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Obama And The Balance Of Expectations

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On November 6, US President Barack Obama will pay a tribute to the victims of 26/11 from the heritage wing of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai—the place where massive destruction and bloodshed took place for the longest duration during the siege in Mumbai in end-November 2008. That’s where his trip begins and that is where we will know what he feels about the fact that almost two years down the line there has been no effective progress on bringing the perpetrators of that massacre to justice.

Then again it is naïve to expect the U.S. to help us in bringing Pakistan to book when the United States is itself incessantly-struggling in trying to make Pakistan follow a completely dollar-funded War on Terror. The contrast of the Pakistan, United States, and India triumvirate can be seen in the light of the spring 2010 Pew Global Attitudes survey released in July end for Pakistan and late October for India.

Looking at the survey and the recent congressional polls in the U.S., Obama may now have the distinction of being more popular in India than he is in his own country. The numbers also say that the US has a positive image in India. The good news for India is that its citizens are upbeat about their economy and have confidence in their leadership. Incredibly, “more than eight-in-ten (83%) say the U.S. takes the interests of countries like India into account when it makes foreign policy decisions—the highest percentage among the 21 nations surveyed outside the U.S.” I am with the minority and open to consider my views again after President Obama leaves.

Right next door in Pakistan America’s overall image remains negative despite the fact that it is spending $7.5 billion in civilian aid. And just two weeks or so before Obama’s India visit the United States approved a further $2 billion military package to Pakistan. Irrefutable proof that money can’t buy you love.

While President Obama is hugely popular in India he is extremely unpopular in Pakistan—only 8 per cent of Pakistanis express confidence that he will do the right thing in world affairs, his lowest rating among the 22 nations surveyed.

“The Pakistan Army, which is surely the most powerful mercenary force in history, simply sends a bill and Washington brings out the cheque book. Obama explained why: it’s known as ‘helping Pakistan in helping us in Afghanistan,’” wrote the editorial director of India Today MJ Akbar.

This isn’t an entirely new thing as it began when Zia-ul-Haq started milking Washington for all he could when the Afghan jihad began. “He turned down Jimmy Carter’s initial offer of $400 million in aid, dismissing it as ‘peanuts,’ and was rewarded with a $3.2 billion proposal from the Reagan administration plus permission to buy F-16 fighter jets, previously available only to NATO allies and Japan.” (1)

The scale of skimming by the ISI officers was baffling. “In Quetta in 1983, ISI officers were caught colluding with Afghan rebels to profit by selling off CIA-supplied weapons. In another instance, the Pakistan army quietly sold the CIA its own surplus .303 rifles and about 300 million bullets. A ship registered in Singapore picked up about 100,000 guns in Karachi, steamed out to sea, turned around, came back to port, and off-loaded the guns, pretending they had come from abroad. The scheme was discovered—the bullets were still marked ‘POF,’ for ‘Pakistan Ordinance Factory.’ ISI had to pay to scrub the Pakistani bullets of their markings, so if they were used in Afghanistan and picked up by the Soviets, they couldn’t be exploited by the communists as evidence of Pakistani support for the mujahedin.” (2)

Any doubts that money is now being used for its intended purpose were cleared by a New York Times story roughly a year before the Mumbai attacks. The NYT had reported that US aid for the War on Terror had been diverted by Pakistan to shore up its capabilities against India.

Terrorism and the complexities of dealing with the ever-dangerous and deteriorating situation in Pakistan would expectedly be at the heart of discussions between Obama and the Indian leadership but whether there would be some tectonic change in the equation remains to be seen. The main aim of the Obama visit will remain economic as he faces harsher realities back home. Obama is coming with 200 CEOs of American firms and he hopes to encourage business deals to reinvigorate the US economy and thereby also improve his re-election chances for 2012.

As far as the expectations of India are concerned the early signs are not too encouraging as there hasn’t been a clear positive sign either on India’s bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council or on dual technology transfer. There have also been American concerns over outsourcing. Surely the Obama contingent must have thought about the fact that the visit is not all about what America wants.

According to another NYT story, “corporate America mainly hopes the visit by the president can help better define the common economic interests of the United States and India and build on the trade and investment foundations the business community has already laid.

Harold McGraw 3rd, the chairman of McGraw Hill and one of the executives in the Obama entourage, said the visit was ‘all about economic and job growth for both the U.S. and India.’ India is America’s 14th-largest trade partner, he noted, but ‘should be a lot higher.’”

Obama comes to India as a well-regarded leader of a country that is well-liked, going by the Pew survey, and between his increasingly-growing home concerns and what he can take from India he must also ensure that what he leaves behind, at the very least, keeps that popularity in place.

Sources: For 1 and 2 from the writings of Steve Coll. Others New York Times and Pew Research Center.

