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#JBBSir: Meet J B Bernstein – The Man who inspired Disney’s Million Dollar Arm

Everything is relative, some people say.

Take Premiership footballers, for instance. 

For all the bashing that Wayne Rooney receives for his £300,000-a-week pay packet (not to mention his questionable after-hours hook-ups with grannies in leather cat suits), his doubtless ridiculous salary (don't forget, to kick a ball around) pales in comparison with what athletes earn out across the pond in America.

Floyd Mayweather makes more for a single fight than Rooney does in an entire year.  The highest-paid quarterback in American Football (which isn't really football) made more than twice as much as Rooney last year.  And that too in a sport that only Americans 'get' and watch.

American sport - even at university-level - is so competitive and flush with money that each discipline - be it the NBA, the NFL, Major League Baseball or the professional Lacrosse league - requires a management style that's comparable to the trading floor of a commodities exchange: men (and occasionally women) hustling each other, screaming down phones, making deals, scrapping for a piece of the pie.

While the boxers and the quarterbacks and the pitchers hog the headlines, American sport is underpinned by these trading floor scrappers. 

Scrappers like J B Bernstein.

Bernstein however, has a quite unique story, one which is the inspiration behind 'Million Dollar Arm', Disney Pictures' marvellously entertaining drama about a jaded baseball agent who comes up with the outlandish idea of staging a talent contest in India in 2007 to find a Major League pitcher from amongst India's countless millions of dreamers.

The film, directed by Australian filmmaker Craig Gillespie, features an exceptional turn by 'Mad Men' star Jon Hamm as the hard-nosed Bernstein.

The idea for s contest, ironically enough, was the direct result of money and the corrupting influence large amounts of it can have on sportsmen, especially young players.

It's 2007.  Bernstein is living the dream of the sports agent.  Among his clients is the legendary and controversial baseball player Barry Bonds.  He had the million-dollar home, the sharp suits, the most expensive watches money could buy, the obligatory Porsche. 

But, as is always the case, there was something amiss.

Months before he dreamt up 'Million Dollar Arm' he had been in talks with a rookie footballer who had promised that he would sign with Bernstein.  

However, days before the deal is finalized, the player asks Bernstein to cough up a cool one million dollars in cash as a sweetener for the privilege of representing him. 

"That was an emotional moment when I saw that on screen.  It was very real, very authentic",  Bernstein says.

"It was the breaking point for me being a sports agent.  I was asking myself, 'is this what my business and my work has come to?'  It was deeply frustrating and terrible. 

"Essentially my career had become bankrupt, not necessarily monetarily but morally and spiritually.  It just wasn't fulfilling to sit across from a young kid who had never really done anything, demanding money for me to help him build his career.  I felt emotionally exhausted at that point."

One young kid's extraordinary greed would turn out to be a blessing of sorts for two young kids thousands of miles away in India. 

But Bernstein's mind at that point was even further afield, in China.  He was thinking of Yao Ming, the 7' 6" tall, Shanghai-born basketball player who had become a global phenomenon just as Bernstein began his soul-searching.

"I started asking myself: what kind of client did I want to represent?  Yao Ming immediately came to mind.  The kind of guy with whom there's a huge upside and it's not all about the parties and the riches.  The kind of guy with whom you can actually impact on other people's' lives and make a difference. "

New York-born Bernstein had been a sports agent since 1994 and had represented some of the biggest names in the American sports business.  Now he was looking outside. 

China had Yao Ming.  Where else could he go where another Yao could help sell a billion t-shirts, a billion hats and get hundreds of millions tuning in to watch baseball?

Although Bernstein is today hazy about when the idea exactly hit him, he acknowledges that credit is due to Scottish 'Britain's Got Talent' sensation Susan Boyle, Simon Cowell and a re-run of an old World Cup cricket match, a sport that Bernstein's on-screen version describes as a bunch of guys running around in a lunatic asylum.

"I didn't use those exact words but it was pretty close to what I then thought about cricket", Bernstein assures me.

Bernstein with Jon Hamm at the US premier of 'Million Dollar Arm'

The rest, as they say, is the stuff of, well, a quintessential Disney feel-good movie, the kind that gets men blaming non-existent dust inside the movie theatre for their watery eyes.

"My business partner Ash Vasudevan (played in the movie by the brilliant Aasif Mandvi) and I came up with the title and we were inspired by Mr Cowell.  But we were careful not to call it a baseball contest because we knew that nobody would know what we were talking about, but the concept of winning a million dollars, throwing a ball, having a strong arm were things that we thought that they were able to relate to a little bit more easily."

Despite travelling the world, Bernstein had never been to India and Jon Hamm's pitch perfect bewilderment in the film - complete with perpetually harassed demeanour and soaking wet shirt - captures Bernstein's own disorientation when he first landed in sweltering Mumbai in the summer of 2007. 

"It was the most dramatic place that I had ever visited for sure.  It was pretty crazy when we first got there and Ash had told me some of what I was supposed to expect.  But I immediately fell in love with the place and I'm not just saying that".

Quite apart from the battle to overcome traffic, chaotic logistics, vague head-shakes and the bane of human existence in India, the new telephone line, Bernstein was also up against a religion called Cricket.

But India, for all its pandemonium,  seemed to spark something in the worn-out sports agent. 

