A strange series

February 22, 2010

When the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in world cricket lock horns in a test match series, you do not expect them to take turns and beat each other by an innings and a bit, do you. If the same results had been played out by the same two teams in the late 90s, murmurs of match fixing would have done the rounds.

Beyond the result, there was a strange symmetry to the series starting with the number of tests. The SA batsmen dominated the first test and the Indian batsmen capitulated. Tables were turned in the second. In both the tests, two batsmen from the vanquished side had centuries in losing causes. Likewise, on both occasions, the winning team’s bowling was dominated by one bowler. But for weather intervening in Kolkata, both the matches would have run their course in 4 days.

In the end it was obvious that this would have made a riveting 3 or 5 match series. The 3 match one day series could have easily made way for one more test. In the end, commerce overrides matters cricketing. The SA caravan has to rumble through the Indian hinterland for it to make sense for the BCCI. Cricket fans as a species know the value of and therefore appreciate the honourable draw. However, if a series is drawn thanks to the continued stupidity of the organisers, it does leave a bitter taste in the mouth. What could have been the finest series of test matches played in the country in some time was cruelly shortened.

India has much to thank Sehwag for the way he sets up matches these days. In hindsight, considering how easily India could have run out of time at Kolkata, his knock was crucial. Besides the tangible benefit of having scored his runs in a hurry, the intangible benefits of a demoralised attack worked to the advantage of the rest of the Indian batsmen. Despite giving the impression that he takes leave of his sense ever so often, there is no denying that Sehwag is the most influential Indian batsman ever. One can wax eloquent about Dravid’s technique, Gavaskar’s powers of concentration, Tendulkar’s precociousness and Vishwanath’s wristiness, but none exemplifies India’s coming of age as a cricketing nation more than Sehwag. The Indian middle order of recent vintage has a lot to thank Sehwag for.

I guess Hashim Amla deserves all the bouquets that are being showered on him. He did everything possible to save SA the blushes on the final day. Notwithstanding the fact that when the last man, Mornie Morkel, arrived at the crease there were still about 90 minutes (which is a long time for the No. 11 batsman to hang in there) to go and all the smart money was riding on an Indian win, I was surprised that even towards the end there was no attempt on his part to farm the strike. In the end there were about 20 odd deliveries between SA and a heroic draw. Amla himself said that Morkel (and before him Parnell) was confident and comfortable playing out one end. But was it not incumbent on his part to take as much of the strike as possible, especially towards the end when a draw was emerging a distinct possibility. I can think of atleast three legends of the past having done this – Miandad, Border and Waugh. And of the current lot – the tragic Paul Collingwood. As an Indian fan, I am glad Amla did not crave for more glory, yet as a cricket fan, I am more than a little disappointed with his abdication of responsibility. Amla was dismissed only one while facing more than a 1,000 deliveries from the hapless Indian bowlers. Facing upto a few more and thereby shielding Mornie would have given his team a decent chance of having regained the top ranking.


February 20, 2010

The gist of a story:

Widower meets divorcee. Widower is a law enforcement officer and divorcee is new in town. She has relocated to the small town following her parents’ invitation. Widower’s wife was killed in a still unsolved hit and run case. True to form, widower and divorcee fall in love. It turns out that divorcee’s brother was the perpetrator of the “crime” that killed hero’s wife. Brother is traumatised when he realises that his sister is in love with the gentleman’s wife whose death he caused, albeit unintentionally. Brother confesses. Gentleman widower forgives him and the widower and divorcee live happily ever after.

We have a story in less than 100 words. This has been cunningly made into a NYT bestseller by one of the most prolific authors of our times who I am reliably informed has sold more than 10 million copies. I will not reveal identity of the author for fear of invoking the wrath of his legions of fans (and here I am hopefully assuming that at least a few hundreds of them avidly follow my blog).

I go back to my earlier reference in another post on the need to be clever with words. Being precise is not a skill that will always come in handy if one has ambitions of writing a best seller, especially if reputations have already been made. Making do with an anemic plot and then stretching it then will please publishers plenty more. This is what I have come to realise. This reminds me of the way we were advised to approach examinations in subjects like economics and commerce. The idea was to fill up as many sheets of answer paper as possible without paying much heed to what was actually written. And going by the marks awarded, there is reason to believe that this is how students were actually evaluated.

