Friday, Jun 02, 2023

AMRITSAR CALLING: The city of diplomats, scientists, celeb chefs and fashion mughals

A while ago a host of ambassadors from Punjab visited Amritsar, a homecoming for most. They represent the nation to perhaps a few of the most crucial capitals of the world.

diplomatsA while ago a host of ambassadors from Punjab visited Amritsar, a homecoming for most. They represent the nation to perhaps a few of the most crucial capitals of the world.
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AMRITSAR CALLING: The city of diplomats, scientists, celeb chefs and fashion mughals
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A while ago a host of ambassadors from Punjab visited Amritsar, a homecoming for most. They represent the nation to perhaps a few of the most crucial capitals of the world. Pavan Kapoor holds the fort in Russia, from where much can always be expected. Dr. Varindar Kumar Paul resides in Istanbul, an intermediary acceptable to the present Ukraine crisis. Reenat in the Netherlands manages diplomacy with the Dutch. Manjeev Singh Puri, well, European Union to the United Nations is his forte apart from his distinguished spells in the neighbourhood. To add to our diplomatic corps, MP Singh from Mongolia and Sajiv Tandon from Togo, perhaps two of the most intriguing destinations of them all, have also paid us a visit, apart from Sanjiv Arora who was the then ambassador to Lebanon. But the top turban is worn by Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who manages the affairs in Washington DC. The fact that Reenat and Tari are wedded is soney te suhaga indeed.

Being a mite nosy, I could not help but ask when the twain meet, to which Reenat replied that perhaps thrice in the year the family manages to get together. This is indeed a major sacrifice in the service of the nation.

Tari is from Amritsar and belongs to the illustrious family of Sardar Teja Singh Samundri, his grandfather, a freedom fighter and martyr. He is the son of Sardar Bishan Singh Samundri, the founding Vice Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University. Tari has distinguished himself enough to be given an extended one year to serve the nation’s interests in Washington DC, despite the fact that he was due to retire in January this year.

Navdeep Suri, our remarkable Sheikh of the Arab world curated the events with his normal perfection. He has now retired from service but is a valuable asset with the ORF (Observer Research Foundation), the indefatigable reviewer of all global issues. He and his mani-faceted better half, Mani, shall be illuminating the social milieu of the city as they are presently building a house here to firmly grace Amritsar for good. That Mani is building a studio for her passion, pottery, and space for gardening, even hydroponics, is going to be the buzz around town.


Swinging away from global go-getters to innovators in science, sometime back The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) from NASA startled the world with pictures of planetary systems 2.5 billion light years away. Sit back and count the numbers here before moving on…how many kilometers would that make? This is not just an eye in the sky, but an immaculate Christopher Columbusian voyage that has placed an observatory a million miles away, orbiting the sun, peeking into existing and emerging galaxies unknown. And contributing to this project of orbital enormity is Shivalik Bakshi, from Ganda Singh Wala, Amritsar.

Says the public domain of Simon Fraser University, “More than 20 years ago, SFU professors Ash Parameswaran, Marek Syrzycki, and then graduate student Shivalik Bakshi, were invited to work on a research project initiated by Dr. David Crampton. The team worked on the telescope’s micro-shutter technology. The shutter acts like a camera shutter, which opens and closes according to the exposure information given to it. JWST uses an array of micro-shutters – more than 250,000, each the size of a few human hairs, to ensure illumination -and can selectively expose a single astronomical object at a time.”


“More than twenty years ago, our team was brainstorming how to do this, and one of my graduate students tried out a small, related project,” recalls Parameswaran. “It’s amazing to see this evolution.”


Shivalik is the son of Kiki and Kaku Bakshi. He moved to the West for his studies after doing his schooling at Amritsar. Apart from the above achievement Shivalik also holds four US patents for incredible microdevices and processes that he invented. Imagine that there is a patient with a tear duct issue and thus dry eyes. This guy has invented a Punctal Plug that not only regulates the tear flow but also the medicine required. So, cry to your heart’s content, crocodile tears or otherwise, or just keep your eyes moist. Also imagine that someone needs to test blood, saliva, or urine for kidney, heart, or other diseases. Easy peasy. Just drop one of his MEMS, a microsensor into the testable medium, it vibrates and there you have it. All the answers in one shake of the sheep’s tail like the Aussies say.