"The one thing that struck me was that Indian people are genuinely happy in a way that you don't find in the west.  They have this cosmic view of life and a longer-reaching view of things.  Americans tend to think that the world didn't exist more than 250 years ago.  

"I was also struck by people's sense of family and love and life, taking pride in their accomplishments, and the sheer fulfilment they got from supporting someone else." 

In spite of the positive vibe, the talent search was frustrating.  Most young Indians didn't have the physical strength to throw a baseball at 90 mph.  Even when they found someone with the right-sized shoulders the throw was, to use cricketing parlance, "wide even in  a Test match".

But the search went on as vans were dispatched to hundreds of colleges, school campuses and even public parks in dozens of cities across India.  Ultimately, the contest organizers chose two winners instead of one.

The two boys were Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, two teenagers from poor farming families from Lucknow (played in the movie by Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal, respectively).

Bernstein with Dinesh Patel (Centre) and Rinku Singh

Just as the two javelin throwers are turned to baseball, Bernstein fell for the charms of cricket by way of Indian spin legend Anil Kumble.

"Anil and his brother Diinesh took me to a lot of IPL games.  I'm fully converted.  I can watch Tests and ODI's but T20 is really my game.  Anil really hammered a lot of cricket into me.  Knowing that I was in town to find a baseball star!"

The whole endeavour had been financed by a baseball tycoon back in the United States who wanted a quick turn-around on his investment: namely one or both of these new prodigies to make it big in Major League Baseball and in-turn inspire their countrymen to start tuning in and buying millions of baseball jerseys and hats.

But Rinku and Dinesh were raw, to say the least.  Initially they would use their baseball mitts as defensive shields.

But Bernstein had enlisted the help of Tom House, a top pitching coach from California, to mentor the duo.

The pair showed extraordinary diligence and determination and were eventually signed for the second tier sides of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a side which has a reputation for championing minority players having previously signed the first ever Arab American Major League Baseball player as well as being the first ever team to field an all-African American side.

The Assistant General Manager of the Pirates at the time, Kyle Stark, said about Rinku and Dinesh: "They both were quality kids.  They were very respectful, and they were raised right.  From the beginning there was an element of, 'There's no turning back now. This is our chance.'"

The duo's small-town sensibilities and warmth began to impact on Bernstein's life as well and he found himself going from being a sergeant major type to a protective father figure.    

Despite their rigorous training schedules, Rinku and Dinesh were particularly concerned with 'JBB Sir's' love life.

Baffled as to why their benefactor was not married, they proceeded to play Shaadi.com between Bernstein and his pretty and painfully charming neighbour Brenda.

Bernstein recalls: "I hadn't paid much attention to Brenda until Rinku and Dinesh came along.  They kept harassing me to get married and there I was trying to get these guys to get practicing and meeting the deadline I was set. 

"And that's the other thing.  Even after they came over to America, sure they were in awe of everything around them but they weren't overawed by anything.  They were more concerned about the fact that, according to them at least, I was lonely and I should have a companion in my life."

A lovely scene in the film shows how the boys organize a romantic Diwali  dinner for the couple.

"That dinner took place exactly like it does in the film.  Even the sari used in the film is the same one that I once brought back from India for Brenda.  When I related it to the screen writer, he said he's going to put it in the film exactly as it is without changing anything."

Despite the cynics, who thought Bernstein's show was a gimmick, Rinku and Dinesh's new contracts garnered plenty of attention in India although for Dinesh it would turn out to be a short journey. 

After 13 professional innings, he was released by the Pirates with some experts saying that he could not maintain the 85mph speeds that the top league sides demanded.

He returned home, bought some land for his family with the money that he had earned and enrolled in a Hindi and English course at a university in Varanasi.  Weeks before the film was released in the US this summer, he got married.

Rinku remains with the Pirates but has struggled with injuries. 

Irrespective of their professional tangents, Million Dollar Arm utterly changed their lives.  They hobnobbed with sporting royalty and visited the White House to present their jerseys to President Obama.

Rinku and Dinesh, in turn, changed the life of a jaded sports agent.

"I remember sitting with Rinku and Dinesh and watching the film for the first time and it was extremely emotional because it was the culmination of this amazing journey that we had all gone through as a family", Bernstein says.

"We all had so much invested in this story and it had been such an emotional roller-coaster and then to re-live it by watching the film was a slightly surreal experience.  It felt jubilant." 

"From crippling poverty, they went on to meet the President of the United States, to have their uniform enshrined in the White House.  They were interviewed in more than one hundred countries.  There are no real words to describe what they achieved.  And it was such an honour and a source of pride for me as kind of their pseudo father.   It changed me forever".

But does he wish that Rinku and Dinesh had advanced further than they actually did?

"I would say that first of all they surpassed my expectations in a way that has made me more proud than I could ever have been.  Having said that, professionally it's really difficult.  For every Sachin Tendulkar there are millions of young kids who aren't going to make it.  For every Michael Jordan there are millions of really good players doing their thing in thousands of basketball courts everywhere in the world. 

"You need to understand what these two guys were up against.  They didn't know what baseball was until we came calling in India.  If it wasn't so difficult to make it, Major League Baseball teams aren't going to be paying twenty million dollars a year to someone to throw a ball.

