Friday, December 16, 2005

What's to be done?

This post is necessitated because Greatbong - at whose blog the real debate on Sourav Ganguly rages - has shut down further comments on the subject as the debate got very ugly. I don't blame him. He has put his viewpoint on Dada with lucidity and closely-argued reason. He has been polemical - in the best sense of the word - and in return attracted some very good responses but also many boorish and abusive comments that didn't add to the debate but threatened to trigger base regional sentiments. In fact, while the main issue is Indian cricket and Sourav, the way the debate has panned out has also become a fascinating study of spectator response, filtered through layers of regionally and societally conditioned likes and dislikes plus, of course, pure and simple personal biases. There's raw passion in it which, apart from war, only cricket seems to generate in India. If you haven't seen gb's blog (although I doubt that you haaven't) its: http://greatbong.blogspot.com/. Check it out and you'll see what I mean.

First, the positives of this fierce debate. Times of India did a sms poll today. All-India, 93% said it was wrong to drop Sourav; 95% in Kolkata said the same. So, there's hardly any difference between Bengal and the rest of India in the trend of popular opinion. Secondly, an obscenely overwhelming opinion is in Sourav's favour while stating that selectors have been unfair to him. Such is the popular opinion, an astute politician like Sharad Pawar has quickly dissociated himself from the selectors' decision. As Harsha Bhogle points out today, Dada deserved to lead the team out before bidding goodbye; he deserved a warm hug from his team mates instead of a lonely corner in a room. He says what they've done to him is simply not "good manners" and "courtesy". Guys like Harsha, even when they know grevious wrong has been done, will talk of things like manners and courtesy. They won't talk of the visceral stuff that created this sordid drama because they too are sponging off the system.

So, the big positive is that the overwhelming opinion for Dada shows that his unceremonious ouster is not viewed as wrong only by Bongs alone but by the country as a whole. Even in yesterday's political outrage in Parliament, Arun Jaitley and Amar Singh joined the West Bengal MPs. As far as the common man is concerned, it's not a regional issue, although there are efforts to make it parochial. Hindustan Times today, for instance, has an edit titled, "Lumpens for Dada". Really? I don't think Somnath Chatterjee or Jaitley are lumpens, or for that matter are gb and people like me lumpens. But here's an attempt to tar all those who are vocal in their support for Sourav as lumpens. Gb pointed out how Cybernoon, the net edition of Mumbai's Afternoon, has a gleeful story titled, "Tata Dada".

And now the big negative - it's the ugly regional hues that the issue is acquiring. For me, it's not surprising to me that the biggest support for Sourav comes from West Bengal; had he been a Maharashtrian, people from Maharashtra would have naturally lead the protest. This is not because Bongs or Maharashtrians are a chauvinistic people; it's because a home-grown boy has done the country proud and if he's unfairly shafted, they will cry 'foul' first and also the loudest. It's a sense of belonging with the home-grown boy, not alienation from the rest of the country. Unfortunately, a lot of influential middle-class guys, esp in the media, are seeing it as one. As a result, there's a pretty strong hate-Bongs undercurrent which could erupt into a vocal campaign.

I find this very distressing. And, of course, disgusting. Bongs have been mad about a lot of things, including sportsmen, esp cricketers, and I am not surprised that they're madly passionate about Sourav. In fact, I would tend to agree with gb that regionalism, or if you prefer partisan politics, has also guided the new dispensation's targetting of Sourav. This regionalism is really based on its opposition to Dalmiya and associating Sourav as 'his man'. That's why selectors backing Sourav are sacked (they're also Dalmiya's men), players allegedly close to him are kept out (Zaheer and Nehra) in preference to those who aren't (Agarkar), and those who aren't close to him selected (Wasim Jaffer). It's perhaps accidental that Agarkar and Jaffer are both from Maharashtra, but perhaps it's not. In any case, Bongs can't be blamed if they see the pattern as betraying an assertion of parochial interests. The reaction to Sourav's ouster was, therefore, bound to be regional. And the way he's been dumped - creating the grounds for a regional maelstorm - was, therefore, doubly stupid.