The Bloody Purge Of Pakistan Cricket

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“After Kardar’s retirement, Pakistan cricket was thrown to the wolves, the cricket bureaucrats whose progeny still rule the game,” Imran Khan once said of Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the father figure of Pakistani cricket.

Pakistan has come down hard on their players after the team’s utterly-dismal showing Down Under. Some action was expected after the team’s winless campaign in Australia, however, it came as a shock that the knife was used in such a fatal and deep manner to render Pakistan cricket bleeding and on life support. You can almost feel that the players have been hard done.

These are players at the heart of the hullabaloo that was created in Pakistan when the IPL did not pick anyone from the victorious T20 team of Pakistan. The treatment of the players by their own Board is far more sinister, evil and ugly than the one that was meted out by the private enterprise of Indian Premier League.

The PCB banned Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, from playing for Pakistan in any format for an indefinite period, while handing out one-year bans to Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. Shahid Afridi and the Akmal brothers were fined Rs 2-3 million for various transgressions and put on six-month probations.

Team discipline has been an eternal issue with Pakistan cricket and the mutterings of serious rifts are constant companions. The irony in what Ian Botham said years ago could not have been keener: “They’ve always had a lot of talent, a lot of good players, but they’re like eleven women. You know, they’re all scratching each other’s eyes out.”

Cricket writer Kamran Abbasi has been scathing and, in my view, brutally-honest in his criticism: “The reasons are several, some known others only to be guessed. Unfortunately the whole episode is an exercise in passing the buck. The architects of the disastrous failure of Pakistan cricket have investigated their own performance and decided to blame some other people, the players.

When it comes to sympathy I have none for failed administrators and bureaucrats, who cling on to Pakistan cricket like leeches sucking every drop of lifeblood from a once vibrant national enterprise. These inquirers have a misplaced sense of justice: he who has sinned has cast the first stone. Isn’t the PCB’s latest diversionary investigation a brazen attempt to save the skins of senior board members?”

Botham’s cheeky comment apart there has been a long period in Pakistan cricket where they had a man who led with distinction and moulded the raw talent of the country into a serious cricketing force. As a captain there would be few, if any, who could match Imran Khan’s leadership qualities and have so much to show in terms of team performance.

I have heard Imran Khan say more than once on TV shows that the greatest team that ever took the field was the West Indian team of the 1980s but there have been few who have spoken much about the team that the West Indies could never really conquer during their years in the ascendancy.

When cricket was a war zone in the 1980s with the West Indies possessing a lethal battery of fast bowlers there was only one opponent that stood its ground amid the debris that the great West Indian team left in its wake. Rob Smyth did a commendable piece on the Pakistan team led by the great Imran Khan that stood up to the West Indian juggernaut that crushed much of the cricket world and wondered why that fabulous team of Pakistan finds no mention in cricket’s pantheon?

“This was a team that had almost everything, based around their two contrasting champions: Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, lover and streetfighter, stallion and rapscallion, regal leader and rascally lieutenant. Not that they were alone; quality and ruggedness oozed from every pore. There was an ultra-patient top order, including Mudassar Nazar, the resourceful Ramiz Raja and Shoaib Mohammad, whose methodology made Chris Tavare seem skittish; the majestic middle-order pair of Miandad and the bad-wicket genius Salim Malik, buffeted by Imran at No 7 and the wicketkeeper-hitter Saleem Yousuf at No 8.

Then there was the most beautifully-varied bowling attack imaginable: Imran and Wasim Akram, swinging and reverse-swinging the ball at paint-stripping pace from different angles, and the magical legspinner Abdul Qadir. So lean was the rest of the body that they could even carry traces of flab: the roles of sixth batsman and fourth bowler were never really filled.”

As threatening and demolishing as West Indies were they could never get the better of Pakistan even once during the period when Imran led them and both teams can lay claims to how precariously close they came to winning a series against the other. The clashes between the two teams during the late eighties are unbelievable scraps and if that was what Pakistan produced in every single series against the might of West Indies then this decline of Pakistan can again be compared ironically to that of the West Indies.

An indifferent performance from Pakistan amid some sparkling cricket is what keeps the fans going but a meek surrender like the one in Australia was certain to cause unrest among those who have seen the battle-hardened side of Pakistan cricket. That the unrest would lead to an act comparable to a surgical incision of “malignant tissues” just serves to show the furious side of cricket administration in Pakistan.

This is what Cricinfo’s Pakistan editor Osman Samiuddin said: “Nothing is permanent in Pakistan. It is worthwhile to bear in mind the summer of 1976, when a similar battle erupted between board and senior players. It was a petty pay dispute, but it soon flowered into an almighty ménage a trois of ego clashes between the country’s prime minister, Zulfiqar Bhutto, a close aide and minister Abdul Hafiz Pirzada and the board chairman AH Kardar.