"Rinku and Dinesh showed the world that they were real prospects.  Rinku still very much has the chance to go all the way to the Majors and if he continues at the pace that he is progressing currently, then he can very well make it.  And he's still so young.  I really believe that our contest will yield the first Indian player and I believe it is going to be Rinku. 

"The process itself has been an immense success no matter how you look at it because it has proved that there is talent in India.  We have proven that it's a fertile ground to recruit and it's a potential market for baseball.

"Above all, Rinku and Dinesh did something that had never been done before in the history of the world.  And for these two lads to accomplish what they did in just a year, becoming the first Indian men to participate in baseball in America was almost a miracle."

The reality TV contest returns to India this winter and Bernstein says he's in talks with Disney-owned UTV as well as Major League Baseball on potential collaborations.  He is convinced that baseball can exist alongside cricket in India.

"Nothing is going to supplant cricket.  It's a religion.  But the potential for baseball is there.  In America, for instance, we have more than five dozen professional sports leagues, everything from baseball to bull riding.  And all of them are highly competitive and offer significant financial rewards.

"In India the sports industry is not so fragmented.  Fans  are quite nationalistic.  They are fanatical about sport.  I'm hoping for the kind of conversion that happened with me.  I still love baseball and I now love cricket.  The fact that Twenty20 Cricket, a short format, is so popular is good for us.  Imagine, even if we get 100 million of India's population interested in Baseball, my work would be done."

JB and Brenda

Even if that doesn't happen, Bernstein is content. 

"The best job and most important job that I have now is that of being a husband and a father.  It's probably the most gratifying of all the jobs that I've ever done and I spend the most time on it."

Worryingly, his and Brenda's three-year-old daughter is a gifted equestrian.   

But what of the kid, who demanded a million dollars, who started it all?

"The same player is a good friend now.  He's a lot older and a lot more mature now.  I forgave his abuse of the situation and ultimately I thank him because without that one act of insanity, I don't I would have embarked on the journey that I did."

'Million Dollar Arm' is in cinemas now.

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#Krishna: Ranchor Prime on War, Religion, Suffering and Peace

Groups of 'Hare Krishnas', singing, dancing and chanting with unfettered joy have become a common and arresting sight on some of London's busiest roads.

In an age of religious wars and news dominated by the most barbaric acts perpetrated in the name of a variety of gods, the Hare Krishnas have come to stand for a fundamental purity and innocence that the world is fast becoming devoid of.

Few capture that purity better than British scholar and author Ranchor Prime, one of the UK's best-known members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

Established in 1966 in New York, the ISKCON beliefs are based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the spoken word of the Hindu God Krishna.  Devotees are taught to develop a love for Krishna - the Supreme Being - through Bakthi Yoga or devotional service. 

The movement's founder Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was a septuagenarian when he embarked on his journey to the United States, armed with some Vedic scriptures and, legend has it, seven dollars in his pocket. 

The rest, as they say, is history.

ISKCON today boasts millions of followers (its most famous follower was, of course, the former Beatle George Harrison) and more than 550 physical locations around the world including temples, schools, restaurants and farming communities.

As a long-standing member of the movement, Ranchor holds a unique insight into the workings of ISKCON and its teachings.

Born Richard Prime in 1950 in Leeds, Ranchor was brought up a Roman Catholic. 

In the late 1960's, whilst studying at the prestigious Chelsea College of Art and Design, Ranchor decided to abandon what he described as his 'materialistic way of life' and became swept up in the quest for 'enlightenment' that pervaded the era: first experimenting with mind-enhancing drugs before joining the Hare Krishna movement.

He would later go on to design Hare Krishna temples in Mayapur in West Bengal as well as Trinidad and London's Soho.

Prime is also a widely published author, writing on Vedic culture, the Bhagavad Gita and religion in general.  Among his most well-known books is an illustrated, English translation of the Gita.

I caught up with Ranchor for a chat about his remarkable journey, his relationship with God, the Bhagavad Gita and, the 'Quiet Beatle', George Harrison.

Aashi Gahlot: What does religion mean to you and what has become of it in today's context?

Ranchor Prime: I would say that its part of the human condition, to seek a connection with the Higher power.  It’s not that we seek power, but that we seek connection with a Higher power.  That’s what gives my life a meaning and purpose.  In essence it's a service.  Religion is serving God.  Now when someone doesn’t have that connection then they think that they have to be in control.  They lose the meaning of service.  When religion becomes about dominating rather than serving – that’s when things begin to go wrong and that's what has happened. 

Ordinary people are innocent so are easily misled.  It’s sad to see how they get turned against each other in the name of religion.   But real religion is service.  If I serve God I will see God in every other creature.  And I will serve the God that's present in everyone.  As Jesus said, whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.  That’s religion.  Caring for people, being kind because you know that everyone is a child of God.  And this of course should be extended to animals. 

But sadly in this phase of our Earthly story, for the last 2,000 years at least, both humans and animals have been exploited and harmed in the most horrible ways. 

AG: How would you encourage someone who does not believe in God to feel the connection that you feel with God?

RP: I just say practice kindness.  Make kindness your religion and you won't be far off.  You’re closer to God than someone who claims belief but does not practice kindness - they are nowhere near God. The nature of God is to be love.  And kindness is the manifestation of love.  So actually I have no great argument with an atheist as much as I do with someone who is cruel in the name of religion. That’s the worst of all.  The very origins of the word 'religion' means to 'bind together, to bring together'. 

