Karambir Kang, saviour of Taj Hotel on 26/11

At 22, Kanwaljit Kang was married and pregnant. One night, she had a dream. A saint opened the Sikh holy book and said, “Name your baby, a son, Dusht Daman.” Kanwaljit only laughed. Such a hard name for a child, she thought. The name meant “Destroyer of demons”.

The saint was right. A boy was born. For eight months, he went without a name. Finally, Kanwaljit and her husband Jagtar went to a nearby saint to ask for another name. A name not so rough. But the saint said the name should stay. Still, Kanwaljit resisted it. No, we must give him something more modern, she thought. A softer name. They settled on Karambir. It meant, “A person who does brave deeds”.

Now, Kanwaljit, 61, cries when she talks about her son’s name. She wipes her eyes with her dupatta continuously. Her makeup smears into little rain clouds around her eyes. “If I had given him the name I was supposed to, maybe he could have killed those terrorists that day,” she says. She cries harder.

On November 26, 2008, her son did not kill terrorists. But, true to his name, Karambir Kang did brave deeds.

On that day, he was extraordinary. Through a 60-hour siege on the hotel whose company he’d served for 19 years, he worked. On and on, without tiring. Helping to save a thousand guests. But he couldn’t save his wife. He couldn’t save his children. Karambir called his parents at midnight that night. “I don’t think they’ve made it,” he said, his voice splitting.

“Be a brave Sikh,” his father, a retired Major General told him sternly over the phone from Bahrain. He knew this was the only way to save his son. “You are an army general’s son. Stay afloat with your ship or go down with it.”

There was silence, and then, “How can you think I can leave?” Karambir asked his father. “If it goes down, I will be the last man there.”

Karambir Kang was born as normal as a parent could hope for. Blue eyes. Pale skin. And pulled out of his mother’s stomach, Caesarean style, at a strong 11 pounds. “What a big, healthy boy,” Kanwaljit had said.

Others said his skin and eye colour looked like a bunny’s. Bunny soon became ‘Binny’. The nickname stuck for life.

Binny was the first child born to the Kang family. And so he was the darling of his relatives: His mother and father, his aunts, maternal and paternal. They called him a lovely, simple boy. Nothing too complicated. Because Binny didn’t fight with other kids. Sometimes, he teased his sister to tears. But nothing past the normal brother-sister banter. He always had friends in the house. “A galaxy of friends,” his father Jagtar says, eyes twinkling. They are his son’s eyes.

Binny grew up on the war stories of his father, a Major General who was in action in 1965 and 1971. Jagtar moved the family from Shimla to Wellington (in Tamil Nadu) to Himachal to Delhi to Pune. But Karambir never complained. He made friends everywhere he went. They all called him, affectionately, ‘Binny’.

In Class 12 in Chandigarh, Binny met a boy with a mop of curly hair named Puneet Vatsayan. They pulled a prank and became instant partners in crime.

One day Binny, with Puneet’s help, dressed in all white and hid in some high grass, holding a candle. Binny was a convincing ghost. He waited in eager anticipation for one of his little cousins to find him and get scared. Instead, his uncle, who was on a walk, saw the apparition. In fear, his uncle began whacking the ghost as hard as he could. “Uncle, it’s me!” Binny yelled, collapsing in laughter with Puneet.

The two boys stayed friends despite Binny’s move to Pune. “We were only together for a year, but we lived a lifetime in that year,” says Puneet. It was like that with many of Binny’s friends. Meet once, and there always. In the weeks that followed 26/11, almost every friend Binny had ever made reappeared to help him.

Binny made friends being funny. But he could be serious, too. He made his parents proud when he represented the school in quizzes. He acted in plays, some professional. In George Bernard Shaw’s, Arms and the Man, he played Major Petkoff, the guy who gave comic relief. The play was a satire on the foolishness of war. Of violence.