Kardar sacked six big names, including Imran Khan, before a major tour to Australia. Within days, however, Pirzada—with Bhutto’s tacit consent—had taken temporary control of the board, reinstated the players and Kardar fell in a matter of months. Old folks say that marked the beginning of unchecked player power in Pakistan cricket, the rise of the superstar. Some might see 2010 as the end of it.

There are only whiffs in today of what happened 34 years ago—for one, the players then had tremendous public support—but with an administration as bereft of goodwill, public trust and support as this one, nobody will bet against a similar endgame.”

Phenomenal Tendulkar Kills The Debate

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Sachin Tendulkar is his own competition and it seems like he is quite unmindful of the fact that his business is the intrinsically-competitive arena of international sports. He keeps pushing his limits to come up with goods that no one else seems to be trading in. Yesterday he scaled a peak higher than the Mount Everest. A peak that did not exist before he set out to conquer it in the afternoon of February 24, 2010; just two months shy of his 37th birthday on April 24—and 22 years after he had shared that record partnership of over 600 runs that brought two schoolboys to the forefront.

Would Neville Cardus have called this Little Master ‘A devastating rarity: A genius with an eye for business?’ I presume he would have said something even greater as Tendulkar apart from being the efficient and consistent run-maker is also a classically-beautiful player to watch. He is efficient like a well-oiled and calibrated machine; only that no machine can be so joyous or can spread so much joy as the Little Master. He dedicated his innings to you and me; to the fans saying that their support was crucial during days when there was no rain.

His adaptability puts him way above any batsman who has ever played the game. The only comparison that makes some sense is with the great Sir Donald Bradman, who played just one form of the game and more importantly played his cricket in just nine grounds against four oppositions. Tendulkar, as I had mentioned in an article before, played on 32 different surfaces before he first played a Test on a ground where he had played a game before. One would have to seriously devote an hour or two to count all the various grounds where he has played Test or One Day International innings.

On top of that he has also had to live the life of a man who can’t pass through anywhere in India without everything going berserk. Tendulkar can’t go and hang around in one of his businesses on the eve of a Test match. Hell, he can’t even drive a car in his home country or go for a casual walk in any part of India. I can say it with certainty that if he lands up in a quiet hamlet like Dalhousie, the residents of the hills having a devil-may-care attitude would all congregate in the small and tidy Mall of the remote hill station to mob this phenomenally-loved son of the Indian soil. And I mean the old grandmas as well.

He adapts to alien situations and surfaces as if they were his backyard and is completely at ease with two diametrically-different forms of the game: 47 hundreds in Test matches and 46 in limited overs. With the kind of form he was suffering from around the injury years during the middle part of the decade that has just gone, it is an astonishing achievement that his Test match hundreds have caught up and then gone ahead of his ODI tally—the ODI numbers were much higher a few years ago.

Yesterday he made an unbeaten double hundred in a 50-over match against a very good South African attack on a surface that was good for batting. He got the strike on the third ball of the first over that Dale Steyn bowled and he played the first four balls that were shaping away right from the middle of the bat for no runs. One run came from that ideal first over where Steyn could not hold on to a tough chance that Sehwag gave on the second ball of the over.

Tendulkar took the first four balls to play himself in and then he hit two gorgeous fours off Parnell in the second over and then another one to Steyn in the third over and the rollicking show started. The BBC said: Tendulkar, whose previous best one-day knock was the 186 not out that he scored against New Zealand in 1999, is already the leading run-scorer in Test and ODI cricket. But to have reached such a landmark, with a single in the final over, only serves to underline his class and add to the legacy that already surrounds arguably the finest batsman to have played the game.

Tendulkar raised his 100 in 90 balls with the help of 13 fours; all of them odd in the sense that each one of them stood out as a perfect stroke. In his last two Test matches Tendulkar got hundreds against South Africa but got out shortly after that but here there was no letting up. Immediately after getting to a hundred he pulled Kallis for a four and then smashed one straight over the bowler’s head that went like a projectile. Then he took care of Duminy by stepping out to get his first six and drilled a four again over the bowler’s head. Karthik played a wonderful hand and was gone in the 34th over having made a very fluent 79.

In walked Yusuf Pathan and he negotiated Parnell’s over safely but without adding to the scoreboard. India took the batting powerplay and South Africa brought back Steyn for the 35th over. Steyn bowled full and outside the off stump and Tendulkar had to stretch to reach. The second ball had been dispatched to the boundary and Tendulkar missed the third and the fourth but he changed his plan for the fifth ball and walked across to the offside to flick the full ball between square-leg and mid-wicket. This is the order in which the runs came in the five power-play overs: 9, 8, 17, 18, 11. In five overs 63 runs were made and Pathan went from zero to 29 and Tendulkar added 33 to go up to 157 and there was a wide.