So when apparently religion appears to divide people, that is not religion.  It should be about coming together.  I’ve spent a lot of time going to interfaith gatherings where there are people of all different faiths, and experience a great deal of comradeship with a rabbi or with an imam or a priest or a Buddhist monk because we are all sharing this same attention to the idea of serving a Higher principle.

AG: Why do we have so many different religions?

RP: I think it’s because everyone is different.  And it’s a very important aspect of religion that it shouldn’t be one answer for everyone.  One of the things I like about the Bhagavad Gita is that Krishna says there are many different kinds of faith and I encourage them all.  And that’s how those religious tendencies in society that have lasted and have been of benefit have been the ones that have allowed individual variety of belief.

So it’s very good that there are many different kinds of religious teachings and nobody should feel coerced to belong to one and not another.  And to this idea of apostasy – which is not unique to Islam.  Everyone should be free to do that.  It’s very much part of Krishna consciousness.

Shri Krishna Chaitanya composed a beautiful song of 8 verses, “Shikshastaka”.  He says to Krishna: “Oh Govinda, you have many names and in each of them you have invested your full potency.  You are so merciful that you have given us all these different names and there are no rules as to how to chant your names.”

So that is very specifically in the teachings, to underline the fact that God has many names.  There is no one correct name.  I would go further actually, the reason that religion has so many different varieties is because, ultimately, for each and every one of us, the one 'true' religion is something that each and every one of us experience in our heart.

And so the way I experience it is unique to me.  And sometimes occasionally you get a particular individual who has opened up such a profound inner connection that when they speak, it’s just God speaking through them.  That’s what we all seek actually, to let God act through us.  So when they speak many people are inspired.  That is how religion evolves.  But that’s only because that person has made that inner connection.  Ultimately we are all able to do that for ourselves.

The more I feel that within myself, the less inclined I feel to interfere with someone else’s connection because I have my connection.  I don’t require other people to confirm that I have an inner connection by agreeing with me.  I don’t mind if you agree with me or not. Because I have my connection. And I’d be happy for you to have yours.  And God has a unique connection with every individual - this is very much part of the Bhagavad Gita. The divine inner presence that speaks to each and every one of us in our hearts. The more I have that, the more I am willing to accept each and every person as they are. Wanting people to believe a certain set of beliefs is a sign of insecurity.

AG: What causes suffering and how does the Gita suggest to overcome suffering?

RP: According to the Gita, suffering arises from attachment - particularly attachment to sensory pleasures.  That’s how it manifests. It comes from a very deep sense of incompleteness - that there is something missing from my life.   And so the material disease is that we all identify with the physical body and try to satisfy that need by enjoying the senses in one way or another. And also by seeking material success, and recognition and fame.

So what Krishna says in the Gita is that of course you will never be happy by attaching yourself to the pleasures of material things because they are temporary, they have a beginning and an end and they also cause suffering.  Every type of material pleasure in moderation is fine - but people don’t seem to be moderate: we eat too much, we smoke too much, we drink too much, we have too much sex. And they give themselves pain.  And cause pain to each other.  Just look at the way the world is - there is so much pain.

And you know, all these wars – it’s very distressing hearing about the goings on in the Middle East and Ukraine.  They are all symptomatic of people being exploited for material pleasure - that’s what it all comes back to.  The Muslim world in general is in turmoil because they’re feeling that they’ve been oppressed.  And they have cause for that.  They’ve been oppressed for the last 100 years since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – they’ve just lost everything.  It was a great civilisation at one point in the world’s history - but it's been long since that ended.  But they’ve got this permanent feeling of being oppressed.  The Muslim understanding of community is strong - the word “Ummah” is entwined with religion and means the whole community of Muslims bound together by Islam. Thus, in the Muslim mind, all Muslims, wherever they may be - in Indonesia or in India or in Afghanistan, Arabia - wherever- they are all one family.  So if any of them are suffering they all feel it.  It’s like belonging to a country.

AG: And yet religion continues to cause conflicts around the world.

RP: It’s just basic psychology.  When true religious teachers are sidelined, they get replaced by fanatics. In any community the loudest voices are always the voices of the fanatics.  And fanatics by definition – they get the sense of their ego being satisfied when they get power and influence over people. They just want to take control.  So that’s what happens when the genuine teachings are not supported.  In a healthy society, religious teachings are not politicized.  Teachings such as serving God, a life of prayer, caring for your neighbours, for other creatures - these are taught and understood in the mosque or wherever it is - but when that gets interrupted you get these fanatics who are not interested in religion.  They’re just interested in power.  Simple as that.

AG: How were you inspired by the Bhagavad Gita personally and what inspired you to write “Talks Between the Soul and God” – directly inspired by the great scripture?

RP: I had a very Christian upbringing.  I lived in Westminster Cathedral as a young boy for 4 years.  Then I lived with Benedictine monks for another 4 years.  My father was a very religious man.  So I had all of that.  And it was real and important for me.  But I wanted more.  I wanted to go further.  And then I discovered the Bhagavad Gita.  What I found in the Gita did not contradict anything that I’d grown up with.  But it deepened it. 