I say stupid because there must also be a pretty strong case against Sourav on cricketing grounds. His sack couldn't have been decided in 20 minutes. And Bongs must see this point (it'll also explain the exasperation of non-Bongs). Since Sourav scored 143 or 146 runs in Brisbane in 2003, his performance has been pretty poor. And if you leave out Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, itsactually quite pathetic. He hasn't been able to perform against good bowlers. Perhaps he was only going through a lean patch and would come out of it (I think he's got 2-3 years cricket in him). But this lean patch also coincided with run-ins with key members of the team, including Dravid (blaming him for the declaration), Sachin, Kumble and VVS. Who was right and who was not isn't the point. When you're the leader and performing, the team will take a lot from you. But when you aren't, you can't come down just as heavily. Somewhere in this period, Sourav - known to be a team man, who gave a toss for what the media said so long the boys were with him - lost the boys' affection and respect. Somewhere the harmony in the team was lost. The contrast between team's performance in the last few month's of Sourav's captaincy and its performance after he was removed as captain is striking and tells an eloquent story. It should tell you something and I would like my Bong friends to grasp that. Somewhere Sourav lost the enormous fund of goodwill he had built among his mates.

So, cool. What do we do with him then? Sack him as captain. Okay. Should he have been also sacked as a player - and that, too, in this manner - because of an overhang of this past? Not at all. I think Pawar & Co (More and Chappell seem to have emerged as key players in the new dispensation) acted with such singular lack of grace because they were still fighting Dalmiya. Rub him to the ground so that he can't pose a challenge again. Well, this is a political fight, they have ended up showing shocking small-mindedness towards the country's most successful captain; a player who has given every good lover of the game great entertainment. If India today disapproves of the decision, it's because of this pettiness that forms the cornerstone of the decision. It's this that's creating an entirely unecessary situation bristling with portends of ugly regional confrontation.

What's the way forward? One way is to let the matter lie, and people would lose interest in the issue with time. But a great injustice would still be done to Sourav who has been humiliated. And how that can be undone, I don't really know.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cricket Talibanism

I didn't intend this as a post. It was a comment on 'GreatBong's' post which I reached by navigating some of the blogs I read. The guy writes well, and more importantly, with passion. He insisted that I put it up on my blog as it was a "concise" and "excellent" comment on the Ganguly issue. My vanity tickled, I'm putting it up:

The day India was routed at Eden Gardens - and it was a walloping if I've ever seen one - I got a sms from a Bengali friend of mine in Kol: ``Given the high performance-based standards that has now been set for Team India, do you think Chappell should be dropped from the next match?'' I couldn't help smiling. Yes, take this performance biz to the level of absolutism, you'll be unforgiving to any failure, Chappel's included. Now, this kind of absolutism about performance is like a frightening kind of capitalism that doesn't brook human foibles or follies, let alone failures. Take it a little forward, there's little to differentiate between this and any kind of fundamentalism. You can call it Cricket Talibanism.

Am I stretching the point? I don't think so. Fundamentalism often becomes a tool to screw opponents on the basis of a bogus belief. In this case, Chappell has invoked a fundamentalism called performance to screw Ganguly with whom he didn't get along and who probably questioned his absolutist methodology. It's a coach's job to create harmony of views and faith among the players in his methods, right? He can't demand all of this on a platter. But Chappel did. And a bunch of supine cricket administrators, themselves under threat from an opposing camp, caved in to Chappell's demands and Ganguly was sacrificed. (By the way, one of the biggest media misses has been its take on the fateful Mumbai meeting in which Ganguly and Chappell deposed - it reported a Ganguly victory whereas it was exactly the opposite.)

Ganguly, of course, didn't help his cause. He was playing badly and seemed lazy both on and off the ground. It was the same mental laziness which made him a sucker to the belief that he could skip the Challengers' Trophy at Mohali and yet remain captain. He should have been dropped for this - I don't have a quarrel with that. What I have a quarrel with is the nature of his removal. A spurious thing called performance was invoked - and strangely the guy was performing, statistically at least as well as Sehwag or Sachin - and denied the chance of quitting in grace. Instead, we as a people have acquiesced in an act of shocking ungratefulness towards a cricketer who revived Indian cricket and has served the game as well as any of its heroes.

The good thing is that, pressed to the wall (no pun), Ganguly is fighting back. He has done this in the past. Remember him being dropped from the squad after his phenomenal debut in England? I don't know if he'll succeed, but I'll be immensely pleased if he fights back for his pride and salavages some of it before bidding adieu to this game of sharks called cricket.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hope For Bihar?