In college, Binny got up every morning and listened to the radio. BBC and Voice of America were his favourite. Then he’d narrate the day’s world events to his father. When his friends were drinking, he’d be the one making sure everyone got home. His parents knew when he got home at night by the sounds of classic rock coming softly from his bedroom.

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Ruchika molestation case: Rathore gets interim bail till Jan 7

Former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore, against whom serious charges have been brought in the Ruchika molestation case, on Friday got temporary reprieve when he was granted interim bail till January 7 by a local court.

The order was passed by District and Sessions Judge S P Singh after hearing Abha Rathore, the lawyer-wife of 67-year-old Rathore, following registration of fresh FIRs by Ruchika’s family accusing the former IPS officer of attempting to murder her brother Ashu and doctoring her post-mortem report.

“The petitioner (Rathore), if arrested by the police till January seven under the two FIRs, will be released on interim bail on furnishing bail bonds of Rs one lakh with one surety of like amount in each case to the satisfaction of the
arresting officer,” the judge said.

While issuing notice to the state for a reply on January 6, Singh directed Rathore not to leave the country without the permission of the court.

“The petitioner shall not directly or indirectly make any inducement, threat or promise to any person acquainted
with the facts to the case so as to dissuade him from disclosing such facts to the court or any police officer,” he
said.

The interim bail, the judge said, shall remain in force till January 7 when the case will come up for further hearing. Rathore was not present in the court.

Abha argued before the judge that Ruchika’s father, Subhash Chander Girhotra, Ashu and the family of Madhu Prakash, the complainant in the molestation case, “want to become heroes and heroines in the eyes of the public”. She alleged that the facts had been “fabricated and interpolated.”

In its three-page order, the court also directed Rathore to make himself available for investigation in connection with the two cases if the police asked him to join the probe.

The judge did not consider Rathore’s anticipatory bail but only accepted the plea of interim bail. “At this stage of the present case, the court is not exercising its power either to grant or refuse the anticipatory bail of the petitioner.”

He said, “The counsel for the petitioner has made a request for grant of interim bail only till the next date of hearing when the state will appear and present its case before the court lest the petitioner is arrested before hearing of the matter on merits by the court from both the sides.”

The order further said, “Going by the submission of the counsel and perusing the order/documents referred before me, formation of SIT which is still to collect/appreciate the evidence before arresting the petitioner, such a request of the counsel (Abha) deserves acceptance.

“The court is aware of the legal proposition that anticipatory bail to some extent intrudes into the sphere of the investigation of the crime and the court must be cautious and must circumspect in exercising such power of discretionary nature.”

The case will on the next date come up before the Additional District and Sessions Judge Sanjiv Jindal as Singh would be on leave from January four to 12.

Asked whether the development was a set back to the case against Rathore, Pankaj Bhardwaj, lawyer for Ruchika’s family, expressed the hope that he will be able to expose the truth on the next date of hearing.

“So far we have not got any opportunity to present our case,” Bhardwaj said, noting that he will oppose Rathore’s bail on the next date of hearing. “We are hopeful of getting justice”.

Aradhana, the sole witness to the molestation of 14-year-old Ruchika in 1990, said the order of the court was “pretty expected.”

Girhotra and Ashu had filed two complaints against Rathore on Tuesday and the police, on the same night, had registered the fresh FIRs. The trial court had sentenced the Haryana top cop to six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1000 for molesting Ruchika. She committed suicide three years later allegedly due to Rathore’s harassment.

Abha said in the court the charge under 306 IPC (abetment to suicide) being levelled now by Ruchika’s brother has been settled at the level of the Supreme Court, and submitted a copy of the apex court order.

“After 16/17 years, the Girhotra and Parkash families are raising this issue,” she said, contending that the two fresh FIRs lodged this week against Rathore mostly had bailable offences, barring a few which are nor bailable.