Through “Talks Between the Soul and God”, what I wanted it to do was to produce a Gita that was two things:  One, that it was absolutely true to the spirit of the Gita.  And at the same time, showing people that this is the same voice of the same Supreme Being that you may have encountered in your own tradition.  God speaks in many languages to many peoples.  That it’s the same voice and if this will help you to connect to that presence in your life, then that’s all it is intended to do.

It’s not there to persuade you that this is the one true faith.  It’s broad - which is the Gita.  So the two things are for it be authentic – I don’t wish to reinterpret the Gita.  I wish to present it as it is but in a way that is broad.  And also in a way that is simple.  Because I have seen so many people in this country who got put off by the thought that they are going to have to tangle with Sanskrit.  Also with complicated philosophy and terms they did not understand.  And there’s no need for that.  Because that’s what scholars do.  Scholars love to make things complicated because it makes them feel important - as they “know” more than their audience.

I don’t want to do that. I want to untangle.

AG: Do you have to believe in God to appreciate the Bhagavad Gita?

RP: No. The Bhagavad Gita will help you believe in God.  The Gita speaks to the human condition.  The beginning place of the Gita is that place of bewilderment and confusion that we all experience at times in our lives.  It’s that place that I am actually willing to call for help and guidance. If you don’t feel that then probably the Gita is not going to speak to you.  But if you at any point in your life have experienced a wish for some encouragement, support and guidance, a calling out of: God if You’re there, if You exist, tell me what should I do?  That's a thing that I think happens to lots of people. How could you have a real belief in God, a genuine belief in God until you have gone through that?   So I would say, somebody who already thinks oh I know God.  Don’t bother with the Gita because you think you’ve already got the answers.  I can’t help you.

But if you’re willing to be open and to ask for guidance, then read it.  The real school for religion is life.  We are all experiencing life.  I try to get the things I want and then I get disappointed. Life disappoints me – mostly.  Once in a while I get something that I want and then I realise, oh that’s not enough?  Why doesn’t it satisfy? I want more! And so gradually over time I’m always being nudged to go deeper to look for it - what is it that I’m really seeking?  I know I’m seeking something but it doesn’t seem to be here.  It doesn’t seem to be here.  That’s why I say that the real school of religion is life itself.

AG: George Harrison really brought the ISKCON movement to the world's attention.  What was it like recording with him?  What was he like as a person?

RP: I didn’t know George terribly well but I did speak to him a few times.  He had a very commanding presence.  First of all, over and above everything else, he loved Krishna.  I mean, really loved Krishna in a very personal way.  And he never made any secret of that.  Once he had decided at a certain point, I believe after the Beatles went their separate ways, he decided it was time to speak his heart.  That’s when he released his triple album: All Things Must Pass – something that people say was a landmark. 

Nobody had ever done anything like the album before.  The songs on the record had been with him for many years but he hadn’t been able to record them as he was working with John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  They had so much stuff and there was only certain room on albums.  But if you listen to those songs, almost all of them are really deeply spiritual.  So that’s the first thing about George.  He was a very spiritual man who loved Krishna.

The next thing about him which was very apparent was he really knew what he wanted. A very focused person.  He wasn’t interested in being – he didn’t really waste time with trivialities. He got straight to the point. You couldn’t really have a shallow conversation with George. Everything had to be meaningful.  And profound.  He had very high standards. So really a very intelligent person - a high quality individual.  Not necessarily an easy man I would have thought, because he had such high standards, a perfectionist.  What a wonderful man that he could have done anything with his life as an ex Beatle.   But actually everything he did especially as his life progressed was just focused on his devotion to God.   Yes he had his recreation, he enjoyed motor racing and he liked to smoke cigarettes.

And of course being a big Rockstar, he was a magnet for women.  But every rock star has to deal with that.  So he had to deal with that - which was probably never easy for him, or particularly for Olivia or his previous wife Patty Boyd.  They both suffered a lot for being married to a man who lots of women were in love with.  But he was in love with Krishna. I personally think, I would say there were three Krishna devotees who had a profound influence in my life: Prabhupada; Yamuna and George.

The best thing I like about George was that he wasn’t a saint.  I think sainthood is very much over rated because it is not a human quality - humans are full of flaws.  A human is a combination of spirit and matter.  I mean - I’m a pure spirit and as such I am perfect and flawless - everyone of us is.  But when we enter this world we take on a role which by nature is going to be defective in different ways.  That’s part of the beauty of a human being - that we are not perfect.

AG: What can we expect from you next?

RP: I have a book coming out later this year.  Really it is me giving myself permission to speak from the heart and not from any particular religious standpoint.  All my books up until now have been about the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism.  But my new book is something just from my heart and what I personally experience when I live in this world of nature and how I find the Divine presence in nature.  Nature, which includes both the physical and the non-physical.  The mind, the wisdom, the heart - this is all part of nature.  The whole experience of being alive in this mysterious magical realm, that’s what this book is about.  So I’ve called it 'The Eight Elements' because that’s the only feature of the book that is not from my heart - because every book has to have some kind of concept - so the concept of the book is to make a journey through the eight elements which are taught in the ancient metaphysics of the yoga tradition – which are earth, water, fire, earth, air, mind, wisdom and ego.  These eight elements make up the creation of God, in which I’m living, this mysterious and magical world.  So it’s about my personal journey through that. And my observations and some of the experiences I’ve had. That’s what the book is. It’s inviting the reader to come with me on that journey.