Then there was a sensational partnership of 101 in 8.5 overs and the only one of the innings that Tendulkar did not dominate in terms of runs as Dhoni shredded the attack. He was cramping a bit but he summoned the energy to reach the summit.

A blog in BBC began by saying: “How does Sachin Tendulkar do it? How does a 36-year-old cricketer stay at the top of the game for 20 years? How does he retain this insatiable hunger for achievement after scoring more than 30,000 runs in the long (Test) and shorter (50 over) versions of the game?”

He just simply loves doing it; his passion and love for the game makes it possible. The genius is constantly learning and is always working on his game. In the last tour to Australia when he scored a hundred in the Sydney Test he was asked in the post-day interview about the jinx of 90s that had plagued him throughout the previous year. Tendulkar said ‘I was getting into bad habits and I needed to break them this year’. Simply brilliant.

Since that day Tendulkar has made 8 Test match hundreds and 5 One Day International hundreds. The ODI hundreds were all hailed as one of his best until he went on to upstage them; the 117 not out he made while chasing in the first Commonwealth Bank Series final in Sydney, the 163 retired hurt he made in Christchurch where he could have got a double but he took the decision to not take a chance with a niggle before the Test series. The 138 in a final against Sri Lanka in Colombo was another match-winning knock; and then that tremendous 175 that could not see his side home but was hailed as his best-ever hundred coming under the pressure of chasing 350. Now he’s got the first double hundred in an ODI; an unbeaten 200 against a good attack.

The last word must go to one fresh and insightful voice in the commentary box; that of former England captain Naseer Hussain: “I have never quite liked comparisons between great players, but after Wednesday’s game it must be said—Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest batsman of all time.

Better than Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, the other two great players of my era. Better than Sir Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border. And I would even say better than Sir Don Bradman himself.”

My Guru Is More Enlightened Than Yours!

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A few days ago Suhel Seth was animated on a Times Now ‘Newshour’ debate about the growing violence against Indians in Australia. He had ample reason to be upset; but in his impatience he did not let a significant point being made by another person on the show to sink in. On being asked to define racism, Suhel quickly retorted that racism is an attack on a particular race and then did not listen when the other participant completed it by saying that by a supposedly different race; which was the whole point he was trying to explain. Some of these attacks he said were by mixed gangs and were more criminal in nature than racist and some others were clearly racist by nature.

Most societies have ways of being self-critical and looking within when a crisis emerges; and a shrill and jingoistic response never helps in solving the problem. It is a matter of concern that Indian students find themselves vulnerable in Sydney and Melbourne but it is also true that Australia has accepted that there are pockets of racism in the country, which they are trying to address, but that does not mean that the entire nation is racist. We should resist using a single paintbrush to colour the entire nation.

There is also a very competitive rivalry between India and Australia on the cricket field and the players have a fan following and a genuine admiration in the rival camps. Shane Warne has come forward to facilitate better understanding and it is a move that should be complemented in every possible manner. The cricket players are brand ambassadors and the likes of Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Adam Gilchrist, for example, can come forward to ease the relationship. The world now is a global village and efforts that reduce human conflict are the ones that count the most in preventing crime—racial or otherwise.

In 2007, India won the Twenty20 World Cup and MS Dhoni and his boys were received by a cavalcade of thousands and thousands of fans as the team moved in an open-top double-decker bus from the airport to Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. Andrew Symonds did not like the ‘over-the-top’ celebrations and he was in India as part of the Aussie squad for a seven-match ODI series.

On September 28, 2007 Cricinfo reported: “Something has been sparked inside of me, watching them carry on over the last few days,” Symonds told AAP. “We have had a very successful side and I think watching how we celebrate and how they celebrate, I think we have been pretty humble in the way we have gone about it. And personally, I think they have got far too carried away with their celebrations. It has definitely sparked passion inside of us. It has certainly spiced it up as well.”

“Something gets triggered inside of you, something is burning inside of you—it is your will for success or your animal instinct that wants to bring another team down,” Symonds said. “We have been at the top for so long, it is like someone has taken the favourite thing you own from you and you want it back.”

It wasn’t a quote that can be termed as wise but that is no excuse either for crowd behaviour or for BCCI’s denial mode when incidents offensive towards Symonds were reported. A cricket blogger rightly observed: Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, went so far as to say, “What the media and Symonds shouldn’t forget is that the Australian crowds are far more dangerous and volatile than their Indian counterparts.” Even if this were true, what does this have to do with the price of fish in the land? There is a principle at play here: Racisim in cricket in India is not on!