Referring to the role of former Ambala SP K P Singh, Abha said that the then district police chief, of which Panchkula was a part in the 1990s, had recorded his statement that Rathore was not his supervisory officer.

“ASI Sewa Singh (another policeman named by the Girhotra family) never wrote on record that Rathore pressurised him or he had ever talked to him regarding this case,” she said.

Rathore’s wife claimed, “Anand Parkash (Aradhana’s father) had a bad service record,” and contended that there were corruption charges also against him. “Now they are becoming heroes of the media”.

India introduces tourist visa-on-arrival for five countries

India on Friday introduced tourist visa-on-arrival for five countries, including Japan and New Zealand, to facilitate bonafide foreign tourists who plan their visits at a short notice.

This has been introduced for one year on an “experimental basis”, a release from the Foreign Office said in New Delhi. It said, “to facilitate bonafide foreign tourists who plan their tours at a short notice, Government of India has decided to introduce ‘Tourist Visa-on-Arrival’ for a period of one year for citizens of five countries — Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Singapore on an experimental basis with effect from 1.1.2010.

“Tourists from the said countries can also procure their visas from the Missions/Posts in the normal course.” The tourist visa-on-arrival” with a maximum validity of 30 days with single entry facility will be granted by the Immigration Officers at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata airports to start with, it said.

The grant of a tourist visa-on-arrival will be regulated as per the guidelines prescribed in the Visa Manual, it said. The official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs said, “The (rule of) gap of two months between two visas would apply to all tourist visa holders.”

But the restriction of two-month gap will not apply to PIO (Persons of Indian origin) or OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card-holders and foreigners holding business, employment, student and other categories of visa.

World welcomes a more hopeful 2010

Paris jazzed up the Eiffel Tower with a multicolored, disco-style light display as the world basked in New Year’s festivities with hopes that 2010 and beyond will bring more peace and prosperity.

From fireworks over Sydney’s famous bridge to balloons sent aloft in Tokyo, revelers across the globe at least temporarily shelved worries about the future to bid farewell to “The Noughties”, a bitter-tinged nickname for the first decade of the 21st century playing on a term for “zero” and evoking the word naughty.

In New York City, hundreds of thousands of revelers gathered in chilly weather in Times Square to usher in the new decade. Organizers were preparing 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) of confetti that will be scattered when the New Year’s Eve crystal ball drops at midnight.

Fireworks were set off at about 6 pm and the gigantic ball was lowered into place in preparation for midnight. Many people wore conical party hats and 2010 glasses that blinked colorfully, and some were jumping up and down to keep warm, the National Weather Service said the temperature will be in the low 30s and forecast snow for around midnight.

Las Vegas prepared to welcome some 315,000 revelers with fireworks from casino rooftops, a traffic-free Las Vegas Strip and toasts at nightclubs from celebrities including actress Eva Longoria and rapper 50 Cent.

Even as some major stock market indexes rose in 2009, the financial downturn hit hard, sending many industrial economies into recession, tossing millions out of work and out of their homes as foreclosures rose dramatically in some countries. “The year that is ending has been difficult for everybody. No continent, no country, no sector has been spared,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on national TV in a New Year’s Eve address. “Even if the tests are unfinished, 2010 will be a year of renewal,” he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her people that the start of the new decade won’t herald immediate relief from the global economic ills. South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, was more ebullient, saying the World Cup is set to make 2010 the country’s most important year since the end of apartheid in 1994.

At midnight in Rio de Janeiro, about 2 million people gathered along the 2.5-mile (4 kilometer) Copacabana beach to watch a huge fireworks display and listen to dozens of music acts and DJs. The multitudes came mostly dressed in traditional white clothing, a nod to the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble but a custom followed by nearly everyone as it is thought to bring peace and good luck for the coming year.

Officials said about 12,000 police were on duty during the New Year’s Eve party in and around Copacabana to provide security.