Bihar anyone? For those who aren't from the state it's a black hole so it probably doesn't matter to them that Lalu is out and Nitish is in. But for Biharis, I guess this is a historic moment. For them, it probably means victory of hope over despair and a reiteration of their faith in democracy and its ability to bring about profound political changes painlessly. There are numerous questions in my mind. Above all, after this, what? Will the change finally bring development on the state agenda? Will Biharis get basics like roads, power, education, health and jobs? Of course, nothing will happen immediately. Bihar, from all accounts, is so far behind, that making any difference will take an awful long time.

I have a suggestion, though. Bihar, I am told, has virtually no electricity. Town after town remains in darkness after sunset. Apparently, availability of power isn't as big a problem as the state's refusal to pay power companies for electricity. I have read that NTPC set up a super thermal power station in early '90s in Farakka, on the Bengal-Bihar border. This was at the instance of Ghani Khan Chowdhury, the then power minister. The plant duly set up, generated 1100 mw of power, but there were no buyers. In Bengal, one industry after another was shutting down, and it was actually a power surplus state. It didn't want electricity from Farakka. NTPC turned to benighted Bihar which obviously needed electricity. But Lalu told them: you can supply but there's no guarantee of payment! Any money that Lalu could get went for the upkeep of his hordes, I guess.

So, Nitish needs to buy electricity and light up Bihar. The impact will be HUGE. To begin with, the very fact of homes getting lit will lift the pall of gloom in Bihar. It'll make a palpable difference to the people and such a visible one that Nitish would be seen to have made a magical difference. In comparison, building roads will be trickier; the road mafia will first have to be tackled before construction begins. Electricity will also reduce the need for lalterns (Lalu's poll symbol). So Nitish can claim that he has made the `Lalten' literally redundant! Imagine the symbolic impact. Finally, for any developmental activity -- including industrial activity -- power is a must. So, I see bijli as a relatively easy and painless way of making an impact in Bihar.

A lot of hopes are riding on Nitish. His landslide win, in which even Muslims and Yadavs seem to have contributed, shows that. I hope he can deliver. For, stereotypical versions of Bihar and Biharis apart, it has millions of real people for whom life has become very hopeless. The only salvation they seem to have is getting out of the state. When the rest of the country is progressing, I hope Bihar too gets its act together and adds to the momentum. Or else, it will become a cess pool of stagnancy in a resurgent country. And that has grave socio-economic implications, including spread of crime, terror and what have you.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Put The Loonies In The Bin

There's a disturbing rash of intolerance in the country. Terror attacks apart, people are going bonkers to shove their viewpoint down other's gullets. Take the sanctimonious Islamic clergy -- they're going after Sania Mirza as though the girl has committed a crime. All she does is she wears short, attractive skirts while playing tennis. It's an efficient dress for the game, quite apart from the fact it makes Sania look in sync with the mainstream of the game. But the maulvis would rather have her play in long pants, at the very minimum, and in a burqa if they could really have their way. The poor 19-year-old said, please look at my game, not my skirt's hemline, and the hounds of orthodoxy are baying again. And now Sania's dad is pleading to both her tormentors as well as to the media: please leave the kid alone.

Last night I heard an even more bizarre case. Some s.o.b. gave triple talaq on sms in Moradabad. And an illiterate maulvi granted it! What the f--k is happening? Why are these dogs of god helping paint the entire community as caught in a medieval time warp? Is there an intrinsic problem with Islam? Before you begin to nod in agreement, look around and see what RSS boss Sudershan is saying. On Thursday, he urged Hindus to have at least three children and, if they afford it, have 17. No jokes, he said this and it was reported by the papers. That's not all -- in Pushkar the state BJP government (in secular, modern India) has laid down the norms of behaviour. Touching women in public, its handbook says, is a no-no, unless the woman is old or sick (and therefore in need of support). At home, I guess, you can not only touch them but beat them black and blue. The handbook goes on to say that hugging or kissing in public is, of course, banned altogether. And it adds that in India smoking or drinking is viewed as an act of disrespect.

Whose India? How can moral cops take over public behaviour in the name of defining India, a country belonging to a billion-plus, including you and me. How can Sudershan seek to create a population explosion on the basis of his (and his parivar's) paranoia? I am not even talking of the social disaffection and biases that he's trying to create. How can a maulvi disregard elementary tenets of natural justice and grant divorce on the basis of a freaking sms? I think we should have a law against this kind of patently illegal acts. Put these loonies in the bin. My considered view that these moral cops and medieval creatures are cowards who seek to flex their muscles on the basis of an aggressive orthodoxy and a voluble minority. Put the fear of god in them and they'll shut up and behave.