Another report in Fox Sports concluded: “Racism is evil, repulsive and the sport should confront it head-on wherever it is encountered. India is enjoying its new power and influence. Along with other black nations, it had been patronised by pompous English and ignorant Australians. Revenge should not be so ruthless and ungenerous that a game is made unmanageable. India, with its many millions of dollars, has the power and opportunity to restore cricket. It just doesn’t appear to have the leaders.”

Symonds later said that he had gone to the Indian dressing room and spoken to Harbhajan Singh one-on-one to make it clear that the word ‘monkey’ is offensive, denigrating and a racial slur in his terminology (this is the essence of it and not the exact words). It was a charged ODI series and Symonds performed brilliantly and Hayden had a mouthful of things to say.

Many writers in India expressed that the crowd behaviour was obnoxious and India owed Symonds an apology. The Cricket Board pretended as if nothing had happened. If there was any doubt that the man found it offensive then it was cleared in this tour and there was no ambiguity regarding the connotation.
In the Sydney Test in January, the stump mike revealed nothing and match referee Mike Procter had no legal authority to rule when it was one man’s word against the other. It later came out that no one was close enough to hear the exact words. Eminent economist Lord Meghnad Desai, professor emeritus of the London School of Economics, in a recent article traced the origin of the conflict to the fractured Sydney Test. “I would ask the two governments to get the two cricketing sides together and appeal to all to view the matter in the spirit of cricket, where winning or losing was never meant to matter.”

Regarding the result of the Sydney Test, Pradeep Magazine of the Hindustan Times wrote, “Despite all the wrongs done to them on the field, India could have still salvaged a draw and been in a much stronger position to take a high moral ground and tell the umpires and the Australians of what they thought of them”

The Australian media, let us not forget, acknowledged that India was hard done in Sydney and the criticism only started when the BCCI apparently went muscle flexing. Harbhajan may well have used abusive language and not the racial slur as the word he admitted to having used is part of the common north Indian lingo. And the word points towards an abuse but rarely borders on the actual abuse that requires adding one more word. Bastards are sad creatures in India but you can easily call someone a lucky bastard in many cultures. People all around the world need to learn and be sensitive to other people’s cultures.

The television coverage showed Symonds giving a mouthful while going towards his fielding position and he may well have been goading Harbhajan, ‘with his animal instincts’, for all you know. Ian Chappell in the commentary box expressed concern over Hayden’s qualification as a peacemaker and the incident occurred when Harbhajan was involved in a significant partnership with Tendulkar that was proving out to be a thorn for the Aussies.

The crowds and media and some of the Aussie players took to riling Bhajji in every match after that; but the turbaned Sikh is a strong character who used it to perform against the odds on the field. As the months rolled by and seeing the path that the careers of the two players took since Sydney, one can say, with some bias, that in the Symonds-Harbhajan affair it was the plaintiff who came out looking worse than the defendant. Hayden went on air calling Bhajji an ‘obnoxious little weed’ and later Symonds woke up to realise that ‘the devil had farted in his face’ after he called Brendon McCullum a ‘lump of shit’; this time again on a radio show.

I do agree with Mike Selvey of the Guardian that despite everything Symonds deserves sympathy and not scorn. “Symonds may not be the most pleasant of men (I have no way of knowing but anecdotal evidence suggests as much) but that should not be the criterion. He is a troubled individual who needs ongoing support and, judging by the words of Anderson (psychologist), is already benefiting from it. A stitch-up by a pair of goading comedians should not see a man lose his career. The consequences of the alternative, dumping him, are too unedifying to consider.”

Andrew Symonds is too good a cricketer to be lost in fighting inner demons and it would be heartening if his career is salvaged. As for racism, it is a global problem and if we could all begin with ourselves first the results will be faster and more peaceful. Have you heard that great joke where a disciple is fighting another one on the premise that ‘my guru is more enlightened than yours’.

These are a few good links to follow.

Crowd Carry On Over Harbhajan—Greg Baum for The Age

Are We Racist? You Know The Answer Already—Vir Sanghvi for Mint

Bowler Found Guilty But Australia Stand Condemned—David Hopps for the Guardian

Booze-addled Symonds deserves sympathy not scorn—Mike Selvey for the Guardian

Newspapers Have To Live To Tell The Tale

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“In 2010 the only thing harder to sell than a newspaper will be a newspaper company,” Michael Kinsley, a columnist and editor-in-chief of a new website to be launched in 2010 by the Atlantic, wrote in an essay for a special issue of The Economist titled ‘The World in 2010’.

