osteoporosis,' has to be proved in advance. A more general claim like 'X keeps your heart healthy' has to be provable by the manufacturer, but we would not require proof in advance." As with conventional foods, functional foods must clearly state the presence of allergens, like milk or fish, in the ingredients list.

The Food and Drug Administration does not conduct nutritional research. Several other U.S. government agencies do so, but functional foods are not evaluated by any specific office. "Nutraceutical products have characteristics of both food and drugs," said David A. Kessler, a former commissioner of the FDA "It's easy for them to slip through the cracks, and the industry is always ahead of the agency."

The free-market policy on claims for nutraceuticals benefits companies like LycoRed, a global provider of compounds pulled out of tomatoes that grow in desert greenhouses in Israel. LycoRed, like FutureCeuticals, National Starch, the German chemical giant BASF and other companies, produces a range of additives for the food industry.

"Everybody already knows that a tomato is healthy," said Udi Alroy, the company's chief marketer. "We don't have to sell something from Mars." But the form in which the tomato appears in LycoRed products is somewhat unearthly. Specially bred tomatoes, bright red and flavorless, are pulped and then treated to extract the valuable compounds of lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein — which are then encapsulated in "beadlets" so tiny they cannot be felt by the human tongue.

"People want their food to have the same organoleptic qualities, not be gritty or taste different or feel weird," said Kevin Stark, head of the food technology division of NineSigma, a research company that helps put clients like General Mills and Procter & Gamble in touch with scientists and technologists around the world.

The tiny capsules, made of fat, protein or sometimes plastic, can be designed to deliver foods to a particular part of the digestive tract. Some capsules can wait out long periods on shelves or even survive heat treatment, the method used to cook and sterilize most canned foods.

Other new technologies can remove the fishy smell of fish, distill a pomegranate into flavorless powder and possibly deliver the nutritional benefits of a green bean via a slice of pound cake, and major players like Dannon, Nestlé and PepsiCo are plunging in.

A new brand of peanut butter, Zap, is imperceptibly fortified with powdered beets, carrots and bananas. Nutritious Chocolate, a new product from Gary Null, a health-food marketer, includes the usual ingredients of chocolate: cocoa butter, cocoa beans, cane sugar, vanilla. Oh, and broccoli, cranberries, nectarines, parsley, pomegranates, watermelons, kale and more — a total of 30 additional plants, all in powdered form.

But whether the nutritional benefits of the original foods survive in additive form is still to be determined.

"Whether a tomato is good for you, that's one thing," Kessler said. "Whether the lycopene in a tomato is good for you, that's another. And then whether synthetic lycopene and microencapsulated lycopene are also good for you, that's yet another thing."

In a manufacturing plant outside Paris, the Danone Group, parent company of Dannon, nourishes more than 3,000 different strains of lactic acid bacteria for its lines of "probiotic" yogurts. All yogurt is fermented with live cultures, but Danone claims to have harnessed yogurt's healing potential to particular ends. "Different strains work for different problems," said Miguel Freitas, Dannon's scientific affairs director. "The one for Activia works on slow transit" — the company's elegant term for constipation — "and the one for DanActive on immunity."

Tropicana offers an orange juice tailored for bone loss, another for acid reflux, and one for weight loss. Many factors are pushing this trend toward health-specific foods: the aging population, changes in labeling rules, the general trend toward micromarketing that makes consumers accept, and soon expect, 12 slightly different Tropicana orange juices on the shelf where one used to be enough for everyone.

Additionally, with recent rising costs in raw materials, flavorings and transport, many food companies are refocusing their research and development; instead of adding expensive ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes or honey-roasted almonds to existing products, the search is on for inexpensive "value-added" products that customers will pay extra for. Mars's CocoaVia line of chocolate claims to offer health benefits because of high levels of antioxidants; an ounce of CocoaVia blueberry almond chocolate costs about $1.25, while an ounce of the same manufacturer's Dove blueberry almond chocolate costs about 75 cents. In order to get the nutritional benefits from CocoaVia, the company recommends eating two bars a day — an investment of more than $700 and 4,000 fat grams in the course of a year.