For long, I believed Bollywood’s ability to produce trash was unparalleled in this world. I am increasingly convinced that American publishing will run them close.

Lessons from the past ?

February 17, 2010

A visit to one of the many heritage houses that dot South Goa is mandatory for tourists & travellers. They reflect the pomp, glory and grandeur of a bygone era. In these days of instant gratification, it is useful to be remined that these structures, conceived and completed more than 250-300 years ago, have stood the test of time and the elements and are, by and large, none the worse for it. The wealth on display in these houses in the form of floors from Italy, glass from Belgium, china from Macau and paintings from Spain and Portugal transiently time-port visitors to a period when feudal families monopolised the riches of the land and epitomised the capitalistic excessses of their times. However, scratch a little beneath the surface and it gets difficult to escape the sadness and melancholy that envelop these structures and also the foreboding of how quickly a particular situation can unravel. And a lurking suspicion that the priceless artefacts and treasures hide more than they reveal.

The houses themselves are in varying states of disrepair. The present economic status of the owner families is reflected in their upkeep. The motive behind welcoming visitors is all too apparent. It is monetary. The donations that the families seek at the end of the guided tour are a means of sustenance. A sad predicamen to be in and worse still, it reinforces the vicious loop that they have got themselves into. As an individual visitor, the decay that these houses mirror is so relatable. You almost believe, however improbably, that with a little more prudence and restraint, this downward spiral could have been avoided. Unlike for instance a Hampi where an entire kingdom collapsed bringing down in its wake, towns, families and individuals, the crumbling heritage houses of Goa resonate with untold stories of familial descent from glory. It is particularly ironical at a time when the rest of the country (or parts of the state for that matter) is basking in the riches of a neo liberliased economy.

These houses also fall into the familiar, unwitting and expedient trap of glorifying the past for gratuitious benefits. With some active and well meaning support from the state, the current absence of which is made exceedingly apparent to the visitor, things could still be a lot different and impactful. The ability of these private museums to illuminate and educate can be harnessed. A peek into the past which fails to educate is a huge opportunity loss for society. And a society which consistently fails in this endeavor is condemned to repeat its mistakes over and over again. This is not to suggest that an objective assessment of history is the panacea for all ils plaguing humanity, but creating an environment for doing so would be a step in the right direction. Studying history, of which culture and heritage are an integral part, which does not educate is an exercise in futility.
The other aspect which needs to be explored and strengthened is the ability of these heritage houses to create a sense of collective ownership. Pride and a sense of ownership in one’s heritage is critical for heritage to thrive and grow. A lot of heritage is intangible and embedded. These mansions are the last bastions and custodians of whatever little of our heritage that can be seen and touched. Rather than be seen as islands which have lost touch with the environment that they find themselves in, it is vital they engender feelings of pride and collective ownership among citizens. Again, this is an aspect which will need the sustained support of the state. A success story in this regard which the state government would do well to emulate is that of theWest Bengal government in making every Bengali feel that he/ she “owns” the Calcutta Metro.

A visit to any Heritage house, beyond appealing to the visual senses, should be informative, illuminating and uplifting. If not, they would have failed in their reason for being. Applying this yardstick to our backyard, I guess we have a fair distance to go.

Why ??

January 30, 2010

Often I wonder why I write. I don’t need to; write that is. Yet I do it. This in spite of the fact that thus far, the rest of the world has been blissfully oblivious to what or how I write.

The pointlessness to my writing strikes me more forcefully after I read others. It is then when I am made to realise the huge gap between what I want to say and how it actually comes out in words. All the good writers seem to have this felicity to express their feelings (or thoughts) in words. It appears that very little is “lost in writing”, although, ultimately it is for the writer himself to judge this. Fortunately, the reader has no way of knowing what is it that the writer wanted to write about. And how effectively he succeeded in committing his thoughts to paper.