The good news, if any, in this assertion is that the gloomy outlook at the time the special issue went to press was only for the United States. The bad news is that some of the observations made by Kinsley would be applicable to the world at large; slowly but surely. The United States is the right place to begin the argument as the revenue shift towards digital media from the traditional print media has been rising on a year-on-year basis with the last 18 months or so being the low point for newspapers in America. Former Scottish footballer, Tommy Docherty, may not have been totally off the mark when he said, “I’ve always said there’s a place for the press but they haven’t dug it yet.”

The year 2009 has seen some historic newspaper names not managing to find any buyers and ultimately stop printing in the US. “The New York Times, which paid $1.1 billion for the Boston Globe in 1993, spent most of the last year hungrily eyeing bids of under $100m. After years of Micawberism, many newspaper publishers now accept that no amount of cost-cutting and laying off of journalists can keep up with plummeting revenues. Newspapers missed the brief moment when the government was an easy touch for bail-outs of one ‘vital’ industry or another.”

Closer home things aren’t that bad as yet but we are also moving towards a Digital era at our own pace; though speed in the virtual world is defined quite differently than that in the real one. Twitter is a recent example of a spreading ‘Digital Viral’ and one can speculate on the time and resources that would be needed in the real world to build a brand like it. Journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his brilliant 2000 debut bestseller The Tipping Point explored the social dynamics that cause rapid change. The Tipping Point is the biography of an idea; and it is Gladwell’s gift of story-telling that has given life to the book. Gladwell benefited from the research of epidemiologists but he used his talent to show how social and business change is explained best by looking at it as a ‘virus’.

Just about 18 to 20 months ago I was running after a few columnists at a newspaper house as its Website did not have any blogs and I struggled to convince writers and only got two positive respondents, with much strife, out of a dozen or so that I was asked to chase. For a particular guy I had to do the chasing for almost a month and yet I could not get a 300-word copy out of him; these days no matter what the occasion he is always singing in the background.

The landscape in India is changing but Internet penetration is low and literacy is not that high for a swift change. That is not going to be the case forever and sometime in the future the Digital Media in India would gain critical mass or in other words would reach ‘the tipping point’ from where things start happening on their own. Among the coarse things in the newspaper business the most important is the rising cost of newsprint. Then there is also the environment factor and the James G. Watt quote in Newsweek, 8 March 1982, becomes all the more relevant now: “They kill good trees to put out bad newspapers.”

Norman Mailer, an author, a journalist, a stalwart on radio and television talk shows and winner of most of the major literary awards, but for the Nobel and co-founder of The Village Voice, a weekly newspaper launched in 1955 from a two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village, New York, the initial area of coverage, famously said: “Once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists.”

This point is also made by prolific columnist Vir Sanghvi in a piece he wrote on a book called Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. “Davies, who has spent a major part of his journalistic career with The Guardian, casts a critical eye on his entire profession—not sparing even the publications he has worked for—explaining why Flat Earth News is taking over. ..But as I come to the end, I can’t help wondering if such a book would ever be possible in India. In our country, the media is content to attack every other institution while regarding itself as being above any scrutiny,” Vir wrote.

The optimism that I share is about the publishing industry and new technology coming in has not changed my view at all and I continue to pay through my nose to buy books; I haven’t seen Kindle and I don’t have a desire for it as a good hardcover is an integral part of what I consider to be my most-valuable possessions. I feel that they would survive the threat from the vapid more easily.

Many observers share the analysis that the big mistake was allowing readers to grow used to getting content free in the first place. Kinsley argues that it is not psychology that is at work here. It is the iron laws of economics. “Why has the internet turned into a disaster for newspapers? Mainly because it destroyed the monopoly that most American newspapers enjoyed in their home towns.” This observation is true for every small or big city in the world. “Every English-language paper published anywhere in the world is now in competition with every other. Competition is what has driven the price down to zero and kept it there.” Applying Kinsley’s logic would mean that the Indian papers would be available in London and New York; but, more importantly, the papers of New York and London would be available in India.

The answer probably lies with what The Village Voice did; if a newspaper in New Delhi tells me what is happening in Tokyo it is great but if it tells me that wood furniture of the highest-quality is on sale two blocks away from my house then it is even better. Kinsley calls this hyper-localism. It may turn out to be the saviour and, therefore, for the first time the most-important team in a newspaper’s scheme of things should be the Metro. It is the City Desk where the wheat needs to be separated from the chaff and the successful editor has to be someone who, for a change, publishes the wheat and throws away the chaff.

Is The Column One Doesn’t Understand Great?

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I still remember parts of an entertaining conversation that a small group of a couple of my colleagues and I had about a decade ago over a few beers at the Press Club on Raisina Road. It was against the norm of our daily life; where we rarely ever had an alcoholic beverage during the day. It was a day when we got free from the office around noon and decided to visit the-what-we-then-thought as an entertaining watering hole.