Dressed in white and holding a glass of champagne in his hand, visitor Chad Bissonnette, 27, a nongovernmental group’s director from Washington, DC, said, “This year was the toughest I’ve experienced, for the first time as an American I saw many friends lose jobs and businesses in my neighborhood close regularly.” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hailed events in 2009 like the inauguration of the United States’ first black president, and international attempts to grapple with climate change and the global financial crisis.

“The great message from 2009 is that because we’ve been all in this together, we’ve all worked together,” Rudd said in a New Year’s message.

Australia got the some of the festivities rolling, as Sydney draped its skies with explosive bursts of crimson, purple and blue to the delight of more than 1 million New Year revelers near the harbor bridge.
Concerns that global warming might raise sea levels and cause other environmental problems were on the minds of some as the year ended.

Venice revelers rang in the New Year with wet feet as high tide on its archipelago peaked just before midnight to flood low-lying parts of the city, including the St. Mark’s Square. The last year also offered its reminders of the decade’s fight against terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently, rising militant violence in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, in a statement Wednesday, suggested that terrorism book-ended the decade, with the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, and foiled plot by a Nigerian man to set off explosives on a US-bound airliner on Christmas Eve. “In late December we were reminded at this decade’s end, just as we were at its beginning, that there is a terrorist threat which puts our safety and security at risk and which requires us to take on al-Qaeda and the Taliban at the epicentre of global terrorism,” he said.

The American Embassy in Indonesia warned of a possible terrorist attack on the resort island of Bali on New Year’s Eve, citing information from the island’s governor _ though local security officials said they were unaware of a threat.

In a more upbeat theme, the Eiffel Tower was decked out for its 120th anniversary year with hundreds of multicolored lights along its latticework. It was seemingly retro in style, but decidedly 21st century as it showered the Iron Lady in a light show billed as more energy-saving than its usual sparkling lights.

Police blocked off the Champs-Elysees to vehicle traffic as partygoers popped champagne, exchanged la bise, the traditional French cheek to cheek peck or more amorous kisses to celebrate the New Year.

Spain rang in the start of its six-month presidency of the European Union with a sound and light show illuminating Sol square in Madrid and images from the 27 member states projected onto the central post office building.

Partiers braved the cold and a shower from sparkling cava wine bottles in traditional style by eating 12 grapes, one with each tolling of the city hall bell.

Despite frigid temperatures, thousands gathered along the River Thames for fireworks were fired from the London Eye attraction just as Big Ben struck midnight an hour after continental western Europe.

Europe and the Americas may have partied harder than Asia. Islamic countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan use a different calendar; China will mark the new year in February. Still, in Shanghai, some people paid 518 yuan ($75) to ring the bell at the Longhua Temple at midnight and wish for new-year luck. In Chinese, saying “518” sounds like the phrase “I want prosperity.”

Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries where New Year’s Eve is not celebrated publicly. Clerics in the ultraconservative country say Muslims can only observe their faith’s feasts of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. For them, any other occasions are considered innovations that Islam rejects.

Unlike many Islamic countries where pigs are considered unclean, New Year’s in Austria just isn’t complete without a pig-shaped lucky charm _ and stalls selling the little porkers did a good business Thursday. Some are made of marzipan or chocolate; others come in glass, wood, rubber or soap.

Herbert Nikitsch of the University of Vienna’s Institute of European Ethnology said the porcine phylactery may originate from the fact that pigs represented food and sustenance for farmers in preindustrial times.

Some festivities went awry.

In the Philippines, hundreds of people were injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire during the celebrations. Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune _ but some carry that belief to extremes.

At Zojoji, one of Tokyo’s oldest and biggest Buddhist temples, thousands of worshippers released clear, helium-filled balloons to mark the new year. Nearby Tokyo Tower twinkled with white lights, while a large “2010” sign glowed from the center. Tokyo’s Shibuya area, known as a magnet of youth culture, exploded with emotion at the stroke of midnight. Strangers embraced spontaneously as revelers jumped and sang.