I have realised that one of the reasons that I write is to try and bridge this gap between my thinking and the words I choose to communicate it (for whose benefit I do not know). It is not as if I feel that the thoughts requiring articulation are original. I do believe fairly strongly that there can be only so much of original thought in this world. If originality was a criterion for being published (and sold in numbers), there would be very few works worthy of publication. Is it therefore a matter of presentation?. In case of fiction, this should be the case. Since I do not fictionalise, the substance should have more prominence than the form. I fail then on both counts. Neither am I original nor am I clever with my non-original thoughts.

Is it the hope that by writing more, I will keep improving both my writing and my thinking. Writing maybe, but thinking ??. No evidence so far to support this.

So, I write without knowing why I write. No denying that it gives me satisfaction. I will also confess that I would like people to read what I write. Does not matter if they agree or not. In fact, a little disagreement will not hurt.

Frustrating ……

January 29, 2010

The first Grand Slam of the new decade, The Australian Open, 2010 is drawing to a close. As an Indian, there was precious little to cheer about. Hopefully, as a Roger Federer fan, there will be lots. As I post, Fedex is getting ready to commence his match with Tsonga.

Catching glimpses of the ladies’ half of the tournament, it was difficult not to wonder at the strides that tennis, and in particular, women’s tennis has made in China. With some more luck, it could have been an all Chinese women’s singles final. And our own Sania Mirza made her customary exit in the first round. Ironically, as the Chinese girls were working their way up through the draw, Sania was in the headlines, at least of Yahoo! India for having broken up her engagement. Yahoo! considered this bit of tripe to be more news worthy relevance to the Indian audience than the fact that Nadal had made his exit from the tournament. Does say a lot about our news quotient.

It was not so long ago that Sania was the toast of the country. She was running the Williams sisters close in marquee tournaments. Pundits were predicting a top 20 ranking for her. The country was expectant. The number of times she appeared on television (sadly in TV spots and not on prime time tennis) suggested that she had arrived. As it happens so often in Indian sport, she turned out to be yet another meteorite. Selling herself way too short and content with the perks of her fleeting success. Unlike Leander who left no one in doubt about his hunger for achievement, in the case of Sania, Indian tennis fans cannot be faulted for wondering if she even gave it her all.

On the other hand, the persistent rise of the Chinese women and Federer’s reign at the top tell us what could have been. Ignoring the patriotism that makes me cheer for the Indian cricket team, I have always supported the sporting underdog. It was always McEnroe, the upstart when he arrived to challenge the champion Borg, always Sabatini as strove “manfully ” to lay Steffi low, always Senna as he set out to decimate Prost, never Tiger as he scythed through the rest of the field. But in the case of Federer, in spite of his virtual hegemony, I continue to root for him. Considering all that he has achieved in the last decade or so, it is amazing that he still finds the motivation to, forgetting everything else, even turn up for these slams. My admiration for him has turned to something bordering on respect and the only other sportsman who commands this from me is Sachin. When there are such stories so close at hand to draw inspiration from, what is it that stops fellow sportsmen to be similarly inspired. What is it that stops Indian sportsmen with obvious talent from reaching the top of the ladder. I was reading Michael Jeh’s post on cricinfo where he refers to the rapid strides made by Aussie U19s in general after a certain point in their evolution as cricketers, and in the process leave the other Asian U19s far behind ; inspite of having significantly lagged behind the Asian in terms of sheer talent. He is not alone in his inability to solve this puzzle. But for the notable exceptions of China, Japan and the Koreas none of the Asian countries have a history of sustained domination in any sport. In a few cases, as is with hockey, the rise of the other countries has coincided with the precipitous fall of erstwhile Asian super powers like India and Pakistan. The tragedy of this state of affairs is compounded when you consider that, at least here in India, there is a full fledged Ministry under the Central Government whose job it is to oversee the development of sport in the country.

The relative “non-success” of sportsmen like Narain Karthikeyan also lays low the excuse of lack of economic resources for excellence in the sporting arena. Karthikeyan came from as privileged a background as one could expect to come from, in a statistical sense, in a country like ours. If this is indeed a valid excuse, I would submit that we wind up all sports related activities and focus on building economic wealth and subsequently try our hand at creating champion athletes. The rest of the world can wait. For a country that fails to attain world class standards at almost everything that it does, is it not avarice to be expecting our sportsmen to be world class performers.