Somehow our group with an average age of about 25 found itself in the company of the late Chand Joshi. It would be an understatement to say that we had a good time because we had a blast and Chand Joshi of the Hindustan Times was hilarious, brilliant and thoroughly-captivating for almost three hours that we spent with him. I don’t remember the exact phrase but among dozens of spontaneous gems he also said something to this effect: he said he did a few stories in a year that everyone understood and he did at least one that his employers did not understand; otherwise why would they pay him. The punch line was that he did one story that even he did not understand and it was this one that brought him the maximum praise.

Chand Joshi was just having a go at the enthralled audience and I am quite certain he didn’t seriously mean it, but once in a while I am seriously-confused if the HT Sunday column ‘Red Herring’ follows this approach. The columnist has a decent grasp of subjects apart from sports but he stays true to the name of the column and allows himself a deviation once in a while. A piece headlined ‘The (a little too) beautiful game’ done on October 2 talks about cricket and assumes what would bring delight to the purists. A comment on the Hindustan Times blog ‘Page One’ on a post called ‘Story we all missed’ took on the October 2 piece and said: Moral of the story, those who don’t really follow the game, should not try writing about it; more so when it’s a national daily. And if it’s too itching, as smarter souls do, it’s always better to avoid those technical mumbo-jumbos.

On many Sundays it is a decent column with an eclectic mix of subjects. A recent one about Golf and adultery, though, was a complete wastage of expensive newsprint and real estate on the edit page. Why do I harp about it? Well because I read that ‘we the editorial writers’ are no strangers to insults and, therefore, enjoy having a bit of fun at the expense of others. I am also told that editorial writers find the ‘frustrations’ of others as a darn more enjoyable sight than fisticuffs. So an opportunity to have a go at the edit page is too tempting to avoid; but there is no point losing my shirt about it as edit writers are large-enough to encourage the less-then-fortunate souls having a crack at them. And I have taken this advice at face value when it was given with a straight face to people in one of the edits a while ago.

The real reason for my post, though, is that ‘Golf and Gomarrah’ brought back a lot of nostalgia about my school days in Kullu. Those were innocent times and were also the years when video parlours were a rage in small towns. The column had the quality for which we lied and cheated in our early teens to indulge in a pleasure that came with a bit of guilt, some fear of being spotted and a lot of excitement. A new film by Dada Kondke had hit the video parlours and we risked being spotted by the friends of our parents and sheepishly went in and sat in the back benches and enjoyed the sexual innuendos.

The films were pretty-close to the nature of the column that says: “I haven’t ever uttered this in so many words before, but I’ve always considered golf to be a dodgy sport. After all, how can you trust a man — let alone have babies with him — who swings a rod, thwacks a ball, walks a distance, swings and thwacks a ball again, and keeps walking until the ball plonks into a hole?

Now, would you have thought Tiger to have been such a randy dandy? I doubt it. Shane Warne? Of course. David Beckham? Very much possible. Rahul Dravid? Why not? Any basketball player? Goes with the job. But solid, upright, well-postured Brand Tiger? Who would have thought?

Well, I did.

Like incest, clunky gold watches and living-room fountains, there’s something hokey about golf. The sport is as what-you-see-isn’t-what-you-get as Deepak Chopra, double-breasted jackets and management workshops involving ‘trust games’. The sport is, I’m told, a complex, subtle mix of skill and mental toughness and silly shoes. That sounds ominously like the skills needed to be a good adulterer.”

I can’t question the author’s knowledge about the skills needed to be a good adulterer; but on golf I can safely say that he has missed the greens and the fairway by a mile and has not even managed to land in the rough.

Is The Tiger Lost In The Woods?

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As children my brother and I used to think, like I presume some other children also perhaps thought, whether celluloid heroes like Amitabh Bachchan and sporting ones like Sunil Gavaskar also had to answer nature’s call. For a brief period—at an age that I can’t pinpoint but can indicate by saying that it was characterised by an overwhelming feeling in which everything seemed larger than life—we found it difficult to place our heroes atop a commode. And precisely because our minds were in conflict we occasionally did wonder about what to us was then a profane thought. Nothing remarkable happened when the idea just dropped out of our consciousness; there was no ceremony and there is no memory of it and the only fact is that we grew out of that brief period as naturally and as simply as one season melts into another.

This unsanitary beginning is to make a point that childhood curiosity is one thing and a deep-seated interest in the life of others quite another; it would be a lie to say that I don’t have any interest in the lives of others but I will emphasize that with every passing year an interest in my own life has grown gradually while the interest in the lives of others has declined. And I think that is what happens with most people; my mistakes, just like those of most other people, can be traced back to me. The margin I am keeping here is for a small minority of good boys, who are capable of committing heinous acts and also ensuring that the trail never leads to them.