“I really felt the economic downturn last year,” said Keitaro Morizame, a 24-year-old TV producer in Tokyo. “I think the future will be brighter.”

In Istanbul, Turkish authorities deployed some 2,000 police around Taksim Square to prevent pickpockets and the molestation of women that have marred New Year celebrations in the past. Some officers were under cover, disguised as street vendors or “even in Santa Claus dress,” Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler said.

In Stonehaven, on Scotland’s east coast, the fireballs festival, a tradition for a century and a half, saw in the New Year. The pagan festival is observed by marchers swinging large, flaming balls around their heads. The flames are believed to either ensure sunshine or banish harmful influences.

In contrast to many galas worldwide, the Stonehaven Fireballs Association warned those attending not to wear their best clothes because “there will be sparks flying along with smoke and even whisky.”

Telangana: APCC chief to opt out of Delhi meet

HYDERABAD: Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president D. Srinivas is unlikely to be part of the two-member delegation representing the Congress at the meeting convened by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on January 5 on the Telangana issue.

Sources said he was willing to attend the crucial meeting if the Centre decides to invite the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister as well as the APCC chief.

But he is unlikely to be part of the delegation that will officially represent the Congress for fear of being branded as ‘pro-Telangana’ by leaders from the other region. The choice of the two Congress representatives itself is turning out to be a tough task for Mr. Srinivas as those not nominated may raise objections.
‘Let AICC decide’

He has, therefore, put the onus of identifying the party representatives on the AICC itself. “The high command alone will decide the two delegates,” Mr. Srinivas told The Hindu on Wednesday night.

“The names may be announced only a day prior to the January 5 meeting after seeing the representatives of other political parties. We want our representatives to effectively articulate their views and also counter criticism from our rivals,” a senior APCC functionary remarked.

No hurdles, Andhra leaders warned

HYDERABAD: Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K Chandrasekhar Rao has urged coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema leaders not to create fresh obstructions to formation of a Telangana State.

Talking with reporters here today, he threatened to intensify the agitation across the region if coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema leaders did not change their attitude and said they would be responsible for any untoward incidents.

He described Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s statement on Telangana as a New Year gift for the people of Telangana and hoped that Telangana people would live in their own State in 2010. He said the Central Government had already started the process of forming Telangana State and made a categorical statement.

“A majority of political parties invited to the New Delhi meeting are supportive of statehood to Telangana,” he said and expressed confidence that the MIM would also support Telangana without creating any hurdles.

He advised coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema leaders not to make fresh demands to scuttle formation of Telangana State which was in any way inevitable as per the Union Home Minister’s statement.

“It is not good for them to create obstructions and leaders and people of both the regions should agree to separation which is good for both the regions of the State.” A TRS delegation would attend the January 5 all-party meeting to explain the party’s argument on separate Telangana, Rao said.

Ministers from T not to resign

HYDERABAD: All the 13 Congress ministers from Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh today decided to withdraw their resignation after the Centre’s announcement on holding discussions with political parties the state.

“We are satisfied with the decision of the Centre to initiate the process of discussions (with 8 recognised political parties).

“We met APCC President D Srinivas who asked us to withdraw the resignation. We have decided to withdraw our resignation,” Information Minister Geeta Reddy told reporters after the meeting.

The decision comes a day after Union Home Minister P Chidambaram sent an invitation to leaders of 8 parties for discussions in Delhi on January 5 on the Telangana statehood issue.

The ministers resigned after Chidambaram’s announcement on Dec 23 putting the Telangana issue on the backburner saying he would initiate wide ranging discussions on the issue. Earlier on Dec 9 he had announced that the process for Telangana state would be initiated.

Reddy said the ministers had last week represented to the Congress leadership and “we never expected that they will respond so quickly.”

She thanked Congress President Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders including Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmed Patel for the Centre’s initiative.