Eating the right nutrients is a complicated question, one that nutritionists say could most easily be solved by eating a wide range of basic foods.

Lichtenstein of Tufts says that the recent setbacks and surprises in nutrition research have made her rethink the whole model of adding nutrients to the diet, despite the effectiveness of vitamin fortification.

"Maybe the true benefit of eating a lot of fish is that you are actually eating less of something else, like steak," she said. "Maybe a subtraction model is the key. We have a long way to go to find out."

World - Students saw in Professor Obama a pragmatist,not an idealogue

When Jaime Escuder, a University of Chicago law student, was searching for a professor to supervise an independent project on prisoners' rights, he turned to Barack Obama, but not for Obama's politics. As a student in Obama's constitutional law class in 2001, Escuder was impressed by his teacher's ability to see both sides of an argument.

"I figured Obama would respect the stance I took in the paper, whether or not he agreed with it," said Escuder, now a public defender in Illinois.

In the project, Escuder forcefully advocated for prisoners having the freedom to procreate. Obama gave him guidance on honing his argument - but never told him if he agreed. When he did venture an opinion, it was to prod Escuder to consider real-world implications. On running into Escuder one weekend morning, Obama said: "I don't think that you're giving adequate consideration to how difficult it will be for prison officials to care for pregnant women. I've been dealing with this recently, and believe me, it isn't easy." Escuder assumed Obama was talking about being a father.

Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School for a decade before he left in 2003 to run for the U.S. Senate. He emerged as one of the Senate's most liberal members, and his voting record is often invoked in the current campaign, especially by his opponents. But the men and women who studied with him at Chicago echo Escuder's observation that Obama was much more pragmatic than ideological. Even as his political career advanced, Obama's teaching stuck to the law-school norm of dispassionately evaluating competing arguments with the tools of forensic logic.

"It was drilled into us from Day 1 that you examined your biases and inclinations," said Richard Hess, now an attorney at Susman Godfrey in Houston. "And then, when you made decisions, they were based on sound empirical reasons."

Escuder saw his professor as "a street-smart academic."

"He wanted his students to consider the impact laws and judicial opinions had on real people," Escuder said.

According to Marcus Fruchter, who took constitutional law with Obama and now practices at the law firm of Schopf & Weiss in Chicago, "You never would have known he was going to be a liberal senator based on what he said in his courses."

I recently spoke to many of Obama's former students and asked them to speculate about how the teacher they saw manage a classroom might try to manage a country. Dan Johnson-Weinberger, who lobbies for progressive causes in Illinois, said he thought his former professor was unlikely to emerge as an ideological liberal if he makes it to the White House. "Based on what I saw in the classroom," he said, "my guess is an Obama administration could be summarized in two words: Ruthless pragmatism."

Obama's status as senior lecturer in law was a rarefied one. At that time, two federal judges - Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, both of the Seventh Circuit - held that position, and both men had been full-time, distinguished members of the Chicago faculty before joining the bench and reducing their course loads at the law school. So when the 34-year-old Obama told the law school's dean, Douglas Baird, that he wanted the same post, Baird was somewhat taken aback. "He's not a man possessed by self-doubt," Baird said with a smile.

It wasn't that he didn't think highly of Obama. Baird had recruited him from Harvard Law School, where Obama was the first African-American president of the Law Review. Baird arranged for the promising graduating student to become a law and government fellow at Chicago, providing Obama with a stipend and an office so he could complete his first book, "Dreams From My Father."

In 1996, after winning election to the Illinois Senate, Obama decided he needed to supplement the salary he would draw as a legislator. And so over dinner at the Park Avenue Cafe in Chicago one evening, he and Baird hammered out an agreement whereby Obama would become a senior lecturer and teach three classes a year.

Baird pushed hard to get Obama the senior lecturer position. The newly minted state senator would have added diversity to the law school: At the time, there was only one person of color on the full-time Chicago academic teaching staff. And Obama had proved to be a skilled teacher.

"You could tell from the course evaluations and enrollments that students had really taken to him," Baird said.