With that said allow me to start this post about the paparazzi culture and the Tiger Woods life uncovering mission which has become the latest obsession in the world. Is the Tiger Woods scandal a really big story with everything remarkable about it? Truth, by the way, is no defense in defamation cases and the saviour of a reporter and a publication is fair comment (public interest). I got to learn about the fact that it had become a big scandal only via a blog called Medium Term on December 1; and my comment to it suggested that I had reacted only to the last line and not the point of the whole post. Then I read a December 8 update to the blog and the various gormless comments on both the posts; including my own.

Tiger Woods is a genuine great on the golf course and he may not be an ideal husband but is there any shortage of less-than-ideal husbands that Tiger deserves to sit on top of that heap as well. This is typical Daily Mail journalism for you; just go to their website any day and you’ve got to give them credit that they do not lose a single opportunity to have two perfect images that would tell you how an X celebrity has lost or gained a stone since she was last spotted in public. Any female celebrity that walks out without wearing a bra underneath would be up on their website with her cup size and her success at keeping gravity at bay spelt out for the reader.

There is no doubt that the public is interested but I have serious doubts on whether it is in public interest. It is in the interest of our gusto for the lurid that justifies such excavation. There is no moral high ground to claim but I would prefer some erotic literature over what to me is boring tabloid crap any day. How about a paper that unveils the life of tabloid scribes; would that be any less interesting?

I have learnt from friends, who have more than a passing interest in the range, that golf is a sport that mirrors life very closely. I know the rules but only those who play can tell you that it is a simple game if you can keep it simple and can get as entangled as life if you start messing with it. Mark McCormack—the man who founded the first sports management company with just under $500 in capital and thereby gave birth to a multi-billion dollar industry—loved the game of golf and wrote in his bestseller What They Don’t Teach You At The Harvard Business School: “I have often said that I can tell more about how someone is likely to react in a business situation from one round of golf than I can from a hundred hours of meetings. Maybe golf cuts more directly to the psyche than other games and situations. Or maybe it is the venue itself—green grass and rolling hills. It’s astonishing how so simple a game can reveal so much.” Tiger Woods pulling out of golf is already being seen as a threat to the sport that is struggling amid the recession and one newspaper reported that the Tiger Woods brand alone is 50 per cent of the sport.

In a statement published on his Website Tiger Woods said he was profoundly sorry and asked for forgiveness. Golfer John Daly said, “I’m in shock over it all, a lot of our players are in shock. I’m not happy with the way some of our players have responded—that’s their way of getting back because they know they can’t beat him at golf…”

Heinrich Böll, one of Germany’s leading post World War-II writers and the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972, wrote ‘a marvel of compression and irony’, The Lost Honour Of Katharina Blum, that was translated into English a year after its publication in 1974.

The back of the book cover reveals the plot: “Katharina Blum is pretty, bright, hard-working and at the centre of a big city scandal when, at a carnival party, she falls in love with a young radical on the run from the police. Portrayed by the city’s leading newspaper as a whore, a communist and an atheist, she becomes the target of anonymous phone calls and sexual threats. Her life is ruined by the distortions of a corrupt press; she shoots the offending journalist and gives herself up for arrest.

Step by step, and with an affecting forensic clarity, Katharina’s story is reconstructed for the reader, gradually disclosing an entire panorama of human relationship and motive. The novel is a masterful comment on the law and the press, the labyrinth of social truth and the relentless collusion of fact and fiction.”

The Times said, “Böll sustains a masterly and insidious tension to the end. He is detached, angry and totally in control.” Heinrich Böll served for several years as president of International P.E.N. and was a leading defender of the intellectual freedom of writers throughout the world. He died in 1985.

The plot is revealed because it is not the plot but the narration that makes the book great. On one side is Werner Tötges, the journalist behind all the falsification and on the other is Böll’s narrator, whose profession remains unmentioned, but he consistently separates facts from assumptions. The Sunday Times said: “Such is the force of Böll’s conviction, the clarity of his vision and the icy economy of his unemotive prose that within this short space he has distilled a spirit that burns into the palate the unmistakable and lasting tang of truth.”

The thickness of the book is inversely proportional to its impact—just about 140 pages. It is the social milieu of late 1960s and early 70s that the book attacks indirectly; especially the Alex Springer-owned Springer Press that controlled almost half of the newspaper circulation in West Germany.

“Art is always a good hiding-place, not for dynamite, but for intellectual explosives and social time bombs. Why would there otherwise have been the various Indices? And precisely in their despised and often even despicable beauty and lack of transparency lies the best hiding-place for the barb that brings about the sudden jerk or the sudden recognition.” (Heinrich Böll from Nobel Lecture, 1973)

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