To find out more about Ranchor, visit his website at www.ranchor.co.uk

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#WIN: Fabulous ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’-inspired Gift Hamper!

Here's your chance to win an exclusive gift hamper inspired by Disney Pictures' 'The Hundred-Foot Journey', Lasse Hallstrom's charming and delectable take on Indo-French fusion cuisine

The film, adapted from Richard C. Morais' novel of the same name, has already gone down a storm in the United States, whetting the appetites of cinephiles and gourmands alike.

The story of migration, love and culinary delights deep in picturesque France was so appealing that the film adaptation is backed by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, both executive producers on the project.

And of course, 'The Hundred-Foot Journey' boasts the not-inconsiderable talents of Oscar winner Meryl Streep and Bollywood heavyweight Om Puri.

Ahead of the film's release in the UK, the UKAsian is giving away a fabulous and stylish gift hamper inspired by the 'The Hundred Foot Journey' and containing all manner of foodie delights, including a cookery journal featuring Indo-French recipes and herbs and spices jar.

For a chance to win, all you need to do is upload a picture or video of your own interpretation of Indian, French fusion cuisine and upload it on to the UKAsian's Facebook page.

If you're after some inspiration, visit the UKAsian's cookery page for some inspired Indo-French dishes.

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#BridgingCultures: Indo-French fusion cuisine inspired by The Hundred Foot Journey

"'The Hundred Foot Journey' is the one-hundred-foot divide between cultures", said Oprah Winfrey about the new film that she has executive produced and so tirelessly promoted.

"It's more than acceptance.  It's about human beings coming to understand other human beings", the American talk-show queen adds.

It's all quite profound and the film, about an Indian family who moves to a particularly idyllic part of the French countryside and sets up an Indian restaurant across the street from a Michelin-starred French eatery, is thought provoking about myriad issues.

Ultimately however, 'The Hundred Foot Journey' - which stars Oscar-winner Helen Mirren and Bollywood veteran Om Puri - is all about the food and how two great world cuisines square up to each other and offer the tantalizing prospect of fusion.

However, whilst enticing, achieving true fusion of the two cuisines would be a challenge for most people, not least given the rich history, traditions and insularity associated with both Indian and French cookery.

One of the most successful chefs to have achieved a successful fusion is the late, great Rajji Jallepalli who made waves in New York in the early 2000's with her stunning Indo-French cuisine.

South India-born Jallepalli was the head chef of New York's iconic Tamarind restaurant and became renowned for combining classic French techniques and ingredients with traditional Indian spices.

Here are some of Jallepalli's best-known recipes for a perfectly sumptuous late summer dinner to tempt you ahead of the release of 'The Hundred Foot Journey' on 5 September.

CHILLED CUCUMBER SOUP WITH DILL AND MUSTARD SEEDS

Ingredients (Serves 6):

2 Tablespoons Rapeseed Oil
1/4 teaspoon of mustard seeds
2 large cucumbers
4 cups buttermilk

Method:

Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the mustard seeds and sauté for about 2 minutes or until the seeds begin to take on some color and are very aromatic.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Peel and seed the cucumbers.  Cut into 1/4-inch dice and place in a large non-reactive container.  Stir in the buttermilk, dill, salt and mustard seeds.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until chilled.  When ready to serve, pour into a shallow soup bowl and serve.  Pan-seared Scallops with garlic-scented dill and mustard seeds

PAN-SEARED SCALLOPS WITH GARLIC-SCENTED ZUCCHINI


Ingredients (serves 6):

24 medium scallops
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and chopped
1/2 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed ajwain seeds
6 Tablespoons ghee
6 sprigs fresh sage
A pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt

Method:

Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the zucchini, jalapeño, garlic and ajwain and sauté for about 4 minutes, or until the zucchini is slightly soft but remains bright green.  Remove from the heat and cool the mixture slightly.  Place in a food processor and process until it has a very thick and smooth texture.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.  Combine 1 teaspoon salt with the sugar and season the scallops with the mixture. Rub each scallop with a bit of ghee.  Heat the remaining ghee in a large sauté pan over high heat.  Add the scallops and sear for about 3 minutes, or until the scallops are golden and just cooked through.

Place a portion of the zucchini in the center of a warm plate.  Push 4 scallops into the zucchini purée on plate and serve, garnished with a sprig of sage, if desired.

BABY LAMB RACKS WITH CURRY LEAF AND BLACK PEPPER CRUST AND CURRIED BLACKBERRY SAUCE

Ingredients (serves 6):

2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup fresh blackberries, well washed, picked clean of stems, and patted dry.  You can use a good quality frozen variety.
1 teaspoon curry powder (can be roasted curry powder)
1/4 cup water
3 Tablespoons black peppercorns
1/4 cup fresh curry leaves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
Three 8-rib baby lamb racks, frenched, meat removed from top of the bones
3 cups rapeseed oil
Approximately 6 Maris Piper potatoes, cut into twenty-four 1/4-inch thick slices
6 sprigs fresh purple basil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Method:

Heat the peanut oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the blackberries and curry powder and stir to combine.  Add the water and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.  Pour the sauce into a blender and process until smooth.  Season with salt.  Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200 Degrees Celsius.  Place the peppercorns in a small sauté pan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, or until the peppercorns are nicely toasted.  Process in a spice grinder until finely ground.  Combine the ground pepper with the curry leaves and salt to taste in a small bowl.  Add the olive oil and stir to blend.