When Obama was promoted to the senior lecturer position, he had only taught his seminar on racism and the law. While his teaching schedule expanded to include constitutional law and voting rights, it was his original seminar that left the greatest impression on his students. In the class, Obama emphasized how people's experiences and backgrounds could influence their perceptions of prejudice and the possible need for government action to curb its effects.

"He wanted us to be aware of our biases so we could better avoid the pitfalls they can bring," said a former student, Bethany Lampland, who now practices in New York.

He did that in part by sharing personal stories that revealed preconceptions he himself harbored. In the autumn of 2003, for example, he told of an uncomfortable encounter he had one evening on Lake Shore Drive. An Asian driver in a souped-up Honda cut him off; when the two men reached a stoplight, Obama shot him a dirty look. The driver's response was to roll down his window and yell "nigger" at Obama before speeding off.

The professor described himself as initially shocked. But as he reflected on the episode, he told the class, he realized that the other driver wasn't the only one harboring stereotypes. "I was thinking, 'Here's some Asian kid on his way to a club,"' Obama said, according to Richard Hess, who was enrolled in the course. Obama had stereotyped the driver as the kind of person who would never call him "nigger."

Hess, who worked in Democratic politics before attending law school, told me he was impressed by his professor's ability to coolly analyze such an unpleasant confrontation. "I thought it displayed a thoughtfulness," he said. "He would talk about race in a way that I doubt anyone had heard from their professor before, or I had heard from a politician before."

The class led Tom Hynes, who took racism and the law in 1996, to consider his experiences growing up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in racially balkanized Chicago. Under Obama's supervision, he wrote an independent paper on the history of tensions between Irish immigrants and African-Americans. He was struck, he said, by Obama's pragmatic take on race relations.

"In his mind, the real problem wasn't racist attitudes some people may hold, but the fact that some minorities were starting at such a huge disadvantage," Hynes recounted. "Issues like poor public education and the lack of access to credit seemed more glaring to him."

Dennis Hutchinson, who also teaches courses on race and the law at Chicago, pointed out that Obama's racial background gave him a certain advantage. "Let's be frank," said Hutchinson, who is white. "If you're black, and you are teaching a group of mostly white students about sensitive topics touching on race, then you're controlling the class."

But like any good law professor, Obama seems not to have used his position to produce a preconceived political result. When he lectured on a pivotal affirmative action Supreme Court case, for instance, he emphasized that white contractors who lost out to minority businesses because of racial set-asides had a legitimate grievance.

Similarly, Obama allowed that there was an argument to be made for paying out reparations for slavery. The class reading - including authors like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington - certainly bolstered the idea that some kind of atonement was warranted. But after making the theoretical case, Obama pushed his students to think about the implications of actually cutting checks to the descendants of slaves. It was possible, he pointed out, that the move would merely create resentment. Obama kept his own thoughts on the topics he was teaching mostly to himself.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger studied voting rights with Obama. He remembers Obama as an able observer of the allocation of power in the American democratic system. As Obama shepherded students through the evolution of how Americans elect their representatives, Johnson-Weinberger said, he emphasized how important the rules of the game were in determining who won elections.

That background in voting law, the former student said, played a factor in Obama's primary triumph over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. "He understood how important the caucus states would be, and he grasped that voters in African-American Congressional districts would have a disproportionate impact in selecting the nominee," he said. "I think one of the reasons he said yes to this race is that he grasped the structural path to victory."

Johnson-Weinberger, who has championed alternative electoral systems like proportional voting in Illinois, found Obama's practical approach to be a welcome respite from traditional law-school fare. He volunteered for Obama's losing 2000 primary challenge to Representative Bobby Rush and his victorious Senate run four years later. His former professor, he speculated, would bring a similar mind-set to the White House.

"I don't think he's wedded to any particular ideology," Johnson-Weinberger told me. "If he has an impatience about anything, it's the idea that some proposals aren't worthy of consideration."

Alexandra Starr has written about politics and culture for The New York Times, Slate, The New Republic and The American Scholar.