And you all do know about fibre-optics, the thin glass fibres that carry our data, our selfies and Instagram posts across to friends as well as business data that runs our financial, defence, and all other systems today. Well, he co-invented a burner, micro of course, that perfected the art of making glass fibres of way higher quality, thus making our lives even more interesting. And while he was at it, he also invented methods for manufacturing biosensors that would behave perfectly even when the required electric current is applied to them. That, my friends, is Patent# US 9164051. My head is reeling from the application possibilities of these devices and processes. But hold your breath for he is not quite done yet with his micro-engineering mind. There will be more coming from him for sure during the coming years. Kudos to this young man.


We all by now have heard of our homegrown Vikas Khanna. He is a product of my alma mater Saint Francis High School and has made unbelievable strides in the culinary world as well as philanthropy. Inspired by his grandmother whom he fondly calls ‘Biji’ he is today a celebrated Michelin star chef who inspires many with his Food for Life philosophy. A workaholic and perfectionist with food, he still has no qualms about taking time out to contribute during a crisis in India or overseas. He then moves heaven on earth to motivate, cajole and participate in providing for the want of the needy in numbers beyond imagination. Such is the reach and goodwill of our very own. And yet he drops in on his mum Bindu ji, who is still residing in the city, as often as he can. That is a value system beyond compare.


But that is not all. Vikas has been adjudged the ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ on the planet and the ‘New York’s Hottest Chef’. Just a walk in the park for this achiever who has acted in movies, produced and directed them as well. His documentary series Holy Kitchens which explores the impeccable liaison between faith and food has been showcased at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Oxford Universities and at a host of film festivals. Kitchens of Gratitude, another documentary by him, was featured at the 69th Cannes Film Festival. And this is not all. His directorial debut, The Last Color, highlighting the struggle for survival on the streets of Varanasi made it to the final eligibility list for Oscar 2020.

Vikas has now been approached by a Hollywood studio to make a biopic on his inspiring life journey from Amritsar to the US. He says that the plan is to first release a book, like a biography, and then follow it up with a movie.

“In fact, the preparations have already started. I recently took them to Amritsar to show them that side of my life,” says he. Way to go indeed.


Speaking about actors making waves, Manik Singh Anand is a beau, six feet tall, all of 162 pounds, brown eyes and raven black hair, the kind of guy who makes babes swoon as he glides past them. Reminds me of a term, McDreamy, that I heard when two young ladies saw a handsome guy during a wedding. But that is not his only claim to fame. This hardcore Anbarsari has traversed the ramps and modeled for commercials with aplomb. Maturing to tinsel-town Bollywood, OTT performances, and even short films, in lead roles both in India and the USA has been a journey indeed remarkable.


Manik has the ability to portray characters and espouse causes with panache. His portrayal of a mid-aged actor at the prestigious Prithvi theatre drew a standing ovation. And yet his hilarious performance on the OTT series, Udan Patolas, has won hearts across the nation. The Second Home, an introspective portrayal of the inequality of daughters and daughters-in-law in Indian society received multi-million viewership on YouTube and critical acclaim as well. From astounding success in India to a dramatic performance artist in the US has been a smooth transition for this natural actor. He now enacts diverse roles that raise awareness towards gender-based violence, narcissistic personality disorder, religious identity et al, heavy stuff indeed that he plays with aplomb.


This young man has now become the proud recipient of the Vincent D’Onofrio Scholarship at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, NYC. Go for it me lad onto Broadway and Hollywood but drop in on us from time to time.

Cool T’s and snazzy togs, black shades, and sneakers to match.



That is what defines our good lad, Aditya Varma. He has been putting up his boots at his Wall Street apartment, rocking in “FiDi”, as he prefers to call his existence at his home in the Manhattan financial district of New York. Addy for us, Aditya, is pushing the fashion buttons of his grey matter interning with none other than Ralph Lauren. Addy was a happy-go-lucky kid on Race Course Road with an eye for fashion but without an iota of attitude. Perhaps it was his affability and of course, his talent that shaped his journey to the sanctum of the Fashion Moghul.

fashion moghal

It is really quite amazing to see the reach of the progeny of our Holy City, raised and nurtured with the air of spirituality, schooled in value-based environs, and excelling in global spheres with panache. Living life king-size in far corners of the globe, for these achievers, the sky has no limit.

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(Gunbir Singh is a writer, historian and environmentalist who loves all things Ambarsari)

First published on: 18-05-2023 at 11:35 IST
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