Rub the spice mixture on the lamb racks.  Wrap the bones with aluminum foil to keep them from burning while roasting.  Place the lamb racks in a roasting pan and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before carving.

While the lamb is roasting, prepare the potatoes. Line 2 baking sheets with a double layer of paper towels.  Place the oil in a deep-fat fryer over high heat.  When the oil begins bubbling, add the potatoes, a few slices at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan.  Fry, turning if necessary, for about 4 minutes, or until tender and beginning to brown. 

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to one of the prepared baking sheets. Continue frying until all of the potatoes have been browned and are well drained (on the same baking sheet).  A few at a time, return the potatoes to the hot oil and fry, turning if necessary, for about 2 more minutes, or until crisp.  Drain the potatoes on the clean paper towel-lined baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the blackberry sauce onto the centre of a dinner plate.  Carve the lamb racks into chops, allowing 4 per person.  Stack 4 potato slices in the center of the plate and crisscross the lamb chops over the potato stacks.  
Serve.

SWORDFISH RUBBED WITH TAMARIND-GINGER CHUTNEY

Ingredients (serves 6)

Spinach Purée (recipe below)
Fried Leek Nests (recipe below)
3 Tablespoons rapeseed oil
2 Tablespoons black lentils
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 dried cayenne peppers
1/2 cup tamarind pulp (recipe below)
1/4 cup fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons jaggery
1 1/2 pounds swordfish (or any meaty fish like tuna or halibut).  Steak should be cut into 6 equal 1-inch thick pieces.
12 chives (optional)
Coarse salt to taste

Method:
Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the black lentils and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add the mustard seeds and stir for another minute.  Stir in the cumin seeds and sauté for 2 minutes, or until the mixture is very aromatic.  Add the chillies, tamarind and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes, or until the ginger has begun to soften.  Stir in the jaggery and cook for an additional minute.  Scrape into a blender and process until you have a purée.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.  Allow to cool slightly.

Place the swordfish in a dish and generously coat all sides with the tamarind chutney.  Cover and marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius.  Place a large, ovenproof, nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the marinated swordfish and sear for 2 minutes per side, or just until golden.  Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the swordfish is firm to the touch.

Spoon 3 tablespoons of the Spinach Purée in the centre of each of the 6 dinner plates.  Lay a swordfish fillet in the center of the puree on each plate.  Place a Leek Nest on top of each piece of fish and serve immediately, garnished with chives.

Tamarind pulp
Combine a 1 pound block of tamarind with 4 cups of cold water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the tamarind is very soft.  Pour into a blender and process for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture is of a soupy consistency, adding cold water, a bit at a time, if necessary.  Strain the mixture through a medium sieve, pushing with a spatula, to separate the fibres and seeds from the pulp.  Store the pulp in 1/2 cup amounts, preferably in zippered plastic bags, in the freezer.

Spinach Purée
3 pounds fresh spinach, well washed and stems removed
3 Tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Coarse salt to taste
Wash spinach thoroughly.  Spin or pat dry.  Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.  Stir in the spinach, a bit at a time, and sauté for about 3 minutes or until it is wilted.  Scrape the spinach into a blender or food processor.  Add salt to taste and process until spinach is a thick purée. Scrape the spinach purée into a nonstick saucepan and place over very low heat to keep warm until ready to serve.

Fried Leek Nests
3 leeks
4 cups vegetable oil (approximately)
Pinch of ground cumin
Coarse salt to taste
Trim the leeks of all but 1 inch of the green part, wash thoroughly.  Cut lengthwise into a fine julienne.  Pat dry. Lay a large double layer of paper towels on a clean counter.  Heat the oil in a deep saucepan or deep-fat fryer over high heat.  When the oil begins cracking, add the leeks, a few at a time and fry until golden brown but still soft and pliable.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the leeks to the paper towels to drain.  When cool enough to handle, use your fingertips to shape the fried leeks into 4 small nest-like shapes.  Season with cumin and salt.  Transfer the nests to a baking sheet lined with a double layer of paper towels. If the nests cool, put them in a very low oven for a minute or two before serving.

SPICED BASMATI RICE WITH FRUIT AND PINE NUTS

Ingredients (serves 6):

3 Tablespoons ghee
1/2 cup onion, finely minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
3 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
One 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup finely dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
Coarse salt to taste

Method:

Heat the ghee in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick and sauté for 5 minutes.  Stir in the rice and turmeric and continue to sauté for about 3 minutes, or until the rice is shiny.

Raise the heat and add the water, coconut milk and salt.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce the heat to low and cover the saucepan.  Cook for 10 minutes; then stir in the raisins and apricots.  Cover again and cook, without lifting the lid, for 10 more minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and, without lifting the lid, allow the rice to steam for 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and stir in the pine nuts. 