A caveat about the law and courts. Are you following the Khushboo case in Tamil Nadu? The poor ex-actress is being hounded because she said pre-marital sex was not uncommon and men shouldn't expect their wives to be virgins. She said this in the context of sex education and the spread of aids. And the PMK is down her throat. Jayalalithaa has given the PMK her quiet support. Mani Ratnam's wife, Suhashini, came to her support and they are hounding her too. Suhashini has since apologised. And the courts? They have said they didn't wish to interfere! If not in such persecution, in what will they intervene?

Exuent, chased by bear!

Only Eng-lit guys will probably get the headline. Remember, Shakespeare? In 'As You Like It', a comedy which is set in a forest, the bard found a rather facile way of getting actors off the stage. He would make them summarily run out and in italics say, "Exuent, chased by bear". In fact, we once counted how many times this happened in the play as exam ennui prevented us from looking at anything more serious about the play or the fate of the protagonists. I've lost count of the number -- actually, I've even forgotten the names of the protagonists (I think they are Orlando and Rosalind, two love-lorn characters from fueding families banished by narrow-minded families and living in the forest).

This isn't why I wrote the headline. I was reminded of the Shakespearean stage direction when I read today that Bal Thackeray is bidding bye to politics. `The Bear' in his case, as in Jyoti Basu's case, is old age, senility, dotage and years of crappy politics. But still, both are/were giants who held the popular imagination for too long a time. I'm more happy about Thackeray's exuent because I think his brand of communal/chauvinistic politics is far more dangerous than Jyoti Babu's crocodile tears for the poor. While Jyoti Babu's exit brought in a poster-boy of a politician (five years into his chief ministership, Buddha is getting endorsements upto 80-90% in opinion polls), I doubt if that'll be the case with Shiv Sena. Already the Sena is cracking and Balasaheb's departure will probably reduce it to a rump. However, all said and done, Thackeray was quite a character and I'm surprised newspapers didn't give sufficient attention to his hanging up his bloody gloves.

It's amazing how thoughts zip from one thing to another. Even as I was writing about Jyoti Babu and Buddha, I was reminded of the spat in Bengal Assembly yesterday or the day before between two ministers over Sourav Ganguly. One of them wondered why Bongs are making such a big deal about Sourav's exclusion from the team, and another jumped up to say they had every reason to do so and, in any case, if the Bengal Tiger didn't make it to the team there won't be a match in Kol. Visceral stuff. By the way, any opinions about Dada's return to the team which now looks possible? Frankly, I wouldn't mind it because I find him an entertainer -- he excites strong passions; love him, hate him, you can't ignore him. In comparison, I find Dravid too perfect: goody-goody and vapid. Oops, I think I'll be hated for saying this. But I've said it. Honesty is the worst policy, no?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

They're Getting Boring

I am getting bored with South Asian (largely Indian) literature in English. The genre started off rather well with Rushdie's Midnight's Children', Seth's Golden Gate and Ghosh's Antique Land, but of late has been devoid of inspiration. Most of the authors - Rushdie, Seth, Amitav Ghosh, etc - are blessed with great craft. Their language is amazing, they also have a fine power of observation. But their imagination is flagging badly. I am somewhat old fashioned about novels. They should, to my mind, tell a good story above all. That's what keeps you rivetted to a book and the author's fine craft facilitates reading. Now it's increasingly becoming as though the craft itself is sufficient for making great authors. Implicit in this is the assumption that the very fact these writers, whose mother tongue isn't English, can write such fine English prose is enough to impress one and all. Perhaps, it did for a while. But it's getting boring now. Come up with a good story, man.

Actually, someone finally has. The Afghan writer Khalid Husseini has written a fascinating novel, 'The Kite-Runner'. Many of you might have heard of it. But if you haven't read it, read it. Quite apart from good prose (which it has), Husseini tells an amazing story that wrenches your emotions with joy at times and with excruciating pain at other times. It climaxes like a classic novel that ennobles you with the experience. At one level, it's a story of two friends. But at another, it's a story of two friends like you've never heard before, enriched by a wider canvas of cataclysmic changes in the benighted land of the lovable Afghans.