PAN-SEARED PEACHES WITH BROWN BUTTER AND JAGGERY

Ingredients (serves 6):

12 firm but ripe small peaches, (plums, apricots or nectarines may also be used)
1/2 cup ghee
1/2 cup jaggery
2 Tablespoons sherry or port wine (optional)
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Wash the peaches and pat dry.  Cut in half lengthwise, remove the pits, and season the cut sides with salt and pepper. Place the peaches, cut sides down, on a platter, and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Heat the ghee in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the peaches, cut side down, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the fruit and ghee begin to brown. Add the jaggery.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the peaches begin to soften and the ghee and jaggery mixture is golden and syrupy.  Add the sherry and cook for an additional minute.

Place 4 peach halves, cut sides down, in a shallow dessert bowl or soup plate.  Pour syrup over peaches and serve.

'The Hundred-Foot Journey' is in UK cinemas 5 September.

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#TheQuestion: ‘Most Romantic Guy in London’ is a British-Indian electrician from Wembley

The 'most romantic man in London' has been revealed as a British-Indian electrician from Wembley.

The London Evening Standard tracked down Utpal Kanbia, 23, after his elaborate and thoroughly romantic marriage proposal to girlfriend Meena Rabadia was spotted by a police helicopter. 

On Monday, Mr Kanbia had arranged hundreds of candles spelling out 'Will you marry me?' inside Gladstone Park in Dollis Hill, north London.

The proposal was filmed by a Metropolitan Police helicopter returning to base. 

The helicopter crew then tweeted the video to its 96,000 followers, saying: “We think we have just seen the most romantic guy in London.”

The picture quickly went viral on social media forcing the couple to Tweet anonymously that they were now engaged.

In an interview with the Standard's TV affiliate London Live, Mr Kanbia said that he and Meera had started to get worried when he heard the helicopter overhead.

“I started thinking ‘Are we allowed to do this sort of stuff in a public park?  Are we breaking any laws?’

”But to be honest we had everything covered in that sense. We had a standby fire extinguisher and water bottles in case it did get out of hand.“

Mr Kanbia said that he had enlisted the help of friends for the proposal before taking Meena to the spot where the couple had had their first date some six years ago.

The couple are planning an engagement party in November but haven't set a date for the big day yet.

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#DIASPORA: Countdown begins to the biggest, most colourful London Mela ever

Europe's largest outdoor South Asian Festival returns to West London this weekend with a spectacular line-up of music, dance, visual arts and food.

The London Mela 2014 promises a veritable treat of vibrant riches of South Asian origin including the world's biggest-selling female Bhangra artist, Indo-Canadian music sensation Raghav (of 'Angel Eyes' fame), British singer Arjun, British-Pakistani comedian Nadia Manzoor and Pakistani singer Asim Azhar, the 'Justin Bieber' of his country's burgeoning pop music scene.

The London Mela attracted a record 80,000 people to Gunnersbury Park in Acton last year and that figure is certain to be topped this Sunday, 31 August.

The Festival features nine separate zones, including Main Stage, the BBC Asian Network New Music Tent, Lycamobile Community Stage, Care Pakistan Magic Mela Family Area, Oxfam Global Local Stage, Tastes of South Asia Food Market, a spectacular Outdoor Arts performance arena as well as numerous exhibitor markets and stalls.

Bhangra star Miss Pooja will headline the event, leading the Main Stage line-up which also includes award-winning British artist B21 who returns to the stage after a 12-year hiatus.

Raghav, Arjun and Asim Azhar will also take to the main stage.

Some of the most influential figures in the British Asian music scene, including BBC presenter DJ Nihal and Kan D Man will host some of the UK's finest emerging talent at the Asian Network's New Music Tent. 

Among those lined up for Sunday are desi-reggae artist Cold Fever, singer-songwriter Salique and Nesdi Jones, the petite YouTube sensation from North Wales who's been described as the 'Desi Gori' and whose fans include none other than Yo Yo Honey Singh.

Music has long been a vital part of the Mela but it's certainly not the only one.

More than a dozen performers and groups will take to the Lycamobile Community Stage including comics, traditional Nepalese dancers and Tabla artists.

Among the other highlights on the day are Nadia Manzoor's 'Burq Off!', a hilarious one-woman show which provides a unique insight into the identity struggle of a young British Pakistani girl growing up in a conservative community in modern Britain; a Carnival procession by the renowned arts company Mahogany; and a family-oriented performance by the Nutkhut performing arts company blending shadow puppetry, interactive story-telling as well as eastern classical dance and music to tell stories about the Mughal Empire.

Arguably one of the biggest attractions at the Mela in recent years has been the stage of the British charity Oxfam which has partnered with the event over the last three years.

The public will be invited to explore the priceless work Oxfam carries out across the South Asian sub-continent.

Ajay Chhabra, Artistic Director of the Mela, said: ‘We bring everything from the weird and the wonderful, from rock stars to Mughal Emperors, all to the suburbs at this year’s London Mela.

"Featuring an international premiere with our headliner, Miss Pooja, one of the biggest stars in the world of Bhangra, to the London premiere of Nutkhut's "Navrattan" by Simmy Gupta.

"This year’s event is bigger and better than ever before! We have a growing force of young volunteers who bring their own special brand of Mela humour to the event and we've tied in Oxfam with our new and experimental music stage.

"The event finishes with "Utsava" - our brand new Mela Carnival commission which snakes its way towards the main stage for an unforgettable finale. I'm proud of the way we continue to be the leading force in the transformation of Mela across Europe by celebrating and presenting the best of the South Asian global diaspora."

- For a full listing of events, visit www.londonmela.org

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